2012 Chancellor's Medals: A Tale of Two Presidencies 

Two individuals will be honored for their contributions to UMKC with the 2012 Chancellor's Medal. The Medal is the university's highest non-academic award and honors those who have dedicated unwavering support and service to UMKC. This year, the campus will recognize both Vera Olson and Gary Forsee in a combined medal ceremony during the UMKC Alumni Association Alumni Awards luncheon April 26.

Vera Olson, widow of the late James C. "Jim" Olson, continues their advocacy for UMKC. Following his chancellorship at UMKC, Jim Olson took the UM Presidency at a tumultuous time. He’d led the campus through its transition to being part of the UM System and the Olsons took their passion and love for Kansas City and its university to the System. The late President Olson said often that the presidency was a team-effort that he shared fully with Vera, pictured at right.

The Olsons helped to establish UMKC as the System’s campus for the arts. They sought to stabilize and grow the strengths of the respective campuses. The campuses ensured that their passion and dedication to the arts would be celebrated on all four campuses in perpetuity through the Olson Fund for the Arts, established upon Jim’s retirement.  With the support of the UM System, UMKC renamed the Performing Arts Center in honor of Jim, who’d been the force behind its establishment. The Olsons also collaborated on a book documenting the history of the University of Missouri (cover below at left).

"The Olsons continued their involvement with and support for the university long after Jim stepped down from the presidency," said Curt Crespino, vice chancellor for Advancement at UMKC. "They have been steadfast supporters, continuing to leverage their personal  and professional relationships and advocacy on UMKC’s behalf. The Olsons’ legacy included a stronger University of Missouri System and a stronger UMKC.  After Jim’s passing, Vera has continued her support and continued involvement with us."

Former UM System President Gary Forsee’s leadership mirrored the Olson presidency and paved the way for growth and opportunities for UMKC. His decision to use the debt capacity of the System (in which bonds are issued and repaid through fees, not state funds) to provide funding for badly needed facilities on the UMKC campus was a hallmark of his tenure. Bonds were issued to support the construction of the new parking facility, renovation of the University Center to be the new student success center and the construction of a new 900 seat classroom facility that will be available in 2013. This was the first time the debt capacity of the System was leveraged to construct academic facilities.

Forsee helped UMKC secure both state and private support. His relationship with the governor and the legislature in Jefferson City protected state support for the System in years when surrounding state universities were being hit hard, said Chancellor Leo Morton.  "Gary was willing to build relationships and make important asks - in fact, many of the past year’s headlines were seeds planted during his tenure," he added, "After he stepped down, he and Sherry have continued their personal advocacy and support for UMKC."

Like Jim and Vera Olson before him, Forsee’s Kansas City roots and relationships garnered support for UMKC and its initiatives when the campus needed it most. It was again a mark of how a System president could help nurture and cultivate the strengths of the respective campuses. The Time To Get it Right report on higher education in Kansas City asked UMKC to stabilize leadership, develop a sustainable strategy and establish an independent foundation. Forsee championed the establishment of the independent UMKC Foundation, which has launched a $250 million campaign with the first $105 million committed. 

In recognizing both Forsee and Olson, Chancellor Morton says he hopes to pay tribute to two individuals whose years of service were separated by decades but who have shaped UMKC in a profound way. Olson and Forsee will join the class of 2012 Alumni Awards recipients in being honored at a luncheon on April 26 at the Westin. Tickets and tables go on sale March 1; sponsorships are also available. Click the 2012 Alumni Awards page for information and tickets.

About the Medal
At UMKC, the Chancellor’s Medal is the highest non-academic award presented to a volunteer. This medal, given at the discretion of the chancellor, honors those who have shown unwavering support and service. In the 51-year history of the Chancellor’s Medal, it has been bestowed on 61 persons. Medalists represent the fields of commerce, art, education, law, politics, religion, child welfare, urban design, sports, music, medicine and journalism.

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