Far Above campaign spurs alumni into action

Posted on Dec 6, 2016 in Alumni News and News

Wichita attorney Jeff Kennedy is all too familiar with the difficulties that result from inadequate estate planning—“I have been the administrator, the executor, of some people’s estates, and I don’t want to force that on anyone”—yet he has a confession to offer: In part because he and his wife, Patti Gorham, have no children, they had, until recently, never completed their own estate plans.

Patti Gorham and Jeff KennedySpurred into action by KU Endowment’s Far Above campaign, which ended in June, they created an unrestricted, $250,000 estate gift to the KU Alumni Association, which Kennedy, j’81, has served as national chair and member of the Board of Directors and many years as an enthusiastic volunteer and leader of the Association’s Wichita network.

They left similar gifts to Washburn University’s law school, which they both attended, and Gorham’s undergraduate alma mater, the University of Montana.

Their gifts recognize the importance they place on higher education, and Kennedy’s longtime volunteer service reflects the concern he has for its future in Kansas.

As a stalwart volunteer for Jayhawks for Higher Education, the Alumni Association’s statewide legislative advocacy network, Kennedy has spent countless hours over the past decade reaching out to lawmakers in Topeka and encouraging others to do the same.

“I think it’s just that we were in the right place at the right time,” Kennedy says of JHE’s increased efforts amid threats to higher education funding. “We have been fairly vocal, and I think that will continue.”

Though he dreamed of becoming a lawyer since his boyhood in Pratt, where he was “one of those weird kids” who trekked to the local courthouse to watch trials, Kennedy’s education took a sudden detour late in his undergraduate years. With just 16 credit hours to be completed before he could walk down the Hill, Kennedy in 1972 decamped for Colorado, where he worked in Waterpik’s Fort Collins factory and spent two winters as a self-described ski bum. When he hurt his back during his “back-to-nature period” in Barber County, Kennedy in 1980 saw that it was time to return to Mount Oread and finish what he had started.

“I left KU after four years because I had decided that continuing to go to school, for me, was a really bad idea. I just needed to be crazy for a while,” Kennedy says from his office at Martin Pringle, where he spent 13 years as managing partner. “When I hurt my back I decided it was time to get serious about my life, so I came back and finish my degree at KU.”

His unconventional route through higher education served Kennedy well, and he suggests that others might do well to pay heed when they feel they might need to take a break before completing their education and moving toward lifelong careers.

“I think that in a lot of cases they check the next box, because they’ve been ingrained to be a student,” Kennedy says of high-achieving students who begin law school before being truly ready to commit themselves to the profession. “When I came back to school, I was a terrific student. I was a great student.”

Once reignited, his enthusiasm has yet to dim.

This donor profile originally appeared in the KU Alumni Association’s 2015-2016 Annual Report.

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