Inspirational. Optimistic. Dedicated. And, above all, passionate. After 23 years as K-State's president these are only a few ways K-Staters will remember Jon Wefald.
But most of all, he gets credit for taking a university with declining enrollment, a struggling athletics program and limited research and graduate programs, and turning it into a nationally ranked top 10 land-grant university.
"At the core of his leadership is a 'can-do,' 'will-do' attitude that never gives up," said Charles Reagan, assistant to the president. "He believes that all things are possible if you have the will to do them."
During Wefald's tenure, both the size and intellectual strength of the K-State student body has grown. University enrollment, which was around 16,000 in 1986, has grown nearly 50 percent to more than 23,500. At the same time, K-State produced 125 Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater and Udall scholars -- the highest among the nation's 500 public universities.
To enhance the university's teaching and research pools Wefald also spearheaded a campaign to increase the number of endowed professorships and University Distinguished Professors. K-State now has three Carnegie/CASE national professors of the year, as well as seven Kansas Professor of the Year recipients and two national silver medalists, not to mention the many internationally recognized researchers in a wide array of disciplines.
"In 1986, there were no endowed professorships and no University Distinguished Professors," Reagan said. "He started the University Distinguished Professor program and we now have 50 professors with that designation. We have raised endowments for 50 more endowed chairs."
As K-State's academic quality has grown, so has its ability to raise money. Private fundraising has multiplied tenfold since 1986, bringing in nearly $100 million in the last academic year. At the same time, competitive research funding has grown to more than $100 million, with overall research funding coming in at $220 million. In 1986, that figure was $19 million.
"President Wefald's management style is to hire excellent people and let them do their jobs," Reagan said. "Gary Hellebust, president of the Kansas State University Foundation, and Ron Trewyn, vice president for research, are just two of many examples of this."
Wefald's impact on K-State also will be remembered in a physical sense. More than 2.2 million square feet of new buildings have been added during a time characterized by declining funding for capital projects. Besides contributing to the university's academic environment, Wefald has supported a major addition to the library, the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art and the new alumni center.
In addition, Wefald helped resurrect K-State's athletics program.
"Without President Wefald's leadership, K-State would be in the Missouri Valley Conference playing basketball, instead of being a member of the prestigious Big XII Conference," Reagan said
Excellence in academics, research and athletics mark the Wefald years at K-State and have made the university one of the top competitive research/doctoral universities in its class, Reagan said.
Photos: The many faces of Jon Wefald: (Top) Wefald is pictured in front of Anderson Hall;
(Middle, clockwise) Wefald, his wife Ruth Ann, and patrons and supporters of the Hoeflin Stone House Early Childhood Education Center take part in the facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony; Wefald talks about K-State’s commitment to agriculture and animal health after Manhattan was named the future home of the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility; Wefald comes off the field after ‘scrimmaging’ with football players in July 1994.
(Bottom) Then and now: Left, K-State President Jon Wefald directs the Pride of Wildcat Land during an ice cream social in 2008. Middle, one of the Wefald’s first ice cream socials, shortly after they came to K-State. Right, Wefald and football coach Bill Snyder confer during the Wildcats’ 1995 trip to the Holiday Bowl.