I'm sure Don Beggs will agree that he has not been the president of Wichita State the past 12 years. He's been co-president with his wife, Shirley.
You never see one without the other. Their love for one another — and for the Shockers — is written on them with black and gold magic marker.
When I heard Monday that Don and Shirley were retiring on June 30, my first reaction was that WSU was going to be losing two of the most important people in its history.
Then it hit me: Wichita is losing two of the most important people in its history.
Don and Shirley have always been ambassadors for the university, yes. But they have been so much more, working tirelessly to promote Wichita and making us all proud. You can't tell me there's a Wichita State graduate out there who doesn't have a little more jump in their step because of Don and Shirley Beggs.
Whether you run into them at a $10,000 a table fundraiser or in the laundry detergent aisle at the supermarket, Don and Shirley treat you like you're the most important person to them in that moment.
They also achieved a remarkable standing in the Wichita State athletic department, which can be difficult places for university presidents. While Beggs was in charge, WSU hired athletic director Jim Schaus and coaches Mark Turgeon, Gregg Marshall, Chris Lamb, Tim Walton and Steve Rainbolt, to name a few.
Wichita State has enjoyed its greatest success as an athletic department with Beggs in charge of the university and he and Shirley make no bones about their love for athletics.
As far as I know, no WSU coach every became crossways with the Beggses.
"They believe athletics is a window for the university to the outside world,'' said WSU baseball coach Gene Stephenson, who has worked for a few presidents during his 33 years. "I always told them that they had to stay as long as I stayed. And they kept saying, 'Well, we can't stay that long because you're going to be here until 2025.' "
Trying to find someone with a disparaging word about Don and Shirley Beggs is impossible. I suppose there are some Shocker fans hopeful that football will be reinstated who might not be their biggest fans, but I'm sure even those people respect what the Beggses have done to transform Wichita State.
For most, it takes exactly one meeting with the Don and Shirley to become infatuated with their kindness and their genuine interest in you.
My strongest connection to them is the St. Louis Cardinals. Being from Illinois, Don and Shirley share my love for the Cardinals, whom we talk about whenever we see one another. I'm sure anyone who knows Don and Shirley has some kind of similar bond.
"They're a magnificent couple,'' said Rainbolt, the Shockers' track and field coach since 2001. "For any president of a university to be the type of person who makes an incoming track coach feel so comfortable and like such a significant part of the university — that's something I've always appreciated about Don and Shirley Beggs.''
The testimonials could stretch out for months.
"I bump into people all over the place,'' Lamb, WSU's volleyball coach, said. "I am all over the country and people will see me wearing Wichita State something or other. I'll hear something about baseball once in a while, or talk to someone who knows someone in Wichita. But you wouldn't believe how many times I hear about Don and Shirley Beggs. 'Oh I worked with him there,' or 'Oh, I knew them back when.' Everybody says the same thing — that they're the finest people they know.''
These aren't the typical glowing comments reserved for a couple who are close to moving on. If you've paid attention since 1999, when Beggs was named Wichita State's president, you are aware of his immediate popularity. And just when you thought there couldn't be anyone as cordial and genuine as Don, you met Shirley.
If coaches speak with such adulation about the Beggses, you can rest assured that they're just as popular all over the campus.
"To begin with, they were a big reason my family and I felt good enough to make this move to Wichita,'' Shocker basketball coach Gregg Marshall said. "They're as fine a people as you could ever encounter. They care about each individual that is associated with this university no matter how big, how small, how important or how not important. If they tell you something then you always get that and a little more. You never get less.''
The demeanor of Don and Shirley Beggs belies the high stress of what they do. There have to be times that running a university takes a toll. But the couple exudes calm and control in every public setting. Anybody who loves Wichita State has not had to worry about the university for the past 12 years. It has been in good hands.
"I've always believed that good people who work hard find a way,'' Lamb said. "I think they find a way because people help them along the way. They want them to be successful, want to take part in what they're doing. I feel like Don and Shirley have been those people for so many others.''
Lamb said he's never sensed animosity or tension when he has been around Don and Shirley. Instead, there's always a positive vibe in the room.
"I think that's probably a unique thing for someone in their positions,'' Lamb said. "They make everyone feel at ease when they're around. They have that magic dust.''
Stephenson went so far as to say the Shockers' 2012 baseball season would be devoted to giving Don and Shirley Beggs the best parting gift he can imagine.
"We want to make sure we get to the College World Series,'' he said. "We're going to do everything in our power to send them out on a high note. We'll make that a goal, personally, to see if we can accomplish something they've dreamed of.''