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Faculty and staff remain connected after decades-long careers

1960s math faculty

From The Ichabod - Spring 2019

The tornado of 1966 destroyed a large portion of Washburn University, ushering in physical changes that are still seen today and will be around for a long time. Perhaps more longstanding, though, are the effects faculty and staff at the time had on campus and still have as engaged retirees.

“Everyone was so positive even though we had gone through this terrible tornado. They were so positive about what Washburn was going to be doing,” Richard Shermoen, retired professor and chair of the mathematics and statistics department, recalled as he was contemplating working at Washburn in 1967.

“I was just so taken by it and ready to take an offer.”

He is one of dozens of Washburn employees who started around the time of the tornado and stayed for decades, some for more than 40 years.

“The recovery was just phenomenal,” he said. “After a year or two, it was like nothing had happened.”

Shermoen, who chaired the department for 26 years before retiring in 1993, also credits the longevity and dedication of many employees to Washburn’s commitment to being a student-centered University.

“People didn’t seem to have any reason to leave because they were so happy with the way things were going,” he said. “Priority one was teaching and taking personal interest in the students.”

While Shermoen was brought to Washburn from out of state, Carol Vogel, ba ’67, grew up across the street from campus and walked the rock wall along 17th Street with friends as a child, pretending alligators would get them if they fell. She lived through the tornado as a student and then started a 44-year Washburn career in 1969 as a German teacher and later the director of equal opportunity.

“Everybody had a job to get done,” Vogel said. “Students worked hard. Faculty worked hard. The dedication during that era was amazing. Everybody just pitched in. There was a lot of camaraderie.”

She also echoed the importance of faculty building their careers around the student-centered concept.

“Washburn has always had a very strong academic tradition, and I think that attracted a lot of people,” she said. “There was an opportunity to really be a teaching institution that put students first, and your role as a faculty member was to be the best faculty member you could be in relationship to your students.”

Dale Anderson was hired in 1967 to manage KTWU, Washburn’s public television station.

“When I came here, the budget for the station was $45,000,” Anderson said. “A lot of people still didn’t know what public television was and people wondered what Washburn was doing with a TV station.”

In his 31 years, he grew the station’s reputation while faculty like Shermoen and Vogel grew Washburn’s academic reputation.

“Most of us were very experienced when we came here,” said Anderson, who had previously taught mass media at universities around the nation. “I think Washburn blossomed. We brought attention to the state and the region. We’re a well-known community university with a good tradition. You’ve got a backfill of people from back then who stayed and really made the place go.”

Shermoen’s transplantation to Washburn produced a family of Ichabods now in its third generation. His wife, Nancy, was an administrative assistant in the art and psychology departments for 19 years.

“Our decision to come to Washburn was certainly the best one we have ever made,” he said. “We have enjoyed to no end our working years and the time subsequently. It just couldn’t have been better.”

Like other retired Washburn employees, they remain engaged and connected.

“Washburn gets in your blood,” Vogel said. “It’s more than just a collection of buildings. Washburn gives to you as an individual and then gives you an opportunity to give back. You’re made to feel welcome. You’re made to feel important even though you’ve retired and gone on to something else. If you’ve devoted the bulk of your professional life to some place, to feel like you were valued and you contributed something that was worthwhile and you’re still appreciated – that is something many institutions don’t do.”

Ichabod Magazine 2019 fall cover, Ichabod Plaza statue at sunset

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 fall edition online and look for it in mailboxes in October.

View past editions

 

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