Deforest O'Dell · 1976

By Vickie Sanders Benner

DeForest O’Dell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 1, 1898. His parents were Thomas Allen and Ella Elizabeth (Haywood) O’Dell. Thomas Allen was attending medical school at Emory University at the time of his son’s birth.

The O’Dell family moved to Brightwood in the Indianapolis area when DeForest was eighteen months old. Thomas Allen practiced medicine in this community for over fifty years.

DeForest, an only child, was educated in the Indiana public school system. He attended IPS #51 and graduated from Shortridge High School in 1915.

Upon high school graduation, O’Dell began college at Butler University, Indianapolis, from 1915 until 1917. This educational pursuit was interrupted when O’Dell was transferred from the Indiana National Guard to the United States 139th Field Artillery. He served in the American Expeditionary Force in this country and France during World War II. He was discharged as a sergeant in 1919 and later served in the United States Military Intelligence Reserve as a second lieutenant from 1927 to 1935.

In 1919 O’Dell returned to Butler, where he was actively involved with the campus newspaper, yearbook, the debating team, and dramatics club. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Butler University in 1921. O’Dell continued his education at Columbia University in New York City, where he received a Masters of Arts degree in 1922. During his college years, O’Dell worked for various newspapers in Indiana and New York.

His career in education began in 1923 when he became an assistant professor in English at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois. In 1925, O’Dell returned to Butler University. He was assistant professor, later professor of journalism, head of the department of journalism, and public relations director for Butler University until 1931.

On June 18, 1927, DeForest O’Dell married Margaret Caroline Godley from Indianapolis. They later had two daughters, Mary (Mrs. John R. Adams) and Natalie (Mrs. William J. Peeler).

From 1913 until 1932, O’Dell served on the copy desk of the Associated Press in New York City as editor of the Southern wire.

O’Dell was professor of journalism during 1933-1936 at Edgewood Park Junior College in Greenwich, Connecticut. In 1933 he was also named director of the Drake School of Journalism, New York City. He held this position until 1938.

After graduate work at Indiana University, University of Chicago, New York University, and Columbia University, O’Dell received his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Columbia University in 1935. This degree followed completion of his published dissertation History of Journalism Education in the United States.

From New York, O’Dell moved to McComb, Illinois, where he became professor of journalism and director of public relations at Western Illinois State College until 1944.

He was on the staff of the fund-raising counsels of Ketchum Incorporated, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1944 and of Lawson Associates, Incorporated, New York City in 1945. In these associations, he acted as director of campaigns for several hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities. In 1945 he served as Illinois State Supervisor of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

He then returned to Butler as head of the journalism department, director of student contact work, and alumni secretary. He was on leave from Butler from 1954-1956 to serve as head of journalism at Osmania University, Hyderabad, India.

O’Dell remained as head of the journalism department at Butler until his death on June 19, 1958. DeForest O’Dell is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Journalistic Contributions:
DeForest O’Dell’s journalistic contributions began in 1915. After graduating from high school, he began employment as a copy boy and reporter on the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News, and Indianapolis Times.

From 1919-1920 he was city editor at the Crawfordsville Review and reporter and feature writer with the Evansville Courier. He worked as copy editor and reporter for the Richmond Item in 1923 and rejoined the Indianapolis Star staff from 1925-1926 as a copy editor. O’Dell also wrote for various New York newspapers and served as a copy editor at the Associated Press in New York City.

O’Dell’s journalistic contributions encompass his educational contributions. He taught and headed journalism departments at six colleges and universities: Lombard College, Butler University, Drake School of Journalism, Edgewood Park Junior College, Western Illinois State College, and Osmania University in Hyderabad, India.

As a professor in the central India university, O’Dell organized and directed a department of journalism at Osmania. This course of study was offered to editors and sub-editors of English language papers in India. Dr. O’Dell’s Indian trip was coordinated by the World Literacy and Christian Literature Organization.

Dr. O’Dell was the author of the History of Journalism Education in the United States, his doctoral dissertation published in book form. The book describes the views of pioneers in journalism education up to 1902.

O’Dell contributed articles to magazines in his field, including The American Mercury and Journal of Higher Education. O’Dell also edited The Butler Alumnus, the alumni magazine at Butler University.

Other Contributions:
DeForest O’Dell was an active member of several national, as well as Indianapolis-based, organizations.

He belonged to Sigma Delta Chi, Phi Delta Kappa, Sigma Chi, Sigma Tau Kappa, and Alpha Delta Sigma fraternities. He also held membership in the American Association of University Professors, the American Legion, the Indianapolis Literary Club, the Torch Club, The Indianapolis Press Club, the Indiana Industrial Editors Association, and the Hoosier State Press Association.

At Butler, O’Dell was alumni secretary of the university, where his responsibilities included making arrangements for the annual homecoming activities. He was also advisor for many campus organizations.

Politically Dr. O’Dell was a Republican. He was a member of the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and belonged to the Masonic Temple.


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