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Karnes, Virginia Kelly, 1909-2006



  • Existence: 1909 - November 3, 2006

Biographical Information

Virginia Kelly Karnes and her late husband Bill were long-time benefactors of Purdue University. Virginia was named the first woman chair of the President's Council of Purdue, as well as being elected to the Mortar Board at Purdue. The Purdue University Libraries honored her by naming the Archives and Special Collections research center for her in recognition of her generosity to the libraries.

A native of Warsaw, Indiana, Virginia Grace Kelly worked at a box factory for three years after graduating from high school, saving enough money to enroll at Butler University in 1929. When the Warsaw Bank closed in 1930, tying up her money, she had to go back to work. In 1932, she resumed her education at Purdue University and graduated in 1935 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority and did housework at Alpha Chi Omega to pay for her room and board. In 2002, she endowed a financial assistance program for qualifying members of the Alpha Chi Omega attending Purdue.

She met William George Karnes in 1928, and after a nine-year courtship, they were married on May 1, 1937. She became his closest friend, confidant and most valued counsel as he advanced from the position of law clerk to become president and chief executive officer of Beatrice Foods Company in Chicago, Illinois. During Bill's early years at Beatrice Foods, Virginia frequently would travel with him by train from city to city meeting the company's various division managers. They had been married for 63 years when Bill passed away on November 17, 2000.

Virginia Karnes served Rush University Medical Center for fifty years as a member of its Woman's Board (serving as president 1974-1976) and was a member of the Medical Center's Board of Trustees. Her volunteerism and philanthropy were recognized with membership in several of the Medical Center's premier giving groups, including the Anchor Cross Society, Rush Heritage Society, and Board of Benefactors.


MSA 352, Virginia Kelly Karnes papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Virginia Kelly Karnes papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 352
Scope and Contents The Virginia Kelly Karnes Papers (circa 1910-2006; 4.5 Cubic ft.) document the life of Virginia Karnes. Types of materials include correspondence, notes, awards and certificates, printed material, electronic media, photographs, and artifacts.
Dates: 1910-2006; Other: Date acquired: 11/30/2006