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Ken & Betty Wright
Blandinsville Couple Donates Property to WIU, Establishes Scholarship for Local Students
When Dr. Ken Wright was growing up in Macomb -- literally next door to the Western Illinois University campus -- little did he know that someday his childhood home would become part of the WIU campus.
Wright, a Blandinsville veterinarian, and his wife, Betty, donated Wright's boyhood home at 333 N. Ward St. to the University. The home will be used as a guesthouse for visiting artists, business executives, professors and others making an extended stay at Western.
After Ken's graduation from Western High School -- which was located in Simpkins Hall, just across the street from Wright's home -- in 1956, he attended Western for two years before transferring to the University of Illinois, where he earned his degree in veterinary medicine. Ken met Betty in Macomb in the early 1970s; they have been married nearly 32 years. Betty, who grew up in the Henderson County town of Terra Haute, graduated from LaHarpe High School, and like her husband, Western holds a special place in her heart: her mother and her mother's six siblings all graduated from Western Illinois State Teacher's College.
Because the University has meant so much to the couple, in addition to donating Ken's boyhood home the Wrights have also established the Kenneth T. and Betty L. Wright Scholarship at Western for qualifying students entering Western as freshman who graduated from a Hancock, Henderson or McDonough county high school.
"The University is appreciative of the Wright's generous donation of Ken's childhood home, as well as their continuing support of students through their scholarship," said WIU President Al Goldfarb.
When the Wrights met with Brad Bainter of Western's Foundation and Development Office in 2005 to discuss the terms of the scholarship, Betty said she jokingly asked Brad if the University would accept a house. That was the start of yet another relationship between the Wrights and Western Illinois University.
"The house at 333 North Ward was bought by my parents in August 1946 after my dad got out of the Navy and took a job as a farm management specialist with the University of Illinois," Wright said. "After we moved in, my mom walked across the street to Sherman Hall, took the required education courses to become a home economics teacher, and proceeded to teach at Macomb High School for 30 years. My parents continued to live at the North Ward home until 1968, when they moved to a new home on McDonough Street and 333 North Ward became a rental. Right before dad's death in 1987, he gave me the house."
Growing up in a neighborhood so close to the University meant that Wright's neighbors often were Western professors and coaches, as well as his own grammar and high school teachers. He remembers the late men's basketball coach Stix Morley living next door to his parents, and the former football coach Harry Sockler living right behind the Wright home.
"I was lucky to grow up around some well-known WIU figures," Ken said. "I remember sledding on the hill just north of the house, on university property, right across from Adams Street, and one of us would stand as a lookout for President Beu. He didn't want us sledding there and would chase us away, so when one of us saw him coming, we'd stop sledding until he was gone. My sixth grade teacher, Beulah Mitchell, lived right down the street from us and she'd often stop by to tell my mother that I needed to work on my grammar."
Ken attended third through 12th grade at the former lab school in Simpkins Hall and upon graduating, decided to continue his education at Western. He first studied agriculture, but after spending a summer at his aunt's farm in Colorado and getting to know the veterinarian there, he changed his major to pre-veterinary science.
"Dr. Loren Robinson, who was an agriculture teacher at Western, was one of my favorite professors. I even took Animal Science 101 from him twice -- once as a senior in high school and once when I was a college student," Ken remembered. "I also remember really enjoying the classes I had with Dr. McVickar and Dr. Sheldon."
Ken transferred to the University of Illinois in 1958, which also holds special meaning to Ken as both of his parents were U of I graduates. While attending the University of Illinois, Ken still came back to Macomb each summer and took courses at Western, returning to Urbana in the fall. When he graduated with his doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1962, he came back to west-central Illinois to join the Blandinsville practice of Dr. C. M. Rodgers. When Rodgers retired in 1973, Ken purchased his current building on the east end of Blandinsville on Route 9 and has been in private practice since. Betty worked at the First State Bank main branch in LaHarpe until 1994 when she joined Ken at the vet's office to work as the clinic's receptionist.
"I still have Sequels from 50 years ago," Ken noted. "And we know so many people - relatives, friends and customers - who have ties with Western. It has been our pleasure to establish a scholarship to help students from our home counties and to donate my childhood home to WIU."
“We are honored by and grateful for the Wright's contributions to Western,” said Brad Bainter, assistant director of development. “The Wright Home will allow the University to offer visiting professors, artists and other long-term guests a home-away-from-home during their time at Western."