Why I Give – Dr. Ken Ayers

Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice and Criminology (1978-2018)

Former softball coach (1980. 1983-85, 1987-97), two-time Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Coach of the Year and all-time winningest coach in any Wesleyan sport with 351 wins in 15 years

2016 inductee, Athletic Hall of Fame

2018 recipient, Gus E. Paris Distinguished Service Award

U.S. Navy, Retired, Commander

40 years! That’s a lot of time in the classroom. What stands out about your Wesleyan experience in those 40 years?
“A lot of things and most of them were outside the classroom. I loved teaching and tried to approach each lecture as if it were my last one, but I encouraged learning outside the classroom, too . . . on the softball field, on a sailboat in the Caribbean or on Kentucky Lake, at St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter, in Cuba and in research projects that took students into the community.

“I look back and think all I was just a memory maker. I hope my students remember discoveries about themselves and the world and that they were challenged, but had a great time, too.”

It sounds like you made some special memories of your own. Tell us more.
“Coaching softball was a lot of fun and very rewarding.  We were slowpitch in the beginning and finished third in the state in 1983. The GLVC then became fastpitch, so we had to adjust and learn. I taught a student to catch, another student volunteered to pitch, and then I got sick and wound up in the hospital for 11 days. Our first fastpitch game was against the University of Evansville, a Division I team. Ken Dowell was assistant coach and called me at the hospital to inform me we had only lost 6-0. There was hope! I was elated!

“That first year of fastpitch, we came from nowhere and won the GLVC Tournament, beating Lewis University. Our pitcher, Diana Chalfant, was the sweetheart of that tournament. I’ll never forget it. The team won’t either. We won again in 1986, 1989 and 1996. Fun times and great life lessons.

“The Leadership through Sailing Program began at Kentucky Lake in the mid-90s, and we graduated to the Caribbean in 1998. I encouraged students to take part and told them repeatedly that a passport would change their lives. I didn’t tell them ahead of time, but they were about to experience applied physics and math when they learned to sail.

“They visited seven islands in 10 days and grew as they bonded and worked together, immersed themselves in the Caribbean culture, snorkeled, saw stars they had never seen and developed leadership skills.  It was a life-changing and well-rounded experience. I can still see the looks on their faces as they explored the tropics, and I can still see their tears as we sailed back on the last day at the end of the trip.

“I required some classes to volunteer for a semester at St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter here in Owensboro. I wanted them to see another side of life, and I wanted them to experience both the joy and the self-discipline involved in volunteering. My wife, Rose, and I have volunteered at St. Ben’s on Christmas Day for several years.

“I recently returned from the fifth Cuba trip I’ve organized for students, alumni and the community. There is nothing like walking the streets of Havana, seeing the 50s cars, the architecture and enjoying the people and cuisine. I thought this would be my last trip, but there was such a response from the attendees that I’m considering another humanitarian/educational tour in 2020.

“Student research is extremely important, and I’ve donated to help fund the Criminal Justice Research Center for a number of years. The most recent research project was a three-year study of public perceptions of the Owensboro Police Department. The results were very positive and a valuable experience for our students.”

You have packed a lot of varied responsibilities into your years at Wesleyan. What does Wesleyan mean to you today?
“When I arrived at Wesleyan in 1978, my plan was to stay five years and then go to a large university. There was a small CJ program here at the time (five majors), and my goal was to grow a quality program. We eventually grew to 75 majors.

“After five years, I interviewed at several institutions, but decided to stay because Wesleyan offered something they couldn’t offer, and I could be a part of it – relationships – between faculty and students, among faculty and with alumni. I graduated from the University of Florida and love the place, but I didn’t have the same experiences with faculty that Wesleyan students have.

“So I stayed, and got increasingly involved. I’m grateful that Wesleyan gave me the opportunity to do the things I’ve mentioned. I believe in approaching everything I do with passion, and that’s what I sought to do for 40 years. I’m grateful that Wesleyan gave me the chance.”

Why do you give, and why do you encourage others to give?
“I have given over the years to help fill needs for our students because I wanted to enhance their college experience. I gave to the sailing program and to the Criminal Justice Research Center, as well as to the Wesleyan Scholarship Fund.

“Even though I’m now retired, I will continue to give because I believe in what Kentucky Wesleyan offers to our students – not only a quality education, but valuable relationships.

“I encourage others to give what they are able to give. In the early years, my wife and I weren’t able to give a lot, but we wanted to make a difference, and so we gave what we could. Do what you can to help students make memories.”