TOPEKA (KSNT)- For 25 years, Jerry Farley has been the head of Washburn University and, come Sept. 30, a new president will fill his role.

27 News anchor McKenzi Davis got the chance to sit down with President Farley before his official goodbye to recap his time at Washburn.

The significance of the “Jerry Farley bowtie” has become his signature piece for the past 25 years at the university. But, funny story, it all happened by accident. On his first day as president in 1997, Farley was taking a stroll around campus, meeting staff and students he would be working for when he came across two students, and that was the day his work uniform changed.

“We came up on a couple of young ladies that were walking to class, and I said hello to them,” Farley said. “And I was just a step or two in front of them, and they said ‘are you the new president?’ And I said, ‘well I am!’ And they said, ‘well, we’ve been told the new president wears a bowtie.’ And I had my bowtie. From that point on I didn’t ever take it off.”

These days you will not see him without it. He said he’s lost count of how many he owns, but he guesses it’s about 150. The bowtie is not the whole story of Farley though. He’s made an impact on the campus in many ways.

Farley said in his first year, things had to change. He found much of the enrollment at the time was mostly part-time students. Farley’s vision was to attract more traditional students and create a residential culture on campus.

“We started building a residence hall and it became available online in about 2001, something like that,” he said. “That then drove us to…the expectation was the students that would come, the parents would send their students here, they wanted to know what was going to happen. Well, we decided that we best have some kind of recreation facility. So we built the recreation facility on campus.”

Farley takes pride in the new buildings on campus since he became president. In 2001, Living Learning Center opened. Two years later, renovations happened to Yager Stadium in 2003. The Student Recreation Center and Wellness Center came along in 2004.

Today, a new law building is going up. The $20.6 million-dollar indoor athletic facility opened in November 2020. Back in 2015, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Forensic Science Laboratory opened. This building sits right on the campus, a partnership between Farley and then-Governor Sam Brownback.

The need to attract more traditional college students to campus also took a turn to focus on the kids living in the city the university resides in. In 2008, Washburn and Topeka Public Schools partnered together to provide a pathway to college or technical college through Washburn Tech. The technical college has two campuses in Topeka, one on the west side of town and the other in east Topeka.

It hasn’t always been success for Farley. He’s learned over the past two-and-a-half decades there are also failures that will come along the way. Making changes to how the university was funded was one battle he had to tackle.

Washburn received state funds since 1961. Then in 1999, the college’s funding moved from city property tax to a percentage of Shawnee County sales tax. When the money came from city property taxes, people were not happy about it. Farley recalls a time when he would go on speeches around town, and one of the questions he always got asked about was when they were going to get rid of the property tax. The change to sales tax then created more funding and allowed tuition prices to rise slowly. There was also a time when he introduced a new program that didn’t go the way he expected it to.

However, Farley always learned from his mistakes, noting everyone should take measured risks before they can have success.

Since becoming president, Washburn has followed him everywhere he goes. No matter what he is doing, where he’s at, he’s doing whatever he can for students attending the college.

In fact, 9/11 is a day many of us will not forget, especially Farley. He was staying down the street from the World Trade Center when the first plane crashed into the first tower. With all the chaos and confusion happening, he kept trying to learn more about what happened. Like everyone else, he thought it was a simple accident. But once the second plane hit, he know it was more than that. Farley recalls the night of 9/11 once he finally left his hotel.

“By then the wind had shifted and the smoke was blowing down the island, up island, sorry,” he said. “And that…the odor was horrid. Horrid. Flesh. Because three thousand people lost their lives in there and it was burning. And it was terrible.”

Come Sept. 30, Farley will spend his last day in his office as the school’s president before the interim president, Marshall Meek, takes over. But, he just can’t seem to stay away from campus.

While he will no longer be president he’s still going to be around helping fundraise and getting international students back on campus. You might even see him jogging around town, a hobby he enjoys. One thing is for sure, “I’m not going to stay at home and watch ‘I Love Lucy'”, he said. “Nice program, but I’m not doing it.”

As he loops his bowtie one last time before he turns off the lights and packs up in his office, he has a message to you, the student, staff, alumni or parent.

“I’m going to miss the day-to-day work with faculty and I’m going to miss the day-to-day, and evening to evening, the time we’ve spent with students,” Farley said.

Farley is a pilot and he hopes to get back into flying now that he has free time.

The university will have a final send-off for Faley and his wife in front of Morgan Hall at 4 p.m.