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Spring 2003

ALUMNI PROFILE

Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame inducts university president

By Drew Brown

Jon Wefald first moved to Minot, N.D. as a teenager with his family. For the first year and half, he and his siblings Kanut, Ann and Bob, and parents, Walma and Olav, lived in Pat’s Motel. A lot has changed in the 53 years since.

Today, Wefald ’59, is in his 16th year as president of Kansas State University.

Wefald has presided over the university since 1986, and his success recently garnered the "full-blooded Norwegian" induction into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame.

"I come from humble beginnings," Wefald said. "Nobody’s more surprised than me."


Recent Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame inductee, and Kansas State University President, Jon Wefald '59.
Wefald struggled through Minot High School and was told by an English teacher that he wasn’t smart enough to make it in college. He sought a different environment after graduation, but wanted to remain close to his Scandinavian roots. Ignoring his teacher’s discouragement, Wefald left for what was then Pacific Lutheran College.

"PLU gave me a sense of confidence about my future and an opportunity to blossom," Wefald said. "I owe Pacific Lutheran a lot."

Wefald graduated cum laude and went on to earn a master’s and a Ph.D., both in history and political science. He then took a faculty position in 1965 at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. In 1971, Wefald jumped at the opportunity to be Minnesota’s Commissioner of Agriculture, a position he held until 1977. His years at Southwest State University (Minn.) as president (1977-1982), and as Chancellor of Minnesota’s State University system (1982-1986) made him an ideal choice for president of what was then a struggling Kansas State University.

During Wefald’s tenure, KSU has added more than 1.8 million square feet of new university buildings, and enrollment has increased from about 13,000 in 1986 to about 23,000 in 2002. KSU students are now second in the nation among public universities in the number of Rhodes Scholarship winners since 1986, and KSU is the only public university over the past 15 years to rank among the top 10 of U.S. schools in winning 91 Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater and Udall scholarships since 1986.

While honored by the accolades that have come with KSU’s success, nothing gives him more personal satisfaction than his induction into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame in October. The best part is the Hall of Fame happens to be in Minot.

The Hall has inducted 55 individuals since it began in 1984, including Charles Lindbergh, Buzz Aldrin and Walter Mondale.

"It’s a long way from living in Pat’s Motel," Wefald said. "Going back to Minot for this honor was the ultimate thrill."

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