Washburn University named the Shermoen family as the “Family of the Year” today, Sept. 22, during halftime of the Family Day football game. This designation honors the Shermoens’ dedication to, support of and enthusiasm for the university. In the 50 plus years that the Shermoens have spent in Topeka, they have seen seven children and grandchildren graduate from Washburn.
The Shermoen family’s relationship with Washburn began in the fall of 1967, just one year after a devastating tornado cut through Topeka. Dr. Richard E. Shermoen and his wife, Nancy, brought their three children to a devastated Washburn University campus so Dr. Shermoen could serve as professor and chair of the mathematics department. Shermoen served the department diligently until 1993.
“When I came in 1967 to interview, the campus was still in disarray from the tornado,” said Shermoen. “But I was so taken with the people I met here – they were so positive – that I was anxious to become a member of the family.
“And, looking back, coming to Washburn was the best decision that Nancy and I ever made,” he said.
One of Washburn’s new endeavors to help students be successful is the Math Emporium in Mabee Library – three high-tech classrooms in a new tutoring environment. Washburn is naming one of the classrooms after Dr. Shermoen to acknowledge his many years teaching math on campus.
Nancy Shermoen also lent her talents to Washburn University. She served as secretary of the psychology department for 19 years, from 1973 to 1992.
“I needed a job and there were two openings – one in the registrar’s office and the other in the psychology department,” Shermoen said. “The difference was that the registrar’s office paid $2 and hour and the psychology department paid $2.10 an hour.”
But she quickly felt at home in the department and stayed until both Richard and Nancy retired in 1993.
“We loved all of our time at Washburn,” said Richard Shermoen, “and we are still very active with the university and help in any way that we can.”
The Shermoens love for Washburn is reflected further as several of their children and grandchildren chose to earn degrees here. Their son, Rich, and daughter-in-law, Lori, met at Washburn when they were cast members of the spring musical, South Pacific. During the 2000s, their daughter, Margy, and her three daughters - Mandi, Chelsea and Bridget - all attended Washburn at the same time. Mandi, their granddaughter, has been on the Washburn University Alumni Association Board since 2013 and is presently serving as president.
Rich and Lori’s son, Andrew, will graduate this December and is currently student teaching at Topeka High School.
“I've seen Washburn be the central point of pride in my family for generations.,” Andrew Shermoen said. “No school can compare to Washburn according to my grandfather and grandmother and my parent's deep infatuation with the school not only is present in how highly they speak of it, but how active they are in the university years after they graduated.
“As for our feelings I think it is safe to say we love it here,” Shermoen said.
Recognizing a family of the year is annual tradition at Washburn University that occurs as part of the Family Weekend celebrations and events. Washburn University students, faculty and staff nominate families.