By Patricia O’Dell
The Kansas City Bichelmeyer family often does things in a big way. Recently, UMKC Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer was surprised by several of her nine brothers and sisters as she received the Staff Council’s Living the Values Award, which recognizes a staff employee who best exemplifies excellence in one or more of the university’s key values, for her grace and exemplary service during her term as interim chancellor.
In addition, UMKC Executive in Residence, Doaranne Hudson, announced that the university created the John and Mary Bichelmeyer Scholarship Fund in appreciation for Bichelmeyer’s advocacy of education and student success.
“Her parents instilled the importance of education in all their children,” says Vice Chancellor of Advancement, Curt Crespino. “The Bichelmeyers paid over 130 years of tuition because they would not take a scholarship.”
The fund recognizes qualities that Bichelmeyer has known all her life.
“My parents were the most inquisitive and interested people I have ever met,” she says. “They had a natural love of learning and wanted to be engaged in life. As children of the depression, they were very clear that they needed to take care of themselves. For them, education was a combination of all of those things.”
Bichelmeyer recalls that not attending college was one of her parents’ deepest regrets.
“My parents were always looking forward. The one regret I ever heard my father express was that he had an opportunity to go to college and was offered a scholarship at Kansas City University [now UMKC], but his father told him that his family needed his income from his work in the stockyards.”
As a result, the Bichelmeyers made the world their classroom. While Jim built Bichelmeyer Meats, a now legendary butcher shop in Kansas City, they never missed a chance to interact with people. When the Bichelmeyers traveled and would stop for meals, Jim and Mary would tell their children to interview people and hear their stories.
“But it didn’t feel like an interview,” says Bichelmeyer. “It was just conversation.”
These conversations led Bichelmeyer to her first degree in journalism.
“I was so fascinated by what you could learn from people by simply asking them questions. We all learned from my parents that everything we do is interaction with people. It’s hard for me to unbundle my parents’ love of commitment of people and their love of learning. It’s certainly what I try to bring to my role as an educator. It’s about people.”
While her father was outgoing and gregarious, Bichelmeyer says Mary was a “quiet force.” She admired her mother for her ability to meet each of her children where they were and bring them along to help them be the best versions of themselves.
“For me, that’s what good education is,” says Bichelmeyer. “Meeting students where they are, valuing them and understanding them enough to bring them along. It’s a combination of my father’s love of learning and my mother’s love of development and fostering an environment of care.”
While the Bichelmeyer children have taken different paths – there are teachers, butchers, community volunteers and corporate professionals among their ranks – they share a common trait that will live on through the Bichelmeyer Scholarship Fund.
“We have lost the word ‘who’ in our language to differentiate a person from a thing,” Bichelmeyer says. “It’s not uncommon to see people treat others as if they are on a television screen.
“I think my siblings are known for valuing human beings simply because they are human and that’s really worthy work. When people say, ‘Hello,’ we say ‘Hello’ back.’”