Skip to content
Toggle Left Side Navigation

ESU to Honor University Service Citation Winners on Saturday

May 31, 2018

Unique and significant contributions to the university and to home community will bring Emporia State University Service Citation Awards to five people on Saturday, June 2 at the university’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.

The 2018 award winners are Jim and Kathy Kessler and Karen Sommers, all of Emporia, and Susan and Vern Swanson of Clay Center. 

“We look at how much they’ve given back to the community, how much they’ve given back to ESU, and really leveraging the two ... in their day-to-day routines,” said Jose Feliciano, alumni director.

Feliciano noted that recipients have broadened the ways they serve the university in a variety of ways, beyond direct participation in campus boards and committees, donations of time, financial gifts and attendance at events.

Sommers and the Kesslers are deeply involved in their city through business and government entities, non-profit boards and service organizations, he said.

The Swansons additionally have effectively supported Emporia State in their hometown and through their service in state government.

Jim and Kathy (Keegan) Kessler

Jim Kessler of Gardner came to Emporia State — then Kansas State Teachers College — to be closer to his high school sweetheart, Kathy Keegan, also of Gardner.

Kessler, who graduated high school a year before her, had attended McPherson College on a football scholarship before transferring to KSTC. They married in 1972, while both still were attending KSTC.

Jim Kessler graduated in 1974 with a bachelor of science in business administration and used his degree handling business in the office of Modern Air Conditioning, Inc. Soon, he was allowed to begin buying a little stock in the company every year and eventually became a co-owner. He retired as president and owner of the company in January 2017.

Kathy Kessler worked in the Emporia school district and owned and operated a crafts business, and later became office manager for Modern Air.

The couple entrenched themselves as volunteers in the community at-large and in the Hornet community, where they have generously donated their time and effort, as well as financial gifts.

Jim Kessler has been a member of the Emporia State Foundation board of directors since 2013, with a current term that will expire in 2022. His work for the university includes service on the J.F. Smith Feasibility Study, the Champion for Athletics committee, the National Campaign committee, the President’s Community Advisory Council, the School of Business Advisory Council and the 2011 Presidential Search Committee. He and Kathy were co-chairs of the Annual Community Scholarship Drive.

They have volunteered in the community at-large through the Emporia Area Habitat for Humanity, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Emporia Granada Theatre Alliance and the Emporia Jaycees.

Jim also has been, or now is, a member of the Emporia Country Club’s finance committee, the Emporia Community Foundation board of trustees and the boards of directors for the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Eastgate Plaza Inc., Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Sertoma and the United Way of the Flint Hills.  

He was elected to two four-year terms on the Emporia City Commission and served several terms as mayor. After he declined to run for re-election, he later agreed to return to the commission for four months, to fill in for a commissioner who had been called to active duty in Kuwait.

Kessler was the 1994 Sertoman of the Year, Rotary Club’s 2015 Paul Harris Fellow and 1990 Jaycees Outstanding Young Kansan. He also received the Lyon-Chase County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award in 1992.

The Kesslers are parents of four children: Traci A. Kessler Gant, who graduated from Emporia State in 2003 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration; Abbey K. Kessler, who graduated in 2008 with a bachelor of science in sociology; and Brett M. Kessler and Clint R. Kessler, both former students at Emporia State.

Karen Wayman Sommers

Karen Sommers comes from a family with Emporia State ties. Her late father, Charles W. Wayman, graduated in 1940 with a bachelor of science in business administration; her mother, Elva Lee Wayman, graduated in 1944 with a bachelor of science in business administration. She and her brother, James Wayman, are former ESU students.

Sommers’ late husband, Stanley O. Sommers Jr., graduated from Emporia State with a degree in business administration. Their son, Chris W. Sommers, graduated from ESU in 2002 with a bachelor of science degree; another son, Trey Sommers, is a former student.

Karen Sommers graduated from the University of Kansas in 1968 with a bachelor of science degree in public relations. She is a director and vice president of marketing at ESB Financial and owner of KW Rentals.

She is a lifetime member of the Emporia State Foundation board of trustees, a past vice president and chairman of the 1985 fundraising drive. She has served on the Foundation’s nominating committee, President’s Club executive committee, the Alumni Association legislative committee, trustee development committee, real estate committee and the university house committee.

She has served in an array of capacities for the university, including the Golden Gala committee, the Alumni Association Legislative Committee, Hornets for Higher Education, the President’s Advisory Council, as a current director and past president of the Kansas Business Hall of Fame, a member of the Business Alliance for the university’s School of Business and Chi Omega sorority.

The Kansas Board of Regents appointed her to the search committees for ESU President Dr. Kay Schallenkamp and for ESU Provost Dr. David Cordle. 

She is a past director of the board of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a 1995 graduate of Leadership Kansas. 

In the Emporia community, Sommers is a past director of the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce and was chairman of the 1990 IMAGE committee, which received the 1990 Committee of the Year award, and a member of the 1994 IMAGE award winner. She has been drive chair for the United Way of the Flint Hills, a past president of the Emporia Country Club, a past director of the William Allen White Community Partnership, a past board member of the Emporia Community Foundation and a past trustee and current communion steward at the First United Methodist Church, as well as a past president of Chapter DI of PEO and The Junto organizations.

Clarence V. (Vern) and Susan M. (Susie) Nielsen Swanson

Vern and Susie Swanson have been strong voices for higher education, particularly for Emporia State, through their service in the Kansas Legislature.

Vern Swanson represented the 64th District in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2014; Susie Swanson became 64th District Representative in 2015 and currently continues in that position.

Susie Swanson, originally from Larned, graduated from Emporia State in 1970 with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and a minor in Spanish. Later, she received a master of social work from the University of Kansas. She was a member of Chi Omega sorority and was a Blue Key Darling.

She was a social worker with the Arkansas Department of Family and Children’s Services for two years and for the Twin Lakes Educational Cooperative for 26 years. She continued in social work for five years with the Maternal and Infant Program for the Clay County Health Department and for nine years was a social work consultant for Presbyterian Manor.

Swanson had donated a kidney — originally intended for her neighbor’s son — that ultimately was received by a woman in California.

Vern Swanson received his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1966 from Emporia State and completed postgraduate work from 1969 to 1970. He also served in the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard from 1963 to 1969.

He retired as a sales representative for EVCO Wholesale Foods and was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. He also served as a member and president of the Clay County board of education. In 2016, he was elected to the Kansas Historical Foundation Board of Directors.

Vern Swanson was a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity. From 1998 to 2003, he was a member of the Emporia State Alumni Board.

The Swansons are parents of two children: Kim Dekker and Eric C. Swanson, who received a bachelor’s degree from ESU in 1995 in mathematics and a master of science in educational administration in 2004. 

USC Nominations

Feliciano said that the University Service Citation recognizes a broad array of nominees, including alumni, former students, friends of the university or former employees.

Among the criteria used by the selection committee are unique and significant service, with special consideration given to rare and unusual service over an extended period of time. The committee may choose a recipient, however, for a singular or short-term service that is particularly outstanding.   

The award typically is made to individuals who are living when selected for recognition, though special consideration may be given to bestow an award posthumously. 

Anyone is eligible to nominate a person or a couple for USC Award consideration. Nominations must be submitted by Dec. 1 to the University Service Citation Selection Committee, in care of the Alumni Association, 1500 Highland St., Emporia KS 66801.




Achievement - Emporia State University

Check out our students' achievements and accomplishments on Emporia State's site