Donor pays $130,000 to keep Jayhawk collection with the Kansas Union

These Jayhawks are part of Bud Jennings' lifetime collection. At left is a Jayhawk with a piece of original flooring from Robinson Gym.

After reading that a 1,000-piece collection of Jayhawk memorabilia at the Kansas Union was going up for auction, James J. Ascher Sr., went to see it for what would have been the first time. But he was too late. An employee at the Kansas University book store told him the collection of historical Jayhawk fare had already been boxed up and carted away.

He should be getting his chance soon, though. Ascher donated $130,000 to the KU Endowment so that the union could purchase the collection, effectively making it a permanent part of the union. Some of the pieces could return to display at the union in a matter of days.

Ascher, who attended Kansas University in the 1950s, had two children graduate from KU and has a grandchild currently attending, didn’t want to see the collection leave the campus and get auctioned off to a hodgepodge of buyers scattered throughout the globe.

“I thought, well, that would be bad for the administration of KU because the Jayhawk is probably the most recognized symbol of the university in the country,” Ascher said.

Mike Reid, left, public relations director for the Kansas Union, poses with James and Mary Ellen Ascher, who donated 30,000 to keep a 1,000-piece collection of historical Jayhawk memorabilia at the union.

Ascher, who owned a pharmaceutical company before retiring in 2010, also wanted to help out Bud Jennings, the collection’s original owner.

Jennings began building the collection in 1939. He loaned the collection to the union for display four years ago, hoping to find a buyer for it so he could help provide for his retirement. Jennings and the union worked with the owner of a local antique store to appraise the collection. Jennings had also kept a running, handwritten record of what he had paid for the items.

When no buyer stepped forward initially, the union announced the collection would be sold off in pieces at an auction as well as on ebay. Sight unseen, Ascher decided to put up the money for the collection.

“Just the idea that a man spends his whole life pulling (the collection) together and then to see them sent all over the world” motivated him to donate the money, Ascher said.

Mike Reid, director of public affairs at the union, presented the check for the collection to Jennings last week.

After news reports that Jennings’ collection would be sold, Reid said several people sent in memorabilia of their own to help replace the collection. Now that the collection will be restored, the union will be able to expand it and keep adding to it indefinitely. Reid said he also plans to improve displays for the memorabilia.

Reid, who not long ago finished boxing up the collection and moving it to storage, now has to fetch the many Jayhawk pieces, unpack them and restore the collection over the next few weeks. Not that he’s complaining. Reid has been watching over the collection since Jennings loaned it to the union. He said he’s grateful to Ascher and his wife for paying to keep it there.

“(Ascher) thought it belonged here at KU, and a lot of people agreed with him, and I agreed with him,” Reid said. Now the union will be able to keep it for students and visitors to see “for the rest of the union’s life,” he said.