When James “Jim” Orr Jr., EG49, moved from Long Island, New York, to pursue his chemical engineering degree at the University of Delaware, he had no idea he was setting the course for three generations of Double Dels.
Jim first fell in love with UD after meeting faculty and joining the men’s soccer team, a fraternity and the marching band. Then, he fell in love with another Blue Hen.
It was 1946 when Bettye Barton and Jim met on a blind double date that one of Jim’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers set up.
“My blind date with her led to us getting married in ’49,” Jim recalls, thinking back on how he instantly connected with Bettye, who was originally going on the double date with Jim’s fraternity brother.
Jim and Bettye spent 63 years together before Bettye passed away in 2011. Their Blue Hen legacy lives on through son James “Ed” Edmund Orr III and his wife, Janet, and grandson James Edmund Orr IV, and his wife, Sharon.
The strong, emotional family tie to the University led Jim and the Orr family to establish the Bettye Barton Orr ’45 and James E. Orr Jr. ’49 Family Research Fund. The endowed fund was established to support undergraduate research in the STEM fields, an especially important topic to the family since all remember fostering key relationships with faculty mentors, which opened doors for them to learn one-on-one with faculty in various STEM laboratories and to become involved with impactful research.
“The genesis of the gift is based on our gratitude for our collective experiences at UD,” says Ed. “We all feel very thankful. I know my mother enjoyed UD very much and what she got out of the school.”
Exchanging stories about their respective times on campus, the Orr men recall frequenting the same favorite spots and learning in the same classrooms. They also shared close relationships with faculty members. Memories of those connections to campus helped fuel their gift.
“For those of us who had to leave UD to serve overseas, life was different coming back into college from the war,” says Jim, who remembers how welcome he felt on campus in the 1940s and ’50s, when professors would invite groups of students into their homes to share meals and conversation. “The attitude of the faculty and school toward the veterans was so warm.”
Second-generation Blue Hen Ed Orr, EG73, was most impressed with the research his wife, Janet, AS74, was able to do with faculty as an undergraduate studying biology at UD. She was also able to teach lab classes as a senior and is now a professor of economics at Georgia State University.
“She ended up doing a number of projects that were graduate level projects, but she was allowed to do them as an undergraduate,” Ed says. “Her ability to do that was not only testament to her skill set, but also a testament to the type of people UD had on the faculty, men and women both.”
Ed and Janet were filled with pride when son James followed in the family footsteps. Recalling dropping James off for his freshman year at UD, mom Janet admitted she and Ed did not feel the way most other parents have felt when taking a child to college.
“Our feeling was not that sadness you might feel dropping your first born off,” Janet says. “We were both really jealous because he got to go to our school when we couldn’t go back.”
James, EG01, 04M, is the youngest Orr to graduate from UD and he admits he had “no clue” that attending the University would shape his life so dramatically, both personally and professionally. UD is where he met his wife, Sharon, EHD00, and where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering, degrees that helped him toward his current career in the technology industry.
“UD is a well-rounded university,” James says. “You meet people from all slices of life and there’s so many outside-your-domain opportunities. I made so many friends at UD who were not engineers and I’m thankful for those relationships. It’s broadened me as a person.”
James especially values the connections he developed on campus. Faculty mentorship helped guide him through rigorous coursework in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and he continues to stay connected to faculty and his former major as a member of the advisory council.
But James notes the campus culture and UD’s extracurricular opportunities also encouraged him to grow as a person beyond his engineering coursework. He is part of a broad Blue Hen network, even thousands of miles away in California, where he and Sharon now live. The couple has bought non-UD friends Blue Hen gear to wear while cheering on televised football games and approached strangers wearing blue and gold to ask if they too are alumni.
Back on the East Coast, James’ grandfather has had similar experiences encountering Blue Hens. Jim can often be seen wearing a UD baseball hat, and on a recent outing was approached by a stranger because of it. As it turned out, the man was the son of a student Jim remembered from his early years at UD.
“People think they recognize you as a fellow Blue Hen and are darn proud to mention it and find out that’s the case,” Jim says. “It’s just amazing people are so proud of being associated with Delaware, the level of standards that the University and the administration have kept up in both academics and sports, and now in many other things. I am very proud of the fact that I’ve been there, done that.”