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A woman's touch

Ruth Ann Wefald leaves imprint on the cultural, artistic side of K-State


Ruth Ann WefaldTwenty-three years ago when the Kansas Board of Regents chose Jon Wefald as K-State's 12th president, little did they know they were getting quite the package deal.

While President Wefald reversed declining enrollment, resurrected a struggling athletic program, and built top-notch research and graduate programs, K-State's first lady, Ruth Ann Wefald, worked tirelessly to support cultural and social causes on campus.

To her credit, she has helped raise money to build the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, to expand the International Student Center and for a new university boathouse. Wefald has been an active supporter of the K-State dance program and women's rowing team, and has spent countless hours as a volunteer for community organizations, fostering goodwill between the university and Manhattan community.

"She has improved K-State in innumerable ways. One has only to look around campus," said Michaeline Chance-Reay, a K-State assistant professor of women's studies and secondary education and author of "Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives."

"There's the Ruth Ann Wefald Gallery at the Beach Museum of Art, the Ruth Ann Wefald studio for dance in Nichols Hall and the Ruth Ann Wefald scholarship offered by the K-State Social Club," Chance-Reay said. "She's also the only first lady to have inspired an exhibit at both the local historical society and at Hale Library, both of which are based on my book ‘Land Grant Ladies.' She has very much carried on the tradition of involvement initiated by her predecessors."

Before coming to K-State, Wefald was extensively involved in a long list of organizations that provided aid for women, rural residents and the arts. The knack she had for working effectively for such causes became immediately apparent when she initiated a $6 million fundraising campaign to build the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. Talk of building a museum and centralizing the university's art collection had been going on for years, but the commitment for such a capital project had yet to manifest itself, according to Chance-Reay.

"Ruth Ann felt a museum would be an optimal way to show our collection and share it with visitors," Chance-Reay said.

After a decade-long capital campaign, the museum opened in 1996 -- but Wefald's campaign for the arts didn't end there. She has stayed involved with the Friends of the Beach Museum, as well as served on the museum's advisory and visitors boards.

"Ruth Ann Wefald has demonstrated a spirit of commitment of bringing the arts to K-State that is indeed rare," said Lorne Render, director of the Beach Museum of Art. "She knows the arts enrich student, faculty, staff and community members' lives, and her legacy of an outstanding museum will last for many generations to come. We are all grateful."

In addition, K-State's first lady has used her special brand of volunteerism for projects in the Manhattan community, including the Flint Hills Breadbasket, Cats for Cans and the Mayor's Holiday Tree Food Drive -- all projects that provide food and other resources to community members in need. For her efforts, she was named the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year in 1997.

"Ruth Ann truly enjoys being what she calls a professional volunteer," Chance-Reay said. "Her tireless dedication will not be forgotten."


Photo: Ruth Ann Wefald will be remembered for her work on cultural and artistic causes at K-State.