President Valerie Smith shared the following message with the campus community on Sept. 19, 2018:
I write with the sad news that former vice president for development and alumni affairs Edgar Kendall “Ken” Landis ’48 died last Thursday. The Swarthmore community has lost one of its most gifted, generous, and devoted elder statesmen. He was 93.
Ken is best remembered for his warmth, sly wit, and persuasive charms—all of which he put to effective use in service to the College.
“Ken Landis has been a great and tremendously influential champion of the arts at Swarthmore,” says Daniel Underhill Professor Emeritus of Music James Freeman. “I admire him as much as anyone I've ever known.”
“I was lucky enough to start in 1990 and work briefly with Ken Landis before he retired,” says Scott Arboretum Director Claire Sawyers. “He had an unwavering belief in the value of the contributions of the Scott Arboretum to the College's reputation, quality of life for staff, students, and faculty, and for town-gown relationships. I will miss him and all he did to help the Scott Arboretum flourish.”
"Ken was incredibly welcoming to me from the moment I set foot on campus," says Vice President of Advancement Karl Claus. "I often think of how he and his wife Joan welcomed countless alumni and friends to West House. He loved Swarthmore deeply, and I will remember him fondly."
Born in Scarsdale, N.Y., Ken attended high school at the Putney School in Vermont, where he first developed his lifelong love of the arts, history, and the outdoors.
Ken came to Swarthmore in 1942. As was the case for many men of his generation, his college tenure was interrupted by World War II. On his 18th birthday that fall, Ken enlisted, joining the Navy’s V-5 training program at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his freshman year, he spent the next 23 months in training, learning how to fly in the Naval Air Corps in a program similar to the V-5 and V-12 programs housed at Swarthmore at that time. Then, after embarking on a cross-country train trip to deploy for his first mission—the invasion of Japan—he arrived the day after Japan surrendered, ending the war.
Ken returned to campus a different person from the self-described immature, “straight-C student” who had arrived his first year. Admittedly more focused, he spent part of his junior year at the University of Geneva, ultimately graduating from Swarthmore as a history and French literature major with high honors. He also prompted this colorful profile in the 1948 Halcyon: "a man with serious side and deep convictions," "the gift to complete liberation," and simply "the Landis Legend."
“When we came back to campus,” he once said about the attitude of his fellow veterans, “all of us had the feeling that we had lost time.”
After graduation, Ken moved to Greenwich Village in New York to work at Citibank. He married Joan Hutton (1930-2017) on Valentine’s Day in 1953. They moved to Paris, then to Saudi Arabia, where he became one of the youngest managers ever appointed by Citibank. There, he helped open the Jeddah branch, the first of any American bank in the region. Many other branches followed across the Middle East.
From 1962 to 1967, Ken and his family lived in Beirut. There, he actively supported Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, helping to raise several million dollars for a hospital in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. He worked for the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in Gaza City and the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. Ken also served for years on the board of American Near East Refugee Aid and helped bring Middle Eastern students to the United States.
Returning to the States in 1967, Ken earned an M.A. from Wesleyan University and worked in the development office there. After a similar stint at Bennington College, he returned to his alma mater in 1972 to serve as the College’s first vice president for fundraising, alumni, and public relations.
During his nearly 20 years at Swarthmore, Ken fostered relationships with generations of fellow alums and raised millions of dollars for the College. He devoted special attention to building up Swarthmore’s arts and music programs, including his notable work with Robert Frear ’49 (1924-1988) to support the Lang Performing Arts Center’s Frear Theater.
Ken also promoted the contemporary classical music of Orchestra 2001 and was actively involved in several of its productions. In 1990, the year he retired from the College, he served as the narrator in the ensemble’s performances of Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat." That same year, the Alumni Council fittingly dedicated the Winter Garden by the LPAC to him. The plaque, mounted on a stone in the garden, notes two of his passions, gardening and the performing arts.
After he retired, Ken continued to be instrumental in the Arboretum’s efforts, galvanizing the Class of 1948’s support to fund the Nason Garden as their 50th reunion gift. He spearheaded the Chica Maynard Cherry Border Endowment Fund in 2009, raised money for the renovation of the Cherry Border, and was a major donor to the Wister Education Center and Greenhouse Fund.
In recent years, Ken and Joan, his beloved wife of 64 years, split time between their home in Wallingford, Pa., and a mountain farmhouse in Vermont. Formerly a regular presence on the Faulkner Tennis Courts, he remained a steadfast presence in the Swarthmore community, attending lectures, concerts, and poetry readings. In 2014, he helped celebrate the College’s sesquicentennial by marching with his class in the alumni parade at Alumni Weekend. He marched again earlier this year.
Ken is survived by his three children: Chris, Josh ’79, and Ethan ’84; three daughters-in-law: Tomi, Manar, and Jude; and six grandchildren: Jake, Kyle, Ryan, Stuart, Kendall, and Jonah. A memorial celebration is planned for Sat., Nov. 24, in the Swarthmore Friends Meetinghouse. We will share the time and more details later this fall once they are finalized.