In the Augenstein Alumni Center, Lee Robertson’s image permanently stands tall, smiling and waving. Robertson refers to his statue as “just Old Lee.”
Lee Robertson, 95, has made his mark on the university in more ways than just being commemorated in a statue. His love for WKU spans across decades and still persists today.
Born and raised in Calhoun, Kentucky, Robertson never expected to go to college. After serving in World War II, one of his friends approached him and asked him to go to school with him. This sudden interest in attending college was based on the 1944 passing of the GI Bill that provided education benefits to World War II veterans.
“I had never thought of that,” Roberston said. “When I graduated from high school, people didn’t go to college. In our class of 32 people, one person went to college. The GI Bill was the greatest thing that ever happened. It took college away from the elite select few and into the masses.”
Robertson didn’t know much about Western Kentucky University, called Western Kentucky State Teachers College at the time, but he began classes there in 1946. He graduated in the summer of 1950 with a major in physical education and minors in biology and English.
“What I decided, somewhere along the line, [was] that I’d like to coach,” he said.
He credits his interest in coaching to E.A. Diddle, former athletic director and basketball coach. Diddle saw Robertson playing baseball with a Sunday league. Diddle approached him and asked him to play for WKU’s team.
“Mr. Diddle — I loved that guy,” Roberston said. “He was so unique. He was not a schooled psychologist, but he was a born psychologist. He could make you better than you were just by talking to you.”
After graduating from WKU, Robertson spent time in several Kentucky cities working coaching and teaching jobs, even serving as a principal and as an interim superintendent. During these years, he met his wife Joyce Robertson who he has been married to for 64 years.
In 1960, Robertson was offered a job at WKU. He returned to his home on the Hill working as the director of alumni affairs, a position he held for 25 years. He retired and went to work in Florida for a friend he’d met on the baseball team. During this time, Gary Ransdell had become president of the university. Ransdell contacted him asking him to come back to work.
“[Ransdell] and I one time worked together,” Robertson said. “I was the director of alumni affairs, and he was my assistant. I told him all the time when he was president that I taught him all he knew.”
Despite numerous awards and recognitions from WKU and being widely known amongst alumni, Robertson remains humble.
“I feel very honored and humbled—feel like maybe I don’t deserve it,” he said. “But I accept it and appreciate it and enjoy it.”
Now, Robertson works as assistant to the vice president for development and alumni relations, John Paul Blair.
“Any WKU alumni gathering Lee is unable to attend, our staff is prepared to answer the question, ‘Where’s Lee?’” Blair said. “Through his career, he founded virtually all WKU alumni chapters and maintains many close [alumni] relationships to this day,” Blair explained.
Blair went on to comment on alumni’s relationship with Robertson.
“The best example of how people feel about Lee is the bronze statue of him by the entrance of the ‘Robertson Ballroom’ in the Augenstein Alumni Center,” he said. “When the private support became great enough for the building to become a reality, many alumni and friends gave to assure he would be honored there forever for the lifelong support he had given to them. I often see friends of Lee posing for a picture with his image.”
Robertson was able to accomplish all of these things because of his strong devotion to WKU and to its faculty, staff and alumni.
“I think they see a guy who’s loyal and not selfish,” Robertson said. “What I’m doing is promoting Western; I’m not promoting myself.”
Robertson’s history with WKU spans over several decades. He commented on how this passion for WKU keeps him going.
“You think about, ‘Why is a guy at 95 still at work?’” he said. “I really believe that if I were to retire completely and sit at the house and twiddle my thumbs I’d be gone. I think being here, being around young people, being active and having something to do keeps me going.”
Robertson said he takes one of WKU’s ideals, “the spirit makes the master,” to heart.
“It means if you’ve got a passionate feeling about a person or an institution and you love it,” he said. “Your spirit for that institution makes your life meaningful and makes you proud and makes you want to do good.”
For Lee Robertson, that passion is Western Kentucky University.
“No question about it,” he said.
Features reporter Laurel Deppen can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]