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Wichita State engineering building renamed for retiring president Don Beggs

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, June 25, 2012, at 3:29 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 25, 2012, at 4:59 p.m.

The Engineering Research Building at Wichita State University will be renamed Donald L. Beggs hall on July 1, the date Beggs’ successor at WSU takes over as university president.

Velma Wallace, a Wichita philanthropist and widow of Cessna Aircraft icon Dwane Wallace, has committed $3 million to the WSU Foundation for the $6 million building, and asked that the building be named for Beggs, said Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the WSU Foundation, said Monday.

The decision to name the building rested with the Kansas Board of Regents, which met last week and made the decision with a stunned Beggs sitting with them. Beggs said they had not told him in advance.

“I tried to keep my macho on,” Beggs said on Monday, “but my voice cracked.

“It’s a quite a building, filled with people dealing with the future, “ Beggs said in a call from Bloomington, Ill., where he now lives. “It will have a positive impact on society and other cultures, and gives us a unique set of research opportunities.

“To have a building like that named after you … I couldn’t ask for more.”

All this was set in motion nearly seven years ago, King said, when Beggs was in the sixth of his 13 years as WSU president. Beggs, at the time, was “absolutely speechless” because Wallace wanted to give $3 million to WSU, and then that she wanted the building named for him, King said.

Wallace had by that time become close friends with Beggs and his wife, Shirley. She told them about her gift and her choice of building names one day when the Beggses came by to drive Wallace to Fort Scott to visit a relative.

“There were tears,” Beggs said of that moment. “Shirley cried like a baby.”

“Isn’t this just awesome?” Shirley Beggs said.

In a statement released by the university Monday, Wallace said: “Dr. Beggs is most deserving for the tremendous impact he and Shirley have had, not only on our university, but also on our community.” The 42,696-square-foot building was completed in 2007 and houses what the university calls state-of-the-art engineering laboratories for aerospace, electrical and computer, industrial and manufacturing, and mechanical engineering. Wallace’s gift will be used to pay off the state’s bonded indebtedness on the building construction, King said.

Wallace wanted the building named for Beggs as early as 2007 when she agreed to give the money, but Kansas Board of Regents rules say that no campus building can be named for a sitting president, King said.

Wallace got to know Don and Shirley Beggs because of her donations to WSU, King said, but Shirley Beggs said a friendship blossomed that continues to this day. Shirley Beggs and Wallace talked nearly every day for many years.

In recent months, as Wallace’s health and hearing declined, Shirley Beggs would come to her house often, sharing written messages and photos on an iPad. The last thing the Beggses did on Thursday before driving out of Wichita to move to Bloomington was to visit Wallace.

“She told us there is going to be a void in her life now, and we told her the same,” Shirley Beggs said.

Wallace Hall, the engineering building next to what will be Beggs Hall, is named after Wallace’s husband, and was built in part with her donations. Wallace – and her husband, until his death in 1989 – have given money annually for 36 years for the Wallace Scholarships, which King said are competitive scholarships given to engineering students at WSU. On any given semester, there are 40 to 50 Wallace scholars on campus, King said.

Velma Wallace is also known for giving significant amounts to found Exploration Place and to support the Red Cross, United Way of the Plains “and virtually every other nonprofit in town,” King said.

She has already given $1 million for the Beggs building; the other $2 million will be at WSU by July 1, King said. Wallace has also donated to an extensive renovation of the Rhatigan Student Center, where the ballroom will be named after Shirley Beggs.

Beggs’ successor, John Bardo, takes over as president on July 1.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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