KU Alumni Association honors two recipients of Fred Ellsworth Medallion

Posted on Sep 18, 2014 in Alumni News and News


The 2014 recipients of the Fred Ellsworth Medallion for extraordinary service to the University of Kansas are Jay Howard of Austin, Texas, and Margaret Shirk of Lawrence. The KU Alumni Association will honor them Sept. 19 during the fall meeting of the national Board of Directors. Since 1975, the medallions have recognized KU volunteers who have continued the tradition of service established by Ellsworth, the Association’s longest-serving chief executive.

Howard, a Salina native, graduated in 1979 from the KU School of Business. He is president of JDH Investments in Austin. As a student, he guided Student Union Activities as president; as a graduate, he has served as a volunteer for the KU Memorial Unions, the Alumni Association and KU Endowment. Currently he is an Endowment trustee and a steering committee member for the Far Above campaign. Howard and his wife, Julia, are members of the Chancellors Club, and they have supported a variety of KU programs, including a professorship in humanities and Western Civilization honoring his parents, Jack and Shirley Rice Howard, who graduated from KU in 1951. Howard also has pledged $1 million from his estate to support the Alumni Association.

For the Alumni Association, he served on the national board of directors from 2003 to 2012 and led the organization as national chair from 2010 to ’11. During those years, he worked with KU leaders and Kevin Corbett, Association president, to develop the Jayhawk Generations Scholarship for academically qualified students from out-of-state KU families. The Jayhawk Generations program began in 2009.

“Jay has been a leader, a philanthropist, a mentor and a friend to many staff, students and alumni across the country,” Corbett said. “He has given his talents, resources and time to make KU the best university it can be.”

Howard’s service to the Alumni Association began in 2000, when he became an alumni representative to the KU Memorial Unions, returning to the organization he had served in the student president of SUA. In 2003, he provided gifts for the Traditions Tower, a focal point of the Kansas Union renovation that features views of the campus and plaques honoring KU students, faculty and staff members for their leadership. At the base of the tower on the first floor is the Rock Chalk Stone, a tribute to KU’s famous chant.

Shirk earned her KU degree in economics in 1939. As a student, she knew Ellsworth and began volunteering to help the Alumni Association during Commencement and alumni reunions. She became a part-time staff member in 1945, working for 25 years, but her service continued long beyond her employment. She received the Mildred Clodfelter Alumni Award in 1989 as a longtime volunteer; the honor is named for her friend Clodfelter, a 1941 KU alumna who worked for the Association for 42 years and retired in 1986. They hosted many alumni events together.

Shirk and her husband, David, were married for 69 years before his death in 2009. A 1939 KU graduate, he led the KU football team as captain before starting his career a high school teacher and coach. Following his retirement, the Shirks returned to Lawrence and the family farm, where she continues to live. Through the years, the Shirks invited many prospective KU students to their home, and they hosted countless parties for fraternities, sororities and other KU groups. The mention of “Shirks’ Barn” conjures memories for generations of Jayhawks.

The Shirks have contributed to the University through KU Endowment as members of the Chancellors Club, and they supported Kansas Athletics through the Williams Education Fund and as season ticketholders for football and basketball. She still attends KU games.

“One of the most powerful attributes that Margaret has is the sense of family and friendship,” said Dale Seuferling, KU Endowment president. “It really impressed me over the years, watching the 50-year classes returning for their reunions and seeing faces light up because Margaret knew them and knew their families. All those connections came forth, making alumni feel so tied to the University through Margaret.”

Since 1975, 151 KU alumni and friends have received the Fred Ellsworth Medallion.

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