To Kathleen Walsh, Wichita State was like family

A Fairmount College student, she nurtured WSU throughout her long life

Kathleen Walsh with former WSU President Donald Beggs and Shirley.

Kathleen Walsh with former WSU President Don Beggs and First Lady Shirley Beggs at the 1999 Fairmount Society dinner, where she was honored by the WSU Foundation with the Fairmount Founders’ Award for Outstanding Service.

It’s easy to see why Kathleen Walsh’s affection for and allegiance to Wichita State University were so strong and enduring.

   Until her death in January, she could amaze people by letting them know that she attended WSU when it was still Fairmount College, back in 1926, and that hers was only the second class to graduate from its successor, the municipal University of Wichita, in 1928.

   “She and her sorority were very involved in the campaign to make Fairmount College a municipal university,” said Carol Hill, her close friend. “They fought valiantly and lost the first time around, but came back for a second round and won.”

   “It’s hard to say for sure whether she was the last surviving student of Fairmount College, but she certainly had to be one of a very few,” Hill said. “It’s hard to imagine who else could still be alive after all those years.”

Carol Hill, Friend of Kathleen Walsh

Carol Hill was a lifelong friend to Kathleen Walsh, meeting her when she was just 11 and a student in Walsh’s classroom at Allison Junior High.

   Walsh was 105 when she died on Jan. 8. She had spent the last five years of her life in an assisted-living center, but lived independently in her own home until she was 100.

   “She was always cheerful when we went to see her,” Hill said. “Never in a bad mood, never questioned why you didn’t come more often. She was just happy to see you.”

   Hill was only 11 when she first met Walsh, who was her teacher at what was then Allison Junior High in Wichita. The teacher-student relationship evolved into a friendship over the years, especially after Hill herself became a teacher. Walsh taught English for 44 years, 34 of them at Allison.

   Another former student of Walsh’s was WSU First Lady Deborah Bardo, who also attended Allison Junior High.

   “She was very serious and precise about English and the way she taught class,” Bardo recalled. “I remember at one point we had to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address. She gave us a very short time to do this. We begged for more time. Her response was that no matter how long she gave us we’d just put it off until the night before it was due. And she was right. She was a very dedicated teacher.”

   Walsh was noted for helping her father, James Martyn Walsh, also a teacher, to write a highly regarded book called “The Plain English Handbook,” which was taught in thousands of schools across the country for many years.

   It’s one of the things former WSU First Lady Shirley Beggs remembers most about Walsh.

   “I was so excited to meet Kathleen in early 1999 and know she and her father had written ‘The Plain English Handbook,’ ” she recalled. “I used it in seventh and eighth grade as well as high school in diagramming sentences.”

"She made a difference in so many positive ways for others.”

- Former WSU President Don Beggs

   Throughout her life, Walsh supported Wichita State both financially and in spirit. She loved attending WSU basketball games. Among her financial gifts were three scholarships that she established, one in education in honor of her father, a second in the humanities in tribute to her mother, who was also a teacher, and the third in English in her own name. Upon her death, a memorial to the Anna Kathleen Walsh English Scholarship was established.

   Former WSU President Don Beggs said he first met Walsh when the WSU Foundation honored her with its Fairmount Founders’ Award for Outstanding Service, in 1999.

   “I immediately knew I was dealing with a very special person and educator,” he said. “She truly cared for others. Throughout the years we were in Wichita, we interacted with Kathleen on numerous occasions and it was always a privilege to talk with her about teaching. She made a difference in so many positive ways for others.”

   One of the other reasons Walsh loved Wichita State so much is that her father was an instructor for several years when it was municipal University of Wichita, Hill said.

Kathleen Walsh, Mike Lamb

Mike Lamb, WSU Foundation vice president for planned and annual giving, accompanies Kathleen Walsh in 2008 to a luncheon with three of her scholarship recipients, (l-r) Laura Hostetler, Kate Page and Kate Strunk.

   “She literally grew up on the campus,” she said. “The scholarships she established only strengthened those ties, especially as she got to know the students who received them and developed relationships with them. Many of them wrote when they heard the news of her death, from all over the country. Because she had no family, her friends — especially those through the university — became her family.”

   Walsh became a leader in state and national education. She was the first woman selected as chair of the Kansas Teachers Board of Directors. She also was elected to the Kansas Teacher's Hall of Fame.

   But she wasn’t all work and no play, Hill said.

   “She loved dancing and music and parties. She had a wonderful sense of fun and humor. She was an enthusiastic traveler, both with friends and on her own.”

   Walsh never married, but had a wide circle of friends all over the country, Hill said. And through the Walsh scholars, her influence will be felt in education for many years to come.

   “She was really quite remarkable,” Hill said. “She was my teacher, my mentor and my beloved friend. And somewhere along the line, we became family to each other.”


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