Keeper of the keepsakes
Frank Merat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Case memorabilia, professor finds the trappings of a great university

 The first souvenir that Frank Merat bought was the 1926 yearbook of the Case School of Applied Science. There it was, for sale on eBay. He paid $34.

That was 10 years ago. Today his collection of Case memorabilia includes about 90 percent of the Case yearbooks published between 1896 and 1972.

That’s in addition to fraternity pins, paper weights, belt buckles, buttons and song books, as well as blankets, jackets, cups and caps emblazoned with Case colors and images.

On a Quad imbued with history, Merat, an emeritus professor of electrical engineering, is the keeper of the keepsakes. His growing collection traces the evolution of the Case School of Engineering from its 1888 roots in the Case School of Applied Science to the 1947 Case Institute of Technology to today’s Case Western Reserve University.

“I just started collecting the stuff for the heck of it,” he shrugged, adding, “It got interesting.”  Very.

In a way, Merat is chronicling his life and times. A three-degree alum, he arrived on Case Quad as a student in 1968, earned a bachelor’s, a master’s and a doctorate degree and stayed to teach for 40 years, sort of retiring last year. A student favorite, he still teaches an introduction to circuits course.

In a cluttered and adventuresome office on the fifth floor of Glennan Hall, memorabilia compete for space with circuity, light meters and machine parts—like mismatched puzzle pieces waiting to be sorted.

Nothing quite fits, but an energetic tour guide is ready to try.

He recalls he has, somewhere, a football autographed by Frank Ryan—the quarterback who lead the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL championship in 1964. Quickly, he’s up and rooting through boxes behind his desk. Voila, out comes a white pigskin signed by the Case associate professor of mathematics.

“How many times do you have a math professor who’s an NFL quarterback?” Merat asks. “He still comes to reunions. You should see all the alumni who bring their math books for him to sign.”

He’s a vigorous, white-haired man with the resonate voice of a broadcaster, lending his observations an extra measure of gravitas. Paging through a Case Songbook from 1923, Merat declares, “Men’s glee clubs were big!” as if about to break into song.

Delicately, he flips through a handmade calendar from 1918. The slender cardboard pages, bound with string, bear black and white images of campus buildings and landmarks—some lost to time, some in view out of his window.

Each keepsake is a tangible memory, a star in the galaxy of Case history, and something to ponder.

 “It meant an awful lot to a lot of people,” Merat said, turning reflective. “And it raises some good questions. Where have we been? How have we influenced things? And where do we want to go?”

As a Case alumnus, he says, he’s often walking in the footsteps of giants.

Consider T. Keith Glennan, the man for whom the building is named. The former President of the Case Institute of Technology served simultaneously as a member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, back when it was testing atomic bombs. Glennan left campus for a while to lead the nation’s new space agency, NASA, becoming its first administrator in 1958.

“When was the last time we had anyone from Case go and head NASA?” he asks.

After pausing in thought, he notes that a former student, Paul Buchheit, ’98, was one of the early employees of Google, where he created Gmail, and helped ignite Web. 2.0.

He draws an answer to his NASA question, one that makes him smile.

“Our students have done really well,” he said.

That’s worth remembering and worth chronicling, Merat believes. As his collection attests, he’s not the only one who thought so.

If you think you have something to add to Frank Merat’s collection, email him at flm@case.edu