Statistically speaking, noted Ron Womble, he probably shouldn’t have wound up as one of the most revered storytellers in Pittsburg State University history.

With a class of 30, his high school newspaper was published on a mimeograph machine. And Womble, a practical joker, didn’t take school seriously. His family, shaped by the Depression and World War II, lacked the means to support him.

“We moved from cheap rental house to cheap rental house, and my dad had an eighth grade education,” he said.

But he defied the odds, and storyteller he became. Having served four university presidents, he leaves behind thousands of stories in newspapers, speeches, campus announcements, radio and television interviews, the annual commencement address, bulk emails, the Pitt State website, and this magazine.

“Some people leave behind a legacy of new shiny buildings, and some people leave a new academic program, and some people prepare the next generation of leaders,” said PSU President Steve Scott. “But Ron leaves a narrative of this place.”

Starting out

Having graduated from the University of Kansas where he learned from icons in journalism, Womble first cut his reporting teeth at newspapers in Ottawa and Clay Center, Kansas.

It was a dreary rainy day in April 1979, when Womble arrived in Pittsburg to accept a job as news desk editor at The Morning Sun. It wasn’t long before he’d been promoted to managing editor and become involved in numerous community organizations as a volunteer and leader.

Three years later, Womble accepted the position of Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Pitt State, working for Director Ellen Carter, a former reporter at The Morning Sun. His first piece? A news release on Nov. 17, 1986, announcing he’d been hired. Its appearance speaks to the changes he’s seen during his career: written on a typewriter, it was sent via postal mail to area media.

In the years since, Womble has also seen other changes: from writing a few news releases per week to several per day, they now are disseminated by email, online, and via social media. Reporters can reach him instantly by text messaging. Photos no longer require hours to process – they are Tweeted by media outlets and by Pitt State directly from groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings.

And the University has grown.

Womble has told, and helped reporters to tell, campus stories.

Stories about groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings for the Kansas Technology Center, apartments, residence halls, the Bryant Student Health Center, the Crossland University House, sports complexes, the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, the Overman Student Center, and the Plaster Event Center.

Stories about the youngest PSU graduate and the oldest. Stories about a visit by a former President and a former First Lady. Stories of students overcoming challenges, departments receiving grants and gifts, and new administrators being hired. Stories about concerts, theatrical productions, and art exhibits.

Stories about enrollment climbing and budgets declining.

“The standard”

Chris Kelly, who when working in radio and television relied on Womble during assignments involving Pitt State, worked alongside Womble as the associate vice president of University Marketing and Communication. Kelly said Womble’s greatest strengths are his integrity, his patience and dedication to mentoring young reporters.

Chris Kelly, right, presented Womble with a one-of-a-kind cooler on behalf of Womble’s colleagues in the Office of University Marketing and Communication

Chris Kelly, right, presented Womble with a one-of-a-kind cooler on behalf of Womble’s colleagues in the Office of University Marketing
and Communication

“He connects with readers intellectually and emotionally,” he said.

And, Kelly noted, Womble excelled at helping calm reporters facing deadlines, tough questions from editors, and unavailable sources, often accepting late night calls with last-minute requests.

Ellen Carter, former director of PSU Public Affairs, said the turnout of several area media outlets at Womble’s retirement reception was a testament to the type of relationship he had with them; media at retirement receptions is unusual.

Among them: Darin McCann, a longtime TV news videographer with KODE, who said Womble “set the standard.”

“When reporters called him, we knew he’d get back to us – he wouldn’t leave us hanging,” McCann said. “And if something fell through, he’d always have a Plan B to help us out. With his journalistic background, he knew what our job was like.”

Diane Hutchison, who designs the Pitt State Magazine, said that saying Womble will be missed is an understatement.

“He is one of those people who instantly became a friend instead of ‘just’ a coworker, and proved that it doesn’t take a loud voice to accomplish tremendous things,” she said.