Dr. Rosemary A. Kirby celebrated her 90th birthday on June 22 in a memorable way. She spoke to a crowd of family, friends and supporters assembled on the campus of WSU Tech at the National Center for Aviation Training. She spoke from her wheelchair in a strong, clear voice. She urged all of us to be lifelong learners – to do more and to be more.
I was among those moved by her remarks. The well-attended event served to dedicate a commemorative statue and announce a legacy scholarship fund in Dr. Kirby’s name. I was there proudly representing the Wichita Aero Club in my role as vice chair. The club stepped forward as a platinum supporter of the scholarship fund, which ties to its mission of promoting aviation training and career development.
Dr. Kirby broke the glass ceiling in the world of technical colleges. She brought others along with her. That included Dr. Sheree Utash, now president of WSU Tech.
“She was my mentor, and probably didn’t even know it,” says Dr. Utash, who worked under Dr. Kirby more than 20 years ago.
Purpose Fueled by Passion
Dr. Kirby has touched the lives of countless teachers, colleagues and students. The endowed scholarship in her name will inspire students for years to come. During a pioneering career in education that spanned more than five decades, Dr. Kirby rose from secretary to college president.
The Wichita Area Vocational Technical School transformed into the Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) in 1996 under Dr. Kirby’s leadership. That change enabled the college to begin awarding certificates, diplomas and associate of applied science degrees. Dr. Kirby focused on continuous program improvement and the needs of students until retiring in 2000. WATC continued its evolution by becoming WSU Tech in 2018.
The new bronze sculpture – titled “Rosemary’s Legacy” – sits prominently on WSU Tech’s main campus on North Webb Road in Northeast Wichita. David Selenke, a faculty member, designed and sculpted the piece, using his grandchildren as models. They attended the dedication ceremony and delighted in seeing themselves cast in bronze. While the piece showcases the dream of an aviation career, it highlights the nobility of all technical fields.
As a woman in aviation and mother to a young son, it warmed my heart that the sculpture portrays both a boy and girl dreaming of futures in flight. After the unveiling, Dr. Kirby’s young family members swarmed the sculpture, no doubt sparking more dreams.
You Can Play a Part
Dr. Kirby continues to make a profound impact on the Air Capital. You can help as fundraising continues for the scholarship, which will be given annually to a deserving student. Donors at defined giving levels receive recognition with commemorative pavers near the statue. Anyone wishing to contribute can do so at WSUTech.edu/Rosemary.