A page out of the booklet Energy Lessons from the Life of John J. McKetta Jr. suggests that to live a long life...one should host generously. The University of Texas at Austin’s chemical engineering department’s namesake did that in spades, perhaps most remembered through the annual McKetta Picnic.

Update to Original Article (Post Event)

Saturday, April 20th from 11-2PM, current leadership of the Texas AIChE student chapter hosted the first McKetta Picnic in many years. Current students, alumni, faculty joined together to celebrate the legacy of John J. McKetta and the future of the department. With traditions of old and new, members made the best of the weather and enjoyed great food and festivities.

2024 AIChE McKetta Picnic PREP

2024 AIChE McKetta Picnic Ben Longhorn

Outgoing Texas AIChE President, Codi McMillan reported, "McKetta Picnic was an incredible success! It was beyond anything I imagined! Over 100 people attend. There were several alums and retired professors that were excited about the reinstated tradition, and hearing their stories and how much attending McKetta Picnic again meant to them was really moving. I am so happy that not only did this picnic impact students, but older ChemEs were excited and thankful that McKetta’s legacy was enduring."

2024 McKetta Picnic Group

Texas AIChE's Vice President of Membership Jennifer Pierce added, “I'm so excited for the tradition to continue going forward. I had no idea the impact this would have on alumni, faculty, and staff old and new, but it was really moving to be able to be a part of something that was so big and important to so many. I'm glad we got to honor McKetta in our own way, and it was such a beautiful end to my term on the Texas AIChE officer team.” 

Additional event photos are on our FLICKR account: bit.ly/McKettaPicnic2024_PIX.

Beginnings of a Texas ChE Tradition

Distilled from the biography "Energy: The Life of John J. McKetta Jr.", penned by granddaughter Elizabeth Sharp McKetta, in 2017, McKetta and his wife Pinky, began hosting annual picnics soon after they acquired three acres along Lake Austin...sometime in the 1950s. Before there was even a house, students, faculty and their families would gather and grill and game on the sprawling undeveloped lawn along the waterfront.

2011Fall JJM McKetta Picnic

There were picnics for decades, during the spring and fall semesters, long after the McKetta’s built their home. “Back in the day it was an all-day event,” recalls former Lecturer and alumnus Michael Poehl, B.S. ’74, “there was volleyball and kickball. McKetta would cook. Later as he got older, he would still host but would come out and wave from his porch.” Eventually, Texas AIChE student chapter would take over role as host–planning menus and activities, and moving the picnic closer to campus. McKetta continued to attend those picnics in Eastwoods Park well into his late 90s.

The picnics fell off during the pandemic. “Alumni and corporate sponsors tell us stories about how much the picnic meant to them,” said Codi McMillan. “Texas AIChE leadership has talked for years about bringing it back partially out of nostalgia, and our current leadership has identified students are missing connection with other students, professors, and alumni.”

1960s McKetta Picnic

On Saturday, April 20th from 11-2PM, Texas AIChE will once again host the McKetta Picnic at Eastwoods Park. They’re taking action, aiming to bring back some of the beloved activities the picnic is best remembered for and setting the foundation for the picnics to continue into the future. 

Camaraderie and Competition

“One contest called the ‘bat relay’ was where you sprinted 50 yards and put your forehead on the end of a baseball bat and spun around five times (or more). You would run back to home base, disoriented after the turns, you couldn’t run in a straight line. Everyone would veer to the left and nearly run into the cyclone fence at the edge of the McKetta property. It was hilarious to watch and yes, I ran too (in the 1970s),” offered Professor Emeritus Thomas Edgar.  

2011Fall McKetta at PicnicPeter Gilmore, B.S. ’82, who didn’t attend the picnics until after graduation recalled, among other details, the late 80s bat races and volleyball games where alumni and students delighted in some friendly competition. “Three years in a row the alums were undefeated,” he remembers, “guile and craftiness won over youthfulness. Students were excited to join the alumni now!” He fondly remembers the Mississippi Mud Cake.

Saturday’s picnic will offer volleyball, bat races, informal interviews and a piñata.

Food and Folklore

Food has always been a draw. “They always talked about Mrs. McKetta’s Mississippi Cake,” McKetta gleams in the documentary film "A Century of Change: A Memorial Tribute to John J. McKetta, Jr. John J. McKetta, Jr." After that first picnic on their property, she agreed to host another and henceforth made her signature dessert.

“Dr. McKetta and Pinky would sit on their porch chairs and let us do whatever we wanted,” said Joan Brennecke, B.S. ’84 and Cockrell Family Chair in Engineering professor. “We had mounds of fajitas. I was president of the AIChE student chapter in 1983 and remember at least once having 50 lbs of fajita meat marinating in my fridge the night before.” Oh how AIChE brought the food. “We’d have well over 100 people attend–even pushing 200. People would sit around and eat and drink and take Dr. McKetta’s boat out on the lake.”

2012Fall McKetta at PicnicBy the time Julie Fogarty, B.S. ’13 and former Texas AIChE vice president of external relations, was a student the picnics were held in the park. While never taught by McKetta herself, she “had the honor of knowing him. He has influenced every single one of us. He was in his 90s when I was an undergrad, he would make a personal connection with every single person at the picnic. Every single person!” She also happily recounted the time she had to engineer her dorm-room refrigerator door shut to house the giant bowl of guacamole stuffed inside. And, how the Texas AIChE officer team would roll BBQ grills from CPE down to Eastwoods Park.

This year there will be cake, chocolate pie, guacamole and BBQ.

Looking Towards the Future

After his death, The Daily Texan recalled, “McKetta was known for his desire to build relationships with students beyond the classroom.” Fogarty remembers, “he understood the culture of the student being first.” Gilmore added, “The picnic allowed students to engage alums and ask about career paths.”

2012Fall McKetta Picnic SlidesCurrent Texas AIChE leadership has planned a stellar day for students, faculty, and alums alike. While many of the original activities and traditions are being celebrated, they’re looking toward the future.

Texas AIChE is also starting a McKetta Picnic time capsule this year, allowing attendees to become a part of the student organization's history. Bring a trinket or picture to the picnic and look for cards to add your favorite memory. There will be student and alumni interviews from the park.

“Dr. McKetta contributed so much to the chemical engineering community, we want to honor him with a new generation of students who get to experience this great tradition,” said Codi McMillan. “We hope current students recognize how special this picnic has been to students in the past, we want to give them memories that they will treasure long after UT.”

CLICK to RSVP or to share your favorite McKetta Picnic memories. To share your McKetta Picnic photos, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.