Turning 150 years old is a cause for celebration. What better place to have the party than at Ahearn Field House, the site of many joyous celebrations over the years?
K-State kicked off its 150th anniversary celebration with a Thursday afternoon event at Ahearn with displays on university history, plus music and ice cream.
K-State President Kirk Schulz said K-State pride is multi-generations deep in many families, and as much as five generations for a few.
“That says a lot about the educational experience they get here,” he said. “The fact they like to keep sending each generation back. I think that’s an important part of our culture and our history.”
Thursday was the start of a weekend of events that includes a Friday evening gala, a celebration of Founder’s Day during Saturday’s men’s basketball game versus Baylor and a performance by Carol Burnett at 3 p.m. Sunday at McCain Auditorium.
The four-day festivities will be a part of the nearly year-long celebration of the 150 years. “We know how to party right in Manhattan, Kansas,” said Schulz.
Former student body presidents made comments during the program including Gov. Sam Brownback, who was student body president during the 1978-79 academic year.
Brownback said the celebration embraces the past with an eye on the future. “It’s about remembering this great legacy and great heritage, and how does that project going into the future,” he said.
Brownback said K-State is important in shaping lives of those in attendance. He said you enter the university raw and leave with a direction in life.
“It’s set by the choices you make, the environment and the relationships you have,” he said. “I left here set on a direction and I’m still living it today.”
Pat Bosco, vice-president for student life, said a big moment during his 1970-71 term as student president was when President Richard Nixon spoke at a Landon Lecture.
“I’ll never forget the day as a 20-year-old when the President of the United States leaned over to the side of my face and whispered in my ear as he shook my hand, ‘You have a great school,’” he said.
Bosco said the university’s concept of shared governance with the administration and students made it possible for Nixon to comment to him.
Bosco gave the example of three administrators and six students governing over the student union as something that was “unheard of in higher education.”
“I contend that governance model for a major facility on our campus and the pay-ahead mentality of K-State students has served us well over the years,” he said.
Greg Musil, 1979-80 student body president, said the late-1970s brought many examples of student leadership.
The students taxed themselves to raise $7 million to build Bramlage Coliseum, and approved additional fees to build a recreation center.
Musil said the students turned “protest into passion” to save Nichols Gym from being torn down despite having been ruined by fire in 1968. The actions of more than 100 students going to Topeka helped convince the state to rebuild it as Nichols Hall.
“Bramlage and the Chester Peters Complex represented a vision for the future of a progressive university,” he said. “The rebuilding of Nichols Hall demonstrated K-State’s commitment to a very proud past.”
The Ahearn venue for Kent Bradley, student body president in 1987, represented the place where he registered for classes. He said enrollment was under 18,000 students and the big news was Jon Wefald’s arrival as president in the fall of 1986.
Bradley said the university’s first admissions representatives — eight recent graduates — were hired in 1987.
“We had new administrators, new excitement, new vigor, purple trashcans, a clean campus, and we had a plan,” he said.
Jackie McClaskey, two-term student body president from 1991-1993, said any time she wears purple or is surrounded by people wearing purple, it reminds her of K-State and the values it embodies.
“K-State purple is anything but just a color,” she said. “It is indeed a way of life.”
McClaskey said the role of students on campus stands out. She said the administration might not have always agreed with the voice of students, but it always sought out those voices.
“I fully believe that then and now any student who wants to make a difference or leave an impact at K-State can do that,” she said. “I don’t think any university can say that with a confidence that we can at Kansas State University.”
Current student body president Nate Spriggs said today’s K-State students are continuing to strive for the best for the university. “We thank you for this legacy that you’ve left for the students of K-State today,” he said.