During the three years that Leo Plunkett attended Duquesne University as an undergraduate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president of the United States; Babe Ruth retired from Major League Baseball; Hoover Dam was dedicated; and movie stars of the day included Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Plunkett will make some history of his own when the 100-year old receives an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters this Friday, Dec. 16, at Duquesne University’s 2016 Winter Commencement Ceremony. Approximately 460 students are expected to receive their diplomas at the ceremony, which will be held at 11 a.m. in the A.J. Palumbo Center.
“I’m overwhelmed, believe me,” said Plunkett, who will process during the ceremony and be seated on stage.
Duquesne President Ken Gormley met Plunkett in November at the University’s annual Veteran’s Breakfast. When he learned that Plunkett didn’t finish his studies at Duquesne, Gormley decided to award him an honorary degree.
A native of Lawrenceville, Plunkett attended Peabody High School for three years before finishing his senior year at Duquesne prep and then attending Duquesne University from 1934-1937. As an undergrad, he studied English, was a member of the Kappa Sigma Phi fraternity and served as a co-editor of the sports section of The Duke student newspaper.
“I can still remember the two big events—Duquesne winning the Orange bowl (in 1936) and senior Mike Basrak being the first player at Duquesne to be named an All-American,” recalled Plunkett.
Duquesne was still in its early years of being co-ed when Plunkett enrolled, and the men outnumbered the women. “It was such a wonderful atmosphere,” Plunkett said. “Everybody knew everybody, and the big meeting place was the basement of Canevin Hall, which was the cafeteria at that time. Everybody met there and socialized in between classes.”
The one female co-ed Plunkett didn’t meet at the time was his future wife, Ruth Morrissey, an education major who graduated in 1938. The two were “fixed up” by mutual friends from Duquesne after Leo returned from serving in World War II. “Lo and behold, the blind date worked,” joked Plunkett.
The couple married in November 1947 and—thanks to some pull from their parish priest—the ceremony took place in the Duquesne University Chapel.
“We always had such an affinity for Duquesne,” said Plunkett, adding that they attended his late wife’s 50th Homecoming Reunion in 1988, the re-dedication of the University Chapel in 1995, and a special ceremony in 1997 during which alumni were invited to renew their vows in the Chapel.
Plunkett, who lives in Penn Hills, still drives—he goes to church every morning to attend Mass at St. Bartholomew in his new convertible, complete with a Duquesne University license plate.
Approximately 12 of Plunkett’s family members will be at Commencement to see him get his honorary degree.