A Revolutionary Idea: The Making of IPFW
Few people remember that IPFW was created from two entities. The university has so well blended its heritage — the strengths of the IU liberal arts tradition and the technical excellence of Purdue — that it now has a unique identity of its own.
IPFW’s predecessors, separate extension centers set up by IU and Purdue in downtown Fort Wayne, never dreamed of how the future would unfold.
Indiana University opened its Fort Wayne Extension Center at Central High School in 1917, offering evening classes to 142 students that year. The students were nearly all working adults — many of them teachers. As early as 1927, high school graduates began expressing interest in earning university credits locally. Enrollments at the IU center grew, resulting in a move in 1937 to the Luther Institute on Barr Street to provide more space for students, faculty, and a broader curriculum.
Purdue University began a similar center in 1942 during World War II to meet a local demand for industrial training. Thirty students attended the center the first year, when it was located in the Central Building at Wayne and Harrison. It later moved to the Transfer Building at Main and Calhoun. Purdue then purchased the Catholic Community Center, known as the Athletic Club, at Jefferson and Barr.
The IU and Purdue centers shared an alley — and soon shared the problem of crowded classrooms. After World War II, both centers experienced high enrollments and were nearly bursting at the seams.
A persistent voice
The vision of merging both centers into one institution began on Barr Street in the mind of community leader Alfred W. Kettler. As he stood on the street one sunny spring day in 1950, he looked at the side-by-side IU and Purdue centers and asked himself, “Is this the best way? Why are we competitors?”
Kettler became the most persistent voice to plant the seed of a new university — one that kept the best of IU and Purdue traditions and would meet the needs of northeast Indiana. This institution would provide the area with the broadest possible educational opportunities — all housed in one location.
Kettler’s idea was revolutionary, since two universities had never combined into a single location anywhere in the United States.
In the mid-1950s, Kettler and other local leaders took the first step toward creating the new IPFW campus. They established the Indiana-Purdue Foundation, which purchased 216 acres of farmland — complete with a dairy barn and silos — along the St. Joseph River.
Much of the funds raised to purchase land were raised from local supporters — individuals and businesses in the Fort Wayne community who hoped to grow the new university into a world-class institution.
Kettler’s idea became reality in 1964, when the Education Building, later renamed Alfred W. Kettler Hall, opened its doors to 3,100 students.
The new institution offered a few associate degrees and certificate programs, credits toward the first two years for degrees offered at the main campuses, and a few graduate and non-credit courses. Almost simultaneously with the campus opening, Purdue and IU leadership announced a goal to offer several four-year degree programs at IPFW. The first bachelor’s degree program was in engineering technology, offered in 1965.
As IPFW’s degree offerings grew, so did enrollments. By 1970, the student population had topped 6,000. Within a decade, nearly 10,000 students were taking classes.
As the student body grew, so did the campus. In the early 1970s, three buildings were added — Walter E. Helmke Library, Floyd R. Neff Hall, and Walter W. Walb Student Union. Within the same decade, the School of Fine Arts of the Fort Wayne Art Institute joined IPFW, and the Liberal Arts Building and Hilliard Gates Sports Center were built.
The university was unified under a single chancellor in 1974, solidifying IPFW’s unique identity in northeast Indiana. To meet the needs of the region, more and more course options were added, including two- and four-year degree programs, certificates, and master’s degree programs.
With every academic expansion, more facilities were needed: the Fine Arts Building (now the Visual Arts Building), Williams Theatre, Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science Building, and Science Building were all added in the 1990s. In a show of support, the Friends of IPFW, a group dedicated to the development of the campus, funded the construction of the Friends Pavilion in 1992.
Today, IPFW offers more academic and extracurricular opportunities than any other higher education institution in northeast Indiana. Nearly 12,000 students are enrolled in more than 180 degree options, and some 8,000 additional students pursue noncredit continuing education courses.