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The Kansas Story

Mabee Library celebrates decade of thriving collection

Tom Averill

From The Ichabod - Spring 2020

For the last 10 years, the Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection at Washburn University has become an exhaustive body of work dedicated to Kansas literature.

Housed in Mabee Library, the collection enhances the study of Kansas literature through the state’s folklore, history, geography and culture. It includes everything from novels and plays to collected folklore and manuscripts. It also has unique artifacts, including many of the Little Blue Books published in Girard, Kansas, from 1919–78.

“Together, these books begin to tell the story of Kansas literature,” said Averill, professor emeritus, who donated the original collection and collaborated with others to start the support fund in 2010. Averill also authored a few books in the collection including: “rode,” “A Carol Dickens Christmas” and “Found Documents from the Life of Nell Johnson Doerr: A Novel,” to list a few.

When Averill mentioned he was donating his library to start the Kansas Studies Collection, Lisa Heitz, ba ’84, and her husband, Mark, ba ’74, jd ’77, h ’01, supported the original endeavor and also recently made a generous gift to the Kansas Studies Collection to enhance its efforts and capacity. Over the last decade, the collection has doubled in size, and the Heitzes and Averill are hoping to continue that trajectory.

“After hearing of his vision and all the materials he had collected and donated to Washburn, I said we would really like to be involved in supporting that because it's an important resource for all Kansans and all scholars of U.S. literature and history,” Lisa said.

Although Lisa never took a class from Averill, she knew him from her time as an English student at Washburn. After her graduation, they became better acquainted through a mutual friend in the English department. Together, they not only set the course to make the book collection successful, they also established the Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award which had its first recipient in 2016. This year’s recipient was Ben Lerner, author of “The Topeka School.”

Recalling her and Mark’s deep respect for education and reading, as well as their parents’ passion for education, Lisa turned books into her career and authored “Haunted Kansas.” She and Mark fully support Averill’s mission of celebrating Kansas culture through books and bringing in speakers and providing research stipends for students studying Kansas through the collection.

“We welcome everyone to use the collection, study and learn from it,” Averill said. “We’re continuing to grow the collection, and we know people will benefit from it.”

The public is invited to add books, manuscripts and other materials to the Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection. Please contact Martha Imparato, university archivist and special collections librarian, at or 785.670.1981.

The Ichabod Winter 2021 issue

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483