• Mike Matson

Time and Space

This column was published April 30, 2022 in the Manhattan Mercury.


When retired U.S. Senator Pat Roberts rose to eulogize Jon Wefald a week ago at All Faiths Chapel on campus, he talked of being fortunate to have shared the same time and space with the former president of Kansas State University.

Wefald’s time in Anderson Hall spanned 1986 through 2009. His space was K-State, the community of Manhattan, the state of Kansas, and planet Earth. A time and space that stretched from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Avatar. From Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall to hope and change.

His was the generation that transformed their time and space through landline phone calls returned to people whose names and numbers were written on little slips of pink paper beneath the imprinted words, ‘While You Were Out’ by secretaries whose positions would transition to administrative assistant and then administrative professional, if not phased out entirely through attrition.

Wefald’s time and space saw Roger Reitz, Edith Stunkel, Bruce Snead and Gene Klingler on the City Commission, with Kent Glasscock, Lana Oleen, Katha Hurt and Sheila Hochhauser in the state legislature. Cedar Crest witnessed Mike Hayden’s high volume twang, Joan Finney’s idiosyncrasies, Bill Graves’ competence, and Kathleen Sebelius’ confidence. In Washington, it was the time and space of Bob Dole, Nancy Kassebaum, Roberts, Jim Slattery and Dan Glickman.

c. Manhattan Mercury

As I glanced around the chapel, Wefald’s management technique of surrounding yourself with people more talented than you and turning them loose was personified. Chuck Reagan, Jim Coffman, Tom Rawson, Sue Peterson, and Pat Bosco. Bob Krause sprang immediately to mind.

The youngest Wefald acolytes now in the prime of their professional careers. I was sitting next to one of them. My wife, Jackie McClaskey, who served as K-State student body president in Wefald’s time and space and has mirrored his management style.

Seeds planted in the breakfast meeting, strategies developed over lunch. Tactics devised nursing drinks after work. Hand-written notes of rah-rah and thanks. Agendas moved through face-to-face relationships and sheer dint of personality.

Dwindling enrollments turned around, football programs resurrected. Libraries renovated, art museums where once there were none. World class golf courses carved out of Flint Hills. The recognition that even from terrible tragedy can spring opportunity. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility can be traced directly upstream to September 11, 2001.

Time and space that starts as subjective and morphs seamlessly into objective. Wefald wasn’t the center of the universe, but his outcomes stemmed from purposeful, incremental change.

Plan your work. Work your plan.

Not only a historian, but a world class communicator. When you title the book about your time and space, “The Transformative Years,” you’ve locked in the narrative. If the actual transforming is the science, then the structure and process that leads to the transformation is the art and Jon Wefald was Van Gogh.

It strikes me how much has changed since Jon Wefald’s time and space ended 13 years ago. Three successors in Anderson Hall, societal upheaval, a wider rural/urban divide, polarized politics, a global pandemic. Larger farms and fewer farmers, which directly impacts the land grant mission of agricultural and mechanical arts. Evolving workforce issues that go the very heart of a university’s raison d’être.

After retiring, Jon Wefald stayed with us 13 more years and used that time to nurture relationships one-on-one. I consider myself fortunate to be counted among that group. The historian may be gone, but all those who aspire to transform systems, to lead people, to affect change, can still learn from him.

To everything there is a season. Everyone has a time and space.