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Dedicated alumni leave $11 million legacy for future Jayhawks

August 10, 2023
Barbara Mills and Jim Adam

Whomever first said, “once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk,” could have easily been talking about Paul James “Jim” Adam, Jr., and Barbara Mills Adam. The couple’s lifetime of dedication to the University of Kansas has left a lasting impact that will continue to support Jayhawks for generations to come. 

The Adams, who lived in Overland Park, Kan., made their first gift to the University of Kansas in 1978. Their lifelong support totals more than $11 million. Their charitable remainder trust established scholarships across a variety of programs at KU, including the Barbara Adam Scholarship in Elementary Education, the Jim Adam Scholarship in Engineering and the Paul Adam Scholarship in Business, named for Jim’s father, a 1933 School of Business alumnus. 

Jim and Barbara met while attending Shawnee Mission High School before they decided to continue their education at KU. In addition to studying engineering and education, respectively, Jim and Barbara were both presidents of their Greek houses — Jim at Alpha Tau Omega and Barbara at Chi Omega.

After spending three years in Ohio during Jim’s U.S. Air Force service at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the couple returned to the Kansas City area. Jim spent 43 years at Black and Veatch, retiring in 2000. He became the engineering company’s CEO and chairman in 1993. Barbara was a community leader and served on the board of directors for several organizations, including Powell Gardens and Kansas City Public Television. 

“My dad always based a lot of his success on his education,” said Blair Adam, the couple’s middle son. “He always gave a lot of credit to the university and the School of Engineering for his business success.” 

Jim died in 2017 at the age of 82, and Barbara died in 2022 at the age of 87. Throughout their lives, they had a real love for KU and made lifelong friends during their time in Lawrence. The family regularly went to Kansas football games, and displayed KU memorabilia throughout their home, including footballs from several bowl games. 

“We grew up with the university, so to speak,” Blair said.  

The couple also displayed their love for KU by serving on dozens of boards during their lifetimes. Among other positions, Jim was Chairman of the KU Alumni Association and a Life Trustee of KU Endowment. In 2013, he received the Fred Ellsworth Medallion for extraordinary service to KU from the Alumni Association.

“The generous gifts from Jim and Barbara Adam will create opportunities for KU students far into the future,” said Dan Martin, President of KU Endowment. “Their lifelong service and dedication to the university and greater KU community is a shining example of what it means to be a Jayhawk.” 

The Adams’ generous spirit came partly from not wanting to spoil their kids, said Blair. “My parents always wanted their children to work and earn their own.” And they also wanted to support KU in a way that would be meaningful beyond their lifetimes.  

“They were interested in giving back, and they liked the idea of this legacy lasting for a long time,” said Blair. 

While Blair did not attend KU, he said his parents cared less about where their children attended college and more that their children had the chance to receive a quality education. And through their generosity, Jim and Barbara have given countless future students the same opportunity.  

“It’s an impactful amount; the legacy of this should go on and on well after you and I are gone,” said Blair. “That’s the beauty of it. Their legacy lives on.” 

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Posted on
August 10, 2023
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Michelle Keller
Assistant Vice President, Communications & Donor Relations
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