Not Just Sailing Along
“They met me when I got off the train and asked me if they could help me get to campus. They wanted to know if I had a place to live at Purdue,” remembered John Kauffman. It was 1943. He was just 16. The war was on, and he was a long way from his home in Palisade, N.J. Those helpful guys were brothers from Alpha Sigma Phi. It was the beginning of an exciting and productive life for young Kauffman.
It cost $50 a month to eat and sleep in the fraternity house then. Tuition for an out-of-state student was also $50 a semester. It was a good deal for a young mechanical engineering student. Kauffman added, “Fraternity life was different then. Two nights a week we donned coats and ties for dinner. We were a very responsible group. We did all the upkeep on the house ourselves ¾ painting, repairs, cleaning.” That work paid off for one very special event in particular — an event held 54 years ago this August. John and his wife, Julie (also a Purdue student and a sorority member), held their wedding reception at the Alpha Sigma Phi house.
Before the end of his freshman year, he left Purdue to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy because of World II. As a midshipman, he served in the South Pacific and returned to the academy for graduation. After the war, Kauffman completed his mechanical engineering degree at Purdue. He’s never gotten the sailing part out of his blood, however. Today, you might catch him on his 35-foot sailboat out on the Chesapeake Bay near northeast Maryland where he and Julie have a home.
He loves the bay for more than just the boating, crabbing and beautiful views. Active with many environmental organizations, Kauffman serves on the boards of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Pennsylvania Nature Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Audubon Society. The couple’s primary residence is in Emmaus, Pa. “Life has been good to me, and I feel this is one way I can give something back,” said Kauffman. He has been instrumental in many fund-raising campaigns since retiring as chairman and CEO of Pennsylvania Power and Light. He is especially proud of having been the chairman of the Development Committee for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md.
Kauffman is also proud of the company where he worked for over 42 years. It was hard for him to pick just one event that stood out for him at Pennsylvania Power and Light. “I’d have to say that building the Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant is one effort that was most rewarding. It took eight years, cost $2.3 billion and is a terrific resource for Pennsylvania today,” Kauffman observed.
Public education is another area where he continues to make a contribution. He was actively involved in establishing the business and education partnership in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. The program encourages business professionals to share their skills and experience with teachers, parents and students in the schools. He is now a big supporter of the opportunities to be found at local community colleges and has championed the steady growth of Cecil County Maryland’s Community College near his home. Kauffman thinks that more standardized testing in the public schools is the best tool we have now for determining how well our education system is working. “I am very concerned that all kids in our schools have the same opportunities to succeed. Unfortunately, how our schools are funded, especially in Pennsylvania, does not always guarantee that,” stressed Kauffman.
When asked what advice he had for graduates facing today’s workplace, Kauffman had a surprising reply, “They should be sure they go into work that they really enjoy. I have to say that I had fun every day that I worked for Pennsylvania Power and Light.”
The fraternity is still an important part of Kauffman’s life. Today, he is a trustee for the National Alpha Sigma Phi Education Foundation. Brothers also share in the couple’s enjoyment of retirement from time to time. Last winter, they were able to see the best man at their wedding and an Alpha Sig brother, Art Williams ‘43, while they were in Florida.
Just a note: Ask him how often he has had lamb chops, eggs and home fries for breakfast lately. You’ll probably hear a fun-filled story or two.
Brothers can reach John Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.