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KU alumnus gives $2 million gift for engineering, law schools

November 8, 2021

A gift from the estate of late University of Kansas alumnus Dean Frisbie provides $1 million to the School of Law and $1 million to the School of Engineering.

Frisbie, who earned degrees from both schools, took what he learned at KU to build a life of success in ventures from real estate to vineyards. He died in 2021.

Dean Frisbie, from the 1951 Jayhawker yearbook
Kenneth Spencer Research Library

A Mission, Kansas, native, Frisbie attended Shawnee Mission High School (now Shawnee Mission North). He went on to enroll at KU and earned a bachelor of science in civil engineering in 1951 and a law degree in 1953. He and his late wife, Florence —known to family and friends as Bunny — had two sons, Thomas and James. The couple raised their family in a beautiful home in San Francisco with a view of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“KU was a great experience for me,” Frisbie said during a conversation in 2016. “My law and engineering degrees gave me the ability to work as an attorney doing land and legal projects as well as managing the construction of buildings.”

Frisbie’s engineering roots run deep. His family business was heavy construction: His father was instrumental in the building of Perry Dam near Lawrence, Kansas, and Tuttle Creek Dam near Manhattan, Kansas, among other projects.

His late brothers, David and Don Frisbie, ran Frisbie Bridge Company in Topeka and built many bridges in the area. Both were also KU alumni; both earned degrees in 1949, David Frisbie in law and Don Frisbie in engineering. The paths they chose were influential in their younger brother’s decision to attend KU.

“I went to law school to help my father out in our family construction business,” Frisbie said. “I didn’t intend to become a lawyer. But I used both degrees extensively.”

After graduating from KU, Frisbie served in the U.S. Army before starting his career in California with Standard Oil (now Chevron) as a land use attorney. After five years, he went to work for Coldwell Banker.

“I found out I really enjoyed real estate and commercial development,” he said.

Frisbie started his own property development business in Santa Clara County, California, and it still has several properties, including apartments and shopping centers, in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area. But brick and mortar weren’t the only materials he managed: He let a neighbor plant a vineyard on 400 acres of his land to try to increase the property value. From there, Ledgewood Creek Winery was born. Frisbie eventually sold the winery to Gallo.

The leaders of both schools expressed their gratitude to Frisbie for the generous, unrestricted gifts and recognized his dedication to KU.

“This gift helps KU Engineering meet our strategic goals and raise our national profile,” said Arvin Agah, dean of the School of Engineering. “We are grateful to the Frisbie estate for its support.”

Stephen Mazza, dean of the School of Law, shared memories from his friendship with Frisbie.

“I enjoyed meeting Dean, touring his vineyard, and talking with him about his time at KU Law and his incredible career. He was a great fellow and I miss him dearly,” Mazza said. “He provides yet another example of how a law degree can lead to great success outside of traditional legal practice.”

Frisbie’s philanthropy came about as a way to give back for what he received as a student.

“Truly, KU was very helpful in all my endeavors,” he said. “Many thanks to the university for all it’s done, for me and for students far into the future.”

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.

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November 8, 2021
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