Her “need for speed” drove Dr. Lois (Begitske) DeFleur ’58 to obtain a pilot’s license and purchase a plane; she was also driven to accept challenges, taking advantage of opportunities to manage and lead.
Lois DeFleur credits Blackburn College with providing her a sense of direction and the opportunities to learn about and practice leadership, which ultimately led to becoming President at State University of New York at Binghamton. Blackburn professors mentored and motivated her to reach beyond what she thought of as her capabilities.
Her drive to succeed and to lead may have come from her father, who worked for the Burlington Railroad right out of high school. His rise to senior executive was a direct result of moving from job to job within the organization—learning all he could about the company’s business.
Lois’ father made it clear she would have to pay for college. Her search for the right, affordable college led to her grandmother’s acquaintance with a man in southern Illinois named Virgil Bretthauer who taught at a small school that required students to work.
BLACKBURN PRESENTS OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Blackburn professors and the Work Program made all the difference to Lois’ experience. She especially recalls the influence of Mr. Ross Ensminger (sociology), Dr. John Forbes (history), Lydia Forbes (theater), and Mrs. Plotnick (French).
“These professors and staff were instrumental in putting growth opportunities in front of me, encouraging me to develop leadership skills and experience. I would not have had the chance to grow in that way on a large university campus,” says Lois.
Although Lois was taking Spanish from another teacher, Mrs. Plotnick began talking with Lois and classmate John Fleckles about the need for a language laboratory at Blackburn. Lois and Fleckles were charged with the task to research and design a language lab, figure out the needed materials, find a space for it, and work with campus crews to make it a reality. The result was a functional language lab located in the basement of Stoddard Hall.
“I would not have gotten that kind of project management experience anywhere else,” says Lois. “The entire undertaking was placed in the hands of us undergraduate students. That’s really amazing!”
Other challenges and opportunities for leadership presented themselves in the Work Program, and Lois, with encouragement from her professors, did not hesitate to accept and learn from them. She was named a work manager and learned to lead a full department of peers. Blackburn became her path to leadership and a career choice leading to her work in higher education.
A LIFE OF FIRSTS
Lois has a passion for flying. She was the only woman in her flight class in Lexington, Ky in 1964, finishing at the top of her class. She has owned three different aircraft since then, her current plane being a fast, single-engine Piper Comanche 260C. Her husband, James McGorry, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, was a fighter pilot, flying 100 missions in an F4 jet over North Vietnam during the Vietnam conflict. Lois and James fly together today for recreation—in fact their first date was a flight in Lois’ airplane.
Among her many accomplishments in higher education, Lois was the first woman to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy when it opened its doors to women on the faculty. She was also the first woman to serve in significant administrative roles in higher education: Dean of Liberal Arts at Washington State University, Provost at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and President of the State University of New York at Binghamton from which she retired. She now faithfully serves on Blackburn College’s Board of Trustees.
“I would not be who I am today if the faculty at Blackburn had not encouraged me,” says Lois. “Blackburn had an enormous impact on my life.
“The education, work, and especially the leadership opportunities made me grow beyond anything I had dreamed. Today’s students should have those opportunities, and so I choose to give to Blackburn—both to pay it back and to ensure that today’s students can become leaders.”
Lois especially supports Blackburn’s library and faculty development. “Libraries are often not a priority for many donors. But the changes at Blackburn’s library have been exciting, transitioning to more than a repository of books. It is a learning center for students to do more than study. It is a place for learning through interactive gatherings, a resource for writing, research, using technology, and much more.”
If given time to talk with Blackburn students directly, Lois would urge women to take advantage of every opportunity to be in leadership training and leadership roles. “You can do that at Blackburn—unlike most other places. Work with your faculty mentors who will push you to go beyond what you think is possible. Find a field that interests you and learn all you can about it,” says Lois.
Blackburn College’s impact on Lois DeFleur is incalculable. In turn, Lois’ generous impact on Blackburn, its library and faculty have been beyond measure.