by John Martellaro // Fall 2012
Two people who played significant roles in the growth and development of UMKC and the University of Missouri System were honored in April with the university’s highest non-academic award. Vera Olson and Gary Forsee were presented with the Chancellor’s Medal, honoring those who have dedicated unwavering support and service to UMKC.
Vera Olson is the widow of the late Jim Olson, who served as both chancellor of UMKC, and later, president of the UM System. President Olson said often that the presidency was a team effort the couple shared; since his death, Vera has continued that legacy of support and involvement. One of the Olsons’ key accomplishments was to establish UMKC as the System’s campus for the arts. The couple also led the campaign to create the campus Performing Arts Center, which was later named in Jim’s honor. “The Olsons continued their involvement with and support for the university long after Jim stepped down from the presidency,” says Curt Crespino, vice chancellor for Advancement at UMKC. “The Olsons’ legacy included a stronger University of Missouri System and a stronger UMKC.” Former UM System President Gary Forsee played a critical role in seizing growth opportunities for UMKC through innovative financing. He used the bond debt capacity of the System to support the construction of the new Cherry Street Parking Structure, renovation of the University Center into the new Student Success Center and the construction of the Miller Nichols Learning Center, a new 950-seat classroom facility. This was the first time the debt capacity of the System was leveraged to construct academic facilities. Forsee’s strong relationships with the governor and the legislature in Jefferson City protected state support for the System in difficult times, says Chancellor Leo E. Morton. “Many of the past year’s headlines were seeds planted during his tenure,” Morton says. “After he stepped down, he and his wife, Sherry, have continued their personal advocacy and support for UMKC.”