April 28, 2008 Rotogram


Our guest today is  Jeremiah Dumas, assistant professor of Landscape Architecture.  He’ll update us on  Starkville Community Market, the open air market scheduled to open in early summer somewhere in downtown Starkville.


Next Monday, our guest will be  Kristi Sturgeon, plant manager for a new GE Infra-Aviation plant under construction in Batesville. She’ll tell us about one of the latest aviation industries to come to Mississippi. GE.

Infra- Aviation has been working out of Raspet Flight Research Lab here since January 2007 making composite parts for GE’s jet engines. It will move as soon as the new plant becomes operational later this year.


Attendance: There were 114 members (74 active. 39 exempt, 1 honorary) present and 86 members  (62 active, 17 exempt, and 7 honorary) missing. Four  members are on leave.

Invocation and Pledge: Matt Cox

Visitors and Guests: Visiting Rotarian and former member George McKee of Coal Creek Colorado was guest of Chester McKee. Other guests included Prentiss Gordon, Jr., Steven Gordon, and Peggy White of their father Prentiss Gordon; Harold Gordon of Chester McKee; Brian Portera of George Sherman; and Club guests Barbara McKee and RYE students Maryna Melnik and Negrita Caicedo.

New Member Bill Ford greeted Rotarians as they came to the meeting and later gave a brief “job talk.” Bill is a Jackson native and MSU graduate in computer science. After working in Huntsville, AL, he returned to Starkville and co-founded a billing services software company that over 10 years grew to 18 employees doing business in all 50 states and 40 countries. The successful company was sold to a Canadian firm and Bill founded doorswap.com, an on-line property management company.

Bill and his wife, Susan, have two young daughters and live at 1002 Nottingham. His sponsor is Briar Jones.

Paul Harris Fellow: Tom Knecht is the Club’s newest Paul Harris Fellow. He was presented his PHF credentials by Foundation Chair Robert Clark. Tom, who has been a member since 1998, retired recently from MSU and is planning a future move to a mountain home in Georgia.

Rotary Minute: Nancy Hargrove’s Rotary Minute was a report from Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar Kyle Frasier, who is now studying in Australia. Nancy read a glowing email from Kyle’s Rotarian counselor. In his first few weeks in “the land down under,” Kyle has already attended several Rotary functions, made a presentation, and is scheduled to speak at the District Conference. He plans to publish periodic reports of his experiences on an internet blog. We’ll let Rotarians know how to log onto the blog as soon as we have the details.

Nancy is retiring from her long  career at Mississippi State at the end of this semester and invited Rotarians to a retirement reception in her honor. It was held last  Friday afternoon (April 25) in the MSU Library’s John Grisham Room.

Meeting Notes: President Ned Browning expressed condolences to Harold Knight and his family on the death of his mother, who lived all of her 103+ years in Saltillo.

Ned presented a check for $1,000 to Rob Leach in support of Starkville Soccer League.


In introducing fellow Rotarian Chester McKee last Monday, Joe Thompson called him a “campus institution.” That’s probably not an exaggeration since Chester has been on or around the Mississippi State campus since 1924 – that may make his tenure longer even than many of the trees on campus!

He wasn’t born here, but certainly no one can label him a “yankee” since he came south from Wisconsin when he was only 8 months old and his father joined the faculty at “A & M.”  His memories of growing up on campus combined with a keen sense of humor and unique story-telling ability kept Rotarians chuckling as he shared his recollections of the early years.

“People have played such an important role in both the University and community, especially five men who graduated between 1893 and 1900.” Those individuals had tremendous influence and had 250 years of collective service to Mississippi State. The names were familiar even to those of us who have been around for shorter times – Walker, Carpenter, Hand, Stark, and Sessums. All were faculty members and administrators in the early years of Mississippi A&M and were still around while Chester was growing up.

When Dr. Hand was a student, A & M was a military school. When the SAE’s at Oxford came to start a chapter here (which was against the rules), Hand was involved. He refused to apologize and got “shipped” (kicked out) “and went  home to Shubuta to work for his Dad making wagon wheels. He repented after a year and Dr. Lee (the first president) let him back in.

“Dr. Hand was known to be forgetful. It was said that one day he came to the office, threw his hat out the window and tried to hang his hat on the coat rack.” Chester said that another time, Dr. Hand  went to New Orleans to receive an award, but after seeing the sights of the city he forgot all about the ceremony and  boarded the train back to Starkville.

Probably his favorite story involved “Buz” Walker, who became president of A & M around 1925. Walker, a mathematician, tackled a mathematical theory that had proven unsolvable up until that time, and solved it. He gained international fame and made presentations all over the world.  His doctoral professor had taken the only copy of Walker’s handwritten  solution for presentations in Germany. Coming home, he locked the manuscript in his wife’s steamer trunk to secure it.

Once the cruise ship was well underway, the professor’s wife decided she wanted a change of clothes. They searched the ship from stem to stern but no steamer trunk was found. “Do you know that professor raised so much hell,the captain turned the ship around  – 1,000 passengers and all – and headed back to port,” Chester said. They found the trunk – it had been knocked off the dock and into the water. Apparently the trunk was waterproof because the manuscript was recovered.

During his childhood years, the McKee family lived in a two-story house that used to be next to the present stadium. The same bleachers were used for football, baseball, then moved inside for basketball.  “We could watch football games from our front porch. If it rained, the president would bring the Board of Trustees to our house to watch the game out of our second floor windows,” Chester recalled. “Mother always prayed for good weather on football days.”

He admitted he and other boys his age got into plenty of mischief.  “My father had a 1920 Chevrolet (bought from Slaughters) and we decided we’d see what he’d do if all four tires went flat.  He came home for lunch and we put a nail behind each wheel. When he backed up to go back to work, pfffft, all four tires went flat. I learned what deadwood meant on the rear end!”

Faculty members worried about their children getting sick. “Ten of us kids got our tonsils out at the same time,” he remembered. “Dr. Eckford brought us ice cream.”

Chester remembered Miss Anna Dell, his Sunday School teacher at First Presbyterian Church. When she had a car accident, he decided because she was so fond of fishing, he’d give her a can of worms. He said parents and others were horrified , “but Miss Anna Dell was very pleased.”

He shared many other humorous incidents as well as benchmarks down through the years.  Major changes came in 1929-30. Military uniforms were discontinued except for drills and military service, The first women were admitted in 1930. Fraternities came to the campus – Kappa Sigma was first. Several of the military groups became chapters of national fraternities.

Gov. Bilbo decided to fire many academicians. He mandated that all state employees contribute to rebuilding  his church. “My Dad refused. Professors were making less than $150 a month. They must have been short of Botany professors because my father stayed.”

The Depression years were tough and put a real damper on the community. The merchants in town saw the faculty through the periods when there weren’t any paychecks. “They saw the faculty through hard times.”

Everyone enjoyed  both Chester’s good humor and his history lesson. Most, if not all of his recollections, can be found in the two books he’s authored in recent years, “Campus Brat” and “From Slide Rule to PC’s.”

Thanks Chester — as Bob Hope would say (or sing), “Thanks for the Memories.”


Members of the Rotary family just named Oktibbeha County’s “Top 40 over 40″ include Rotarians Ned Browning, Nancy Hargrove, Terry Kemp, Steve Langston, Tommy Prentice; P.C. McLaurin, and Larry Mullins; and Mary Gene Gaston (widow of Past President Russell Gaston and mother of Past President Andy Gaston). Susan Tomlinson, Rotary Exchange Student Maryna Melnik’s first host mother, was also  named.

Earlier, these Rotarians were named to the “Top 40 under 40″ list: Briar Jones, Lee Beck, Melissa Dixon, Michelle Amos, and Brian Lesley.



Tori Ferguson, our Rotary Youth Exchange student who had to cut short her year in Ecuador because of illness, is Starkville’s new Miss Hospitality.  A freshman at Mississippi State, Tori was chosen from a field of eight contestants.


The Board of Directors has accepted with regret the resignation of Chris Latimer, who is returning to Jackson to practice law.

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