LAWRENCE -- Belfour and Betty Joe Lorbeer McMillen are people with a passion for the University of Kansas. Witness, for example, their commitment of more than $1 million to keep outstanding math professors at KU and for the study of dance.
The Fort Worth, Texas, couple established two trusts at the Kansas University Endowment Association that upon their deaths will create a mathematics professorship and a dance scholarship. About $960,000 will create the G. Baley Price Professorship in Mathematics Fund, which will provide the support to attract and retain an outstanding professor of mathematics at KU. Approximately $50,000 of the gift will establish the Betty Joe Lorbeer McMillen Dance Scholarship. The McMillen scholarship will provide four years of tuition assistance to a qualifying freshman majoring in dance. The recipient will be required to enroll in acting and voice courses in addition to dance.
Belfour, liberal arts '49, said the professorship is his way to honor Price, a retired chair of the KU Department of Mathematics and a faculty member from 1937 until 1975. Belfour said he was impressed with Price when he met him more than 40 years ago. At the time, Belfour was the manager of industrial and trade sales at John Wiley & Sons. Through his contacts at the college department at Wiley, he learned that Price had left KU to teach for one year at a university on the West Coast. Belfour thought it was wonderful that Price returned to teach at KU after that year, he said.
"I wanted to know why, so I visited him at KU," Belfour said. "He said he and his wife stayed because they liked KU and Lawrence. On top of that, he said it was more fun to teach KU students, and he appreciated the great diversity of campus life at KU. I thought to myself, 'Here's someone who thinks like I do about Kansas University and Kansans.'"
Price said he was surprised and flattered that Belfour would name a professorship for him.
"I am very honored by this generous gift to KU from the McMillens to establish a professorship in my name," Price said. "It recognizes the traditional ideals of excellence in research, excellence in teaching and commitment to public service."
The McMillen scholarship honors Betty Joe's lifelong dedication to dance, which led her to Broadway and on to the June Taylor Dancers on "The Jackie Gleason Show." She said she hoped the couple's scholarship fund would help a young dancer prepare for his or her career.
"The university experience changes your life and adds to your quality of life after your performing career is over," she said. "It's important to a career in the legitimate or musical theatre. As a performer you need to have as many things going for you as possible, and that's why I want them to have vocal and acting training. It's my hope that someone, perhaps another me, will benefit from this scholarship and be trained to excel in dance at KU."
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway thanked the McMillens.
"The McMillens' generous commitment will have a lasting impact on the students of KU," Hemenway said. "Students taking math classes and particularly graduate students studying mathematics will benefit from the top-level teacher and researcher chosen as the Price professor. In addition, outstanding young performers will have the opportunity to excel in dance without the burden of tuition."
Belfour and Betty Joe met at KU. Betty Joe, a dancer since childhood, enrolled at KU in the fall of 1946. By early October, her plans to be a dancer were thrown into question when she was stricken by polio. Although it was a mild case, the Neodesha native said it left her in pain for six months and put her behind in her coursework.
The following summer she met Belfour, who, like her, had enrolled in courses that summer. She said Belfour was the only man she dated who did not dismiss her dreams of becoming a dancer in New York. The couple married shortly after he graduated.
The McMillens went to Chicago, where Betty Joe studied dance under acclaimed instructor Edna McRae and landed her first television appearance. By 1953, Betty Joe's career had taken her to New York City, where she studied ballet with Vincenzo Celli. There she performed in the Broadway production of "Hazel Flagg," which won two Tony awards that year. In 1954, she became a member of the June Taylor Dancers, who performed on "The Jackie Gleason Show" on CBS-TV. Betty Joe performed as a dancer for the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., and later served on the dance panel of the Kansas Arts Commission from 1973 to 1976. She eventually became a private dance instructor in Fort Worth and taught extended education classes at Texas Christian University. She retired from dancing in 1962 and retired as a teacher in 2000.
Belfour became a representative for Liberty Mutual Insurance and went to law school at night at DePaul University in Chicago. In 1969 he became an independent publishers representative. Representing 40 publishers, he traveled to bookstores, including those in universities and colleges, throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. He retired in 1993.
The McMillens have two children, Heather McMillen Reynolds and Alexandra McMillen Dillon, journalism '86.
The couple's gift counts toward KU First: Invest in Excellence, the largest fund-raising campaign in KU history. KU Endowment is conducting KU First on behalf of KU through 2004 to raise funds for scholarships, fellowships, professorships, capital projects and program support. KU Endowment is an independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fund-raising and fund-management organization for KU.
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