After absorbing the disappointment of hearing of the financial decision to end the publication of The Shocker magazine, I thought about a comment by Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Be glad that it happened.”
In preparing to write this essay, I reviewed a good portion of the magazine’s content over its 20-year history, and an unexpected insight emerged. In dealing with contemporary subjects of interest,The Shocker’s articles, especially when considered collectively, provide significant historical context, material of archival value. The content also predicted well. Clearly, these alumni magazines are time-binders: They show the connectivity of university people and events across time.
While the run of The Shocker (1999-2019) approximates the tenures of WSU presidents Don Beggs (1999-2012) and John Bardo (2012-present), magazine content not only features articles about them and their leadership teams, but also a great deal of earlier history. One article, for example, profiles the first president of Wichita State University, Emory Lindquist (1963-68) and highlights the growth in size and quality of university programs since entering the state system in 1963. Other articles offer glimpses into the colorful histories of Nathan Morrison (1895-1907), Fairmount College president, and University of Wichita presidents William Jardine (1934-49) and Harry Corbin (1949-63), providing context for what would happen later.
Connie Kachel White has served as the editor of the magazine throughout its history. The elegant writing, photography, style, and general content of the issues are owed to her leadership. There have been many contributors, but her role as alumni communications director has been foundational. As I looked through past issues of The Shocker, I realized quickly there’s no way I can offer a comprehensive summary of the magazine’s coverage of the work of our WSU faculty and staff colleagues, students, and graduates over these years. I settled on three examples: men’s basketball, opera/music theater, the National Institute for Aviation Research.
Men’s basketball has been in the university psyche for years. Yet since the arrival of Coach Gregg Marshall in 2007, he has elevated the program to a level that could never have been anticipated. In just six years, the Shockers made it to the Final Four. Was this the never-to-be-topped pinnacle? The answer came a year later when the Shockers made NCAA history in recording 35 straight wins, finishing second in the national polls. Their one loss, a nail-biting loss to Kentucky, did nothing to diminish this achievement. In writing about this record, The Shocker pointed to a long forgotten one, the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. Featuring a Shocker coach and two former Shocker players, the Olympic team won gold. This was the first appearance of basketball at the games, a stunning achievement that of course can never be duplicated.
The Shocker covered WSU’s opera/music theater program and its long history. Many talented performers came to campus to prepare for what would be storied careers on a global scale. Sam Ramey would be the most famous. Today, he’s the most recorded bass singer in history. Alan Held is another internationally recognized baritone/bass. Both are now WSU music faculty members. There are also Joyce DiDonato, recognized as one of the world’s elite mezzo-sopranos, and Karla Burns, the first music theater performer to win the Olivier Award (named for Sir Laurence Olivier). All of these world-noted, WSU-educated performers are featured in The Shocker, as are many others.
The magazine also chronicled the growth and history of NIAR. In 1985, returning from an unsuccessful effort to gain a large FAA grant, WSU President Warren Armstrong and Vice President Fred Sudermann reviewed the matter. The proposal was praised but WSU’s capability to provide complementary support was questioned. That trip home, first a matter of frustration, became the basis for the creation of NIAR. Armstrong believed that if Wichita was the Air Capital of the world, the WSU should be a major contributor. The university, through its engineering college, had active research efforts in fluid dynamics, composite structures, deicing, crashworthiness, and superconductivity. A research lab in any technical area is expensive, and NIAR has nearly two dozen of them today. Operating out of 600,000 square feet of highly technical space, NIAR generated more than $60 million in income in 2018, one of the leading university programs in the nation, one could easily say the world. This record is now a part of the archival contributions of The Shocker magazine.
What I wish there was more space to acknowledge: The story of Professor Don Blakeslee and his discovery of the Etzanoa archaeological site, the emergence of women’s volleyball, the development of the Innovation Campus … but I’m out of space. I believe the idea of “outstanding” is over-used, but any evaluation of The Shocker magazine and its contribution to Wichita State would have to be described that way. Although I regret its loss, I applaud its history.