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Archive for Wednesday, October 9, 1996

FORMER KU PROFESSOR, COMMUNITY ICON DIES

October 9, 1996

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One of the men who helped nurture Lawrence's arts atmosphere died Tuesday.

Charles Oldfather Jr., a man known for his decades of service and generosity, died Tuesday and was remembered as "one of the principal saints of Lawrence."

Oldfather, former Kansas University law professor, Lawrence school board member and theater and music figure, died at age 76 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital following an illness.

"The most ironic moment for Charles Oldfather is when he played Scrooge one year in one of our Christmas plays," said Ric Averill, artistic director of the Seem-to-Be Players theater group, and a friend of Oldfather's since 1971.

"He was an extremely generous person."

"He was a kind of Renaissance guy, a man with many diverse talents," Averill said. "He was very committed to excellence of the mind and the body. One of the main reasons he did everything was because of his commitment to Lawrence and the university."

Oldfather and his wife, Hortense C., or "Tensie," moved to Lawrence from Milwaukee in 1950, when he joined the KU law faculty.

While at KU, Oldfather was instrumental in writing a new Student Code in 1969, resulting in a greater degree of student participation in university affairs.

He also served several years on KU's Athletic Board, and as a faculty representative to the Big Eight athletic conference and National Collegiate Athletic Assn.

Oldfather also served as KU's attorney from 1971 until his retirement.

Upon retirement, Oldfather became active in various theater and music groups in the area.

In 1974, he was cast as John Brown in "The Ballad of Black Jack," a historical play performed annually for more than a decade at Baldwin's Maple Leaf Festival.

He also frequently took part in theater productions at KU, Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita, and played folk songs on guitar.

His portrayals included Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," the Clarence Darrow-style lawyer in "Inherit the Wind" and writer-narrator Chekhov in "The Good Doctor."

In 1991, he and his wife donated $500,000 to help KU purchase the old Centron Corp. building at 1921 W. Ninth.

The two-story, 18,000-square-foot building -- renamed Oldfather studios -- houses KU's film school.

News of the gift came from the Oldfathers in a Christmas Eve telephone call to Judy and Jack Wright.

"I got a call on Christmas Eve from Charlie, and he told me they would fund it," said Jack Wright, professor of theater and film. "... Most of what (the film school) is doing now couldn't have been done without them. ... There's no end to their generosity."

In 1990, the Oldfathers gave $100,000 for three warm-up rooms for musicians, dancers and actors in the Lied Center.

Oldfather in the mid-1980s also was instrumental in the restoration of the Lawrence Opera House, 642 Mass. -- known today as Liberty Hall.

"I've always been interested in a building that's been said to have the best acoustics west of the Mississippi," Oldfather said of the 1911-era building, in a 1985 Journal-World interview.

In 1986, the Oldfathers received the Kiwanis Club Substantial Citizen Award and in 1990 they were honored with the Bert Nash Community Health Center Pioneer Award for dedicated service.

Oldfather served as a member of the Lawrence school board from 1974 to 1982.

"Both he and Tensie were a real strong force as a giving couple in this community," Judy Wright, a development officer with KU Endowment Association, said.

"He's one of the principal saints of Lawrence," Averill said.

Oldfather was born Feb. 10, 1920, in Crawfordsville, Ind. He and his family moved in 1926 to Lincoln, Neb.

He received a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Nebraska in 1941, and a law degree from Harvard University in 1948.

Funeral services are pending at Rumsey Funeral Home.

Survivors include his wife, five sons, Timothy, Stephen, Christopher, Jonathan and William, and two daughters, Felicia and Melanie.

The family suggests memorials to the Charles H. Oldfather Scholarship in law at KU, or to the Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H.

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