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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - Exhibits
First Ladies of K-State: Shirley Acker

Shirley (Hansen) Acker


Shirley Hansen was born on January 29, 1932, in Atlantic, Iowa, the daughter of Henry and Leila (Longnecker) Hansen. She met Duane Acker in 1945 at a county fair where she was participating as a member of 4-H.

They married in 1952 and moved to Ames, IA, where Duane Acker completed a bachelor's and master's degree. Their first daughter, Diane, was born here. They moved to Stillwater, OK, while Acker worked on his doctorate at Oklahoma State University. Their second daughter, LuAnn, was born during this time.

Dr. Acker's first academic posting returned the family to Ames, IA, where they remained until 1962, Acker became Associate Dean of Agriculture and Director of Resident Instruction at K-State. They lived at 2802 Oregon Lane until 1966 when Dr. Acker became the Dean of Agriculture at South Dakota State in Brookings. In 1974, Acker became the Vice-Chancellor of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska and the family moved to Lincoln.

The couple returned to Manhattan in the summer of 1975, when Acker became president of K-State. They moved into an apartment while the President's house was being renovated. At 52 years old, the house needed everything from new wiring and plumbing to carpets and paint. Shirley worked on the house, helping sand the paint from the stair rails. She also named the street on which the residence stood Wilson Court after the family whose donation funded the home's construction. In December, invitations were sent for a party and tour. Physical Plant employees and their families were invited in appreciation for the enormous amount of work they put into rejuvenating the historic home.

As first lady, she entertained many guests, including Bob Hope, Tom Bradley, Don Ameche, and Sheik Yamani. Her favorite was comedian Red Skelton as he related easily to everyone he met. The Ackers were very involved with the students, even boarding students at Wilson Court during a housing crunch.

Besides the traditional memberships in Domestic Science and Social Club, she was active in 4-H, P.E.O., Civic Theatre, Arts Council, League of Women Voters, the Manhattan Book Club, and both hospitals. Although already an accomplished china painter, Shirley also took art classes, studying with K-State professor Oscar Larmer.

In 1986, the Ackers left K-State for Washington, D.C., where her husband divided his time between the State Department and the USDA. Shirley worked as a White House volunteer during the Reagan and Bush administrations before the couple retired to their farm in Iowa.

Shirley Acker

Biographical information on the First Ladies was provided by:
Dr. Michaeline Chance-Reay, Assistant Professor, Women's Studies and COE, author of Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives