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Memories of Dole

Washburn alumni share recollections of the iconic senator

John Pinegar with Bob and Elizabeth Dole

John Pinegar, ba ’82, (right) is joined by Sen. Bob Dole, ba ’52, jd ’52, h ’69, h ’85, and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (left) during an unveiling of a sculpture of Bob Dole in 2018. Pinegar and Doug and Kathleen Smith, bba ’84, funded the sculpture. Photo by Doug Stremel

From The Ichabod - Spring 2022
By Angela Lutz

When Rita Noll, ba ’81, jd ’84, was 11 years old, she considered herself Sen. Bob Dole’s biggest fan. She clipped every article about him in her local newspaper, and she never missed a chance to catch him on television – sometimes she even ordered the transcript. In 1970, she begged her mother to take her to see Dole, ba ’52, jd ’52, h ’69, h ’85, who was dedicating a new building in Atchison, Kansas, only 25 miles from her hometown of Effingham. More than 50 years later, she recalls the day vividly.

“I still remember what I was wearing – a purple and white polka dot shirt, and I had pigtails,” Noll said. “Bob Dole was working the crowd, and he came up to my mom and me. My mom told him I was his biggest fan. He shook my hand and said, ‘I hope you still feel that way when you’re old enough to vote.’ I was thrilled. He made you feel important – even an 11-year-old kid.”

Noll is one of many Washburn alumni whose careers and lives were influenced by Dole, who served as a United States senator for more than 25 years and is widely recognized as one of Washburn’s most distinguished graduates. He passed away in 2021 at the age of 98, but his legacy lives on in the memories of those who knew him and seek to emulate his trademark graciousness, humor and humility.

As a student at Washburn, Noll spent more time with Dole when she showed him around campus during a visit, and she was again struck by his kindness and sharp wit. After earning her law degree, she went on to work as deputy director and chief counsel at the Health Care Stabilization Fund, which provides professional liability coverage for Kansas health care providers. In her career, she has a guiding refrain: “What would Bob Dole do?”

“I watched how he would go out of his way to help people, and I always try to remember that in my career,” Noll said. “I make sure when anybody calls our office, we respond immediately. Bob Dole’s whole life was about service to Kansas and the public. His motto was to help at least one person every day, and I try to do the same.”

Students with Bob Dole

[Sen. Bob Dole (left of the sign) is joined by supporters at the 1987 Young Republican Leadership Conference in Seattle, Washington. Rita Noll, ba ’81, jd ’84 (sixth from right) and Susie Hoffmann, bba ’87 (third from right), shared stories of their time with Dole for this article. Also pictured are Washburn graduates Scott Hesse, jd ’84 (front row, left, crouching), Jim Coder, jd ’87 (immediate left of Dole) and Bruce Mayfield, jd ’86 (back row, first from left). Photo submitted]

Like Noll, John Pinegar, ba ’82, always admired Dole’s sense of selflessness and dedication to others. He first met the senator at the age of 13 when Dole spoke at a political gathering in his hometown of Garden City, Kansas, and the two shared a close friendship throughout their lives. Pinegar’s most memorable time spent with Dole was traveling with him during his 2014 “thank you” tour of all 105 Kansas counties.

“Despite his enormous stature across the country, he was about as humble as they come,” Pinegar said. “Forever an optimist, he deeply inspired those of us who knew him well and knew what challenges he faced on a daily basis. He genuinely lived to make the world a better place – I’ve never met somebody who was so dedicated to helping others. His compassion was unmatched, and I truly cherished the friendship we enjoyed.”

As co-founder of Pinegar, Smith & Associates, Inc., a firm that engages in governmental and public affairs and provides strategic advice and representation to clients, Pinegar believes Dole’s influence has been extremely valuable not only in his own career but to future Washburn students and alumni. Pinegar, his business partner, Doug Smith and Doug’s wife Kathleen Smith, bba ’84, donated a bronze statue of Dole to Washburn in 2018.

“I believe the University’s motto says it all: ‘Non nobis solum,’ or ‘Not for ourselves alone.’ Sen. Dole lived his entire life with a keen awareness that he was never alone, even during his darkest days,” Pinegar said. “Washburn helped him put his life back together following his devastating injuries during World War II. He then went on to achieve great things for so many others in need.”

Susie Hoffmann, bba ’87, who has served as director of the Washburn Alumni Association since 2000, has seen the tremendous value of Dole’s legacy firsthand. Before coming to Washburn, Hoffmann worked in Dole’s Topeka office for 10 years, acting as a liaison between constituents and federal agencies and often driving Dole around in her grandparents’ Lincoln Town Car when he came to town. During this time, Hoffmann observed the senator’s uncanny ability to remember names and faces – and turn strangers into friends.

“A lot of the folks I’ve met through the Alumni Association are not just alumni – they’re also my friends,” Hoffmann said. “We have a lot of really wonderful alumni – more than 150 years of graduates – but Sen. Dole is one of our most noteworthy. His success puts the University in a good light, as do so many of our alumni who have gone on to do extraordinary things.”

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