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MSU Denver mourns three influential former administrators

Arliss Sunderwirth Webster, Kathy Rigsby and John Buechner are remembered for their significant contributions to the University.

By Lindsey Coulter

August 8, 2018

Denver downtown with large, white clouds.Three former Metropolitan State University of Denver administrators who each left a lasting mark on the campus died in July. Arliss Sunderwirth Webster, Kathy Rigsby and John Buechner embodied the MSU Denver mission and will be greatly missed.

Arliss Sunderwirth Webster

Arliss Sunderwirth Webster spent nearly 11 years with MSU Denver as director of the Student Finance Resource Center, director of student travel, fiscal manager for the Student Services division and finally as associate director of the Extended Campus. She was also an MSU Denver alumna, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and reading.

Webster continued her education by earning a master’s degree in English literature from San Francisco State University, where she developed and taught literature classes. She later found professional success in the banking industry after she returned to MSU Denver to study finance and business.

During her time as an administrator, Webster received the Hispanic Education Foundation’s President’s Award and several Administrator of the Year awards. She took a personal interest in student success, and many faculty, staff and student groups expressed gratitude for Webster’s leadership, business acumen and support.

Throughout her life, Webster maintained a keen interest in art, literature, music, current events, classical music, hiking, tennis, bicycling and cheering on the Broncos. She was a steadfast supporter of her family and found great joy in her cats and friends.

Webster died July 14 following an unflinching and valiant struggle with cancer, and a memorial service will be held at a later date. Those who would like to honor her are encouraged to give a gift to the Denver Dumb Friends League or the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Kathy Rigsby

Kathy Rigsby, former director of MSU Denver’s Equity Assistance Center Grant, also died in late July following a battle with cancer.

Rigsby’s birthday was Aug. 26, which is also Women’s Equality Day, and the themes of equal rights, equity and social justice were central throughout her life and career. After receiving her master’s degree in education from Tufts University and working at Weber State University, Rigsby joined MSU Denver. Here, she was instrumental in writing the $4.9 million and $8.6 million grants awarded to the Equity Assistance Center — two of the largest grants ever received by MSU Denver.

She used her positions as equity specialist and later as executive director to promote equal educational opportunity and access for students regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin or socioeconomic status. Her expertise also included gender equity, women’s history, civil rights, educational equity, reducing bias in school and cultural diversity, and she developed and delivered numerous trainings to reduce racial and gender bias and prevent sexual harassment in schools. Her contribution to the advancement of equity and inclusion will resonate throughout MSU Denver and many communities for many years to come.

She is remembered by friends and colleagues for her political astuteness and knowledge of medieval and religious history as well as for her caring and generous spirit, great sense of humor and love of and dedication to her family and friends.

At Rigsby’s request, her family will not hold a public service and will instead remember her privately.

John C. Buechner

John C. Buechner’s tenure as interim president of MSU Denver was intentionally brief, but he helped pave the way for a new era for the University. Buechner, president of the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1995 to 2000, was hired in 2003 to coordinate the MSU Denver presidential search that led to the hiring of Stephen Jordan, Ph.D.

After earning a degree in political science from the College of Wooster, Buechner completed his master's degree in Public Administration and earned a doctorate in Political Science at the University of Michigan.

He joined the CU Boulder political-science department in the 1960s before becoming director of Institutional Relations. He later served as chancellor and taught in the University of Colorado Denver’s Graduate School of Public Affairs.

Civic engagement was a major theme throughout Buechner’s life. He was mayor of Boulder from 1970 to 1971, served one term in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1972 to 1974 and was elected to the Boulder City Council from 1975 to 1976. He continued to be engaged civically later in life as well and was appointed to a one-year term on the Lafayette City Council after retiring from CU Boulder.

Buechner died July 28 while in hospice care. His family is hosting a celebration of his life Aug. 10 at 1:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Boulder. Donations in Buechner’s memory can be made to the Lung Cancer Center of National Jewish Hospital’s Clinical Research and Science department.

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