Notable Alumni


On Tuesday, March 17, 2009 the 1939 national championship basketball team from Southwestern College was honored at the NAIA tournament tip-off banquet and awards ceremony at the Kansas City Convention Center Ballroom. Charles Grigsby '42, the final living member of the team, was honored during the ceremony.

Watch the video celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the 1939 Champions produced by Allegro Media for the NAIA below:

Notable Alumni

  • Keitha Adams (1989) - American college basketball coach who is currently head women's basketball coach at Wichita State
  • Virginia Blanton (1989) - Curators' Distinguished Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Missouri–Kansas City and eminent scholar in Early English Studies
  • Charles Edwin Brown Jr. (1934) - major general and Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army
  • Arthur Covey - muralist whose created murals for the 1939 World's Fair and La Guardia Airport, served as president of the National Mural Painters Society, and created works for the WPA Federal Arts Project
  • Todd Diacon (1980) - president of Kent State University
  • Charles Fall (2011) - New York State Representative, representing the 61st District
  • Neil Frank (1953) - former director, National Hurricane Center, television weatherman
  • Caitlynn French (2011) - voice actor known for her work on English adaptations of Japanese anime shows and films
  • John Haskell "Tex" Gibbons - former captain of gold medal-winning American basketball team at the 1936 Summer Olympics
  • Linda Hargrove (1975) - professional and collegiate basketball head coach, and assistant coach for the United States women's national basketball team that won a medal at the 1990 FIBA World Championship for Women and 1992 Summer Olympics
  • Steven Hatfill (1975) - American physician, virologist and biological weapons expert
  • Jim Helmer (1971) - cross country and men's track coach at SC 1978-2017, inducted into NAIA Coach's Hall of Fame and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame
  • Arthur Hertzler (1896) - founder of The Hertzler Clinic in Halstead and known in Kansas as "The Horse and Buggy Doctor"
  • Jeff Jarnigan (1987) - assistant general manager and coach for the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League
  • C. Darnell Jones II (1972) - a Senior United States district judge
  • Jerry Kill (1984) - offensive coordinator, former head coach, former college football player
  • Brad Long (1985) - former basketball player at Southwestern, starred as basketball team captain in sports film Hoosiers
  • Lewis Gibson Longsworth (1925) - chemist and biochemist, The New York Times said that his research "helped to make modern biochemistry possible"
  • Stephen Owens (2003) - Kansas State Representative from the 74th district
  • Ernest Reid (1916) - president of Corn Products International Inc. (we have the millionth bottle of Mazola Corn Oil encased in Lucite)
  • Bill Rhiley (2007) - Kansas State Representative from the 80th district
  • Tabatha Rosproy (2009) - 2020 National Teacher of the Year
  • Dean Coldwell Strother - a United States Air Force four-star general who served as U.S. Military Representative, NATO Military Committee, and as Commander in Chief, North American Air Defense Command/Commander in Chief, Continental Air Defense Command
  • Wayne White (1927)  - developed methods for commercial production of stannous flouride and sodium monofluorophoshate (MPFa flouride)
  • Gordon Young (1949) - organist and composer of organ and choral works

Thoughts from the Hill: The Story of Elijah Pilgrim Geiger
by Dawn Pleas-Bailey

This is the mysterious story of Elijah Pilgrim Geiger, the first African-American graduate of Southwestern College. As a college administrator for the past 17 years, I could share the stories of a multitude of SC graduates but Elijah’s story is captivating, not because of what is known, but because of what has yet to be discovered.

Elijah Pilgrim GeigerElijah was born in Mississippi in 1870. He came to the Southwestern College in 1896 at the age of 26 and completed his studies in 1899. Through dogged determination, he became the first African-American graduate of the college. He went on to a successful career as a minister and preacher in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas. He died in 1943 and is buried in Wichita’s Maple Grove Cemetery. There is no tombstone to mark his grave. I know little about his life and nothing about his death. What did he look like? What were the other details of his life? Why did he come to south central Kansas? Why Southwestern? What church did he pastor in Wichita when he lived on Wabash Avenue? I have spent the last six months trying to uncover answers to these questions.

We begin our story at the turn of the 20th century, a tumultuous time. Southwestern College was in its infancy, having been founded only 11 years prior. It was a time of racial conflict with the prevalence of Jim Crow laws, race riots, and the influx of new immigrants from Europe. To counteract uncertainty, many Americans looked to place their faith into something larger than their current circumstance. Their answer was education. Like Elijah, they entrusted their future on the viability of a college degree. Southwestern College has aided that desire from its inception.

Elijah Pilgrim Geiger’s life could be seen as just another anecdote – no big deal. It happened often over 110 years ago. Some might contend that we need to focus on current issues. Who cares about some dead Southwestern alumnus? Moreover, who cares about the historical past of the college?

What a huge mistake. Elijah’s successful life based on a college education is vitally important. He is one of the millions of American success stories that were ignited through a college. I also believe the element of mystery makes this story compelling. His personal courage to attend Southwestern at a time when few blacks could even dream of, let alone afford, a college degree is inspiring.

I became a bold “Moundbuilder” archaeologist. I spent blissful hours in the library and searched through the school’s archives. I worked with archivists such as Jerry Wallace and Elise Eilts Blas. I found dusty documents. I hunted through cemeteries. I explored ancestral sites of the Internet. I explored Southwestern’s annals from 1885 to the present. I talked with SC alums about their recollections of the past. I even annoyed my family, friends, and President Dick Merriman about various research discoveries.

In my journey to uncover the story of Elijah Pilgrim Geiger, I uncovered a fascinating new side of myself.  Elijah’s life triggered a new avenue of learning almost 70 years after his death. Unfortunately in my zeal to uncover “the rest of the story”, I now have more questions than answers. But I also have unearthed new facts about the past of Southwestern College. Suddenly I was a student again.

In sharing my experience, I hope to unleash the bold “Moundbuilder” archaeologist in you. As the college celebrates its anniversary, it is the perfect time to learn about its historical past. I challenge you to dust off your old yearbook. I dare you to REALLY listen to the stories from your mother or Aunt Sadie. I encourage you to unpack those old boxes in the attic. It will unleash a historical spirit in you. I am eager to hear about your discoveries. And it is all due to the mysterious life of alums like Elijah Pilgrim Geiger.

(Dawn Pleas-Bailey is vice president for student affairs at Southwestern College. Thoughts From the Hill is a series in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the college, being celebrated in 2010-2011.)

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