Work to develop the Regional Institute on Aging began a number of years before its actual launch. One of the leaders of that effort was Dr. Philip Gaunt, Professor and former Director of the Elliott School of Communication.
Dr. Gaunt was impressed by the number and quality of research efforts in aging at WSU and took the initiative of bringing together the researchers involved. As a result, he felt that it would be beneficial to build a formal structure to help move their work forward. Along with other senior faculty and Dr. James Rhatigan, he worked to create an interest in the concept of an aging institute and to bring it to the attention of the university’s senior administrators.
Since planning the launch of the Regional Institute on Aging to the present day, Dr. Gaunt has been instrumental in providing guidance to the Institute's director and helping to design and shape plans to further expand aging research at WSU.
Originally from rural Iowa, Dr. James Rhatigan was 30 years old when he was recruited to Wichita State University by President Emory Lindquist in 1965. Dr. Rhatigan was challenged to build a modern Division of Student Affairs. Under his guidance, the university's Division of Student Affairs became a nationally recognized model program with relevance for urban and metropolitan campuses. Known for his deep compassion and for what he calls "small wins," Dr. Rhatigan would be known as the students' best friend.
After serving alongside five university presidents, Dr. Rhatigan, the "heart of WSU," retired from his position as senior vice president in 2002. That same year he began working as a consultant for the WSU Foundation.
Beginning in 2003, Dr. Rhatigan, in partnership with Dr. Philip Gaunt and Dr. Charles Fox, led a university/community initiative to explore the possibility of folding the many and diverse research efforts and other activities at WSU in the field of aging into a more formal framework that would expand, coordinate, and further develop aging studies at WSU and in Wichita. This exploration led to the establishment of the Regional Institute on Aging in 2007.
Dr. Rhatigan then continued his work to support the Regional Institute on Aging. These efforts culminated in a gift from Curt Gridley and Tracey Hoover for pilot research projects and for a portion of the gift of Evelyn Cassat to be used for the support of aging research and for the establishment of the Carl and Rozina Cassat Professor in Aging.
In addition to his official involvement supporting aging studies at WSU, Dr. Rhatigan and his wife Beverly have established the Dr. James and Beverly Rhatigan Retired Faculty Fund to support activities of interest to retired faculty and staff of WSU.