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Michigan Jayhawks’ giving spans decades, multiple KU programs

Thomas D. Bath, PhD and Barbara Blake Bath, PhD

University of Kansas alumni Thomas D. Bath, PhD, and Barbara Blake Bath, PhD, met at KU in 1958 and have been a dedicated team — in life and in their philanthropic support of their alma mater —ever since.

Their many gifts to KU to date total more than $385,000 and include creating an opportunity fund for the University Honors Program, programmatic support of Environmental Studies, and scholarship support for students in Mathematics, Chemical Engineering and the School of Law.

Thomas D. Bath, PhD

Tom’s support of scholarships began because he was a scholarship recipient himself. He graduated from Shawnee Mission High School, when there was only one high school in the northeastern Kansas school district.

In 1955, he received a letter from KU’s Summerfield Scholarship committee notifying him he had been chosen for the award. It was $450 for the 1955-1956 school year, an amount, the letter said, that would “be sufficient to enable you to pursue your studies successfully with a fair degree of comfort and without the necessity of your engaging in remunerative employment during the school year.” 

(The letter also specified that a car was not a necessity, and a student who had a car would not need the scholarship and would therefore not be considered.)

A match-making classmate, Gilbert Cuthbertson (KU ’59), introduced Tom Bath to Barbara Blake in Russian class during their senior year. Both Tom and Barbara graduated from KU in 1959, Tom earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and Barbara earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Tom graduated with highest distinction after averaging more than 20 hours a semester and earning honors-level grades.

They were married in 1960 and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tom earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate degree in three years from the University of Michigan, and in those three years, they had two children, Deirdre and David. Tom earned many accolades as an undergraduate and graduate student, including the Alpha Chi Sigma Award for outstanding senior in chemical engineering and the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow award.

Tom and Barbara Blake Bath

Barbara earned a master’s degree from KU and a doctorate from American University. The Bath family continued to grow, with the birth of twins Margaret and Thomas (TJ) in 1964.

Tom’s first job out of graduate school was with Chevron in San Francisco. But news of the twins’ arrival changed the Baths’ plans.

“When we found out we were having twins — that’s four babies in three years — we decided to go home to Kansas City and two grandmothers,” Barbara said.

Tom’s career shifted to an environmental focus, and he began work with the Midwest Research Institute. In 1968 he went to Washington, D.C., as the institute’s representative, and from there was recruited to work at the Environmental Protection Agency. The family spent 17 years in Washington. From there, they went to Colorado, where he worked at the Solar Energy Research Institute and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. Barbara took on a professorship at the Colorado School of Mines. They stayed in Colorado until 2018, when they returned to Michigan. They now reside in Portage.

The couple’s ties to KU include Barbara’s father, John Emerson Blake, who graduated with a law degree in 1925. He worked in Kansas City, Kansas, and often took on clients who were unable to pay for his services. His dedication was the inspiration for Tom and Barbara to create the John Emerson Blake Memorial Scholarship for KU Law students from Wyandotte County. It is one of the many passions the Baths decided to support at KU.

Their connection to the university continued through their children, too, with daughter Deirdre earning a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from KU. Ultimately she followed a scientific path and earned a doctorate degree in grain science at Kansas State University.

From Engineering to Law to the Honors Program, the Baths have given gifts to support students in a wide variety of schools and programs. Tom’s engineering experience inspired the Baths to create the Thomas Bath Chemical Engineering Scholarship for students in that field.

Their support for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences to date totals more than $275,000, with most of those funds assisting students through the Dr. Thomas D. Bath Summerfield Scholars Honors Opportunity Award, a legacy of Tom’s own Summerfield award. Their gifts to the College also support the Kansas Abroad Environmental Studies program, the Barbara Blake Bath, PhD Mathematics Fund and the Research Excellence initiative.

In addition to these interests, the Baths also shared a love of music. Tom played clarinet in high school and also with the KU Marching Jayhawks, and he sang all four years at KU in the choral program under Clayton Krehbiel. He was the only non-music major in the Michigan Singers while he was in graduate school at the University of Michigan. Music remained part of his life throughout his career, and he sang in a choir in San Francisco; a church choir in Chevy Chase, Maryland; and in a barbershop quartet that featured a doctor, a lawyer, a computer scientist, and Tom, the engineer. Even today, music accompanies him throughout his day, though he listens to CDs instead of playing it himself.

Music was also important to Barbara, who played flute and piccolo. When the time came to give back to the musical community, the Baths were ready.

“I heard about a drive to get instruments for budding musicians in need, so I decided to take Tom’s clarinets and my flute and piccolo,” Barbara said. “When the man collecting instruments saw Tom’s clarinets, he started to weep and said, ‘This will change a young person’s life.’ Though it was sad, it was also a joyful feeling to part with them.”

In spring 2021, Barbara made a gift to the fund bearing Tom’s name to honor his 84th birthday. The gift grew the invested balance to allow for $8,400 to be awarded to students in the program, a fitting number for his birthday on 8/4.

The joy of giving has always been the undercurrent that carried the Baths’ generosity over decades of philanthropy. Their gifts to KU will continue to make the university a great place far into the future for generations of Jayhawks.

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