Presidential family bids farewell to the Hill

Gary and Julie Ransdell on Monday, Oct. 10, in front of the President’s House. Their house has hosted numerous events, conversations and dinners over the 19 years Gary has been president. “This is a house where decisions are made and things happen that strengthen the university or engage some aspect of the university in meaningful ways,” Gary Ransdell said. “My favorite thing is hosting a student event and getting to know the students,” Julie Ransdell said.

Jamie Williams

As people of all ages return to WKU for Homecoming, it’s easy to forget that two long-time Hilltoppers, Gary and Julie Ransdell, will soon be leaving their presidential home on the Hill.

After nearly 20 years of calling their Chestnut Street residence home, President Gary Ransdell will be retiring in 2017 and handing over the house to his successor.

The Ransdells have already begun the long process of moving out of the house –– their personal furniture is gone, replaced by furniture from the Kentucky Museum. Fall decorations adorn the entire presidential residence as the Ransdells contemplate the bittersweet process of leaving their WKU home.

“The first word that comes to mind for me for ‘home’ is ‘family,’” Julie Ransdell said as she sat next to the glowing fireplace in the president’s living room.

“We’ve tried to make this more than just a house,” Gary Ransdell said. “It’s not just been a house for official university purposes. It’s been home for us for nearly 20 years now.”

The Ransdells are known for regularly inviting guests into their longtime home; if you’re a student, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the house’s beautiful backyard during your time at WKU.

The presidential couple hosts many events at their residence including backyard ice-cream socials, indoor pizza parties and dinners where students are encouraged to share their ideas for school improvement.

Both Gary and Julie Ransdell agree student interaction is one of the most beloved parts of living in the president’s home.

“My favorite thing is hosting a student event and getting to know students,” Julie Ransdell said. “That’s why we’re all here.”

“From a pure personal standpoint, the way in which we’ve been able to get to know students by having them as our guests here is pretty special,” Gary Ransdell agreed.

For the first lady, this interaction with students will be what she misses most about living at WKU.

“It’s kept us young, sort of,” said with a laugh.

One of Gary Ransdell’s first memories in the home was a celebration with friends shortly after his family moved in. He recalled during the gathering saying, “This is like having a party at the president’s house while he’s out of town.”

Since that day in 1997, the Ransdells have made some small changes to the residence to make it their own.

Julie Ransdell’s favorite addition is a mural of WKU’s major buildings painted across each wall of their dining room.

“This is one thing we did that I love,” she said, gesturing to the artwork’s landscape adorned with the Guthrie Bell Tower and Van Meter Hall. “You can tour the university while sitting at dinner.”

The Ransdells are slowly packing up some of the memories they’ve made at WKU, including gifts received at President Gary Ransdell’s many speeches, boxes of baseball cards, CD cases and trophies left by their two sons. 20 years of the Ransdells’ home on the Hill will soon be placed in boxes to make room for the next president.

Gary Ransdell’s message to the future occupant of the president’s house is a simple one: “make it a home.”

“A personal home first, a president’s home second,” Julie Ransdell added.

“It’s more than a house,” Gary Ransdell said. “People have to feel like they belong here and are welcome here, and it’s warm and they know that there’s laughter.”

Reporter Jamie Williams can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].