Dr. Wesley James Sandness, of Overland Park, KS, passed away as a result of a sailboat accident at Grand Lake in Oklahoma on May 27, 2023. Wes was a rancher and retired Dean at Pittsburg State University. He was also a well-known and renowned horseman and musician. He was 87 years old.
Wes was born on November 25, 1935 in Florence, CO, to Ralph and Luella Sandness. He was the 3rd of six children and raised mostly on a farm in Minnesota, where his lifelong passion for horses began. At age 5, his arm was broken in the first of many riding accidents resulting in bone breaks. Wearing a cast, he learned to write with the other hand and could write ambidextrously with little difficulty.
In his high school years, Wes played in the school band. Entering an amateur competition in January 1957, he won and was selected to perform live on national television on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour in New York, NY. A baritone, he sang the Rogers and Hammerstein song Oklahoma. This was the first of his many public singing performances.
Wes attended Greenville University of Greenville, IL, graduating with a degree in music in 1959, and at Bradley University achieved a master's degree in 1960. In 1965, he completed a Ph.D. in school administration from Indiana University, Bloomington, IL.
In 1957, Wes married his Greenville University classmate Carol Dozier of Peoria, IL. The two were married for 21 years. In 1966 the family moved with their two boys to Pittsburg, KS, where Wes took the position of Director of institutional research at Kansas State College of Pittsburg, now Pittsburg State University (PSU). Wes later became Dean of Students, followed by Dean of the School of Education at PSU. Wes worked for PSU for 34 years in all before his retirement in 2000. During his tenure at PSU, he was a founding organizer of the Kansas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and he chaired accreditation teams to assess the fitness of university teacher education programs across the country. Since his duties included lots of travel time, Wes decided to get his pilot's license and often flew his Piper Cherokee between Pittsburg and Topeka for meetings.
In the early 1970s, Wes performed in the off-Broadway musical production Chicago playing the lead character in PSU's Tent by the Lake theatre series. He also sang in an all-solo performance of George Frideric Handel's Messiah at the First United Methodist Church, Pittsburg, KS, during the Christmas season. Later in life, he loved to attend concerts and jazz performances, especially that of Lonny McFadden in Kansas City. He was very involved in the Kansas City performing arts community serving as a cherished friend and member of the Kansas City Lyric Opera Guild and benefactor for both The Lyric and the Kansas City Symphony. His unwavering dedication made a significant impact on the organizations.
He was an avid and knowledgeable music lover and supporter of all things music in Pittsburg as well. He was a benefactor for the PSU Trumpet Festival and a huge lover of the PSU Jazz Festival.
In recent years, Wes enjoyed watching and supporting the Sant Andreu Jazz Band of Barcelona, Spain, a music school that trains young children to play American jazz to a very high standard. In 2022, Wes traveled to Spain to see the Barcelona Jazz Fest and to meet the organizers, teachers, and students of the school.
Since his childhood days on a Minnesota farm, Wes had a passion and distinct talent for horse training and horsemanship. His experiences and success with horses spanned the entire spectrum of activities, from breeding, training, showing, and judging to field hunting. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his Morgan horses that he selected as foals, raised and trained by himself, dominated the national circuit of the largest American horse shows. His Grand Champion Stallion Funquest Bendo "Ben" never entered a show in which he did not come away with a ribbon, including three National shows, and was undefeated in the Kansas City Golden Circle Show circuit. Ben completed entire seasons by being named either Grand Champion Stallion or Reserve Champion in every show he entered across the country. Wes also raised and trained other National Champion Morgans setting several records.
In the 1990s, Wes became fascinated by the unique sport of English Fox Hunting and began attending and riding in fox hunting events in the US, England, and Ireland. Soon thereafter, he decided to form his own foxhunt club in and around his cattle ranch in Southeast Kansas. The hunts of Coal Valley Hounds foxhunt became popular and successful and garnered awards, including being a multiple-time winner of the Western Challenge, which is awarded to the best hunt west of the Mississippi River. Wes was invited to join and served on the board of directors of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association. He was a member of the Mission Valley Hunt and the Saddle and Sirloin Club in Kansas City.
Every summer for many years, Wes would trailer his horses to the "Big Ride" of the Roundup Riders of the Rockies (3R), an organization dedicated to continuing the Western cowboy horsemanship tradition and preservation of Colorado trails. After days of riding in the high Rockies with 3R friends, Wes would say, "All I ever wanted to be was a cowboy."
In more recent years, Wes also enjoyed sailing his sailboat with his two sons and friends. In 2010 his boat, Fighting Swan, won first place in the Grand Lake Sailing Club 100 Mile 24-Hour Endurance Challenge.
Wes is preceded in death by his parents, Ralph and Luella Sandness; his brothers Ray Sandness, Leonard Sandness, and Merlin Sandness; and sister, Doris Webster.
He is survived by his children, Todd Sandness (Tania) of Tampa, FL and Jeff Sandness (Julie) of Pittsburg, KS; his granddaughter, Lauren Sandness (Mitchell) of Kansas City, MO; and his sister, Jan Poort of Topeka, KS. Wes is also survived by his beloved, though notorious, dachshund Herman.
Wes Sandness will be remembered by his family and many, many friends around the world as a longtime university administrator, an engaging performer, a benefactor of the arts, an accomplished sportsman and horseman, a rancher, pilot, and sailor. And for his incredible zest for life, love of family and friends, his laughter, and big 1000-megawatt smile.
The family will be holding a private funeral ceremony and burial, and a celebration of life will be planned for a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations may be made to either the Pittsburg State University Department of Music, Pittsburg, KS, in the name of Dr. Wesley Sandness, or to the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO "In Memory of Dr. Wesley Sandness." These may be left at or mailed to the Brenner Mortuary, 114 E. 4th St., Pittsburg, KS 66762. Online condolences may be left at www.brennermortuary.com .
Arrangements are under the direction of the Brenner Mortuary, 114 E. 4th St., Pittsburg, KS.