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K-State Today

June 26, 2014

Pat Patton, longtime researcher of K-State history, retires

Submitted by Sarah McGreer Hoyt

After nearly 50 years of affiliation with Kansas State University, Pat Patton will retire on Monday, June 30.

For the last 26 years, Patton has worked as a library assistant in K-State Libraries' Richard L. D. and Marjorie J. Morse department of special collections. Her research has been important in preserving institutional memory.

Patton's own campus history is worthy of reflection.

Patton first came to K-State for her former husband's job as a track coach in 1965. They moved into the Athletic Dorm — now Edwards Hall — to manage the facility with its 180 student-athlete residents. Her sons were 6 and 8 at the time, and for nearly a decade they grew up surrounded by campus figures like Vince Gibson and Lynn Dickey.

Patton later worked as a real estate agent in Manhattan and held several other campus jobs before she came to special collections in 1988.

While looking back on her years of service, Patton fondly recalled various research projects, especially those that intersected with important K-State moments in African-American history.

For example, Patton was often asked to assist speakers who came to campus, and she vividly remembers Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 visit. When he left, he apologized for disrupting her day — something no other speaker ever did — and he asked for her name, saying that he would like to write to her supervisor.

When King was assassinated three months later, he had a slip of paper in his pocket that included names of K-State figures he mentioned during his speech. That piece of paper came up for auction decades later when Patton was working in special collections. She was contacted to verify the individuals listed and to contact them about the discovery.

Patton also assisted members of the predominately African-American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma in reconstructing the history of K-State's original Delta chapter (1917-1935) and its founder, Charles Ignatious Brown. Her research spanned 10 years and culminated in a three-day symposium in 2006.

But perhaps Patton speaks most fondly of her work piecing together the story of Minnie Howell Champe, K-State's first black female graduate, who obtained a domestic science degree in 1901. Patton discovered Howell's name on a scrap of paper in a history index compiled by Julius Willard, longtime campus historian. She hunted in vain for more information, until one day Patton asked a friend, Don Slater, if he'd ever heard the name Minnie Howell Champe. Slater replied, "Oh, the cookie lady?"

Patton learned that Minnie eventually returned to Manhattan. She was known in her community as the woman who handed out cookies from her porch. Many, many pieces of the story fell into place after that casual conversation.

Patton relished that process of unearthing great stories, whether it took cold calls or digging through historic papers, and she says she will miss her work in special collections.

Tony Crawford, who hired Patton as the reference assistant in university archives in 1988, said, "For the last 26 years, Pat has helped researchers ranging from K-State students to university presidents. Her dedication, passion, and impressive knowledge of institutional history will be missed."

Now Patton looks forward to working through her many years of memories, converting a room in her home to display her extensive collection of K-State memorabilia and scrapbooking the stories she's encountered over the years.

When asked why she put off her retirement for so long, Patton said, "When you like something — remembering the research and the people you did the research for — that's the reason."