Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 22, 2013
A Wildcat 150!
February has always been a big month for birthdays in my family. Uncle Stan, brother-in-law Humberto, nephew Paul and his wife Rachel all have birthdays this month. And like most folks, we've noted the birthdays of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln since we were youngsters.
But this year was a bit special. Two weeks ago, husband Art and I flew to California to help celebrate Stan's 90th. Then, Valentine's Day was the kick-off of a year-long birthday party that made Stan seem like a person in his prime. My alma mater, Kansas State University, is celebrating its 150th year.
Now I understand 150 years sounds like a long time to most of my students, but I've been teaching at K-State for 30 of those years. When I add my undergraduate and graduate days, I've been around to see almost 25 percent of the school's history being made!
The festivities began in Ahearn Fieldhouse - the site of so many raucous basketball games prior to 1988 when the larger Bramlage Coliseum was built. Ahearn was filled with faculty, students, friends, officials, administrators and alumni. Almost all were dressed in purple - a lot of purple, the university's official color.
The wildcat is the K-State mascot, and five colorfully-decorated, larger-than-life fiberglass ones were on display. These wildcats and nearly 20 more will be auctioned off in September to benefit the Sesquicentennial Scholarship Fund. Thousands of cupcakes, topped with white-chocolate wildcat heads, were devoured. Gallons of Wildcat Birthday 150 - a special flavor of Call Hall's much-loved ice cream - were served to the well-wishers who had gathered to celebrate.
A big photo exhibit with timelines depicting the university's history took up a large space at one end of the building.
And just in case anyone present wasn't familiar with the enthusiasm displayed at school events, Willie the Wildcat, the school's chief mascot, was there to whip up enthusiasm with his "K... S ... U..." chant. Cheerleaders, the drill team and the Pride of Wildcat Land - K-State's marching band - lent their support.
The program speakers featured current university president Kirk Schulz and several former K-State student body presidents, including current Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
The K-State Orchestra, under the direction of conductor David Littrell, performed "Nature's Law," a piece written especially for the sesquicentennial by his wife Laurel. The title came from K-State's motto: "Rule by obeying nature's laws."
The a capella group, In-A-Chord, performed a medley of school songs, including the alma mater, the Wabash Cannonball and the fight song. Youngest daughter Katie, sophomore in music education and a member of the group, said she was glad she could be part of the program.
Art was busy at work, but he stopped to watch the event streamed on the K-State website. He recorded the In-A-Chord medley and posted it on YouTube. He said the delays made it a little rough, but at least the members could see themselves later:
Oldest daughter Mariya was also involved. She received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from K-State and currently teaches in K-State's English and women's studies departments. But Friday night, she was my "date" for the "Gala One Fifty," a black-tie affair complete with fancy attire, a gourmet dinner and dancing. Then Sunday, she and I attended the weekend's final event, "Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett," at the university's McCain Auditorium. Katie served as an usher at the program and was thrilled when she met Burnett after the show.
But the best part of the celebration is that it's just beginning. Historical lectures will be presented almost every Wednesday this spring and next fall. The "Cabinet of Wonders," an exhibition running from now through Oct. 13, will feature a collection of university artifacts. Several departments, including my A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, will also tie our special events into the sesquicentennial theme.
Several times during the previous few days, I experienced a touch of déjà vu. I had served on the 100-member committee that met regularly over the past two years to plan the activities, and it had been interesting to see it unfold.
And for someone who likes history and event planning as much as I do, well, it just doesn't get much better than that!