Ted Ayres did more for the community than read law and protect Wichita State University’s legal rights, WSU and community leaders say.
Ayres, who announced his retirement from WSU as its general counsel and vice president this week, was a skilled leader who loved this city, they said.
The university eight years ago obtained the bulk of writer, artist and cultural icon Gordon Park’s papers, with Ayres as the lead negotiator. He was instrumental in securing a collection of Gordon Parks photographs, manuscripts and letters for the university and has been recognized for community service by Diversity Kansas and the Wichita chapter of the NAACP.
“He beat out the New York City Public Library and the Library of Congress,” said Mark McCormick, executive director of the Kansas African American Museum. “Those are the two greatest and the two largest organizations of their kind in the world, and WSU got the collection instead of them because he strategized how to get it and won. I still think that’s astonishing.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The collection includes letters from many important people, he said.
“Parks was godfather to Malcolm X’s daughter for example,” McCormick said. “There are many important papers in that collection.”
Beyond that, Ayres helped lead an effort off campus, still going on, to develop a memorial to all World War II veterans, in Veterans Memorial Park. The project so far has meant, among other things, that 1,700 bricks, “each telling one individual story” has become part of that memorial, Ayres said.
Ayres, who says he always tried to keep his priorities straight every day, will retire June 30, the university announced.
As evidence of how Ayres budgeted his time: He declined all interviews about retirement on Wednesday until he had completed his daily jog of three miles at noon; he’s 67, and has run at least five days a week at noon for more than 40 years, he said.
“There was a time when I and several colleagues here would click off five miles a day, every day, at an eight-minute-mile pace … but now it’s down to me, and when I finish three miles I say ‘thank God,’ ” he said. “I may have to shift someday to walking.”
He’s not certain what might occupy his work days now, though he said he’ll be “glad to have that 50 or 60 hours a week back,” from office work.
He’s grateful for the role he got to play in bringing the Parks collection to WSU.
“It’s gratifying to read just this week in the New York Times or in Time magazine some new story about research done here from the Parks collection at WSU,” he said.
He’s proud also of how he held up his end of work at WSU under four presidents: John Bardo, and three of Bardo’s predecessors.
“Ted’s leadership and wisdom have positively touched multiple aspects of the campus, community and Kansas higher education,” Bardo said in a statement. “I salute his long service, and I’m pleased he has agreed to continue his efforts on behalf of WSU to build a safe, economically vibrant neighborhood around campus.”
Ayres will continue to serve part-time as chair of a task force studying safety and neighborhood improvement in areas around the university. The effort was prompted by a fatal assault in Fairmount Park, just south of campus.
Ayres joined WSU as general counsel and associate to the president in 1996 and was promoted to vice president in 2002, according to a news release issued by the university. Before that, he served as general counsel for the Kansas Board of Regents for 10 years, Ayres said.
He also serves as general counsel to the WSU Foundation, the WSU Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the WSU Board of Trustees.
Bardo said he would initiate a search soon for a university attorney.