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Joe and Carol Trimmer

Joe – MA, PhD 1966, English

Director, Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, BSU, Muncie, IN

Carol - BA 1966, English

Development Manager, Indiana Public Radio, Muncie, IN

Purdue is responsible for bringing many alumni couples together, but Joe and Carol Trimmer share multiple Purdue passions: their liberal arts degrees in English and their love of Purdue football (more on that later).  Joe is a professor of English and director of the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry (VBC) at Ball State University, which focuses on interdisciplinary and immersive learning. Carol worked for 20 years helping constituents of U.S. Congressman Phil Sharp, and retired in 2010 from her most recent position as outreach coordinator for WBST-Indiana Public Radio. Another shared passion? Both find that their favorite career moments involved helping educate others, both at Ball State and in the greater Muncie, Indiana, community.

Joe is most proud of the projects his students at VBC have developed—including a musical adaptation of the novel The Circus in Winter, which was showcased for Broadway producers at the 2012 Festival of New Musicals in New York. VBC film students have also created a number of documentary films that have been nominated for 17 regional Emmys and won 4. “I did not do any of these things,” he explains, “but the ‘wow’ moment came when I realized—early on in the life of the center, started in 2000—that, thanks to the generosity of Virginia Ball, I had created a space and a program that allowed undergraduates to become authors of and authorities on their own education.”

Carol loved reading as a child, and grew up close to the West Lafayette Public Library. By age 10, she had read every book in the children’s section—so with encouragement from her parents and under the librarian’s watchful eye, she began working her way through the adult section. She majored in English and speech at Purdue, and when Joe was writing his dissertation on Faulkner, she read all of Faulkner’s novels and then tackled the Russians: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. She found a way to share her enthusiasm when she worked for WBST. “To encourage listeners to share their love of reading, I created a weekly local radio program called BookSpeak,” she recalls. “Listeners write book reviews and record them for broadcast. For me, it was most satisfying to record children reviewing their favorite books.”

Purdue Influences

Carol: My goal was to teach high school English, and I had several wonderful professors. The courses I remember best were modern American and modern British literature, but I was introduced to many literary giants. Being part of the Greek system at Purdue was also important to me. I learned many things while living at the Theta house: the value of friendships as well as skills that I would later use when working in the nonprofit world.

Joe: William (Bill) T. Stafford, English Department, directed my PhD dissertation on William Faulkner’s novels. Bill was not only my mentor, but also my good friend. When the late Robert R. Kettler (another Purdue alum, formerly of the English Department at Miami University of Ohio) and I co-authored our first book, American Oblique: Writing About the American Experience, we dedicated the book to Bill. Other members of my committee who supported my work were Maurice Beebe and Margaret Church, and Olga Vickery was the first faculty member to introduce me to the joys of reading and writing about Faulkner. Another Purdue experience was working for the physical plant every summer, moving furniture in and out of virtually every building on campus.

Purdue Memories

Joe: Receiving what I have been told is the first PhD ever given in English by Purdue University. And football weekends. I played football in high school and college and Carol grew up around football because her father, Gordon Straley, (who received his MS from Purdue) coached football at West Lafayette High School (WLHS) for over 40 years, where the stadium is named in his honor. So watching football even in the snow or rain has always been a family tradition. And, of course, the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band, and the big drum, always made watching every football game—even those Purdue was losing—a wonderful experience.

Carol: I was indoctrinated at a young age. As Joe notes, my father (’39) was the football coach at WLHS, and took me to Purdue games when I was just a toddler. (His teams had also played some games on Purdue’s field after World War II). We lived fairly close to Ross-Ade, so we could hear the band practicing, and my sister and I parked cars for $1 at my grandparents’ Bexley Road home on game days. Hearing “Hail Purdue” still makes me swell with pride. My mother, Virginia Huffman (’39) was a dietician and for a time managed the cafeteria at Cary Hall. Our neighbor Al Stewart, head of Purdue’s music programs at the time, included me in a group of children who sang all the Big 10 fight songs on the Elliott Hall stage for one of his programs. But my strongest emotional memories are associated with the Purdue band (the Golden Girl, the Silver Twins, and the “world’s largest drum”) and Purdue football. Watching the 1967 Rose Bowl game on a fuzzy 9-inch black and white TV and seeing the 2000 Rose Bowl in person are a close second.

Purdue Now

Carol: As a member of Alpha Chi chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, my Theta sisters have become lifelong friends. A few years after graduation, I became a district officer for Theta, which allowed me to travel throughout Indiana meeting Theta alumnae—many of whom were Purdue grads. In 1990, I was tapped to head a capital campaign for the Purdue chapter. My parents graduated from Purdue and my mother’s father, Guy Huffman, was a College of Pharmacy grad. I often feel as if Purdue’s accomplishments are in some small way my own. And of course, I met my husband at Purdue!

Joe: I enjoy my continued contact with wonderful people at Purdue, such as Dean Irwin (Bud) Weiser. 

Greatest Achievement

Joe: Three things stand out to me: 1) establishing the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry at Ball State University, 2) writing three best-selling textbooks on composition, and 3) establishing and supporting scholarships at Ball State University, Colgate University, Wabash College, Miami University of Ohio and now Purdue University. 

Carol: I taught high school English while Joe was finishing his MA and PhD, but following our move to Muncie and the birth of our only child, I began volunteering for Ball State political science professor Phil Sharp, who served Indiana in the U.S. Congress for 20 years. I was employed in his district office, doing casework that helped his constituents deal with the federal government. My liberal arts education was instrumental in my appreciation of that work, and my writing and editing skills have been very useful in all my work, including my later job at Ball State’s public radio station, and as a volunteer for a regional arts organization, the local CASA program (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and a nonprofit art gallery.

Living Person I Admire

Carol: Eric Rogers, a talented musician and skilled administrator, who has served as executive director of Arts Place in Portland, Indiana for more than 30 years.

Joe: Stefan Anderson, a retired Muncie businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist.

Idea of Perfect Happiness

Carol: My “happy place” is Lake Tashmoo which is on the beach facing Vineyard Sound on Martha’s Vineyard where we vacation in the summer. The sun is shining, I’m in a comfortable beach chair with a good book, the herring gulls are diving for fish, sailboats glide by, and I can see the osprey’s nest across the way. 

Joe: Reading a book at our summer place on Martha’s Vineyard.

What I’m Reading

Joe: I must have at least seven books on my bedside table—on all sorts of subjects. Because I am about to organize a program for my 50th college reunion at Colgate University, I have recently finished Mel Watkins’s Dancing with Strangers. The first two thirds of the book are about his childhood in segregated Youngstown, Ohio in the 1950s, but the last third of the book focuses on his four years at Colgate where he was one of only four black students in his all-male class. Mel later became the first African American editor of the New York Times Book Review. 

Carol: Right now I’m reading Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow and re-reading D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, which I first studied in Professor Stuckey’s modern British literature class. 

Profession I’d Like to Try

Carol: I am completely self-taught but “making art” is important to me. I try to spend at least 10 minutes every day creating something—a painting, drawing, collage, something. For about 10 years I have been making greeting cards, some of which have been published in national magazines that feature mixed media and rubber stamping. 

Joe: Filmmaker. I have worked on 20 documentary films for PBS, including the Middletown series (1982) that was nominated for 10 EMMYs and won first prize at the Sundance Film Festival.