Princeton was everything for Bob Rodgers ’56. “The love of his life was the University,” Sue Rodgers says of her husband, who passed away in 2011. He served as president and treasurer of his class, created an internship for Princeton students at the Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton, and helped establish the annual fireworks display at Reunions. But his favorite project was collecting Reunions attire for the Princetoniana Committee.
In 2007, the committee received a bequest from Hugh Wynne ’39: a collection of beer jackets, blazers, stencils, and scraps of leftover fabric. Bob Rodgers wanted to find them a permanent home. After learning that Mudd Manuscript Library could not preserve textiles, he convinced the University to dedicate a room in a Building Services warehouse to the collection.
Bob Rodgers contacted alumni to hunt down old jackets and coordinated with recent classes to acquire new ones. After his death, the Princetoniana Committee recognized his dedication by naming the collected items the Bob Rodgers ’56 Reunion and Beer Jacket Collection. Photos of the collection can be found in the Princetoniana Museum, along with recently acquired material on the Triangle Club and notable Princeton alumni.
The long history of beer jackets reflects the unique experience of Reunions. Beer jackets can be traced back to 1912, when some hard-drinking seniors got tired of spilling beer on their dress shirts. The new drinking outfit they adopted — overalls and a denim jacket — became known as a “beer suit” and became the unofficial uniform of Princeton’s senior class. The white jackets were decorated with stencils over the right shoulder reflecting class themes, from class-cutting for the class of 1928 to a tiger on a spaceship in 1963. Today, jacket designs are chosen by popular vote, a practice that originated in the late 1980s.
Assembling Princeton memorabilia was a perfect hobby for Bob Rodgers, according to Sue: “He was a pack rat to begin with. Collecting was part of his psyche.” He began to collect University memorabilia in 1994, when he retired and bought a house in Princeton. John Wriedt ’85, who now oversees the jacket collection, says, “Bob devoted a tremendous amount of time to the jacket search, sending out a flurry of emails to all the officers of the classes whose jackets were not yet represented in the collection. His unfailing diplomacy and tact in the correspondence and his ability to keep track of all responses are an inspiration to me.” The collection now includes more than 200 jackets and stencils.
Sue Rodgers, a professional quilt maker, used extra fabric to create two quilts that combine material from her husband’s class jacket and those of two of their children — Elisabeth Rodgers ’86 and Rob Rodgers ’88 — in floral patterns. The quilts, which were gifts for her children, serve as reminders of their father and his passion for Princeton.