LeRoy Ashby, the Claudius O. and Mary Johnson Distinguished Professor of History and a Regents professor, received the WSU President’s Award for Lifetime Service Friday at the 2008 Showcase banquet.
Ashby’s undergraduate classes on 20th century American history have been among the most popular electives on campus for the past 30 years. The enthusiasm of his undergraduate students is exceeded only by the appreciation of his many graduate students.
The award was presented by President Elson S. Floyd and was a surprise for Ashby, who did not know he had been nominated for the award.
“I was indeed surprised — so much so that I was speechless,” Ashby said after the ceremony. “I am deeply honored to receive such recognition from colleagues and administrators. It is always rewarding to have one’s work valued and appreciated. When I look at the list of previous recipients, I am even more grateful.”
“Ashby’s long-standing story of excellence in teaching and research made him an ideal candidate to receive this award. LeRoy Ashby has had a profound influence on the direction and progress of the university throughout his career and has demonstrated great personal and professional commitment to the university and our community,” Floyd said.
Ashby, who joined the WSU faculty in 1972, was the first-ever recipient of the WSU President’s Faculty Excellence Award for Instruction in 1983 and was twice honored as the CASE Professor of the Year for the State of Washington, in 1990 and again in 1993. In 1992 he was chosen to deliver WSU’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture.
In nominating him for the professor of the year award, former WSU President Glenn Terrell wrote that Ashby was “one of the finest teachers of undergraduates I have ever known.” His department chair at the time, David Stratton, noted that Ashby “teaches history as an understanding of the human condition.”
In addition to being one of the most popular teachers at WSU, Ashby has also earned a national reputation as a 20th-century historian. His most recent book, “With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830,” earned a starred citation in Library Journal.
Of the meticulously researched 648-page volume, the journal noted, “No single author has tackled popular culture with so much breadth and depth and managed to strike a balance between the popular and scholarly approaches. Ashby’s absorbing and hugely informative study will appeal to a wide audience. Highly recommended.”
The book allowed Ashby to explore themes that have fascinated him since he was a boy. But for Ashby, American popular culture isn’t a distraction from the serious issues of our time. It is inseparable from them, and always has been.
In his writings, Ashby has focused on several of those serious issues. Unearthing primary source material from orphanage attics to library basements across the country, he has meticulously researched and brought to life stories that tell us much about the American experience, from abandoned orphans in the early part of the 20th century to a biography of the late Frank Church, the controversial U.S. senator from Idaho.
Ashby’s books include Endangered Children: Dependency, Neglect and Abuse in American History (1997); Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church (1994); William Jennings Bryan: Champion of Democracy (1987); Saving the Waifs; Reformers and Dependent Children (1984); and The Spearless Leader: Senator Borah and the Progressive Movement in the 1920s.