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What’s in a Name?

The Spigarelli family talk about putting their name in the new law school building

The Spigarelli family posing

The name Spigarelli has become inexorably linked to the Washburn University School of Law. Soon, it will be inexorably linked to the new School of Law building as well.

A lot of people know the name already, of course. After his graduation in 1969, Fred Spigarelli went on to become a prominent personal injury attorney and leader in the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association. The Spigarelli Law Firm, which he founded in Pittsburg shortly after graduation, is highly sought-after and one of the most significant plaintiffs’ firms in the state. And by the time Fred’s two daughters, also Washburn Law graduates, joined him as partners—Kala, ’90, followed later by Angela, ’98—you’d be hard pressed to find a regional attorney or Washburn Law graduate of the last quarter century who didn’t know the name.

But perhaps the deepest connection between the name Spigarelli and Washburn Law came nearly 30 years ago in the early 90s, when Fred decided to create the Fred J. Spigarelli Endowed Fund to provide scholarships to qualified law students, especially from Southeast Kansas.

“Our dad is from humble beginnings,” said Kala. “So he was always interested in giving back to others who may not have the opportunity otherwise.”

Every year since establishing the Spigarelli Fund, a Washburn Law student has benefited from that interest. And beyond their scholarship, the Spigarellis frequently hire Washburn Law grads to work for them.

“We’ve had many over the years,” noted Angela. “Because, quite frankly, it’s the best law school in Kansas…in our biased opinion.”

After many years of contributions to their scholarship fund, when the time came to consider a new gift to Washburn Law 30 years later, Fred’s approach was simple. “I asked them what they needed this time,” he said. “And they told me what they needed was a new building.”

“And after talking with more law school folks, I became convinced this was a real win/win for Washburn. So, with my daughters involved this time, we made another gift.”

“It might not have been my money, but I helped tell him to do it,” said Kala with a laugh. More seriously, her two sons are now themselves Washburn Law students—the third generation of the family to arrive on campus—so Kala had an on-the-ground view of why a new building matters.

“We want law to stay competitive,” she said. “Washburn Law already attracts the best, but this new building will really elevate it and showcase that we are the premier center of legal education in the region. To stay not only competitive but on top, you have to invest in these things.”

So after a major gift to the project—and being recognized as the Washburn University School of Law Family of the Year in 2019—the final discussion was: where do they want their name in the new building?

“To be clear, dad does not care about this at all,” Angela laughed. “He’d just assume it not be anywhere.”

“But my sister and I thought his name ought to be preserved somewhere,” she continued. “It’s a part of the story of how the building was built, but it’s also part of our family legacy. And we loved the idea of preserving that, as a name on a classroom or wherever. To honor him. Because he’s not just any alum, to us.”

“We hope the name is always connected with Washburn Law in some way,” Kala added. “And whether he wants to or not, Angela and I want him to live on forever.”

“Well,” Fred noted dryly. “Philanthropy is a never-ending proposition.” As the daughters laugh, Fred continued. “In another 30 years I’ll be 110. Maybe I’ll give another endowment then and we can keep talking about it.”

School of Law eagle statue

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