Dr. Kay Burrus always executed.
She had a keen eye for detail and a natural drive to accomplish the goals she set in front of her. There wasn’t much stopping Burrus from the things she wanted to see happen.
Burrus died in June. As more than 50 of her former colleagues, students and players gathered for a celebration of life on Oct. 5 before IU field hockey battled Michigan State, a game played in her honor, there were memories shared on a life lived in pride and honor, always making everyone else’s better.
Friday’s celebration served as a reminder to the type of woman that Burrus was: one that everyone could always count on.
“She was one of those people that you could really count on to handle the details, make sure you hadn’t forgotten anything in any of the programs,” said Tony Mobley, former Dean of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. “You have to have someone who can keep the trains running on time and she did that very well.”
IU was a second home to Burrus.
She came to IU in 1962, joining the Women’s Physical Education program staff after a brief stint at her alma mater, Southern Illinois University, where she worked in the same area. After accepting the job at IU, Burrus went to work, expanding the physical education department and organizing women’s athletic teams in an era where women’s collegiate teams were unheard of.
The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women wasn’t founded until 1971, and the NCAA was far from allowing women’s sports. In 1962, Burrus organized a women’s field hockey team and in its debut season, IU played five matches against state teams. That winter, Burrus organized an extramural — outside of just IU — women’s basketball team and it went on to compete against various teams from around the state.
“The University allowed her the ability to spread her wings and grow and become that professional educator that she had trained so hard for,” former student and class of 1986 alum Sandy Sercy said. “When she got to the University, it afforded her the opportunity to use those kinds of concepts and ideals into action and to have that effect on the students.”
Burrus was a trailblazer in the area of women’s athletics. Burrus came to IU 10 years before Title IX was passed into action, prohibiting discrimination against women in federally-funded education, including in athletics programs.
Leanne Grotke-Andreas would join IU’s women’s physical education staff and served as coordinator of IU women's athletics and Director of Women's Sports from 1972-79, founding the volleyball team when she arrived. The two would share duties of driving each other’s teams and making sure uniforms were handed out so the next team could use them.
“Kay was phenomenal. She started two women’s sports that have now turned into a 12-team intercollegiate athletic program,” Grotke-Andreas said. “She was the only person on campus that was willing to offer those opportunities to women.”
Burrus never missed the opportunity to help somebody in need. Whether it was in the classroom where she would deal with troubled students or out of the classroom where she helped found a club to support LGBT students, Burrus offered support. She took pride in putting students before herself and making sure they had the tools to succeed.
“She had her fingers in everything. She was kind of like the maternal figure around the campus,” Sercy said. “Really took pride in making sure her students were taken care of and had what they needed to be successful.”
Burrus coached basketball until 1967. During that same time, she coached field hockey, which she coached until 1976. After her coaching career ended, Burrus transitioned into the role of associate dean of the School of Physical Education, working alongside Mobley.
“She was one of those people who would honestly tell you what was going on,” Mobley said. “So I would go to Kay and she would tell me what’s going on and that’s really valuable when you’re in my place.”
Burrus continued to work until she suffered a life threatening injury due to a brain aneurysm. Albeit the fact that she had to relearn to walk, talk and feed herself, Burrus never let that be an excuse.
“Somehow, even though she couldn’t communicate well, she knew inside that she had to do certain things to get better,” Burrus’s longtime friend Gayle Hart said. “She always tried hard at therapy. There was always hope that she would get better and she did.”
Burrus returned to work before retiring for good in 2002. Still, she was often found around campus and at athletic events. It was clear Burrus had a positive effect on many people during her time on earth. She became one of everyone’s favorite people.
“Everybody liked Kay Burrus,” Grotke-Andreas said. “Nobody ever said anything bad about Kay Burrus.”
The effect that Burrus had on IU and those involved with the University is still evident today. Burrus resembled passion and a caring character to every person she met. That spirit rubbed off on her former colleague David Koceja, who continues to embody her spirit.
“Kay Burrus saw the importance of each individual, none more important than the other,” Koceja said. “Those are words I’m going to carry on from this day forward in Kay’s honor.”
Grotke-Andreas joked that even in heaven, Burrus still continues to lead people with the character only she had. Whether it was the classroom, the basketball court or the field hockey pitch, Burrus was always helping people out. She was always executing the plan she had even at the lowest moments in her life.
“I can only imagine her in heaven telling the angels to take off their wings and grab their sticks, there’s a game to play,” Grotke-Andreas said. “That’s just the kind of person she was and that’s the way she lived.”
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