Life of Velma Lunt Wallace was one of compassion, inspiration

Velma Wallace

Velma Wallace

Wallace Alumni Legacy Endowed Scholarship

In 2002, a group of Wallace alumni decided to honor what Velma and Dwane Wallace did for them by creating the Wallace Alumni Legacy Endowed Scholarship. The original goal set by this group was to raise $100,000. As part of the 35th Wallace Alumni Reunion, the fundraising goal was increased to $150,000. A gift designated to this fund will support scholarships for WSU College of Engineering students. Gifts will be eligible to be matched by the state of Kansas through its Kan-Grow Engineering Legislation. Visit this page to make a donation online, or contact Megan Smith, WSU Foundation director of development for the College of Engineering, at (316) 978-3803 or

Velma Lunt Wallace, one of Wichita State University’s greatest friends and benefactors, died on July 8 at her Wichita home.

Wallace, the widow of Cessna Aircraft leader Dwane Wallace, represented the last of Wichita’s early aviation pioneer families. Often called “The First Lady of Cessna,” she began working at the company in 1937 as Dwane Wallace’s executive secretary and married him in 1941. The couple was married for 47 years and had four daughters. Dwane Wallace, who graduated from WSU in 1933 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, led Cessna from its infancy in 1934 through 1975. He died in 1989.

In 1977, Velma and Dwane established one of the most generous and far-reaching endowments in the university’s history, the Dwane L. and Velma L. Wallace Endowment, which supports scholarships for engineering students and provides funds for the College of Engineering. So far, more than $3 million has been awarded.

Wallace Hall, the engineering building on campus named after Dwane Wallace, was built in part with donations made by the Wallaces. In more recent times, Velma Wallace contributed $3 million to help build the Engineering Research Building next door to Wallace Hall, asking that it be named in honor of former WSU President Donald L. Beggs. The Kansas Board of Regents approved that proposal in June. Beggs and his wife, Shirley, were close friends with Wallace. Now living in Bloomington, Ill., they returned to Wichita on July 14 for her memorial service at University Congregational Church, which was attended by about 400 people.

Through the years, Wallace also made significant contributions to building the Marcus Welcome Center and the president’s home addition and to the Rhatigan Student Center renovation project. She established the Charlotte and Ken Lunt Distinguished Graduate Assistanceship for University Libraries and generously supported the Shirley and Don Beggs Scholarship for Children of Physical Plant Employees, the Elliott School Facility Fund and the Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization. Music and the arts also were important to her and she gave multiple gifts to the Band Instrument Repair and Restoration Endowment and other fine arts programs.

James Rhatigan, consultant to the WSU Foundation and the WSU Alumni Association and a longtime friend to Wallace, helped her daughters plan the memorial and delivered the eulogy. He noted that Wallace was born and raised in Wichita to a family of humble means, but that the values instilled in her “proved to be an excellent guide for her emerging role as a philanthropist” following her husband’s death.

“Since Velma grew up with no financial wealth, she really did not see herself as just giving away money,” he said. “She saw her gifts as investments, seed money that she hoped would take root and grow over time.”

“Velma seemed to enter into a covenant with all of those who benefited from her generosity,” he went on. “It centered on a faith in others, a belief that they would want to do the right thing. I regard this as a centerpiece of her philanthropy, the thing around which all else took shape. She greatly enjoyed the knowledge that what she was doing would have a positive impact on future generations.”

In addition to her commitment to Wichita State, Wallace was deeply involved in the community at many levels, earning her the Wichita Area Girl Scout Council Woman of Distinction award in 1997, the Uncommon Citizen Award from the Wichita Area Chamber of Commerce in 1998 and the National Conference for Community and Justice Brotherhood and Sisterhood Award in 2002. She was known for giving significant amounts to found Exploration Place and to support the Red Cross, United Way of the Plains and many other charitable organizations.

In 2010, Wallace, a single-engine and multi-engine pilot, was named the first recipient of the Wichita Aero Club Trophy, which honors those with strong ties to the Wichita area who have made significant contributions to the aviation or aerospace industries. In 2012, Wallace Scholar alumni honored Wallace at a 35th anniversary celebration of the program. Her WSU honors also included the President's Medal and recognition as Honorary Alumna.

Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the WSU Foundation, said those who attended the memorial service for Wallace symbolized everything important in her life.

“There were her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as well as other family members; caregivers; WSU administrators, faculty and staff; Wallace Scholars and Wallace Scholar alumni; business leaders; representatives of the many nonprofits she supported; fellow parishioners; longtime friends; and many others. Velma touched so many lives in her unique and special way and all were there to pay their respects and say their goodbyes to one of the greatest women our city has ever known.”

Wallace is survived by her daughters Linda Wallace Jones, Karen Johnson, Diana Wilkonson and Sarah Bracco; nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

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