January/February 1997 WSU Alumni News

A True Gentleman

Michael P. Tilford, former associate vice president for academic affairs at Wichita State and dean of the WSU Graduate School, is posthumously recognized as the 1996 WSU Faculty Recognition Award honoree.


He was the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back — or the chair out of his office.

Michael P. Tilford, dean of WSU's Graduate School, presented James Jackson, his associate dean, a unique going-away gift when Jackson left the Graduate School and returned to the College of Health Professions. Plagued with a bad back, Jackson needed a special chair — like the one he used in the Graduate School office. Tilford insisted he take the chair with him.

"That was the kind of guy he was," Jackson says. "He thought of things others wouldn't."

During his 29 years at WSU, Tilford served as Graduate School dean, associate vice president of academic affairs, professor of math and science, and director of the university's Upward Bound program. He also was an active member of numerous university and community-service committees.

"He was a steady influence," says James Fisher, a college friend and WSU assistant professor emeritus, coordinator of lab experiences of curriculum and instruction. "He had a good grasp of tradition, which is important at universities. He was well-suited for his job."

The middle child of five, Tilford's first home was his family's farm near McAlester, Okla. His father died when he was young, and his mother moved the family into town.

"They struggled," his wife, Marilyn, relates, "but all the children went to college."

Tilford earned a bachelor's degree inmathematics/chemistry from Langston University, Langston, Okla., in 1957 and then a master's degree in science education from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., in 1958. He taught science in Baltimore for six years before moving to Kansas.

"We knew we didn't want to raise our children on the East Coast," Marilyn Tilford says. "We sort of picked Wichita off the map."

Tilford's first job in Wichita was teaching high school chemistry and math. In 1967, he accepted a position at WSU as an assistant director for Upward Bound, a federally-funded program that helps disadvantaged high school students prepare for college. The next year he became director.

In 1969, Tilford was one of 100 educators nationwide to receive a Ford Foundation Grant. The grant is for African-American educators to pursue advanced graduate study. He earned his doctoral degree in higher education with an emphasis in science at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., in 1970.

"We had two children at that time," Marilyn explains, "so the grant was really necessary for him to get his doctorate."

Tilford became a professor of secondary education in math and science in 1970. In 1975, he was appointed assistant dean of the Graduate School, was named associate dean in 1977 and then dean in 1988. He holds the distinction of being the second black man to be named a dean at WSU. The first was William Harmon, dean of University College. In 1994, Tilford was appointed associate vice president for academic affairs.

A consummate professional, Tilford enjoyed his work with students and held a deep commitment to them and to WSU. Comments about his professionalism are not hard to come by.

"He had such a wonderful character," Fisher says. "He was just a first-class person. He was professional and knowledgeable and kind, just a great combination. From all across the colleges, liberal arts to fine arts, so many people knew him and respected his leadership."

Peter Zoller, associate vice president for academic affairs, adds, "He was a kind, considerate, thoroughly professional colleague who always worked with the best interests of students and WSU foremost in his mind."

Jackson agrees: "He loved his job. He loved WSU and was always promoting it. He took the Graduate School, which was always a good school, and made it stronger."

Under Tilford's leadership, graduate enrollment grew to some 3,000 students and the number of dotoral programs increased.

A spokesman for the need for diversity and multiculturalism in universities, he served as a leader in WSU's effort to recruit more minority students and was a member of the committee that developed the minority studies department at Wichita State.

He also was active in the community. He was a lector at his church and served on the boards of Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Sedgwick County, the Salvation Army and the Urban League.

"He was a gentleman," Jackson says. "People say there are no true gentlemen, but he was."

Fisher recalls, "He always remembered things that were important to individuals. You felt honored by the fact that he remembered things that were important to you."

Marilyn remembers him as laid-back and easy-going. "He was gentle, decent and very, very honest," she says. "He had a real strong commitment to family, I guess because of his own background." The Tilfords have three children: Michelle, Mark and Maria.

Michael Tilford died on Nov. 6, 1996, while in New Jersey working on a consulting assignment at William Patterson College. He was 60 years old.

"It is unbelievable to express," Fisher says, "how much he is missed by his friends."


A Printer's Printer

Edward W. "Pete" Armstrong '42, who earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Wichita, is chairman and principal owner of McCormick-Armstrong, Wichita, and has been selected as the 1996 WSU Alumni Achievement Award honoree.

Good for WSU

E. George Fahnestock '69, the 1996 WSU Alumni Recognition Award honoree, is an avid Shocker fan.

A True Gentleman

Michael P. Tilford, former associate vice president for academic affairs at Wichita State and dean of the WSU Graduate School, is posthumously recognized as the 1996 WSU Faculty Recognition Award honoree.

Call Her 'Mom'

LaVona Spender '71/71/74, WSU University College advisor and instructor, is the 1996 Distinguished Service Award winner.

Most Likely to Succeed

Brian Wells '87 is the 1996 WSU Young Alumnus Award recipient.