The death of Jon Wefald marks the end, the final chapter, of a remarkable lifetime of leadership, vision, hard work and success in the field of higher education. He’s gone but the tremendously good accomplishments he engineered will pay dividends for years for Kansas State University, the State of Kansas and the nation.
As a former president of Kansas State University, and prior to that a giant with a successful role in education and government in Minnesota, he had a tremendously important role in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, researchers and citizens of Kansas and Minnesota.
He arrived in Manhattan in 1986 and immediately developed a blueprint to save and grow the university. He inherited a sick, slowly declining university but brought new life, enthusiasm and pride to KSU students, faculty, alumni, Kansas state legislators and citizens of the state.
He accomplished this by putting together a close knit group of faculty and administrators who bought into and endorsed the Wefald dream for KSU. It wasn’t easy and it took time to assemble the ideal group to execute and carry out his plan.
Some educators and/or administrators at other schools doubted and played down Wefald’s vision for KSU but the results during his 23 years of leadership tell a different story. Enrollment numbers reached a record high of 23,000 students, many buildings were added to the campus, private fiscal support for the school blossomed and faculty, student and alumni morale and enthusiasm exploded. With the hiring of a new football coach, he turned the “nation’s worst major college football team” into one of the best, a consistent winner with multiple post-season bowl game appearances.
He was a tireless worker constantly thinking about ways to improve the school and have KSU play a bigger and more important role in the state.
Perhaps his greatest, at least one of his greatest, achievements was his pivotal role in bringing the $1.3 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense facility to Manhattan and KSU. Most every state and major university in the nation tried to attract this huge and vitally important center for the study of human and animal food safety, security and health.
Wefald said Manhattan and KSU would be the ideal, perfect location for this project and with the enthusiastic and powerful help of Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, and thousands of hours of hard work, travel, trips to Washington D.C. and help from hundreds of others, the critically important NBAF facility will be opened next year adjacent to the KSU campus.
This already is paying big dividends for the future of KSU and the State of Kansas and will make Manhattan and KSU a national center for research and safety for our nation.
Again, Wefald and Senator Roberts accomplished what many thought was impossible.
When the Minnesota native arrived in Manhattan for his introduction to the community and university family, many in the Manhattan audience wondered what they were getting with this Pacific Lutheran University graduate. Among those in the audience was a large group of Minnesotans who had chartered a plane to fly them to Manhattan to show their appreciation for what he had done and accomplished in Minnesota and to tell those in the audience they were getting an exceptional individual who would do great things for Kansas State.
He certainly delivered as advertised.