Story by Tom Fullerton
ACU is famous for a campus teeming with family legacy. For Tom Fullerton, Lucy Hamilton Fullerton, their four children and ten granddaughters, lineage takes the form of a stuffed plush toy.
In 1953, Tom Fullerton returned to what was Abilene Christian College at the time, from his short time in the military. Lucy Hamilton was in her junior year at ACC. They met that semester and were married within a year. In 1957, during their senior year, Tom graduated and Lucy had their first child, Cliff.
52 years later in 2009, Lucy finished her last three courses and also became an ACU graduate at the age of 75. This was after the ACU graduations of their four children: Cliff (’79), Shawna (’81), Doug (’84) and Brad (’86), and their four granddaughters: Jenny Fullerton (’05), Haley Wolf (’07), Melanie Fullerton (’07), Cara Fullerton (’10) had graduated from ACU. Granddaughters Karissa Wolf (‘11) and Becca Fullerton (‘12) graduated soon after. Currently at ACU, they have another two granddaughters, Alaina Wolf, a junior communication science and disorders major from Coppell and Anna Fullerton, a junior psychology major from Garland.
The Fullerton family added three more to their purple ranks when two of their children and one of their granddaughters married ACU grads: Cliff to Beth Garrett (’79), Jenny to Chris Thompson (’05) and Brad to Holly Hill (’86), who gave Tom and Lucy two great-grandchildren and probable future purple Wildcats.
In the fall of 2001, the first Fullerton granddaughter, Jenny, was leaving for her freshman year at ACU. While shopping in a toy store, Tom spotted a solid, purple stuffed animal called The Purple People Eater. The plush toys were on sale and the store had only eight left. Tom picked one up, squeezed its paw and it sang the famous tune back. He immediately bought all eight and presented the first one to Jenny as she was leaving for Abilene.
In the following years, five other Fullerton granddaughters left for ACU and were ceremoniously presented with their Purple People Eaters.
During the fall of 2010, Anna and Alaina, granddaughters number seven and eight, graduated from high school, bound for ACU. Tom went up to the attic to retrieve the old box that contained the last two Purple People Eaters. Unfortunately, one of them would not sing the song. He immediately searched the web to find the manufacturer, Gemmy Industries, then called the company to ask where he could get it repaired. They explained that the item was made in China and had been discontinued several years ago and no longer were parts or repair services available. Gemmy Industries had their home office in Coppell, Texas, prompting Tom to visit the next day, bringing with him the two Purple People.
After telling the receptionist his story, several other employees heard the music that played from the one working toy and became involved, going between offices, trying to find a solution for the one Purple People Eater that could not carry a tune. No solution could be found, so Tom returned home dejected.
The next day, a Gemmy employee called to tell Tom that the company president was flying to the factory in China the next day. He suggested taking the broken Purple People Eater in hopes they might be able to repair or replace it. Tom dropped everything and immediately took it to them, finding his story was the talk of the office and thanking them profusely.
Two weeks later, Tom and Lucy woke early, packed their luggage and put on their purple and white garb to attend ACU’s homecoming. As they were leaving, the phone rang. Answering the call, the resurrected tune of the damaged Purple People Eater sang back through the telephone. The stuffed toy had returned from China and was wanting to go to Abilene. The Fullertons made a detour for Gemmy Industries as they left for Abilene, taking the family trophy to his new home on ACU campus.
For Lucy, this Fullerton tradition carries a greater impact. The way ACU fosters family legacies is how God intended it, she said.
“I didn’t grow up with a family,” Lucy said, “so family traditions are especially dear to me. When Tom and I were married, I had to learn. I was starting a whole new life over, how to start a family, how to be in a family.”
All eight girls have held onto their Purple People Eaters, except one. Cara Fullerton, granddaughter number four, thoughtfully passed hers on to her cousin, Hannah Hendrix, when she became an ACU freshman in 2009. Hannah is the daughter of ’81 graduate Becky Garrett and gradaughter of ’49 graduate Dr. Dick Garrett.
But the ACU blood runs beyond the family realm, the Fullertons said. Like them, ACU was the site their children and granddaughter found their spouses, and made lifetime bonds.
“No matter where you go, you run into ACU people, it’s inevitable,” Lucy said.
“We can not overemphasize the importance of having relationships,” Tom said. “ACU is like church, having people around you all the time as your growing up and developing. A community there encouraging you, giving you more confidence.”
For junior Alaina Wolf, ACU was the natural choice for school selection.
“Since I can remember, I knew I was going to ACU,” she said. “Not because I felt like I had to because I was pressured, but because it felt like home. I had visited so many times as a child that I didn’t need a campus tour.”
“I kept my Purple People Eater in my dorm room on display,” Wolf said. “People didn’t understand, but I enjoyed explaining my grandparents’ tradition.”
The passing of a Purple Eater to the next ACU student-to-be is just the Fullerton’s story of many family legacies preserved by ACU purple, and in their case, a stuffed, plush monster.
“We usually would present it at a meal,” Tom said. “It gave us a little chance to support the ACU choice by telling them what they have to look forward to. We wanted to tell them this is a wonderful place where you will make life-long relationships-the Purple People Eater will remind you of that.”
Tom and Lucy would end the ritual by pressing the toy’s ear to hear, “He was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying Purple People Eater.”
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