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Window to History

Cottrils reunite pre-tornado stained-glass windows with Washburn

Cotrills and Dr. Farley

(Wayne [left] and Nancy Cottril [right] are joined by President Jerry Farley during a small ceremony to view the stained glass windows seen on the left and right of the window behind them. Wayne found the windows at a garage sale, years after they survived the tornado of 1966 that destroyed much of Carnegie, the building they were originally in. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

From The Ichabod - Fall 2021
Story by Brad Porter

In 2003, Wayne Cottril was browsing through a garage sale in the College Hill neighborhood north of campus when he came across something extraordinary – two beautiful pieces of rectangular stained glass, swirling with green, orange and brown around three geometric shapes that look a bit like abstract flowers or crosses. The glass wasn’t perfect – it had some pitting and cracks. But the weathered look was part of the charm. This was glass with a story.

Stained glassAll the seller could say was the glass had been in her parents’ house, and she thought the windows might have originally come from “a chapel on MacVicar.” Cottril said she probably meant McVicar Chapel, or some Washburn building at any rate, as the glass was reminiscent of others he had seen in old photos.

Whatever the case, Cottril paid and took the glass home. His wife Nancy was at first not sure if this was a good buy, but once she found a spot for them in her dining room windows, she fell in love with them too. So there they hung in the Cottril’s home for many years – a piece of their house, a piece of their lives – but always with the question from visitors, neighbors and Wayne and Nancy alike: “I wonder where these came from?”


Digging Up the Past

It’s important to understand Nancy and Wayne aren’t just neighbors. Their relationship to Washburn has always been far beyond passive interest in the university next door.

Being sports fans, they started going to Washburn football and basketball games in the early 1980s and have been season ticket holders ever since. They became such big fans of the women’s basketball team that they were regular spectators even at practices and have made naming gifts to the locker room and an endowed scholarship for players. Nancy has been involved with the Washburn Women’s Alliance, and as music lovers, both have been a regular sight at White Concert Hall, chatting with friends in the lobby before shows and recitals. When they received the Honorary Ichabod Award this year for non-graduates who have demonstrated their steadfast support of Washburn, it wasn’t a shocker. The Cottrils, and their love of Washburn, are well known.

What was less well known, though, was the glass. They asked around but never got confirmation of the glass’s Washburn provenance. Until one day they received a note from the person most able to give a definitive answer on Washburn history: Martha Imparato, university archivist and special collections librarian.

Some of Washburn’s original buildings had indeed been adorned with distinctive stained glass, but most of it was destroyed by the 1966 tornado or put aside and lost in the subsequent rebuild. Imparato had, in fact, been involved years earlier when a large circular stained glass piece centered with a Bible was found. She was able to verify it as having been original to Boswell Hall and, once it was restored, gifts from the friends and family of John Luttjohann, bba ’78, jd ’83, led to it being hung and rededicated in White Concert Hall.

After a chance discovery, Imparato was able to tell the Cottrils not only theirs were in fact Washburn glass, but she could show them exactly where they had hung – in the windows flanking the entrance to Carnegie Library. Nearly 120 years old, 60-plus years on campus, survivors of the historic tornado, a detour through College Hill, and then into the Cottril’s dining room, amazingly intact, beautiful as ever.

“We knew it was time for them to go home,” Nancy recalled. “I just had two conditions. First, they be displayed for everyone to enjoy. And second, they be hung as they are, cracks and all, because that’s part of their story.”

Carnegie stained glass after tornado

(The windows can be seen intact on either side of the front doors to Carnegie after the 1966 tornado.)


A Glowing Reunion

On a crisp, sunny morning this April, the Cottrils arrived at White Concert Hall along with a small group of Washburn staff and friends. Wayne and Nancy made their way through the lobby where they had spent so much time as concert-goers, to the windows on the southwest side.

There hung the two rectangle pieces, dazzling and on full display back at Washburn for the first time in 55 years. The Carnegie glass. The Cottril glass.

The only thing that shined brighter than the sun coming through the stained glass was the expression on Wayne and Nancy’s faces.

Wayne and Nancy Cottril

(The Cottrils get one of their first looks at the windows hanging in White Concert Hall. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

White Concert Hall lobby

(The rectangular stained-glass windows, donated back to Washburn by the the Cottrils, now hang in White Concert Hall. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)


Historical Reflection by Martha Imparato

In the early 2000s the Cottrils contacted me about some stained glass they’d purchased. Rumor was it had originally been on campus before the 1966 tornado. At the time, the only buildings I knew that had stained glass were McVicar Chapel and Boswell Hall, and from their description, I knew it was not from there. Some years later I was scanning a photo of students studying in Carnegie Library (photo below) and as I zoomed in, something about the way the light was coming through the windows made me look closer. I realized the top sections of the windows were stained glass with stylized diamonds or cross-shaped flowers, and I remembered the Cottril glass described this way. Looking at earlier photos I could clearly see that all the first-floor windows had this stained glass. I then checked tornado damage photos to see if any had survived, and sure enough I could see that exactly one pair had, the ones on either side of the front door. The mystery had been solved. I left the Cottrils a message and mailed them a printout of the photo. I don’t remember any further communication until last fall when I heard some stained glass was being gifted back to the University. On the day we celebrated their new location, it was a moving experience to see them hanging in White Concert Hall with their glorious colors shining brightly next to the Boswell Hall stained glass, both symbols of survival.

Carnegie Reading Room showing glass

Spring 2022 The Ichabod cover. Sculpture on the lawn north of Memorial Union

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Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483