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Donors score a victory for Jayhawk collection

James and Mary Ellen Ascher

When James J. Ascher Sr., and his wife, Mary Ellen, learned that a popular collection of Jayhawks that had been displayed at the Kansas Union was about to be sold in online auctions, the Overland Park, Kan., couple took swift action, making a $130,000 gift to keep the mythical birds at the University of Kansas.

James and Mary Ellen Ascher

“I read that the Jayhawks would be sold online,” said James Ascher. “My wife and I talked about how a collection of a thousand Jayhawks really belongs at KU, and that we would hate to see the Jayhawks dispersed around the world. We think the Jayhawk is the most unique mascot of universities all across the country, and we firmly believe the collection should stay at KU.”

Among KU fans celebrating the return of the Jayhawks is Mike Reid (pictured far left), director of public affairs for the KU Memorial Unions. It was Reid who put the Jayhawks on display in the union several years ago, and who packed them up to return to their owner before the Aschers stepped in.

“I am so pleased that Mr. Ascher was able to step forward and support the KU history initiatives at the Unions,” said Reid. “The Jayhawk collection will be a lasting reminder for future generations of how beloved our unique mascot has been during the last 100 years, and how beloved it remains today.”

Ascher attended KU in the early 1950s until being drafted to serve in the Korean War. After his military service, he returned to Kansas, married and went to work for B.F. Ascher and Co., the Lenexa pharmaceutical firm his father founded in the 1940s. Ascher began his career there as a salesman and worked his way up to president; he retired as chairman in 2010.

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