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A GATHERING PLACE FOR STORYTELLING ABOUT DEPAUW UNIVERSITY
An ocean and more than 60 years apart, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan inadvertently influenced – in a sixth degree sort of way – the decision by two first-year students to attend DePauw University.
Paul and Sara Das ’23, twins from the Chicago suburb Villa Park, are legacy students, the progeny of Andrew Das ’87 and grandchildren of Rebecca Zabel Das ’63.
The progression that resulted in four individuals from three generations choosing DePauw was sparked when MacMillan, prime minister from 1957 to 1963, visited his mother’s Spencer, Indiana, childhood home. MacMillan was the second son of Helen Belles Hill MacMillan, whose father, Joshua Belles, graduated as a medical doctor from Indiana Asbury University in 1851.
On a June day in 1958, MacMillan delivered the commencement address at his grandfather’s alma mater. (He returned to DePauw to speak in 1968.)
It so happens that a teenaged Rebecca Zabel was invited by her Brownstown, Indiana, neighbor, Loretta Kline Baker ’32, to travel to Greencastle for the commencement.
“I was absolutely thrilled to death,” Zabel Das said. “How could this school get the prime minister of England to be their graduation speaker?” She visited campus, witnessed MacMillan’s speech in Blackstock Stadium and decided on the spot that DePauw “was just where I was going to go to college. That was it.”
She studied education at her father’s behest, but disliked the idea of teaching. After graduation, she participated in a labor exchange and went to work as a typist in Germany. There she met Ajit Das, a draftsman from Calcutta, India. Marriage followed, then son Andrew.
Years later, Andrew began a quest for the right place to study a pre-med curriculum. His mother didn’t push DePauw, but he took a close look because of the school’s good track record with placing graduates in medical school.
He moved from Houston to attend DePauw and earned a biology degree, but an early philosophy class altered his path. He ultimately received graduate degrees from Yale University and Union Theological Seminary and is a professor of religious studies and assistant dean of faculty for assessment and accreditation at Elmhurst College.
Several DePauw professors influenced his career path.
“I got to speak to an upper-level evolutionary biology class for Wade Hazel and another in geology for Fred Soster. I think that got me thinking in terms of a career in the academy,” Das said. “My teaching method as a professor was shaped by my experience in (biology professor Robert) Stark’s class.” And philosophy professor Marthe Chandler “got me hooked on the humanities. She always treated us as budding philosophers, as conversation partners … Now I see my students as conversation partners as well. My undergraduate experiences also shaped me as a professor of undergraduate students.”
Nearly 30 years later, Andrew’s twin children were thinking about college. His older son looked at DePauw but ended up at DePaul University. (Paul loves to tease his brother that DePauw’s “W” stands for “winner,” while DePaul’s “L” stands for … well, you get it.)
Maybe it’s something lingering in the back of their minds that this is an incredible school and a very close knit community. … It’s a great story across the generations. It’s typical DePauw.– Andrew Das ’87
Father and twins all agree; Dad did not push DePauw but left the decision up to his kids.
“They visited the campus and it seemed like home to them,” Andrew Das said. “I didn’t push it. I said, ‘You can go wherever you want to go. It doesn’t matter to me; wherever you think is best.’ But DePauw sold itself as the best.”
Paul, who wants to study computer science, decided first. He was struck by DePauw’s rigorous academics, beautiful campus and people “who could be your substitute family.” Sara mulled her decision a little longer and, “once again, she followed me,” said Paul, who is 12 minutes older.
Sara plans to study the pre-law curriculum. “Not only did they have exactly what I needed,” she said, “they also provided exactly the money that we needed to go, to take advantage of the opportunities.”
For Amanda Ryan, DePauw’s executive director of admission, “there is nothing more exciting than welcoming a legacy family back to campus and seeing the joy it brings our alumni to have their children going through the process at DePauw. As we work with students, it is incredibly rewarding to witness their realization that they will create their own path and leave their own legacy, carrying on their family tradition but in their own unique way. At DePauw, a place that prides itself on family and community, our legacy students enhance that experience, not just for themselves but for our entire campus community.”
DePauw, Andrew Das said, “brings together quality people and that makes for quality relationships, so my kids have always been around DePauw alum through childhood. Maybe it’s something lingering in the back of their minds that this is an incredible school and a very close knit community. …
“It’s a great story across the generations. It’s typical DePauw.”