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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas State University

In honoring his wife, Dick Rees connects to K-State through vintage clothing

By Allie Lousch

Dick ReesWhen love and memory are woven into philanthropy, the strongest threads are often family. Wanting to honor his wife, Janet, Dick Rees donated many of Janet's 1950s and 60s business and party attire to Kansas State University's Historic Costume and Textile Museum. With this gift and a planned gift to the museum, he has made a significant investment into future generations of K-Staters and — without realizing it — formed a family at K-State.

Rees was born in the old St. Mary's Hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, near Aggieville at the edge of K-State's campus. His family followed his father's career as a county extension agent to southeast Kansas and later as owner of a feed and farm supply store. Rees remembers working in his dad's store as a young boy and loading the heavy feed sacks for customers. In the lean 1920s, bag manufacturers began printing cotton feed sacks with colorful patterns that his mother — as did many resourceful parents of the day — sewed into shirts, swimsuits, aprons, dresses, curtains and more. Later, Rees collected vintage feed and flour sacks and the items made from them.

On the first day of his post-graduation career at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Rees noticed Janet Lee Smith, an executive secretary with Mobil Oil that had offices in the Fed's building. Janet had her own signature style and soon, Rees' lifelong devotion. Janet was his soul mate and they shared many interests including exhibiting American Kennel Club champion Boston Terriers. After her death, Rees began to wonder how he could preserve a few of her beautiful garments.

"When Janet passed away, I knew I wanted to establish some memorial projects to keep her name and memory alive," Rees said. "I had read an article about K-State's Historic Costume and Textile Museum and the curator, Marla Day, and immediately contacted her to describe what Janet had preserved through the years of her hats, shoes, gloves, scarves, jewelry and garments. Marla's response was, 'When can we come?'"

Day picked out 46 pieces to include in the museum's collection during that first visit. Rees' gifts to the museum's various collections have since grown to nearly 900 pieces and include some of Janet's childhood garments (many handmade), more of her adult garments, early 1900s family items, designer garments and clothing made from vintage feed sacks like the ones Rees used to carry to vehicles of his father's customers.

The feed sacks and related items were used in the 2017 "Thrift Style" exhibit at K-State's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, featuring vintage clothes made from commercial feed sacks. Since then, the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City has contracted to take "Thrift Style" and Rees' vintage feed sack items on a five-year nationwide tour to begin in the summer of 2020. The tour's goal is to illustrate the importance of "upcycling" during periods of limited available resources, such as the Great Depression, and to feature garments made from Kansas feed sacks.

Rees continues to build relationships with other well-known art museums in the Midwest to further the vision of the Historic Costume and Textile Museum and connect these historically important Kansas collections with a wide audience.

"It pleases me to see that the museum has preserved so many garments of various individuals and family generations showing choices and decisions of a given person and family over time. It has been highly rewarding for me to be part of the museum's mission," Rees said.

Stitched in with the many gifts of historical garments Rees has entrusted to the university and many hours of research he has devoted to finding the provenance of various pieces, he has also chosen to create a planned gift in honor of the love of his life, Janet, and his parents.

The Richard D. and Janet Lee Rees Historic Costume and Textile Museum Endowment was created as a bequest to K-State. By adding K-State to his estate plans, Rees has honored the university, which gave his parents, his brother and him a quality education, and honors his wife's love of historic and fine attire.

"Dick also sponsors a category in our annual student design symposium — Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design Showcase of Excellence Juried Runway Show and Mounted Exhibit Collection" Day said. "The 'Inspired by Janet Rees' design category utilizes garments Dick has given as inspiration for students' new work. Dick also devotes his time to students. He personally thanks each 'Rees' entrant and speaks to them about Janet, and his pride in being a K-State grad. He has devoted his time, talents and passion to the Historic Costume and Textile Museum and to our apparel design students. Dick has become part of the family."

In addition to his gifts-in-kind, research time and endowment to support the Historic Costume and Textile Museum, Rees has supported other universitywide programs at K-State, such as the Alumni Association, Hale Library, K-State Athletics, Career Closet and the Colleges of Human Ecology and Agriculture. He began his support after graduating with his bachelor's degree in feed science and management and while earning his master's in agricultural economics, both through the College of Agriculture.

"I knew during my senior year that I wanted to make future annual donations to my university as a way of paying back what K-State meant to me while preparing me to face life's challenges," Rees said. "It has been rewarding for me to be a part of the museum. It has brought warm, friendly, loving relationships into my life, centered on an appreciation of K-State. Before I contacted Marla, I didn't know anyone in the College of Human Ecology, and now I have a whole family. My hope is that the story of these gifts will inspire other people to invest in K-State."

Originally published in Good for K-State magazine