July/August 1998 WSU Alumni News

A Most Gracious Warrior

Kathlien (Robertson) Edmiston '33, a most dedicated, gracious and charming community leader, may not have cut the figure of a warrior, but she won most of the battles she fought.

In 1963, for instance, Wichita State's Morrison Library was destroyed by fire and its ruins were marked for the landfill. Edmiston single-handedly saved three of the library's columns by sitting on one of them in front of the bulldozer to preent their removal. Today, those columns stand at WSU's 17th Street entrance, serving as a reminder of the university's past — and of her own indomitable spirit.

The daughter of pioneers, Kathlien Robertson was born in Wichita on Dec. 20, 1911. She graduated from Wichita High School in 1928 and earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Wichita, where she was active in Sorosis sorority. Her association with Hugo Wall, her mentor, professor and boss at WU, sparked a lifelong interest in politics. It was also at WU that she met her future husband, Elliott Kelly "E.K." Edmiston '36.

Shortly after her marriage, her community work began in earnest with involvement in Junior League and Community Arts Council.

After serving a stint as president of the WU Alumni Association in 1943-44 and then being appointed to the WU Board of Regents in 1954 by the Wichita Board of Education, Edmiston centered her efforts on the university. Her children — Robert '66/68, Kathlien Massey and Kelly Callen — have often noted that WU was her fourth child.

Edmiston was the first woman to be elected chairman of the WU Board of Regents, serving in 1957-67. She also served as vice chairman in 1958-59, secretary in 1955-56, 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64 and chairman of the supplies committee seven times.

She was integrally involved in WU's fight to join the state system of higher education. She toured the state to secure the support of leading citizens during the pre-legislative effort and proved herself an effective spokesman for the university as its case for inclusion was made before the 1963 session of the Kansas Legislature. Gracious, intelligent and charming, she won friends who in turn lent their support to the enactment of the legislation.

"Kathlien Edmiston was a unique individual who was able to merge the importance of our past with the need for change," says George M. Platt, WSU associate professor of public administration, retired. "She considered the university one of the area's most important assets, and through her service on the WU Board of Regents, the WSU Board of Trustees, the WSU Planning Committee and the Wichita Public Building Committee, she helped shape a university and a campus of great merit."

At the time of her 50-year reunion, she wrote, "While I have been active for the past 50 years in many community affairs, my association with first WU then WSU in various capacities has been the most rewarding."

Her list of community-service involvements ranged from her lifetime membership in the PTA to a half-hour stint as mayor of Wichita. In 1985, she was appointed to the Wichita City Commission to fill and unexpired term for three months. In the commission's last meting before swearing in the new commissioners, she was elected mayor by her fellow commissioners to conduct the meeting, which lasted 39 minutes.

She was heavily involved in Republican activities, serving a term as temporary chairwoman of the Republican state convention in 1972, working on the Lodge-Nixon campaign of 1960 and organizing local fund-raising events for prominent Republicans, including Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan.

She was also active in the Sedgwick County Red Cross and the Camp Fire Girls. In 1974, she was awarded a Brotherhood Award, presented by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Kansas Region, for her "leadership in the Wichita community and for her untiring efforts to promote increased understanding and respect among people of varied racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and for exemplifying in her life the highest standards of citizenship and brotherhood."

In recent years, Edmiston battled Alzheimer's disease. "She taught by example that whatever illness takes away from us our spirit can in part replenish," says James J. Rhatigan, WSU senior vice president. "The possibilities of life never have to be set aside, but only modified to meet new realities. I will most of all remember Kathlien as one who enjoyed a sense of appreciation for life. When she was tired, it was not from the weariness of indifference but from her honest labors. I wonder how many of us fully understandhow a sense of appreciation enhances life."

Kathlien Edmiston died July 13 in Wichita. She was 86.


A Most Gracious Warrior

Kathlien (Robertson) Edmiston '33, a most dedicated, gracious and charming community leader, may not have cut the figure of a warrior, but she won most of the battles she fought. She died July 13 (1998) in Wichita. She was 86.