Wes and Jan Houser invest in student success through estate planning
When Wes Houser attended Kansas State University, he followed his cousin from rural Columbus, Kansas, in the southeast corner of the state, to the “big town” of Manhattan, Kansas. As the first college student in his immediate family, he graduated in 1963 with a business administration degree.
Jan, a few years behind Wes in school and also from Columbus, attended the University of Kansas and was one of two of their first graduates in photography. After many years in places like Missouri and Colorado, Wes and Jan reconnected while attending the funeral of a friend’s father “back home” and later got married. Together, they have made supporting Kansas and community a priority, which includes a planned gift to K-State.
“I did not receive any support when I went to college, but it was a lot easier to go to K-State in the ’50s and ’60s because of the difference in cost,” said Wes. “My first semester, I paid $118 and could take 18–21 hours. I could pay for my education by baling hay in the summers and later by working part time at Duckwall’s downtown and the Dugout in Aggieville. It’s a very different thing to do now — to pay for your education working part time and summers.”
At the time he graduated in 1963, there was a placement center on campus in the basement of Anderson Hall, now the K-State Career Center housed in the Berney Family Welcome Center. He signed up for interviews with three companies and received offers from two, Commerce Bank and Boeing Aircraft. “I didn’t know anything about aviation or banking,” said Wes, “but I liked the idea of going to Kansas City, so I chose Commerce Bank and worked in Kansas City for six years before transferring to a Commerce Bank in Mexico, Missouri. Later, I moved to a Commerce bank in Joplin, which is about 25 miles from my hometown. When in Joplin, I reconnected with Columbus and bought interest in a local bank there. I eventually sold my bank to my original employer, Commerce Bank.”
Wes says his degree from K-State afforded him the opportunities in business and banking he would not have had if he had not gone to college. “Kansas State University opened doors for me I would never have had without it and allowed me to work in the banking industry.”
With Wes’ business leadership in the community and Jan’s civic leadership— she is a Columbus City Councilwoman — education and supporting their community continue to be very important to the Houser family. That’s why they created an estate gift, using a charitable gift annuity, to support K-State students in the College of Business Administration. By creating a charitable gift annuity, the Housers realized a charitable tax deduction and a fixed stream of income related to the gift for the rest of their lives. They also chose to apply a portion of the gift now to create the Wes and Jan Houser Scholarship and support students today.
The inaugural Wes and Jan Houser Scholarship recipient was a first-generation and non-traditional student from rural Kansas who graduated in May 2020. In a letter to the Housers, she described discovering that the loans she received to pay for college would not be enough to finish her degree. Because of the Houser’s generosity, she was able to graduate and accepted a job at a locally owned bank in her rural hometown so she could be close to family
Lydia Johnson is the current recipient of Wes and Jan’s scholarship. Though she didn’t originally have any family, friends or prior connections to K-State, in her junior year of high school, she was drawn to a purple tablecloth at a career fair in her hometown and talked to the representative. “I said I always wanted to do something in business and the lady suggested sales,” said Lydia. “’We just added a sales major at K-State.’ She also told me about the revamped College of Business, and she had my attention. For the next two years, I kept thinking of it. Even though it is far away from my hometown in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, I knew K-State was the best fit for me.”
Though she is nine hours away from her hometown, Lydia feels like she has made her family here, in the K-State family.
Lydia, a sophomore, is a member of K-State’s sales team, a competition team where students are able to compete in national sales competitions to enhance their professional skills and begin preparing for a career in sales. She hopes her experience at K-State and the sales team opens doors to work in medical device sales to help surgeons improve the lives of their patients.
“The only way I was able to come to K-State was from the generosity of the Housers and the College of Business Administration,” said Lydia. “I couldn’t have made my decision (to attend K-State) without that scholarship. And now, being able to go back to classes — even wearing masks — I really thrive.”
This desire to impact others is something Lydia shares with Wes and Jan Houser. “I believe in supporting whatever I can in the State of Kansas,” said Jan. “We need to support our home state any way we can. I hope this support allows students who want to better themselves by going to school at K-State and by staying in Kansas.”
As for Lydia, she offered this counsel to students who are considering applying for scholarships, “It doesn’t hurt to ask for help. It’s humbling, but I know I can’t do this on my own. And the generosity of others helps you be more grateful for what you have. Kindness compels you to be kind to others.”
Jan and Wes give to local causes in Columbus, Kansas, because they are both from there. “We think we should give back to the community we both live in and where I made a living. I would never have had the opportunities in business if I had not gone to Kansas State University,” said Wes.
The Housers hope this scholarship will help students complete school and graduate “without a lot of debt hanging over them.” They also hope to “influence other people who are financially comfortable to give instead of keep it all. Any giving makes a huge difference,” said Jan.
Though they are typically private about what they have been able to do to support Kansas State University, Jan ended the interview on a most compelling note, “We give because we are so fortunate to have each other and be so healthy and be able to go and see the things we can. I want people to remember me as being a kind person and for the incredible love I have for Wes Houser.”