The Wichita area’s long-running Fred D. Middleton Jr. Scholarship Foundation Golf Tournament will be held Saturday, July 28, to raise scholarship money for students in science, technology, engineering and math.
Spots to play are still available for individuals ($90) and teams of four ($360). The golf tournament will be held at Hidden Lakes Golf Course in Derby. Light breakfast and a good lunch are included. (Call 316-208-5739 as soon as possible to enter.)
It will also honor the memory of one of the area’s pioneering African-American working professionals. Middleton was a structural engineer who mentored many young people over several decades.
“When this guy went to school in the ’50s, and said, ‘I’m going to be an engineer,’ to me that was a big deal. It was like he could look into the future to see what careers were going to be important,” said Willard Rice, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, the tournament sponsor.
Rice said Middleton was one of Wichita’s “Hidden Figures,” like the African American women at NASA who were essential to the space program’s success and whose story was the subject of a major movie.
When Fred was growing up in Houston, Texas, in the 1930s, Black people didn’t become engineers or architects or scientists. Those jobs and the pathways that led to those jobs were closed off.
But, Fred was fascinated by buildings and structures. How did they hold together? How did they carry so much weight?
He was too young to join the military in World War II, but he watched as returning soldiers who looked like him used their GI Bill benefits to attend college. Fred realized he could attend college too.
Around 1950, Fred earned a degree in civil/structural engineering from the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a historically Black college in Virginia that was known for producing high quality graduates, including Booker T. Washington, the dominant leader in the African American community for decades after the Civil War.
While there, he also met and married his wife Norma Jean.
Boeing Wichita recruited Fred. He was the first civil/structural engineer of color in the company’s history. He designed many large structures that still stand today on the current Spirit Aerosystems property in South Wichita.
He remained at Boeing about 20 years, before being laid off around 1970. “Being laid off disgusted him,” his friend Tommy Williams said, “but he bounced back.”
In 1971, Fred joined Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC), a Wichita-based company that attracted the highest-profile clients in the state. Fred’s list of clients included: Vulcan Chemical Company, Kansas Gas & Electric, Kansas Air National Guard, Boeing Military Airplane Company, Beech Aircraft Corporation, the City of Wichita and other Kansas companies and municipalities.
He became a member of the Board of Directors at PEC in 1975, managed the structural division, and earned the title of vice president.
One of the highlights of his career was investigating the collapse of the walkway at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency in 1981, which killed 114 and injured 216 people. It was the deadliest structural collapse in America until the World Trade Center in 2001.
“Fred was one of the first people recruited to go and figure out what happened,” Williams said. “He felt honored to be called.” The safety measures implemented in walkway designs and construction after that tragedy have saved untold numbers of lives.
In addition to being involved in his church, St. Paul AME, Fred had a passion for mentoring younger people who were interested in engineering. “Fred tutored others who were going into engineering or were taking their exam. Whenever someone needed some help, Fred was there,” Williams said.
He died in 1995, at about age 65.
Fred was actively involved in the Wichita Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
The alumni organization consists of working and retired professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers – who enjoy mentoring and supporting young people who are aiming high but don’t have the means of getting there on their own. A college degree is required, but previous fraternity membership is not.
“Even today, you don’t find that many African American students in those fields,” Williams said. “We just don’t get the background we need in those areas, so many of them may start but quit before they get a degree.”
In the late 1990s, the Kappas decided to hold a fundraiser for STEM-related scholarships, opting for a golf tournament because golf was becoming popular. When they needed to name it, they decided to honor Middleton. Since its inception, the Fred D. Middleton Jr. Scholarship Fund has raised more than $25,000 for STEM students.
“Today we may buy a book or pay for a semester. It is my vision for the foundation to say, ‘Kid, you’re smart, we want to give you a full ride.’ We often partner the student with a sponsor like individuals or companies that will give networking or internship opportunities,” tournament organizer and Kappa member Rice said. “How big we want to grow this depends on how big our dreams are.”
The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) has a goal to produce 10,000 African-American engineers annually by 2025, up from 3,500 graduates in 2014. “Our part is providing scholarships to support these future engineers and help them understand this incredible and attainable career path,” Rice said.
Golfers for this weekend, students, and prospective members of the Wichita Alumni Chapter of the Kappas can visit www.wichitanupes.com or call Willard Rice at 316-208-5739 for more information.