Dean emeritus of the College of Fine Arts, Walter J. Duerksen was born in Enid, Okla. and graduated from high school in Wichita. He earned his bachelor's degree in music from the University of Wichita in 1931 and his master's from Northwestern in 1937. He also studied at Columbia University and at the Juilliard School of Music. He taught in the Sedgwick County public schools before joining the faculty at the University of Wichita. At WSU, he was instrumental music instructor, director of bands, director of the School of Music and dean of the School of Fine Arts. He was a member of the Music Educators National Conference, Kansas Music Educators Association, Phi Mu Alpha and the Music Teachers National Association. He served his community as a founding member of the Wichita Symphony Society Board, the Wichita Fine Arts Council and the Wichita Community Theatre Board.
One year after his graduation, in 1932, Walter assumed directorship of the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) band at WSU. He was the first band conductor to be full time in the Music Department. The ROTC band’s main purpose at that time was to supply musical enjoyment, prepare formal concerts and to perform at football games. Walter also established a second band, not associated with ROTC, in 1939. By 1941, he was in charge of three WU bands, an ROTC Marching Band, an ROTC Concert Band and a University Concert Band.
Duerksen went on to accrue a national reputation as both a passionate and effective music educator. He was on the editorial committee of the Music Educator Journal and served on the MENC Commission on Accreditation. He is also a member of the Kansas Music Educators Association Hall of Fame. His reputation and impact upon Wichita State and its fine arts programs culminated in the renaming of the Fine Arts Center, opened in 1956, as the Duerksen Fine Arts Center.