In memoriam: Robert Kingsley Puckett

The Department of Anthropology is saddened to report the death of Robert K. Puckett, a longtime friend of CWRU and the Anthropology Department. Mr. Puckett passed away on Nov 15, 2020 at the age of 89. In honoring his death, his family requested donations to the Newbell Niles and Ruth Neuer Puckett Prize Fund that was established in the memory of his father, Newbell Niles Puckett and his stepmother, Ruth Neuer Puckett. This fund provides an award each year for an outstanding graduating senior in Anthropology. We are deeply moved by the ongoing support of the Puckett family and send our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

The Newbell Niles and Ruth Neuer Puckett Award

The Newbell Niles and Ruth Neuer Puckett award (the Puckett award) was established in 1967, following Newbell Niles Puckett’s death. The award was established by his widow, Ruth Neuer Puckett, who created the endowment for the initial prize. Since then, the prize has been renamed the Newbell Niles and Ruth Neuer Puckett award and the annual award, given to an outstanding graduating senior in anthropology, has increased to $500.

The Puckett family have remained generous supporters of CWRU and the anthropology department. Their philanthropy continues to support and laud the success of our students. Among the winners of the Puckett award are:

Spring 2020: Timothy Fry
Spring 2019: Jennifer Nielsen, Abigail Richard
*Spring 2018: Grant Hom, Neha Gupta
Spring 2017: Sydney Stark, Harini Ushasri
Spring 2016: Kiran Bandi, Marcel Youkhana
Spring 2015: Lawrence Monocello, Christine Oak
Spring 2014: Alexander Shappie, Heidi Wagner
Spring 2013: Phoebe Edwards, Kristin Smith
Spring 2012: Matthew Clemens
Spring 2011: Shannon Ohlemacher
Spring 2010: Rebecca Rose DiOrio, Brittany Marie Rogers

Newbell Niles Puckett

Newbell Niles Puckett (1898-1967) was a native Mississippian who became a leading folklorist. Dr. Puckett received his BS from Mississippi College in 1918 and went on to receive his PhD in Sociology from Yale University in 1925.

Dr. Puckett joined the faculty of Western Reserve University (now CWRU) in 1922. He became Professor of Sociology in 1938 and served as the Chair of the Sociology Department from 1954-1963.

As a folklorist, Puckett’s work focused on superstitions, folk beliefs and humor. He traveled across the US south, Ohio, and into Canada to collect data on folk cultures. He helped establish and was President of the Ohio and Cleveland folklore societies. Dr. Puckett’s best known work was his 1926 book “Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro,” described by the publisher as:

… a book of black folklore and superstition, voodoo and conjure, magic and religion, songs and wonders. The author’s aim has been to present these folk-beliefs, to show their origin whenever possible, and to indicate some of the general principles governing the transmission and content of folklore in general as a means of establishing better relations between the races.

He also published “Names of American Negro Slaves” in 1937. He created and taught what has been characterized as a pioneering course on black studies at CWRU, well before this was a common offering.

Dr. Puckett and his first wife Marion Randall had three children, Randy W. Puckett, Robert K. Puckett, and Sally N. Puckett. Marion Puckett died in 1959. Dr. Puckett married Ruth Neuer in 1960.

Dr. Puckett died in 1967. After his death, his papers were donated to the John G. White Collection at the Cleveland Public Library.

His widow, Ruth Neuer Puckett, created the initial endowment for the Puckett award in 1967.

Ruth Neuer Puckett

Ruth Neuer was born in Vienna, Austria in 1917. She immigrated to the US where she attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving her BA in journalism in 1955, her MA in Sociology and Criminology in 1958, and her PhD in Sociology in 1970. Dr. Neuer Puckett’s expertise included population, criminology, and social stratification.

In 1959, she became an instructor in the CWRU Department of Sociology. She went on to teach courses on social institutions, social stratification, criminology, and population issues on and off at CWRU and Cuyahoga Community College. In 1961, she married Newbell Niles Puckett. Her last appointment at CWRU was as a visiting assistant professor of Sociology in 1972.

Today the legacy of Newbell Niles and Ruth Neuer Puckett lives on through their family’s ongoing generosity. Each year, the Department of Anthropology is pleased to award the Puckett prize to a deserving senior who exemplifies excellence in Anthropology.

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