Beggses’ legacy two-of-a-kind

Shirley Beggs interacts with a friendly face.

Shirley Beggs has a hidden skill few know about. Well, unless you happened to be sitting near her at a Wichita State basketball game.

“We have in Mrs. Beggs one of the best critiquers of officials in the Missouri Valley Conference,” said Eric Sexton, WSU’s director of athletics. “She was always ready to do that when necessary.”

It wasn’t animosity toward the referees that made her so vocal during games — it was her love for everything WSU, something she shares with her husband, university President Don Beggs.

On July 1, John William Bardo will replace Don as university president, ending a term that has lasted more than 13 years.

“I will miss the ready opportunity to walk up campus and stick my head in and be able to say hello or pass a joke back and forth,” Sexton said.

The Beggses have been the heart of WSU since they first arrived in 1999, which is why a couple hundred people showed up to a farewell reception in their honor last Thursday in Charles Koch Arena.

“What made everyone love them was that they were nice, down-to-earth people,” said Mike Kennedy, a WSU alum and long-time voice of the Shockers. “They didn’t just cater to the biggest boosters. They certainly were accessible to virtually everyone.”

As a sports broadcaster and avid Shocker fan, Kennedy has witnessed what the Beggses have done for WSU, especially Shocker athletics.

They could be found at most sporting events and even traveled with the teams, such as when the men’s basketball team traveled to New York City, played in and won the National Invitation Tournament in 2011.

“I think it’s especially a big impact on the student athletes and the coaching staff,” Kennedy said. “When your president and first lady care that much to be there and travel to events, it gives you a feeling that you really have a lot of support.”

This support and dedication stretched well beyond Shocker athletics. Bobby Gandu, the director of admissions at WSU, said he was always amazed with the schedule the Beggses could keep in terms of attending recruitment events, despite all of the obligations they already had.

“They made it their business and priority to attend as many events as they could,” Gandu said. “The fact that they invested themselves so much in our community will really be their legacy.”

When Don Beggs, 70, calls it quits at the end of the month, he plans on returning home to Illinois to be with his children and grandchildren. He retired once already in 1998, where he had been the chancellor of Southern Illinois.

“I think he is done this time, but I wish him to be a better success at retirement this time than he was the first time,” Sexton said. “But his failure at retirement was our benefit for 13 years.”