LAWRENCE — A $100,000 estate gift from the late alumna Marynell Dyatt Reece will provide funds for the Spencer Museum of Art, a nursing scholarship and the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.
The estate gift will be used to fund the Marynell Dyatt Reece Spencer Museum Fund and the Nelle T. Dyatt Nursing Scholarship, which is named in honor of Reece’s mother. It also provides an unrestricted gift to the Dole Institute of Politics.
Since Reece’s death in July 2016, donors have given additional gifts in her and her late husband’s memory to fund the H.W. (Bill) and Marynell D. Reece Memorial Plaza landscaping project at the newly renovated Spencer Museum.
Her support for the School of Nursing grew from her mother’s career as a nurse. Nelle Taylor Dyatt was in the inaugural graduating class of nurses in 1909; there were four students in the class.
“That was an important piece of my mother’s life — her own mother’s education from KU and being in that first class of nurses,” said Mary Lou Reece, Marynell’s youngest daughter, who is president of Reece Construction.
Reece was a proud Kansan: She was born in Kanorado and studied journalism at KU, graduating in 1942. At KU, she met H.W. “Bill” Reece, and they married before he left to serve in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Upon his return, she joined Bill in his hometown of Scandia, where his father and brother were highway contractors. She later went on to become treasurer of Reece Construction Co., the company her father-in-law founded, until her retirement. Bill Reece died in 2008.
Along with her work in the family business, she served the community, including the local school board and the youth group at the United Methodist church as well as a host of other philanthropic organizations.
Her lifelong commitment to government and politics started when she was young as she watched her father raise money for Herbert Hoover’s campaign. She served on the Republican National Committee for Kansas, including a term as vice chairwoman, in the 1970s and ’80s. She participated in several national campaigns, including those of senators Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum Baker.
“My mother worked tirelessly for good citizen politics in Kansas for decades. Making a gift to the Dole Institute was important to her and my father,” Mary Lou Reece said. “She cared greatly about the common good. She loved when people worked together, and she loved representing Kansas.”
Reece took great joy in service to KU as well. Elected in 1980, she was one of the first women to serve on the KU Endowment Board of Trustees; she became a life trustee in 2006. She lobbied state legislators on behalf of KU as part of Jayhawks for Higher Education, among other accomplishments. She attended KU athletics events up until the year of her death.
In recognition of her service, Reece was inducted into the KU Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. She received the Fred Ellsworth Medallion in 1978 and the Distinguished Service Citation in 1993, both from KU, and the Kansan of the Year award in 1991 from the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas.
Reece was the mother of four daughters who all graduated from KU: Deanell Reece Tacha, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law and former chief justice of the 10th Circuit; Jane Ann Reece Ewy, speech pathologist; Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of KU’s Spencer Museum of Art; and Mary Lou Reece, president of Reece Construction.
KU Endowment is 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.