Fall 2006

The Simple Life


Retired ad man B. Vaughn Sink ’61/61 is a plainspoken fellow who writes like he talks — in clear, complete declarative sentences, moderately paced and pitch perfect for the common ear. It is a writer’s voice that served him well during his four decades in the advertising game.

Sink retired at the age of 59, at the top of his form and as president of the Wichita-based advertising agency Sullivan, Higdon & Sink. He will be on campus this month to tell what he calls “advertising war stories” during a reception Oct. 19. While he’s at it, he will pick up the 2006 Elliott School of Communication alumni award — an accolade he says he feels both “honored and surprised” to accept.

Al Higdon ’61, himself an Elliott School honoree, is thrilled to hear of his friend and former partner’s award. “Vaughn has done it all,” Higdon says. “With his intelligence, his humor, his integrity and his strategic vision, he’s a significant force in advertising — locally, nationally and internationally.”

Joe Norris, SHS managing partner, says he can think of few ad men more deserving of recognition. “There are a lot of marketing writers whose copy reads like a speech — pompous, big and overblown. Vaughn writes like one guy having a conversation with another. The genuineness of his copy is like Vaughn himself. There’s not a pretentious bone in his body. He’s the real deal.”

Sink did more than write copy for the agency, which he joined in 1972 before making partner in 1978. Like his partners Higdon and Wendell Sullivan fs ’58, he considered himself a “generalist” in the early days. “We would write our own copy, direct our own photography, buy our own media,” Sink recalls. “In a small shop like that, you had to handle all of the services.”

This was nothing new to Sink. He spent a good part of his childhood helping his grandfather, the editor of a small-town newspaper in Esbon, Kan. There, he would do the “whole nine yards,” including pasting up ads, reporting on local happenings and delivering papers.

Still, when he came to Wichita University he chose a course of study other than journalism. It was a misstep he regrets: “I wasted years spinning my wheels, trying to become an aeronautical engineer.” He snapped out of it, switched his major to journalism and for a time was managing editor of The Sunflower, where he first met Higdon, who was the paper’s business manager.

Sink had a few advertising jobs before joining pals Higdon and Sullivan at the start-up agency the pair launched in 1971. First, Sink wrote copy for Fleming Cos., which supplied food to grocery stores. He spent five years at Forbes Advertising, which specialized in retail advertising.

In between, he served in the Air National Guard as an information officer. For a time, he was dispatched to Texas to run a base newsroom often overrun with White House correspondents tailing Lyndon Johnson, who owned a ranch in the Lone Star state.

The press corps Sink dealt with there included a young, but already cantankerous Helen Thomas — and a couple of young bucks named Rather and Donaldson. “Suffice it to say, I developed a deep and abiding distrust of network news people,” Sink says. “They were demanding, I guess you would say.”

Sink was hired by Higdon and Sullivan, primarily because their agency had landed an account with a tractor manufacturer and needed someone with a rural background who could authentically speak what Sink calls “country.”

By the mid-80s, SHS was the largest ad agency in Kansas. “You just go into it trying to do your best work,” Sink says. “We didn’t really have any sense that we were going to go on to be the biggest agency in the state.”

It was not all work and no play. Higdon relates that “Vaughn always has a twinkle in his eye,” and Norris recalls that Sink had a habit of “booby trapping” his office. He says he hadn’t been there two weeks before he was doused with confetti (made from a paper punch) left in a paper cup above his door.

Sink retired in 1997, one year after Higdon. Sullivan died in 1990.

Today, Sink, 68, busies himself in his garden where he grows “anything that goes into a salad.” He keeps Arabian horses he occasionally shows, but he mostly keeps close to home, as he favors their company.

“There’s just something about a horse you enjoy being around,” he says. He is busy, he explains, leading the simple life — often by example. “My wife is a townie, but I’m turning her into a country person,” he says. “It is a lengthy process.”


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The Simple Life

Retired ad man B. Vaughn Sink '61/61 is a plainspoken fellow who writes like he talks — in clear, complete declarative sentences.


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