Former EWU President Frederickson passes away
He led the transformation of Eastern to a university, the elevation of athletics, Spokane expansion
Last updated 8/7/2020 at 11:08am
LAWRENCE, Kan. - Dr. H. George Frederickson, the lightning rod president who oversaw the transformation of Eastern Washington State College to Eastern Washington University, passed away July 24 at his home in Lawrence, Kan. having just recently turned 86.
Frederickson, a 1961 graduate of Brigham Young University, and who earned his master's in public administration from UCLA and a doctorate down the road at USC, was chosen to replace Emerson Shuck who had served Eastern Washington State College between 1967 to 1976.
Legislation to give Eastern "university" status passed the Washington State Legislature in 1977, but not without some bumps along the road.
While there were a number of concerns over university status by the notable bigger state schools, one of Washington State President Glen Terrell's worries was simple semantics. Frederickson was told Terrell would feel better if Eastern dropped the word "state" from its name.
The more Frederickson thought about the streamlined name - EWU - the more he liked it. "The other two presidents at Central and Western, were smarter than me," Frederickson said. "They liked it immediately."
Frederickson, who served at EWU for a decade starting in 1977, also fought for the elevation of athletics at Eastern from small-school NAIA to NCAA Division I. Despite a great deal of pushback from faculty, Frederickson saw college athletics as a place that offered a school exposure not provided elsewhere.
He appointed school Vice President Fred Johns to chair a committee composed of faculty, students, trustees and community members to chart the future course of athletics at Eastern.
They were entrusted to determine the future direction of sports on campus. The choices, Frederickson said, were:
Shall we take a lower profile?
Stay in the NAIA or move to the NCAA?
What should future relations with Central and Western be?
At one particular meeting of the group, one thing stood out to Frederickson. "It was clear fairly early that there was no stomach for going downward," he said.
Out of all the discussion came what would be known as "The John's Report," which, Frederickson recalled, was "Accepted by the trustees unanimously following a long meeting into the night."
In brief, and among other things, "The John's Report," recommended leaving the NAIA and go to NCAA Division II. And in doing so, Eastern would seek a new league affiliation, exiting the Evergreen Conference where it called home for decades.
"The response was very mixed as you might imagine," Frederickson said. They ranged from replies like Eastern is "Way too big for your britches," to "You don't know your place" to "Wouldn't this be great for the students," Frederickson said.
Frederickson's work was ultimately rewarded when Eastern's football team won the 2010 Football Championship Subdivision. He was able to witness EWU's 20-19 victory over Delaware, Jan. 7, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. For his efforts, Frederickson, along with a number of associates, were inducted into the Eastern Washington University's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.
Arguably, his most important undertaking was greatly expanding Eastern's footprint in Spokane, helping orchestrate the purchase of the Farm Credit Bank, which ultimately has led to formation of the transformational University District in East Spokane. The property was acquired in 1982 and opened with 33 classrooms and space for 800 students in 1983.
That started the open competition often known as what Frederickson called "turf wars" with Washington State University, which seemed it had an unofficial claim to Spokane.
"They did have a pattern of throwing around the phrase, "Cougar Country," Frederickson said. But he added that WSU seemed to take Spokane for granted, thinking that there was no competition. "They (WSU) simply did not see Eastern coming."
This "skirmish" Frederickson said in a 2019 interview eventually led to what he called a "peace agreement" that has led to the miraculous transformation of old Spokane rail yards into the glistening Riverpoint Campus that has participation from not only Eastern and WSU, but Gonzaga and Whitworth, too.
Just months after Eastern earned membership in the Big Sky Conference for its athletics in early 1987, Frederickson exited for his new career as the Edwin O. Stene Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Frederickson, Eastern's 21st president, was born July 17, 1934 in Twin Falls Idaho, the son of Jack and Zelpha Richins Frederickson. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Mary, children Thomas (Leslie), Christian (Jenny), Lynne, and David (Julie) as well as a number of brothers both grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Frederickson's family looks forward to celebrating his life next spring at a memorial service open to all family and friends.
The family suggests memorials go to the H. George and Mary Frederickson Fellowship at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas, or to the EWU Foundation. All memorials may be sent in care of Warren McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66044. For more information or to post a condolence go to warrenmcelwain.com.