Three receive Alumni Medallion Awards

Posted May 01, 1985

Three outstanding Kansas State University alumni received the Alumni Medallion Award this spring. 

They are Helen Varney Burst, a Yale University professor and one of the nation's pacesetters in advancing personal health care rights; Paul B. Gwin, a former Morris and Geary County (Kans.) agriculture extension agent who has since 1920 supported rural living and the welfare of senior citizens; and banker Alvin A. Hostetler, who has for more than 50 years been a leading philanthropist and advisor to K-State and the City of Manhattan. 

The Medallion is the most prestigious of the alumni association's honors. Twenty-one alumni have received the award since the program began in 1969.

Hostetler received the Medallion during K-State's spring class reunions. Burst and Gwin received the Medallion during commencement exercises May 18.

Helen Varney Burst

A 1961 graduate in home economics, Burst received a nursing degree from the University of Kansas, and a master of science in nursing and a certificate in nurse-midwifery from Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Now a tenured professor at Yale, Burst is recognized as the leading expert in her field.

Author of the first nurse-midwifery textbook in the United States (named 1981 Book of the Year by the American Journal of Nursing) and twice president of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), Burst is the chief designer of contemporary nurse-midwifery education and the force behind the legitimization of nurse-midwifery in every state.

Her commitment has taken her into the deep South during the 1960s to assist in a federal health care program, to nations from England to Israel for consultation and inspiration, and has garnered her the highest award from the ACNM, the Hattie Hemschemeyer Award.

The K-State Alumni Medallion completes a trio of outstanding alumni awards from her three alma maters.

The daughter of Ted and Helene Varney of Manhattan, Burst said she dreamed of studying drama or music. "When it got down to it, I didn't know anything about nursing." While studying maternity nursing at KU she became aware "of what maternity care should be" through a textbook written by Ernestine Weidenbach, who was teaching at Yale. Burst deliberately chose to do her graduate work at Yale in order to study under Weidenbach's tutelage. Her interests began to focus on the rights of people in relationship to their health care, especially the rights of childbearing women and their families.

"The more I got into nursing itself, I thrived on it. I really enjoyed it immensely," she said. "There was so much that could be done. That's when the principles that were lying there in me came forth. It was very fulfilling."

After teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Burst returned East for an internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. There she was recruited to take part in a tripart federal program in the South geared toward educating nurse-midwives, lowering the infant mortality rate and reimbursing hospitals and physicians for services to the underprivileged in order to open the door for their continued care.

The legacy of that project includes five nurse-midwifery education programs in major universities in the Southeast, innumerable nurse-midwifery services in health departments, hospitals and private nurse-midwifery practices in six states, and the reduction of infant mortality throughout the region.

Burst's commitment to nurse-midwifery education led to her writing "Nurse-Midwifery," a compilation of the best educational material available. The work — the first and only such textbook in the U.S. — standardized nurse-midwifery education. It has been translated into Spanish and French.

The extensively-published author is preparing a second edition of that book, that will include information on out-of-hospital births and will address problem pregnancies and births.

Recently Burst worked to establish the Family Childbirth Center in New Haven, a model, out-of-hospital center that will demonstrate nationally the "open" childbirth center concept. It embodies Burst's belief in the rights of patients.

"People have a right to choose (health care options) within the parameters of safety," she said. "Midwifery was seen as a welcome addition during the baby boom. Far too many women were having babies than there were hands to deliver them. The cycle has changed... they've gotten more than just a pair of hands. They've gotten people with a mind, beliefs and a heart."

The rights of childbearing women to choose care for those people — as well as the rights of all patients to choose the type of care they want — has been Burst's mission. Her commitment to optimum health care, political advocacy and visionary leadership in education have marked her career.

"Helen is recognized by American nurse midwives as the most distinguished member of the profession," Donna Diers, professor and former dean of the Yale School of Nursing, said "She came into the field at a time when nurse-midwifery was just beginning to re-develop in this country, and a good deal of its present status and credibility is due to her efforts."

Paul B. Gwin

Gwin, of Junction City, is a 1916 graduate in animal husbandry who has become loved in Geary County for his leadership and support of people from 4-H youngsters to senior citizens.

Geary County agriculture extension agent from 1925 to 1956, Gwin is known for developing an extension program that brought rural people the tools they needed for successful living and that encouraged children to develop leadership skills. Since his retirement he has focused his energies on organizing and supporting programs for senior citizens in Geary County and in north central Kansas.

One of the group of high-spirited young college men who shared a house at 1211 Moro in Manhattan and called themselves "The Red Tie Club," Gwin says his years at KSAC honed his sense of benevolence.

"Oh, we acted foolish and had big times together," he said, "but that way we got so we all liked people."

His scrapbook is a testimony to The Red Tie Club's love for fun. Pictures of co-ed parties at the Moro house, the boys hamming it up in a laundry cart, and an especially intriguing photo of the crowd smooching statues in a long-gone park demonstrate Gwin's college life.

After graduation Gwin returned to work on his family's farm in Washington, Kans. while his father acted as probate judge. In 1920 Gwin was recruited to be Morris County's agriculture extension agent. In 1925 he was asked to set up extension work in neighboring Geary County — a time when "there were lots of fat, poor farmers," he said.

"They could raise plenty to eat, but they couldn't sell it. If you don't have money but you have food, you can keep happy."

In the 31 years that followed, Gwin hand-built the area's extension program, tirelessly coached several state, national and even international 4-H judging teams, and drew the attention of the Saturday Evening Post in an article about 4-H. He touched so many lives that when he retired, he and his wife, Clara, were presented a 1956 Chevrolet Sedan purchased by his extended family of local farmers and 4-Hers.

Gwin, who inaugurated the now 58-year-old Better Livestock Day in Geary and Dickinson Counties and played a major part in the development of the state 4-H camp at Rock Springs, south of Junction City, shifted his talents to senior citizen work after his retirement.

He served on the board of directors and held most of the offices of the Geary County Senior Citizens, Inc., was a director and treasurer of the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, helped organize the local group of civil service retirees and for seven years severed as its president.

His knowledge of farm bookwork has made him a popular man at income tax time, and apparently he has a lot of business. A hand-written sign on his back door reads "Mr. Paul Gwin is doing income taxes again this year if you need help. You know he goes out to the senior center for his noon meal. He will be back about 1:30 p.m."

That senior center has been a major part of Gwin's life.

"I always liked seniors," he said. "We (Gwin and his wife) began thinking about a senior center before she died ten years ago, and became active on a committee to find a site."

When the city offered a building so rickety that "you could see through it" for the county's Fellowship Meals site, Gwin knew they had to keep looking. Soon the county donated land on the west edge of town to the senior and the 4-H clubs, which were also looking for a home. The two groups constructed a joint-share building for $225,000. The building was dedicated to Gwin on his 90th birthday in 1981.

Gwin, who has traveled to Taiwan, South America and Alaska to be with his family, continues to reach out to people of all ages, visiting nursing homes in Junction City several times a week and recruiting high schoolers to come to K-State,

"I show them my scrapbook . . . most of them like the way K-State looks," he said of one of his most effective recruiting tools.

He said he inspires so many by getting to know them personally.

"I motivate them by working with them and making friends with them. The best way to get acquainted is to find something someone is interested in and to encourage them in it. That's what has made my work good."

An institution at K-State's annual class reunions, Gwin has established a permanent 4-H scholarship at the University for Geary County and the state," Ole Olsen, Jr. of White City said in nominating Gwin for the Medallion. "His memory will live on in the hearts of many."

Alvin A. Hostetler

A 1932 graduate in business administration, Hostetler came to K-State to study architecture but found he didn't have architectural talents. "I couldn't draw," he claimed, adding that he studied architecture for one and one-half years before an instructor told him to "get out."

Hostetler, who had worked in a clothing store in his home town of Hutchinson since seventh grade, decided he'd be better off studying business administration — at a time when business was in bad shape.

"My mother called one day and said, 'Alvin, don't write any more checks on the bank. They closed it three days ago.' It was a pretty tough time to be in school," he said.

After graduation Hostetler worked for the highway department near Ellsworth, but when the opportunity came to buy a clothing store in Aggieville, he took it. After six years he sold the store and applied for a job at the First National Bank. He got a job running a posting machine. In 1960 he was named president of the bank, and in 1979 he retired as chairman of the board.

Hostetler's love for banking is matched by his love for his community. His civic loyalty and sage council have influenced community affairs in both Manhattan and the surrounding areas.

President of the Chamber of Commerce during a Manhattan crisis — the flood of 1951 — Hostetler was the prime mover in re-establishing businesses within a year, a move that brought Manhattan national recognition. 

He has received a leadership award from the Small Business Administration, the 1977 Citizen of the Year award from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and a Distinguished Service Award from the K-State College of Business Administration.

His work on developmental drives has benefitted Ft. Riley, the Manhattan Industrial Park, Meadowlark Hills, the Methodist Church and Manhattan Christian College (MCC). A long-time member of MCC's Advisory Council, he headed a bond sale that helped put the College on strong financial footing. When MCC President and K-State alumnus Dr. W.F. Lown retired, Hostetler founded a scholarship at the College in his name.

"I have worked with and around him in community service for some 30 years, and have always found him defending what he believes to be right and fair," Lown said of Hostetler. "He has long loved and promoted programs considered to be for the good of his community as a whole, and any person within it."

Hostetler's support of the military personnel at Ft. Riley was recognized in 1981 when he was named Civilian Leader of the Year. Last year, his work as president of the Manhattan Arts Council was recognized with a special exhibit of western art by Charlie Russell.

Active with the Kansas Agency for Development since 1960, he was part of a gubernatorial entourage to Japan in 1972 to promote Kansas products. He is a strong believer in constituent support of elected officials, and is adamant that a quality community is one that takes care of those who are less fortunate. His generous financial support of individuals is often silent.

Hostetler's support for K-State stretches from helping individual students to serving on the KSU Foundation Board of Trustees for more than a quarter century. Now Chairman Emeritus of the board, Hostetler provided the leadership that saw the Foundation assets grow to more than $45 million. Scholarships established by him in the College of Business Administration and in the Department of Music further testify to his support of the University.

"Alvin's most significant asset in support of Kansas State University may be his clear understanding of how the academic/administrative system interrelates on campus and within the Manhattan community, and the tremendous importance of harmony and growth," Manhattan businessman Archie Hyle said of Hostetler. "Compassion, understanding and generosity . . . fill his heart."