Betty Siegel, who led Kennesaw State University’s growth from a small state school to one of the largest in Georgia during her 25 years as president, died Tuesday at the age of 89.
“The Kennesaw State University community is mourning the loss of one of its most beloved leaders,” KSU President Pamela Whitten said in a statement. “Betty Siegel has been described affectionately by many as a force of nature, and her energy, enthusiasm and passion for Kennesaw State University, will be long remembered. Without her leadership, vision and commitment to excellence, Kennesaw State would not be what it is today.”
Siegel, known for her signature red glasses, became president in September 1981 when its enrollment was 3,500 and it offered 15 degrees. When she retired in 2006, KSU had 18,000 students and offered 55 undergraduate and graduate degrees. KSU now has about 38,000 students, the third-largest enrollment in the state.
Sam Olens, then chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, wrote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when Siegel announced her retirement plans that she was “a great educational and civic leader for our state.”
Siegel told the AJC before her retirement that she wanted to be remembered for her desire to help students.
“We have to have student success as a part of our legacy,” she said.
Siegel was scrutinized in some quarters for not hiring enough women and faculty members of color and her management of the university’s growth.
"I've tried to be a steward of the place,” Siegel said in that 2006 AJC interview, explaining her goals as president. “I like that term. I've learned from any obstacles that we've had. A number of people here have been an inspiration to me. [I hope] I've done a good job. All I can hope is that what I've done was perceived as a positive experience. I don't have any regrets."
Siegel wanted KSU to have all the trappings of a traditional college campus. A year after she arrived, KSU started its first sports teams. The university’s student recreation and activities center on its Kennesaw campus was named after her.
Her legacy extended beyond the campus to the Waffle House across the street where Siegel ate breakfast almost each morning during her tenure at the university, meeting with students and staff at the restaurant. After her retirement, the restaurant dedicated a booth in her honor.
Siegel was preceded in death last year by her husband, Dr. Joel Siegel, a former attorney and municipal court judge in Kennesaw.
Asked what she wanted as her epitaph, Siegel replied: “I would like to be known as ‘A minister for education.’ ”
Read and sign the online guestbook for Betty Siegel here.