Claude A. Bunnell, EG '43, attended the University when freshmen wore beanies called "dinks," men and women attended separate colleges, and the news on dorm radios was all about Pearl Harbor.
When he lunched at Longwood Gardens, the estate was still home to Alice and Pierre S. du Pont.
Bunnell, a first-in-his-class farm boy from Harrington, Del., was no socially connected college student. He came to the University by the kindness of P.S. du Pont, and his Longwood luncheon was for scholarship recipients.
Du Pont established a "loan'' fund for deserving students. He told the recipients he wanted no direct repayment, but he asked them to give back to the University someday when they were able.
Bunnell received $800. He has repaid with gifts of more than $378,000.
"I know what going to college did for me, so I hope it will do as much for other kids,'' he says. "Just by being able to go to college in the first place, I felt extremely lucky. I've been lucky all my life.''
Bunnell sees luck where others would see roadblocks. Looking on the bright side is a guiding principle of his life.
His parents separated when he was 5 years old, and he and his four brothers moved from place to place, but the memories Bunnell carried around in the back of his head for seven decades were of delicious eggnog, loving visits from his father and viewing the lights of Manhattan for the first time.
When he and two of his brothers were sent to separate foster homes, Bunnell was grateful to land with George and Ethel Sapp, a Harrington farm couple who taught him to respect others for their character and not for their education or their wealth.
As a boy, Bunnell created one of the first farm stands along Route 13 when he pushed the Sapps' produce-filled wheelbarrow out to the road.
Something in Bunnell's character caused adults to champion him early on.
The Children's Aid Society representative who brought Bunnell to Harrington when he was a youngster bequeathed his gold pocket watch to him. Two neighbors offered to send him to college, but Bunnell didn't want the Sapps to feel beholden to them. A college administrator's wife took Bunnell in when he fell ill on campus. A senator offered him an unsolicited appointment to Annapolis a year after he'd enrolled at the University. UD administrators helped him find work on campus.
Bunnell remembers how lucky he felt when he landed a job in the dining hall that enabled him to buy his books and some clothes.
When the weather turned too cold for his lightweight clothing, he found a discarded radio, repaired it and traded it to another student for the use of the student's extra coat for the winter term.
As an upperclassman, Bunnell felt privileged to work in the office of renowned chemical engineering professor Allan Colburn, where the best engineers in the country passed by his desk.
Fifty years later, he donated $100,000 for the expansion of Colburn Laboratory, home of the Department of Chemical Engineering. "I have a lot of sentimental thoughts from that time,'' he says. "I wish I could have contributed more.''
At 81, Bunnell is a success by any yardstick. He has been married 53 years, has five children and four grandchildren and built a successful plastics business. He's fit enough to ride around his resort-area homes by bicycle.
UD's Medal of Distinction was awarded to him in 1998 and is displayed in a shadow box over his desk.
Two of Claude and Sally Bunnell's sons attended UD, Steve and David.
Steve left the University after three years to administer a start-up system for a road-and-bridge-design engineering firm. He is now a computer consultant for a national truck-leasing firm.
David graduated from UD and earned a doctorate at the University of Virginia. He is editor of the National Speleological Society News and is a freelance cave photographer for Time-Life Books and magazines such as Outside and Ranger Rick.
You can tell a lot about a person by what he spends his money on.
Claude Bunnell's large, block-from-the-beach home is less grand than the houses that surround it in Ocean City, N.J., but he has given stakes to several fledgling business people and told them, "You don't have to worry about paying me back. Just do the same for the next person when they need it."
He has created scholarships at Harrington High School, American University and at his golf club. His endowment of The Bunnell Family Scholarship for science students at UD is now worth more than $462,000.
"I want to give these kids a chance to succeed in life, you know, to give them a boost to get started on a course that will prepare them for life,'' Bunnell says. "So many people helped me. It's fun to be able to give, and it's fun to give.''
This year five students are on campus because of the generosity of Claude Bunnell and his family.