Scholarships get huge jump with two gifts of nearly $7.5 million

3:44:54 PM CDT - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Thanks to the multimillion-dollar estate gifts of two alumni - one of whom "adopted" the family of a WSU faculty member and the other who seemed to enjoy taking care of others - WSU will see significant increases in the amount of money it has available for students in its College of Education and for general scholarships.

The WSU Foundation recently received two gifts of nearly $7.5 million from the estates of two alums who were co-owners of local businesses. John Buck, co-owner of Buck's Department Store, left a gift of $3,990,000 and Dorothy Evans, co-owner of Evans Motors, provided $3.5 million to WSU in her will.

John Buck
John Buck
While the gift is helping three other colleges with equal amounts of funding, the impact on the College of Education will be the most, noted CEO and WSU Foundation president Elizabeth King.

Because of the Buck gift, some of which will go to help the French program as a result of Buck's relationship with French professorWilson Baldridge, the College of Education will have a nearly 47 percent increase in scholarship money for students this year.

Because of the Evans gift, all of which was earmarked for "worthy" students, according to her will, there will be a nearly 23 percent increase in general scholarship dollars for WSU students.

Buck graduated from Wichita University in 1947 with a degree in economics, but an unfulfilled dream to learn French brought him back to WSU in the 1980s. One of the two French students tutoring him in some basic phrases suggested Buck visit Baldridge.

"He just walked into my office," recalled Baldridge, of that first meeting. While Baldridge suggested Buck take the noncredit French classes offered by WSU's Division of Continuing Education, the elderly bachelor seemed to enjoy the friendship, and occasional French pointers, from Baldridge the most. He also enjoyed spending time with Baldridge's family, making up pet nicknames for visiting relatives. He even came up with a nickname for Baldridge, calling him "Willy."

"I think he was looking for connections to the university," Baldridge said, noting that Buck sometimes took the same French over and over under the senior citizen option, which allows seniors older than 60 to take WSU classes for free and for no credit. Buck later developed a friendship with King, as he began considering how he might financially help the university.

In 1991, Buck invited Baldridge to join him and his brother, Jim, on a tour of France's Loire Valley, famous for its chateau. One of Baldridge's fondest memories of that trip was Buck asking him to hire the cab driver of a white Mercedes Benz taxi for an afternoon of touring the French countryside. "We ended up having a long afternoon party."

Besides helping the College of Education and supporting the French program through scholarships and faculty support, the James and Catherine Buck Charitable Trust, named in memory of Buck's parent, will fund undergraduate scholarships in aerospace engineering, arts and business.

Dorothy Evans
Dorothy Evans
The Evans gift will fund general scholarships, since her only criteria was that the money go to "worthy" students. Evans graduated from the University of Wichita in 1935 with a sociology degree. She was the Kansas Women's Amateur Golf Champion in both 1934 and 1935. A pilot, she was a major in the Civil Air Patrol.

She worked most of her life as an office manager at Evans Motors, the family business, and maintained a very close circle of friends. She remained a particularly close friend to Laurian Ballantyne, known as Bally, who was her neighbor at Larksfield Place. As Bally's eyesight failed her, Evans drove Bally to all her doctor appointments and was known to chauffeur others to appointments, as well.

While the two gifts bring the WSU Foundation to within less than $2 million of the $35 million goal for its We Are Wichita State campaign, King said, the foundation has another goal in mind besides a dollar figure.

"We've raised a lot of money, but we have a lot of unmet needs," King said, citing the need to raise money for graduate assistantships and fellowships. The campaign committee, which includes alumni and business leaders, recently met to evaluate the state of the campaign "in light of the university's priorities," she said.

"We're aware that there continue to be underfunded colleges and units on campus," King said. "We'll certainly try to emphasize graduate fellowships and faculty and staff development as we conclude this fund-raising campaign." The We Are Wichita State campaign, which started in July 2004, is to conclude next spring. A concentrated effort to get WSU faculty and staff to donate to the campaign will begin later this fall.

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