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Collection Title: Burkett (Fleet C.) Papers

Press Release:

FAMILY OF MR. FLEET BURKETT DONATE LETTER TO USM
April 17, 1996

Mr. Fleet C. Burkett, who died in Columbia, Mississippi, on March 3 at the age of 104, was the oldest living alumnus of The University of Southern Mississippi. His daughter Mrs. Kathleen Thurman of Woodville, Mississippi has recently donated to the department of Manuscripts and Archives in the McCain Library and Archives of the USM University Libraries an eight-page autobiographical letter written by Mr. Burkett in his nineties about his experiences as a student and his life before and afterwards.

"Mr. Fleet," as he was known affectionately by generations of USM alumni, was a member of the very first class in 1912 of USM, then named Mississippi Normal College.

The College opened in September 1912 with 227 students and 17 faculty. The original five red brick buildings and a few frame buildings were built on cutover land spotted with the stumps of pine trees, which the students earned money by removing. Mr. Burkett writes in his letter that "new buildings were well equipped among pine stumps and mud puddles."

On another occasion Mr. Burkett noted that he and other students had earned spending money by helping to remove the pine stumps. In his letter he tells about serving as "southpaw" relief pitcher on the College's first baseball team, playing in the Cotton State League in Jackson and in two exhibition games against the Detroit Lions, with Mr. Burkett pitching against the Lions star Ty Cobb.

According to his letter, Mr. Burkett also ran errands by the streetcar to downtown Hattiesburg for history professor W.F. Bond, and helped hand out programs and song books during the required chapel hour. He recalls the College's first president Joseph Anderson Cook as "very lovable and considerate" and goes on to say that "we all knew each other and were a big family." He notes that the dining hall served "fine meals."

Mr. Burkett points out in his letter that "we dressed different there than they do now -- wore suits, collar and tie. Most of the men pressed their trousers between the bed mattresses at night."

Mr. Burkett relates that he was born in Bassfield, Mississippi and grew up with his four sisters and four brothers on a 460-acre farm. When his father died at age 52, Mr. Burkett had to discontinue his college studies. Adept at maintaining and repairing machinery, he worked large farms in the Midwest, teaching Sunday school classes and pitching for a semi-professional baseball team in his leisure time. "There I made a grandstand play one day -- making three outs with one pass of the ball."

Ultimately returning to Mississippi, Mr. Burkett made his home in Columbia, where he worked for thirty-two years as an automobile salesman in the Chevrolet Motor Company, winning every sales award the company offered. During World War II, he served as executive director of the War Rationing Board of Marion County. He was instrumental in organizing the Columbia Lions Club in 1942 and was its first president and annual representative at national conventions.

Mr. Burkett also helped organize the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the Marion County USM Alumni Association, of which he was the first president and a service award recipient. He continued teaching Sunday school and serving in other positions in the First Baptist Church of Columbia until shortly before his death.

Mr. Burkett concludes his autobiographical letter by noting that at age 90 he was an active member of the B.A.L.L. Club. He says, "B-A-L-L means Be Active Live Longer." The members met weekly and travelled to places like Nashville, Tennessee, Williamsburg, Virginia, and Washington DC.


Accession Number: AM 96-6

Inclusive Dates: 1912-1980s

Volume: 1 item

Given By : Mrs. Kathleen Thurman.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Handwritten memoir written by Mr. Fleet C. Burkett, who, when he died in 1996 at the age of 104, was the oldest living alumnus of The University of Southern Mississippi. He enrolled in 1912, when the university, then Mississippi Normal College, first opened its doors.


Accession Number: AM 96-13

Inclusive Dates: 1985

Volume: 2 items

Given By : Mrs. Kathleen Thurman.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Photocopy of memoir by Mr. Fleet Burkett and copy of an article about him and the history of USM in the Columbian Progress in 1985.


Accession Number: AM 97-66

Inclusive Dates: ca. 1912

Volume: 1 item

Given By : Mrs. Kathleen Thurman.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Photograph of Fleet C. Burkett and M.E. Mattox in a dormitory room at Mississippi Normal College (now USM) in ca. 1912.


Created by: Bobs M. Tusa
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