Devoted Spartan Leaves Lasting Legacy

Edwin L. Carpenter loved three things in life: working, agriculture and MSU.

Edwin L. Carpenter, 1916-2014
Edwin L. Carpenter, 1916-2014

Edwin L. Carpenter loved three things in life: working, agriculture and MSU.

"Work came first, MSU came second and anything else was third,” said Carpenter’s close friend Frank Hull. “The only time Ed wasn’t working was to watch MSU sports and if he needed to miss a game to work, he did.”

As a result of his lifelong commitment to work—and the fruits of a career that lasted through age 90—Carpenter was able to make a gift upon his death in 2014 that jointly honored his two other loves: a $1.6 million donation to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “He was very proud of giving to MSU,” Carpenter’s nephew, Tom Carpenter, said. “I think it is amazing what my uncle did and the legacy he left.”

Although the amount of his last contribution may have suggested otherwise, Carpenter did not live a lavish lifestyle, nor was he the benefactor of old family money. He was simply a hard-working man who lived simply and saved money. “Ed was a workaholic,” explained Hull. “He was a farmer and a land owner, and he had a gravel pit. He saved everything. He had a really modest lifestyle. He drove a beat-up pickup truck and had old equipment.”

Born the son of a dairy farmer in Union City, Michigan, in 1916, Carpenter adopted his work ethic early in life. “I remember him telling the story of his dad hiring people to come in and tile his property,” Hull said. “Ed and his brother helped dig big trenches with shovels; it took them the whole year to put clay tiles in. He grew up tough, that’s how they did things.”

With his younger brother Bob still at home to help with the farm, Carpenter was presented with an opportunity not many farm kids had at the time: a chance to go to college. “It was a great honor for him to be able to go to MSU; he was very proud of the fact that he went to college,” Hull said. “He loved that he was there in the early days when it was MSC [Michigan State College].”

Carpenter graduated from MSC in 1941 with a degree in agriculture and natural resources and returned to the family farm before serving his country in World War II. Carpenter was stationed in California as a clerk. Upon his discharge, Carpenter came back home where he farmed alongside his brother Bob, growing corn, soybeans, oats and hay. During his 60s, Carpenter purchased a gravel pit, which he operated for nearly 30 years, until poor health forced him to stop.

Although the demands of farming and work kept Carpenter very busy, he was always able to find time for his beloved alma mater. A football season ticket holder since 1950, Carpenter loved Spartan athletics. “When we went to Thanksgiving, we were watching the Spartans with Ed,” remembered Tom Carpenter. “If we went to Christmas, we were doing the same. I think Ed’s biggest thrill in life came when he went out to the Rose Bowl game in California in 1985.”

It was his love for Spartan sports that helped Carpenter develop a special relationship with Hull. The two began attending games together when the long drives from Union City became difficult for the aging Carpenter. “He was like a grandfather to me,” explained Hull, who is also a farmer and lifelong MSU fan. “It was like we were meant to meet. He liked that what was important to him was important to me, so we developed a special relationship over the years.”

Left to right: Ed Carpenter, Scott Bigelow, Sparty and Frank Hull. Left to right: Ed Carpenter, Scott Bigelow, Sparty and Frank Hull.

Throughout the 12 years Carpenter and Hull attended games together, Hull learned valuable life lessons from Carpenter, who had no children of his own. “Every time I was worried about how hard farming was, he would always have something better or worse to compare it to,” said Hull. “He always made me feel better because no matter how bad things were, he’d already seen it several times. He’d say ‘Oh yeah, we had that happen once. Give it a week, it’ll be all right.’ And he was right, he was always right.”

Although he didn’t talk about it much, Hull believes Carpenter’s interest in helping “MSU farm kids” was one of the reasons Carpenter left his final gift to the college. “Ed liked sports, but he was always interested in the classroom, too,” said Hull. “I think he wanted to give farm kids like himself a chance to do something.”

As a result of his contribution, the Edwin L. Carpenter Endowed Fund for CANR was created in 2015. An unrestricted endowment, the funds will be used at the discretion of the CANR dean, who can choose a different project each year.

“For our new dean to have this resource is incredibly valuable,” explained Tami Baumann, senior director of development for CANR. “It improves our ability to offer special programs that prepare and retain students. Because of the fund, we will be able to create advantages for a new generation of CANR students—all thanks to our friend Mr. Carpenter.”

This article was published in In the Field, a yearly magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. To view past issues of In the Field, visit www.canr.msu.edu/inthefield. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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