Jim Summers ’70 shares his bounty by the bottle with Wichita State

The California vintner also pours support into basketball program, Rhatigan Student Center

Jim and Elizabeth Summers at their Napa Valley winery.
Jim and Elizabeth Summers at their Napa Valley winery.

From growing up the son of a butcher in Sabetha, Kansas, to navigating the world of corporate finance to bottling his own wine on vineyards in Sonoma and Napa Valley, Jim Summers’ journey through life has been equal parts hard work and good fortune.       

    For the past 14 years, he’s been sharing the fruits of both quite literally, donating the equivalent of about 1,200 bottles of wine to the WSU Foundation and Wichita State to use as gifts, for events and as fundraising items. And that doesn’t even include the special large-format bottles he has created the past three years for WSU men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall.     

    “They’re really priceless,” he says of the giant vessels that hold 15 to 18 bottles each. “Last year, one sold for $9,500 (at the Gregg Marshall Shocker Basketball Auction) and this year I’m sure it will be over the top because of the special year the team has had.”     

A recent gift box set from Summers Estate Wines included three bottles of wine packaged in an attractive wooden box.
A recent gift box set from Summers Estate Wines included three bottles of wine packaged in an attractive wooden box.

    Summers, a WSU alumnus who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1970, is the founder and co-owner with his wife, Elizabeth, of Summers Estate Wines in Calistoga, growing mostly Zinfandel, Charbono and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. They purchased the 25-acre vineyard in 1996, nine years after buying the 28-acre Knights Valley vineyard in Sonoma. Knights Valley mostly produces Merlot wines.

    It was in 2000 that Summers began to form relationships with former WSU President Don Beggs and WSU Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth King that prompted him to begin considering financial support for his alma mater. Heavily invested in his vineyards, he decided that gifts-in-kind of his wines would be a special way to do that.       

    “We custom-made the bottles with the logo of Wichita State and one year we used a piece of artwork from the Ulrich Museum as the label,” he recalled. “We have done four custom barrels. One year we put together gift boxes that included a wine cradle with two bottles of wine. They were pretty nice.”       

    Summers also has donated travel packages to his winery for the WSU Alumni Association’s annual fundraising event, Rockin’ the Roundhouse.        

    “Jim is one of the most dedicated Shockers you’ll ever meet,” said King. “His tireless energy and boundless enthusiasm for life spill over into how he approaches giving back to his alma mater.”       

    Contributions from Jim and Elizabeth Summers over the years also have included support for the Rhatigan Student Center renovation and the men’s basketball program. In recent years, a pet project has been covering the costs of sending about 250 children from the Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas to a men’s basketball game.       

"You get more enjoyment out of giving things to people than receiving them." 

- Jim Summers

    “So many kids don’t have an opportunity to go to these games so this is something we’ve worked out to make it happen,” Summers said. “I’ll do that for as long as I’m breathing. It’s just so much fun.”

    Summers grew up in Sabetha, where his father ran a grocery store and was its butcher. Though his parents had limited means, they pushed their six sons to go to college. Four of them did, earning graduate degrees or doctorates. After starting at the University of Kansas, Summers transferred to Wichita State because he wanted to get involved in the world of aviation.

    “Wichita State gave me an opportunity to have a full-time job and go to school, too,” he said. “A kid can still go to college at Wichita State today and have a job and not get out of school with $100,000 in debt. That’s important.”           

    Ultimately, Summers changed his major to business and finance. After graduation, he moved to San Francisco, got an MBA at the University of San Francisco and began a career in corporate finance, where he met his wife. Elizabeth is the granddaughter of grape growers and winemakers, the Mazzola Brothers and Sons in Cucamonga, Calif.           

    Jim says his growing relationship with Wichita State has been rewarding.         

    “All of the people I’ve met through my involvement have been delightful and many of them have become good friends,” he said. “It’s motivated me to want to do a few more things for WSU down the line. The old adage is true: You get more enjoyment out of giving things to people than receiving them.”     

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