Dr. Robert B. Kamm, the 13th president of Oklahoma State University who led the university during a period that encompassed both growth and turbulent times on campuses across the nation, died Friday, October 10, 2008 in Okmulgee. He was 89.
He served as OSU president from 1966 to 1977 and is remembered for having served in higher education as a teacher, counselor and administrator at OSU for more than 45 years. The president and first lady, his wife Maxine, were loved by students, staff and faculty.
“The Oklahoma State University community is saddened to learn of the passing of one of our university’s most beloved presidents,” said OSU President Burns Hargis. “Dr. Kamm made a lasting difference in the lives of students, and had a real impact on the Stillwater community, our state and our world. He became President during my undergraduate days at OSU and truly inspired me to seek opportunities in public service. Dr. Kamm will be remembered for his warmness, his friendliness and his philosophy of putting people first.”
Kamm was born on Jan. 22, 1919, at West Union, Iowa. He received his B.A. degree in English and theater arts in 1940 from the University of Northern Iowa, and completed his master’s degree in 1946 and his Ph.D. in 1948, both in counseling psychology and higher education from the University of Minnesota. He began his career as a high school teacher in 1940 in his native state of Iowa.
It was during his service in the Navy in World War II that he was first on the campus of Oklahoma A&M College, spending three months as part of a year-long radar study. After the war and his completion of his higher degrees, he was named Dean of Students at Drake University in Iowa, and also served as both Student Personnel Dean and Freshman Dean at Texas A&M University.
He came to Oklahoma State University as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1958, and was promoted to vice president for academic affairs in 1965. He served as OSU’s president from July 1, 1966, to Jan. 31, 1977. It was under his leadership that OSU became known as a national leader in telecommunications and international outreach. During his tenure, he emphasized academic excellence and underscored the centrality of students, faculty and staff in the learning experience.
Kamm resigned as OSU’s president in 1977 to run for the U.S. Senate, losing to incumbent U.S. Sen. David Boren.
On Feb. 1, 1977, he was named university president professor and past president, and became a member of the faculty of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education in the College of Education. On Jan. 1, 1988, he was named President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus.
When OSU began preparations for its 1990 Centennial Celebration, Kamm was named the director of the Centennial Histories Project, which produced 26 books. He authored 72 journal articles and five books. His final book, “The Best of Mind and Spirit,” was published in 2002.
His international achievements were recognized in 1976 when he was appointed, with the rank of ambassador, as a member of the executive board of the United States Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He was chair of the U.S. delegation to the 19th general conference of UNESCO in Nairobi, Kenya, and also chair of the U.S. Commission for Observance of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations.
Kamm served as president of the American College Personnel Association from 1957-58, and was chairman of the Council of Presidents of the national Association of State Universities and Land-Grant colleges from 1974-75.
He also served as chairman of the board of Oklahoma City-based World Neighbors Incorporated and as a member of the U.S. Commission on the Reform of State Government.
In 1988, he was presented with OSU’s highest award, the Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award for outstanding citizenship and leadership, at the university’s 93rd commencement ceremony.
He also was awarded a doctor of Humanities from Oklahoma Christian College in 1976, and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Oklahoma City University in 1992. He received the Medal of Honor from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1996, and the Cornerstone Award for Administration from the Oklahoma College Public Relations Association in 1999.
He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1972; the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame in 1987; the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 1994; the Stillwater Hall of Fame in 1995; and the College of Education Hall of Fame in 2000.
The first Robert B. Kamm Distinguished Lecture in Higher Education was held in 1992. The lecture, which is supported by the Robert B. Kamm Lecture Fund of the Oklahoma State University Foundation, brings private and public sector leaders together to discuss issues that will shape the future of education, particularly higher education, in Oklahoma.
He has been included in “Who’s Who in America,” “Who’s Who in the World,” “Who’s Who in American Education,” and “American Men of Science.” In 1966 he was named a lifetime member of the Board of Directors for the State Fair of Oklahoma; was named a Distinguished Member of Phi Kappa Phi national honor society in 1976; and was named “Oklahoman of the Year” in 1976 by the Oklahoma Broadcasters Association.
In 2002, he was honored by being selected to be an Olympic Torchbearer in Stillwater, where he started his run on campus. He was an honorary life member of the OSU Alumni Association Board of Directors.
He served as president of the Stillwater Medical Center Foundation from 1990-91; president of the Stillwater Family YMCA from 1982-84; and president of the Arkansas-Oklahoma YMCA Cluster of the YMCA from 1984-86; President of the Will Rogers Council of the Boy Scouts of America from 1977-79, and received the Silver Beaver Award in 1980. He served as president of the Stillwater Rotary Club from 1962-63; was named Stillwater’s first Paul Harris Fellow in 1977, and received, along with his wife, Maxine, Stillwater Exchange Club’s “Book of Golden Deeds” Award in 1977.
He was active in the United Methodist Church, including service as lay leader and as church school teacher and superintendent. He also served as president of the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation from 1988-93.
He truly loved people; he loved the students; and he had a great love for Stillwater and, of course, OSU.
He was devoted to his wife and family. During his beloved wife Maxine’s illness, he chose to move out of their home and live with her in Grace Living Center for the last 14 months of her life. He was predeceased by his parents; wife; two brothers, Harold Kamm and Balz Kamm; one sister, Ednah Mae Goines; and one great-granddaughter Nevaeh Kamm. He is survived by one daughter, Susan White and her husband, Phil, of Longmont, Colo.; one son, Steve Kamm and his wife, Peggy, of Okmulgee; four grandchildren, Jeff White and his wife, Sarah, of Longmont, Derek Kamm and his wife, Rebekah, of Mounds, Clay Kamm and Adrienne Hickman of Glenpool, Jessica Mackey and her husband, Jace, of Morris; three great grandchildren, Makayla Rain Kamm, Jacey Mackey and Aiden Robert Kamm; and one sister, Barbara Temple of West Union, Iowa.
The family has requested that memorial donations be made in his name to OSU Foundation, 400 S. Monroe St., Stillwater, OK 74074, First United Methodist Church, 400 W. 7th Ave., Stillwater, OK 74074, Stillwater YMCA, 204 S. Duck St., Stillwater, OK 74074, and Stillwater Medical Center Foundation, P.O. Box 2408, Stillwater, OK 74076. There are also scholarships in the Kamms’ names at both OSU and Stillwater Medical Center which could be designated if the donor wishes.