By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Nearly eight decades have passed since Pete Turnham arrived as an Auburn freshman in the fall of 1939, working his way through school as a member of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps.
Now 96 years old, Turnham remembers attending a current events class taught by someone who was an institution at the institution, Dr. George Petrie.
"He was loved by everybody, and he wouldn't take no for an answer," says Turnham, who lives less than two miles from Auburn's campus.
Petrie, then 73, had served Auburn for 50 years, first as a history professor, then as a department head, and finally as graduate school dean.
"Everybody tried to get in [Petrie's class]," remembers Turnham, who would go on to receive the Bronze Star in World War II before serving 40 years in the Alabama House of Representatives.
"Dr. Petrie made sharp remarks," Turnham says. "'I told you, we don't take no for an answer in this class.' He was an old Virginian who had America woven into his heart as deep as you could get it."
That same fall, 1939, Petrie spoke at the dedication of Auburn's new on-campus stadium, the one that now boasts a capacity of 87,451.
The selection of a history professor to speak at a stadium dedication was perfectly appropriate.
After all, 47 years earlier, that same history professor had coached Auburn's first football team.
In 1892, George Petrie assembled and coached Auburn's inaugural team, launching the South's oldest rivalry with a 10-0 win over Georgia in Atlanta's Piedmont Park in February.
This season, Auburn celebrates 125 years of football, a partnership that has enriched the university and its students, says another legendary history professor, Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins.
"Football was the way that Auburn students, alums and people expressed their love and connection to the university," says Atkins, who spoke this spring at Auburn's Commencement. "That's where the tears were, and that's really where they increased their bond with the university."
Many of Petrie's students would go on to make their own mark in Auburn history, including the men for whom Auburn's stadium is named, Cliff Hare, a member of Petrie's 1892 team, and Ralph Jordan, Auburn's winningest coach.
"Coach Jordan learned his love of history through being a student of George Petrie," Atkins says. "When Coach Jordan was the football coach at Auburn, the athletic director was Jeff Beard, who also had George Petrie as his history professor. The president of the university was Ralph Draughon, who also was a George Petrie student. He had an enormous influence on them."
Even after influencing Auburn for more than a half-century, perhaps Petrie's greatest impact was still to come.
Late in 1943, he penned the Auburn Creed, a copy of which Coach Jordan would carry with him onto Utah Beach at Normandy on D-Day six months later.
The same Auburn Creed - I believe that this is a practical world… - incoming students learn each summer at Camp War Eagle, 125 years after its author led Auburn to its first victory.
"The most obvious impact of George Petrie on Auburn football is that his exposure to football while attending the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University sparked in him a love of the game and a desire to share it with his students when he returned to campus in 1891," says Mike Jernigan, who authored Auburn Man, The Life & Times of George Petrie.
"So, he literally brought the game of football to Auburn, trained and coached the first team, and even sometimes scrimmaged with the reserves," Jernigan says. "Of course his relationship with Professor Charles Herty in Athens also led to the first college football game in the Deep South - the 1892 Auburn-Georgia game.
"Petrie also chose Auburn's colors, the same burnt orange and navy blue worn by the teams at his alma mater, Virginia. Finally, although he wrote it much later, near the end of his more than a half-century at the university, the Auburn Creed continues to inspire Auburn men and women, including Tiger athletes, today."
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) June 7, 2017
Dr. Petrie is buried in Pine Hill cemetery. He passed away 70 years ago this fall. Learned 🏈 while getting his PhD at Johns Hopkins. pic.twitter.com/qddFRvYn0z
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) June 7, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer