LAWRENCE — As the inventor of Superflab, a medical device used in radiology clinics across the country, Gene Feaster made a lasting improvement in the field of health care. As a University of Kansas alumnus who has made a $2 million gift to establish a professorship and two scholarships, he also has created a lasting legacy for KU students and faculty.
It has been nearly eight decades since 17-year-old Gene Feaster hitched a ride from his hometown of Winfield to look for work in Lawrence so that he could afford to attend KU. After hitting up KU faculty, including Professor Phog Allen, for work, he landed three part-time jobs — as a lifeguard in the old Robinson Gymnasium, a clerk in the physics library and a busboy in Corbin Hall. He rented a room in Lawrence on Tennessee Street and walked up the hill to KU. His determination and work paid off. In 1940, he walked down the hill with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and in 1953, with a doctorate in physics.
Feaster lives in Leawood. Of his gift, $1 million established the Ida Johnson Feaster Professorship in the KU School of Nursing. It is named for his late wife, who grew up on a ranch near Emporia and attended graduate school at KU. His gift also created two $500,000 endowed scholarship funds — one in nursing and the other in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“I hope that somebody doesn’t have to work quite as hard as I did to make it from point A to point B,” said Feaster. “It might even allow them time enough to be inventive or care giving, to help other people.”
As a youth growing up during the Depression, Feaster knew his father’s job of selling farm equipment didn’t allow for extras. His parents, Ethel and George Dewey Feaster, stressed the importance of an education. “Going to college was always a given for me,” said Feaster. “But I knew I would have to have jobs to relieve the stress on my family.”
Throughout his career, his education opened doors. “I think the importance of an education is that it generates the self confidence that you can fit into any situation, that there’s not going to be someone in the room who can put you down because of your inferior education — because you don’t have an inferior education — not if you’ve been through the hoops at KU,” he said.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little expressed gratitude for the gift. “Gene combined hard work with his KU education and as a result contributed to the health and well-being of countless people,” she said. “That’s our hope for all of our graduates — that they’ll use their KU degrees to become leaders in their fields for the benefit of others. Gene’s generosity will help make that hope a reality.”
Feaster led a two-pronged career, the first in radiation physics. He began at the Radio Corporation of America and continued at Westinghouse and Corning Glass. At Westinghouse, he was twice named “Inventor of the Year”; he holds 10 U.S. patents. He began the second part of his career by studying medical physics at the University of Virginia. This led him in 1977 to KU Medical Center, where he taught radiation therapy to students in nursing and radiology until his 1992 retirement.
It was at KU Medical Center that Feaster invented Superflab, a synthetic gel material. He explained its use:
“When you deliver radiation to a patient, there is more radiation delivered at a certain depth in a patient than at any other depth, and you want a handle to move that depth around,” said Feaster. “If the tumor is near the surface, this radiation is going to deliver that maximum depth farther down in the patient than the tumor is. So you put Superflab on the patient to simulate tissue, and the maximum dose of radiation is delivered at the right place — the tumor.”
KU School of Nursing Dean Karen Miller said she was honored that Dr. Feaster’s gift would benefit the School of Nursing. “Dr. Feaster has been a longtime supporter of the School of Nursing’s annual recognition of individual nurses in our region,” said Miller. “He has contributed monetary awards to each winner of this competitive honor for exemplary work in nursing. Dr. Feaster once told me that he experienced first-hand the importance of competent, compassionate nurses during the illness of his dear wife, Ida. This generous gift is his personal commitment to a future of KU nursing excellence that will benefit many other Kansas patients and families.”
Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, expressed his appreciation for the physics scholarship. “Gene Feaster is leaving a legacy that will benefit students for years to come,” said Anderson. “This gift ensures we can recruit and support future generations of talented physics majors, while his story of dedication to the pursuit of education serves as an example to us all. I am grateful for his generosity.”
The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.
The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.