The topic of lifelong friendships comes up over and over when alumni talk about their time on the Baldwin City campus. Two couples who met at Baker have forged an enduring friendship and strong commitment to their university.
Murray, ’69, and Diane (Wilson), ’70, Blackwelder and Gary, ’71, and Connie (Mangun), ’72, Sollars recognize the profound impact Baker has made on their personal and professional lives. And in May of 2016, they had an opportunity to in turn make a significant impact on their university when they agreed to serve as cochairs of the Forever Orange campaign.
Fundraising Comes Full Circle
Murray was uniquely qualified for this role. He began his career in fundraising at Baker University in the mid-1970s and has continued supporting his alma mater through the years.
“I developed a love of the fundraising profession, which I developed into a 41-year career and learned that giving back is very satisfying,” said Murray, who also held fundraising leadership roles at Wichita State, Iowa State, Purdue University, Rockhurst University, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Murray and Diane married the summer after she graduated from Baker with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education that prepared her for a career as a classroom teacher; working with and supervising students; advising college students and student organizations; and fulfilling her love of learning, nurturing children, and supporting good teachers and education.
Sorority Membership Honed Leadership Skills
As a freshman, Diane joined Alpha Chi Omega sorority and has remained deeply involved in fraternity and sorority life locally and nationally since graduating from Baker, serving as a strong supporter and advocate of membership in fraternity and sorority organizations. The experience has allowed her to develop and hone her leadership skills, form connections to other organizations, broaden her knowledge of the nonprofit world, and create philanthropic initiatives—skills she has put to use during the Forever Orange campaign.
“Joining Connie and Gary Sollars as cochairs for the campaign was an enjoyable, common experience in supporting our alma mater,” Diane said.
“I hope our support of the Forever Orange campaign has served to provide future students an institutional home that has been resilient to the changing times, while remaining focused on offering a quality, personalized education, and staying true to its mission.”Diane Blackwelder
The Baker projects that mean the most to the Blackwelders are increasing the number of endowed scholarships and the leadership gifts from alumni to fund new buildings, renovations, and improvements in facilities.
Lifetime of Service
Connie Sollars developed her interest in volunteering while at Baker and is active in various organizations, including Health Care Access, Fairy Godmother Fund, church boards, and the Lawrence Arts Center. Upon entering Baker, her plan was to pursue fashion merchandising with a teaching degree as a fallback plan. She was hired after graduation by Halls Plaza as an assistant buyer for the department store and moved to Halls Crown Center when it opened a year later. She and Gary started a family in 1974 and moved in 1977 to Lawrence, Kansas, raising two children and becoming involved in the community.
“When asked to cochair the Forever Orange campaign with the Blackwelders, it was an easy decision. They are friends we have known since our college days, who are as interested in seeing Baker succeed and thrive as we are.”Connie Sollars
Connie is looking forward to marking the end of the fundraising campaign at the Forever Orange Gala on May 7. “It’s a privilege for us to be able to share a sponsorship for the Gala with the Blackwelders, and we are looking forward to celebrating with our Baker family the success of the campaign,” she said.
Finding His Niche
Gary became acquainted with Baker in the late 1960s as a football recruit for Coach Jim Irick. He attended Baker Day the spring of his senior year in high school with a friend also being recruited to play football. They stayed at the Delt house for the weekend and liked everything Baker had to offer. He entered Baker as a physical education major and planned to be a coach before switching to business his sophomore year.
“I thought we just needed to get a degree, and then the business we went into would train us for the work. I’m amazed how much we learned and how much we used that knowledge. I used the basic accounting I learned at Baker nearly every day. I felt well equipped to compete in the business world,” said Gary, who joined Charlton-Manley Insurance, Inc. in 1977 and retired from the company as CEO.
Gary and Connie jumped at the opportunity to join the Blackwelders as key contributors to the campaign.
“We knew when we joined the Blackwelders as cochairs we would learn more than we would contribute,” Gary said. “Murray and Diane and the committee worked together with the dedicated Baker staff to make a great team. We were pleased to join the Blackwelders in supporting the Gala to hopefully inspire others to support and celebrate the event and support Baker in the future.”
The partnership between the cochairs has been an ideal match.
“It has been a perfect fit. We have helped identify prospects, make calls, and give advice as needed. I always urge people to think about leaving a legacy. You might say it is a way you can be Forever Orange.”Murray Blackwelder
Written by Steve Rottinghaus, '14 MSM