KU leaves impression on Bob Dole, other celebrity alumni

University produces celebrity graduates

The jet builder, Hall of Famer, presidential nominee, novelist, photographer to the stars, astronaut, Olympian, Hollywood actress – all experienced formative years at Kansas University.

Alan Mulally, Gale Sayers, Robert Dole, Sara Paretsky, Greg Gorman, Joe Engle, Jim Ryun and Dee Wallace Stone, in different ways and to different degrees, became what they are today because of years spent studying at the state’s largest public university.

Bob Dole, who attended Kansas University in 1941 and 1942, represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1996.

KU left an impression on them, and they reciprocated by leaving a mark on the world.

Mulally, president of Boeing Commercial Airlines Group and senior vice president of The Boeing Co., said he discovered team-building skills while an undergraduate student in engineering classes taught by Jan Roskam.

“Jan is one of my heroes,” said Mulally, who grew up in Lawrence and graduated from KU’s engineering school in 1968. “He encouraged me to use my desire and talent to include everybody on a team.”

That expertise served him well as he assumed responsibility in the 1990s for all aspects of developing Boeing’s 777 airliner.

For others, cherished moments that helped define their lives took place in a more fast-paced setting.

Jim Ryun, who represents western Lawrence in the U.S. Congress, said he still got a tingle in his spine when recalling the 1972 Kansas Relays at KU. Memorial Stadium was clogged with 36,000 fans to witness the 1-mile run.

“I was having an up-and-down year,” said Ryun, who finished his journalism degree two years earlier. “I came back for the relays. I was ready to run.”

So many spectators arrived at the stadium that ticket-takers opened the gates to get everybody in seats before the start of the race, he said.

“I won it,” he said. “That was a turning-around point.”

Ryun went on to compete in his third Olympics.

Gorman, who lives in Los Angeles and attended KU from 1967 to 1969, is one of the nation’s top portrait and celebrity photographers. He’s worked with Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, John Travolta, Marlon Brando, Jodie Foster, Al Pacino, Bette Midler, Elton John, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.

And he looks back fondly at his years on Mount Oread, liking the image in his mind.

“I love KU and Lawrence,” he said. “Those were some of the best times of my life.”

Here is a short list of other KU celebrities:

  • Gale Sayers, recipient of a bachelor’s degree in 1975 and master’s degree in 1977 from KU’s School of Education, was a two-time All-America football player for the Jayhawks in the 1960s. He went on to an NFL Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears.
  • Robert Dole, who attended KU in 1941 and 1942 before entering military service during World War II, represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1996 and won the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1996. The Dole Institute of Politics is under construction at KU, which will house his official papers.
  • Sara Paretsky, who grew up in Lawrence and earned a degree in political science in 1967, is author of a series of mystery novels with an unusual heroine, Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski. In this, the 20th anniversary of the series’ creation, Paretsky became the first non-British writer to win the lifetime achievement award from the British Crime Writers Assn.
  • Joe Engle, recipient of a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955, was among 19 astronauts selected by NASA in 1966. He was back-up lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, and went on to fly a series of Space Shuttle missions.
  • Dee Wallace Stone, who completed an education degree in 1971, was born in Kansas City, Mo. She has appeared in more than 85 films, among them “The Stepford Wives” in 1975, “10” in 1979 and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982.
  • Richard Davis, who graduated with degrees in liberal arts in 1953 and medicine in 1954, had a long career as a child psychiatrist and author before founding K.C. Masterpiece Barbecue Products Inc., of which he is chairman of the board.
  • Nancy Baker, who graduated in 1954, served in the U.S. Senate from 1978 to 1997.

Dole, who served in Washington along with Kassebaum Baker, said he remained mindful from where he came.

“I can hardly return to this place,” he said during a recent speech at KU, “without reflecting on all that has transpired in the 60 years since I arrived here for the first time.

“Needless to say, I didn’t get here on my own. Like just about every one of today’s students, I got to KU because of parents who sacrificed, friends who encouraged and teachers who inspired. Not to mention the banker in Russell who loaned me $300 and bought me the hat because it would make me look more serious.”

He said he cherished the thought of KU holding the Dole Institute -on one condition.

“I understand my transcript will be placed in the cornerstone of this building and not revealed for 100 years.”