In Memory: Kansas Alumni editor Dan Reeder
Reflections on a standout Jayhawk mentor.
For many Jayhawks, the voices of favorite KU teachers echo often. We instantly conjure images of them in the classroom, imparting lessons that still guide us.
My long list of Mount Oread muses includes cherished professors of journalism, English, political science and history whose courses I eagerly sought. But the KU voice I hear most belongs to Dan Reeder, j’71, g’74, whose class I did not want. In fact, I considered it a lame consolation prize when I drew a short straw on the first day of school in August 1980.
On that sweaty day in Flint Hall (two years before it became Stauffer-Flint), too many seniors had signed up for a required design course taught by Professor Lee Young, g’68, the saintly sage of the “magazine sequence” in the School of Journalism. Young decided that the fairest solution was to draw straws. Students who pulled short straws would be banished to a class taught by some character named Dan Reeder, editor of some magazine I’d never heard of, Kansas Alumni, published by an organization that was a mystery.
As I grudgingly trudged to the other class, I could never have dreamed that he would become a trusted teacher. Class was a blast, and I learned a lot.
In 1984, he also became my wise and generous mentor, guiding me into a surprising career that I relish to this day.
Sadly, I also relish the memory of my mentor. Dan died Sept. 20, of lung cancer, at his home in Texas. His son, Tim, ’03, emailed me the awful news.
Tributes from scores of friends and family members attest that Dan was indeed quite a character. I am one of many who owe their careers to him.
Four years after taking his class, I was searching for a new job as a young graduate. I had spent two years with a struggling magazine, then tried a corporate communications gig that was not the right fit. I wrote to Dan.
He kindly replied, explaining that Kansas Alumni had no openings. I wrote back, thanking him for the nicest rejection letter I had ever received. After more back-and-forth, he finally relented and hired me as a staff writer.
My first clue that he would be a spectacular boss came the weekend before my first day of work, when Dan and his delightful wife, Janet, invited my husband, Bob, and me to their home for a party with lots of KU staff members. (Who invites the new kid before she’s even on the job?) I arrived a nervous wreck, but by the end of the night, I had found my people.
So began a magical year with Dan and his merry band of exquisitely talented pranksters: Karen Goodell, ’01; Chuck Marsh, c’77, g’80, PhD’85; Christina Jepsen, ’82; and Earl Richardson, j’83, l’08. Together they had already put Kansas Alumni on the national map, winning a slew of top awards as the rare alumni periodical that told vivid stories with honesty and humor. Dan had an uncanny knack for knowing when to be reverent and when to be silly, always striving to remind Jayhawks of their home and the alma mater he adored. We all had a blast, and I learned a lot.
In 1985, after nine years as Kansas Alumni editor, Dan left the Alumni Association to start his own advertising, design and consulting agency, Reeder & Co., where he parlayed his formidable talents into even more success, advising universities and a vast range of other clients near and far.
One of the firm’s first big projects was Campaign Kansas, KU Endowment’s fundraising drive that publicly launched in 1988. Dan also designed Endowment’s logo, which endures.
After Campaign Kansas roared to success, Endowment in 1996 again called on Reeder & Co. to provide creative force for the next campaign, KU First.
It is fitting that this issue of Kansas Alumni features the launch of Endowment’s current campaign, Ever Onward. Our final page hails the far-reaching impact of Elizabeth Miller Watkins, one of KU’s earliest and most important benefactors. She began the tradition of extraordinary loyalty and philanthropy that has helped lift KU to prominence.
Along the way, many thousands of Jayhawks have carried on her legacy in countless ways, both large and small. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to know a few of them—all because of the lucky day when a short straw led me to Dan Reeder.
Jennifer Jackson Sanner, j’81, is editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.
Photo by Chris Lazzarino