I am sad to report that former Chancellor Gene Budig has passed away at the age of 81. He leaves behind his wife, Gretchen, their three children and five grandchildren, and countless Jayhawks whose lives he touched.
While we are saddened by Chancellor Budig’s passing, we can be grateful for the opportunity to celebrate his life and contributions to KU. I encourage each of you to set aside some time in the coming days to reflect on his legacy at KU.
Gene Budig was named the university’s 14th chancellor in 1981. On the day he accepted the job, he said he aimed “to help a great public university become greater” — a goal he undoubtedly achieved over the next 13 years as chancellor.
An experienced university administrator as well as a major general in the Air National Guard, Chancellor Budig presided over an impressive amount of physical growth on campus, including the Dole Human Development Center, the Adams Alumni Center, the KU Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Anschutz Science Library, the Lied Center for the Performing Arts, and the opening of the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park.
Under Chancellor Budig’s leadership, KU enrollment reached an all-time high of 29,161 in 1992, the KU Medical Center returned to sound financial footing, and the number of distinguished professorships at KU nearly tripled.
Additionally, Chancellor Budig helped lead KU through Campaign Kansas, a five-year fund drive that brought in $265 million in gifts and commitments. During his chancellorship, annual giving for KU's benefit rose from about $12 million to $34.6 million.
In 1991, tragedy struck the campus when lightning caused one of the KU’s oldest and best-loved landmarks, Hoch Auditorium, to burn, leaving only the historic facade. But through Chancellor Budig’s tireless lobbying efforts, KU received an $18 million appropriation from the state to rebuild the structure. In recognition, the new building was christened Budig Hall when it was officially dedicated in 1997.
Chancellor Budig resigned in 1994 to become president of Major League Baseball's American League – an unsurprising next chapter for a man with an unabashed lifelong passion for baseball.
The family requests memorials to the Gene and Gretchen Budig Teaching Professorships in care of KU Endowment, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044-0928, or give online at kuendowment.org/budig.
Before leaving the university, Chancellor Budig told the Oread magazine, “I will leave the university with a sense of satisfaction and appreciation. Many things have been made better, and it has been the highest honor to be associated with the people of KU. Lawrence will always be special to our family. It is home.”
Well, Gene — we promise to look after your home in your absence.
Please join me in reflecting on Chancellor Budig’s life and contributions to KU.
Douglas A. Girod
University of Kansas
Recollections from friends and colleagues of Chancellor Budig
Bill Tuttle, Professor Emeritus of American Studies
Always thoughtful and generous, Gene Budig was a marvelous friend. In my mother's waning years and in her last visit to us in Lawrence, Gene and Gretchen invited her to visit for tea at The Outlook. We had a wonderful time, and afterwards, Gene wrote my mother. "Bill and I talk about our mothers often," he wrote. "You are very important to him, and have had a great impact on his life. As you know, he is one of the University's real academic stars." My mother was thrilled. Gene's sense of humor was also legendary. On my 50th birthday, he arrived at my house decked out in his tuxedo. He was there, he announced to my guests, to park cars. Gene and I considered ourselves to be "brothers." In his 13 years at KU, Gene Budig was one of the university's great chancellors.
Dale Seuferling, KU Endowment President
Chancellor Budig left an indelible legacy at the University of Kansas. His leadership during Campaign Kansas resulted in numerous benefits which, more than 30 years later, continue to serve our KU students and faculty. Following his service as Chancellor, he would delight in meeting successful KU alumni around the world who had a “Gene Budig” diploma on the wall in their homes or offices. Gene and Gretchen never forgot KU as evidenced by their personal gifts which endowed six Gene and Gretchen Budig Teaching Professorship and Award Funds. He was a great friend.
David Ambler, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Emeritus
We have lost one of the great chancellors of the University of Kansas, and I mourn the passing of a valued and important friend, mentor and colleague.
The career of this shy, adopted son of a used-car dealer in McCook, Nebraska, is a quintessential demonstration of the realization of the American dream. Before the age of 30, Gene had completed three degrees at the University of Nebraska and served as assistant to its president and that state’s governor. From there he went on to serve as the president or chancellor of three major state universities and ultimately realized his dream of being the last president of the American League of Baseball.
But for me, I shall remember him most for his personal integrity, kindness, sense of humor, wisdom, visionary leadership and his steadfast commitment to education as the means of making this a better world for all of us.
Jim Carothers, Emeritus Professor of English
Gene Budig was calm, modest, principled in academic values, and a responsible and enthusiastic KU Chancellor, as well as a great family man.
He also had a subtle and frequent sense of humor, which he was likely to share only when the microphones and cameras were turned off. "Would you take this job for a Buick?" he once asked a reporter who was interviewing him.
He also loved baseball. He once asked a colleague, "What role would you most like to have on a major league baseball team at this stage in your life?” His colleague offered, "I'd most like to be the radio color commentator for the Royals or the Cardinals. What would you be?" Quickly, Budig replied, "the owner."
He was a steadfast champion of the faculty, of the good will of all of us, and interested in support for individual colleagues who needed help. When a faculty member got into front-page trouble in the local newspaper, the individual's department chair got an early morning phone call from the Gene, asking, "How can we help him?"
He paid careful attention to student needs and opinions. Remarkable for any chancellor or president, he taught a class every year he was in Lawrence. He often showed up at individual classes "to learn something" or to "ask questions."
His family life was often mixed up with his university responsibilities. He and Gretchen hosted students and faculty on a great variety of occasions. They watched carefully as their three children developed and grew up, and all five of them played jokes on each other. I especially remember one graduation present that seemed to be the most atrociously available used car they could find, then they pointed out the real gift car, hidden in another place. Gene and Gretchen quietly gave great amounts of money to the university, in support of scholarship students, particular KU schools, and myriad new distinguished professorships.
He saw as many KU basketball games as anyone, was faithful at KU football games, and, of course, baseball games. He was a genuine Jayhawk.
His term as Chancellor was, for many students and faculty, the best period of their academic years. We shall miss him. Rock Chalk, Gene.