Couple’s gifts to Washburn span more than four decades
A $100 scholarship was the lifeline Gordon Lowry needed to attend Washburn University.
In the mid-1930s, there wasn’t any money at home to send the 19-year-old to college. Even though he was working at a gas station in Topeka, Kan., the only thing he heard about was Washburn University. His brother had gone there, his bosses were Washburn graduates, and his customers went to Washburn. Although attending Washburn was something he desperately wanted to do, he knew he couldn’t afford it making 10 cents an hour and working 60 hours a week.
Encouragement from Mrs. Parker, who worked at Washburn, and her insistence on finding money to help him out are what got him started on a successful career and life as a small-town lawyer, family man, and philanthropist in Valley Falls, Kan.
“Once I started at Washburn, I was able to find the money to stay,” said Lowry, who lettered in basketball his freshman and sophomore years.
Lowry and his wife, Margaret, have returned the $100 gift many times over through their generosity to Washburn University. The couple has continuously given to Washburn Athletics, KTWU, Washburn University School of Law, and various scholarship funds at the University every year for many decades.
“Washburn got me started,” he said. “I got that first gift, and I appreciate having that opportunity.”
After Lowry graduated from Washburn and married Margaret, he went into the Navy in 1941 and spent four years in the service, a majority of his time in the southwest Pacific. He was awarded the Bronze Star for work done in the Saipan invasion and a Purple Heart in the Palau invasion before retiring as a lieutenant. They returned to Topeka, and he enrolled in Washburn Law’s accelerated program. He graduated with his law degree in 1946 and served as law clerk for Judge Walter Huxman of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a year.
After serving for Huxman, Lowry started his own law practice in Valley Falls. He and Margaret had five children, four of whom received an undergraduate or law degree at Washburn: Kem Lowry, ba ’64; Susan Lowry, bs ’69; James Lowry, ba ’70; Stuart Lowry, jd ’85; and Lynne Lowry, who graduated from the University of Kansas in 1984. Three of the children also married Washburn students.
“I never encouraged the kids to even try to get scholarships when they went to school because I knew from my own experience that other kids needed them a lot more,” Lowry said.
The Lowrys’ first gift to Washburn came in the late 1960s for the new law school facility that was built after the tornado destroyed the old structure. He said they’ve tried to give as much as they could, as soon as they could.
“We give every year because there are new students who need the support,” said Lowry, who has also served on the Washburn Law and alumni boards. “We haven’t been able to give big numbers, but we try to give what we can.”
Lowry said he’s always thought highly of the education he received at Washburn, and while traveling the world in the Navy, he found Washburn to be a well-known school. Today, he is gratified to see that his children are giving back to the University and other organizations as well, and he credits their successes in life to getting a college degree.
“My gifts haven’t been that impressive, I don’t think,” Lowry said. “But over the long haul, they have probably helped a lot of kids, and we’re glad we could do that.”