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Drafting a Legacy

Adams leaves behind estate gift funding Washburn art travel and scholarships

Art students in Peru

From Bell Tower - 2018

If someone wanted to meet with John Adams, h ’08, their best bet was lunchtime at Panera in Topeka. He had a habit of eating there every day. His habits were his hobbies, and they brought him joy. He knew what he liked, and he surrounded himself with those things throughout his 95 years.

When he passed away on Oct. 12, 2017, he left behind more than just a collection of prints, pottery and books. He left behind a way for others to experience the same joys he had. Adams made the Washburn University art department an everlasting part of his legacy with a gift in his estate to create an endowed art scholarship and to increase the endowed fund he created in 2003 to support art student travel. Including his estate gift, Adams’ contributions to Washburn have exceeded $1 million.

“You can see a picture of a Renaissance painting in a book or on a slide, but it’s not like seeing it in person, being able to see where it is and study it,” said Hurst Coffman, Adams’ estate lawyer and friend of more than 30 years. “When John was getting up in years, and we were reviewing his planning, we had a fund set aside for the student travel fund he had already been supporting.”

Adams, an architect for more than 60 years, traveled with the art department on many trips. Hearing about a trip to Peru in 2015 he helped fund but was unable to attend, he said, “I hope my gifts allow the students to have the same appreciation I had seeing different styles of artwork.”

He admitted a trip through the rainforest may not have been for him anyway.

“I’m not a snake person,” Adams said.

His gifts allow students to pair together an appreciation for travel with the chance to see the places and cultures where artistic styles come from.

“He believed that, for art students, the biggest part of their education is actually going and visiting what they’ve been studying,” Coffman said. “Of course, he knew so much about what they were seeing, so when he went with the students, he would help them really understand the architecture in places like Italy, Greece, France and Spain.”

John AdamsAdams knew studying art can be a demanding and expensive endeavor. Scholarships give students fewer financial barriers.

“I’m very happy about making art education more available to students today,” he said in 2015. He remembered it not being so widely available when he was younger.

Adams was born in Chillicothe, Missouri, and grew up in Topeka, attending Topeka High School. His love for art began while taking a class at Mulvane Art Museum in junior high. He liked to draw and enjoyed the technical side of theatre working on set design. That love of visual arts led him to study architecture at Washington University in Missouri and Columbia University in New York. Upon returning to Topeka, he worked for and was a shareholder and principal with Ekdahl, Davis, DePew, Persson Architects, P.A., which later became e. architects. His work includes lead design of the Henderson Learning Resources Center at Washburn.

His love for all aspects of art kept him closely associated with Washburn, the Mulvane and concerts at White Concert Hall. Washburn conferred on him an honorary doctor of humane letters in 2008.

“Being an architect, he enjoyed the whole specter of the arts,” Coffman said. “They kind of cover everything. I think he had a very creative mind.”

Supporting Washburn was an easy choice for Adams, who never married and had no children.

“He spent all of his life in Topeka and worked here for 60 years. He just had a strong connection with Washburn,” Coffman said.

Adams’ estate gift will give students opportunities they otherwise may not have had. In turn, those students will go on to create works patrons like him can enjoy for countless generations.

“John, I think, hoped everybody would, at some point, take time to stop and enjoy something really beautiful,” Coffman said. “We get wrapped up in the hustle bustle of our daily lives. He wanted people to actually take time to go to an art exhibit at the Mulvane, go to a symphony, or go to the art department and see the student show. Not only does it help the students, but it gives you some enjoyment.”



If you are interested in making Washburn part of your legacy with a gift to an area important to you, contact Jeannie Shy at 785.670.2734 or Learn more about planned giving.

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483