The love Robert Thorley (M’71) feels for Purdue University is rivaled only by his dedication to nearby Clinton County, Indiana. As a longtime fundraiser for the Purdue Club of Clinton County, Thorley has been able to feed both of these passions.
Thorley’s tireless efforts found unprecedented success during the 2021 Purdue Day of Giving, when his club set yet another record by raising more than $10,600 toward scholarships for Purdue-bound students at Clinton County’s four high schools. The club has raised nearly $200,000 since its creation in 1977, including totals that have increased every year since Purdue Day of Giving began in 2014.
Purdue raised a record $52.5 million during this year’s event, bringing the cumulative Purdue Day of Giving total to $241.5 million.
“Purdue Day of Giving is a great way for everyone to focus their fundraising efforts,” says Thorley, who joined the Clinton County club in the 1980s and is now its treasurer.
“The fact that it breaks records every year says a lot about what Purdue means to people—and I’m one of those people—but my thrust, my emphasis, is on getting scholarships for the students of Clinton County,” he says. “This is very near and dear to me, so I keep pushing, pushing, pushing. We’re a small community and we’re competing against places like Chicago and Indianapolis, yet we’re one of the top clubs worldwide for donating.”
Philanthropy has been a focus for Thorley throughout his life, and Purdue Day of Giving has become a focus throughout his year.
A retired accountant and banker, Thorley has also been president and vice president of the Purdue Club of Clinton County at different times over the years. He has also been a board member for the Red Cross, served on the executive committee of the Howard County Community Foundation, and chaired the Clinton County Community Foundation, where he and his wife, Janet, have established a community fund. In addition, they are very involved with their local church.
Thorley’s Purdue Day of Giving activities include sponsorships for an annual golf outing as well as regular check-ins and visits with individuals and business owners in Clinton County.
“I put Purdue Day of Giving on my calendar and start early. It has really been a win for us,” Thorley says. “You can look at it and say, ‘What is 126 donations worth? What’s $10,000?’ But it took more than 25,000 donations to reach $52.5 million this year. Every dollar is important. That’s my philosophy—this is about every individual donor in the county, every small business owner. Let’s work together, and if everybody can donate a little bit, those little bits add up to a large amount.”
Thorley has not always been so passionate about either Purdue or Clinton County.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Thorley was interested in studying engineering and thought he would probably go to college in-state. He didn’t even consider Purdue until some very influential alumni recommended it.
“My mother worked at NASA, and she knew Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong personally. They recommended Purdue,” he says. “They said we should drive over and take a look and, coming from them, we thought that was probably a good idea. Lo and behold, I got accepted to Purdue.”
Thorley arrived at Purdue in 1966 and immediately enjoyed the University but struggled with its engineering curriculum. He left school for a year but returned in 1969, found a home at the Krannert School of Management, and graduated two years later.
Purdue is also where Thorley met his future wife, who is from Clinton County. After Bob graduated, they married and left West Lafayette as he pursued his career. Janet went on to receive degrees from Illinois State and Indiana University-Kokomo, and they ultimately settled outside the Clinton County town of Kirklin.
The Thorleys have two sons, one of whom studied aviation at Purdue and is now a pilot. The other son attended Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and became an engineer. They have six grandchildren.
“One thing I think Purdue and Clinton County share is an overall family-type environment,” Thorley says. “Purdue really prepared me for the rest of my life and taught me that you need to perform at your best in order to make it. It forced me to develop better work habits. And Clinton County is just a great place to raise a family.”