Hugh Richardson’s roots run deep in south central Kansas. The 85 year-old Augusta resident was raised on a farm near Toronto, graduated from Toronto High School and went on to serve in the U.S. Army.
Following his military tour, he returned home and married his high school sweetheart, Evelyn Ireland. Both were determined to attain college educations.
The Richardsons came to Augusta after living and teaching in Russell and Marion. Evelyn taught in the Augusta elementary school system and Hugh taught business classes at Augusta High School for four years before joining the faculty of Butler County Community Junior College in El Dorado.
“I was hired at the time that the college was moving from the old high school into the new location. I was there 29 years and saw quite a few changes. The college was growing so fast that we couldn’t keep up,” Richardson explained.
The college had 800 students when he arrived and enrollment was near 8,000 at his retirement.
At the beginning of his tenure at Butler, he was the AV (audio-visual) Director and had only three pieces of equipment; an overhead projector, a 16 mm projector, and a camera. When he left that position to become the college librarian the department had over 500 pieces of equipment.
Research and writing
After his retirement in 1994, Richardson’s love for research and talent for writing pushed him to write an all-inclusive book on the history of Butler County Community College.
Out of the Oil Patch - A College Comes to Town was borne of four years of full-time research and a few more years of writing.
“While we were on trips, he’d take his research notes, his word processor and work on the book,” Evelyn said and added with a smile, “It was a labor of love for him.”
Compiling the research was not a simple task. There were no records. No research had been done on the school’s history. It presented a challenge.
Richardson had a deep respect for the El Dorado Times’ longtime editor/publisher Rolla Clymer and he spent lots of time in the archives at the Butler County Historical Museum perusing issues of the newspaper.
With facts pulled from newspaper articles concerning the college and Richardson’s interviews with faculty, he wrote an insightful work that tells the complete story of Butler Community College.
The book begins in 1926 when the El Dorado Board of Education first proposed the idea of junior college. Voters approved the measure and El Dorado Junior College was established with the Grizzly as the mascot and no tuition charged to graduates of Butler County high schools.
Page 2 of 2 - The book chronicles the growing pains of a college and the struggles in establishing a county college.
Augusta interests had pledged to purchase land at the northeast edge of town and give it to the college. Because the population was shifting southward and Augusta was closer to the potential source of Sedgwick County students, it seemed reasonable to move the college to Augusta. With some degree of controversy and accusations of wrongdoing on the part of supporters of El Dorado and the Board of Regents, the decision went in El Dorado’s favor.
The new Butler County Community Junior College would be built on an 80-acre site southwest of El Dorado on land owned by oil man Isadore Molk.
The book states that the campus site was a rock pile saturated with oil and salt water. President Edwin Walbourn wanted the campus planted with pines and hardwood trees, but the soil was so laced with salt that the survival of those trees would be next to impossible. A few hardy trees did survive and cottonwoods were planted and flourished in the hard conditions.
Open house for the new campus was held on Sept. 24, 1965 and in May of that same year there were 50 graduates at commencement.
Richardson’s book continues through 2002 with an extended account of the college’s events. It remains the source of the complete history of Butler Community College. Sadly, the book cannot be purchased, as the college owns the rights to the book and there are no plans to reprint. Locally, however, the Augusta Public Library has a copy available to its patrons.
“I have to admit that it’s pretty well written,” Richardson said with a smile.
His love for the college is reflected in the conclusion of Out of the Oil Patch - A College Comes to Town.
“Butler County Community College has always offered inexpensive, close, convenient and competent instruction. Students were treated decently and believed they got their money’s worth. Above all, people came to Butler County Community College because they felt welcome.”
The Richardsons are celebrating 61 years of marriage today. Now retired from their careers, they enjoy traveling - especially in a motor home - and have racked up a lot of miles. They’ve visited all over the U.S., but he still wants to see Florida, and she’d like to visit Maine. They raised a son, Mark and a daughter, Melody, and enjoy three grandchildren. They are also active members of the Augusta First Christian Church.