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Family Ties

Graduates uncover connections to Ichabod Washburn

Rutherford family presents Dr. Farley with Ichabod Washburn tintype

From The Ichabod - Fall 2017

It’s been more than four decades since Carrie (Johnson) Rutherford, ba ’76, graduated from Washburn University, but it was this year she realized the impact Ichabod Washburn had on her life. 

“When we were growing up, the family story was we were related to Ichabod Washburn,” Carrie Rutherford said. “We always said it, but we didn’t particularly have proof of it.”

Carrie, and her brothers, John Johnson, jd '83, and Frank Johnson, grew up blocks from the University at 1305 SW Jewell in Topeka, Kansas. Carrie, her brother, John, and her mother, Geneve (Greco) Owensby, b ed '80, all attended the University after tragedy struck their family when her father, John (Jack) Johnson, passed away at a young age. Later, her son, Ben Rutherford, bs '04, also graduated from the University. 

Five years ago, Carrie Rutherford’s aunt visited the family and provided the family proof of what had been passed down among generations. She brought the family a tintype of Ichabod Washburn and retold the verbal history of how their family was connected. Rutherford’s grandmother did all of the genealogy for the family, and had been keeping the tintype in storage.

Ichabod family tree

(Click to enlarge graphic)

The history became real this past spring when the family donated the tintype to the University and visited with Martha Imparato, special collections librarian and archivist for Washburn, who was able to trace the history and provide proof of a connection back to Ichabod Washburn. While he had no direct descendants because his children passed away at a young age, the Rutherford and Johnson families are direct descendants of Ichabod Washburn’s uncle, Seth, and his aunt, Abigail. The descendants of his aunt and uncle made their way to Kansas when Thomas Mitchell and Mary Flaunce married and settled in Burlingame, Kansas, in the 1850s.

Ichabod Washburn tintypeWhile Washburn had pictures of its namesake, this was the first original photo that had been provided to the University. 

Ben Rutherford, who played baseball for Washburn and is now a dentist and owner of East Topeka Dental Associates, said he didn’t realize the impact the gift of the tintype would have on the University. 

“It was really special to be there and see people’s reactions,” he said. “I didn’t know how many people had studied his life and how important it would be to the University to have that photo.”

Imparato has been researching Ichabod Washburn’s life and family for years, including traveling to his former home in Worcester, Massachusetts. “I got chills when they gave us the tintype,” she said. “It was a very special moment.”

Carrie Rutherford said the special part for her was to hear why Ichabod Washburn gave the gift to the then-named Lincoln College to save the financially struggling institution as he believed in the importance of education for all, including women and people of all races and ethnicities.

“Until we mapped out the genealogy, I did not understand the depth of it,” she said. “I really felt like it came full circle, and it was a transformative experience to listen to how Ichabod Washburn addressed the rights of all people – and that was in the 1860s! Washburn University stands for everything I believe in, and I didn’t know that before.”

Winter 2019 Ichabod magazine cover with Bob Dole statue on front

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2018-19 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

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