Editorial: A statue in Topeka

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The city of Topeka, Kansas, decided to memorialize notable figures in its history. That’s how it came to be earlier this month that a lifesize bronze statue of a Worcester industrialist was unveiled on the 700 block of South Kansas Avenue.

It speaks to the lasting legacy of Ichabod Washburn that the inaugural statue in the series is of a man who never set foot in Topeka.

Jerry Farley Ichabod statue

Peggy Clark, Washburn University / Photo courtesy of Washburn University

Washburn University President Dr. Jerry Farley at the unveiling of the Ichabod Washburn statue in downtown Topeka, Kansas, on Dec. 1.

Washburn, who died 147 years ago next week, is known in Worcester as the creator of Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Co., at one point the world’s largest wire mill, and one of the founders of the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science, now known as WPI.

Washburn’s contributions to Worcester can be found on the websites of WPI and the Worcester Historical Museum.

In Topeka, Washburn is known as the benefactor who saved struggling Lincoln College in October 1868 by pledging $25,000 to keep it afloat. The board of trustees changed the school’s name to Washburn University the following month. WPI and Washburn University note different dates of his death, Washburn claiming it was Dec. 30, 1868; WPI reporting Dec. 31.

Washburn University is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, just like WPI.

Ichabod mascot

Patrick Early, Washburn University / Photo courtesy of Washburn University

The Ichabod mascot shows off one of the memorial bricks in Ichabod Plaza on the campus of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.

Ichabod Washburn “had a profound impact on Topeka,” said Patrick Early, director of university relations at Washburn. “The university probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that gift.”

“Washburn University is one of the crown jewels of Topeka,” Vince Frye, president and CEO of Downtown Topeka Inc., told the Topeka Capital-Journal at the statue’s unveiling. “We wanted to tie downtown to the campus by honoring its early benefactor.”

In addition to the bronze statue downtown, Washburn is ubiquitous in Topeka and at the university. The school mascot is Mr. Ichabod. The school has a page of its website dedicated to answering the question, “What is an Ichabod?” Its first baseball team was referred to as the Sons of Ichabod.

A smaller version of the bronze statue will be placed on campus. There is also a statue placed on a bench outside Morgan Hall on campus so you can sit and pass the time with Ichabod, Early said. In addition, the Capital-Journal published a sponsored article saying that starting mid-October fiberglass figurines of Washburn were to be installed around Topeka. The exhibit is named “Ichabods Around Town.”

Ichabod Washburn statue

Peggy Clark, Washburn University / Courtesy of Washburn University

A close up of the Ichabod Washburn statue on the campus of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.

Perhaps most fitting, given Washburn’s legacy in Worcester, is what Washburn University did eight years ago when it assumed control of Kaw Area Technical School, which offered technical training in such fields as advanced manufacturing, computer and networking technology, construction, drafting and design.

Now operating as Washburn Institute of Technology, it “serves as a national model for the true partnership between technical education and traditional university,” according to the school.

“His name very much lives on here,” Early said.

And in Worcester, as well.

Check out these related videos:

Washburn Birthday celebration

Ichabods Around Town

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