A change of command at Kansas State University topped the Mercury’s list of biggest stories for 2016, followed closely by the months-long mascot debate at Manhattan High School.
Each year, the newspaper’s staff members vote to determine the top-10 stories that have emerged from the previous 12 months.
The interim and then official hiring of Gen. Richard Myers, a K-State alum and once the highest-ranking uniformed military officer in the country, to lead the university took first place. But just one vote below it was the school board’s hotly debated decision to keep the Indians as the symbol of the high school.
In third place was the opening of Fort Riley’s new hospital, which was delayed for years by litigation. Other contenders for the biggest news in Manhattan this year? Varney’s Book store closing, GTM sportswear selling, the Fort Riley commander’s firing and Zac Burton’s imprisonment, among other things. And for good measure, K-State coach Bill Snyder’s 200th win rounds out the list. (It also tops the sports department’s countdown. Here’s to more good news in the new year.
1. Gen. Richard Myers named K-State president after serving as interim; Schulz leaves for Washington State university job
The university saw a change of command this year.
Having served as the K-State president for seven years, Kirk Schulz announced in March he was making a move.
Schulz, who crafted the university’s 2025 Master Plan, accepted an offer at Washington State University to serve in the same position with a considerable raise. Noel Schulz, who was a K-State faculty member and Kirk’s wife, accepted a position at WSU as well.
After the announcement, the Kansas Board of Regents’ first action was appointing retired four-star general and K-State alum Gen. Richard Myers, who served as the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 to 2005, to the interim post.
With Myers in place, the Regents created a search committee to find the next president, appointing Regent Dennis Mullin, a Manhattan resident, to lead the way. The Regents chose to keep the search closed, barring the public from knowing who applied and interviewed for the job.
The search committee received 81 applicants for the job, 15 of whom interviewed with the committee. The committee then provided three finalists to the Regents, who selected the next president.
On Nov. 15, in the Regents met at K-State and announced they were removing Myers’ interim tag, making him president on a more permanent basis.
“I guess this means the honeymoon is over,” Myers said.
— Dylan Lysen
The USD 383 school board recently voted to keep Manhattan High School’s Indian mascot after more than a year of contentious debate from the community. But the decision came with a caveat, and may have kept the issue alive for at least a few more months.
The push to change the mascot began in November 2015, but ReImage MHK first took the issue to the Manhattan- Ogden school board in early 2016.
The group said it considers the mascot to be offensive and cultural appropriation, while advocates for keeping the mascot disagree.
After ReImage MHK sent representatives to several school board meetings in a row to advocate for a change, the board decided in May to put the issue on the agenda in December. But before the board would consider voting on the issue, it held a five-and-a-half hour meeting at the end of November in which people on both sides of the issue explained their stances.
In the months between May and November, many people made their opinions heard on The Mercury’s opinion page and in interviews.
Duke Prentup — the son of Frank Prentup, whom the mascot is meant to honor —argued the mascot represents the best qualities of Native American culture.
Jacob Tsotigh, a Kiowa man who spoke at K-State, said Indian mascots are no honor at all. When the board was to make a decision, it came with a compromise. In a unanimous vote, board members kept the mascot but created to committee that will meet from January to September with the charge of looking into issues surrounding the mascot, including creating a new physical mascot (in addition to, not in place of, the Indian) and determining a more exact cost of a possible change.
— Dylan Lysen
The $343 million Irwin Army Community Hospital opened in October, four years after its expected completion date The delays came mostly from lawsuits claiming mismanagement and engineering oversights. The Mercury uncovered documents showing 10 lawsuits from subcontractors, several of which mentioned setbacks related to the design and redesign of a four-story atrium window.
Patients and medical personnel were able to move from Fort Riley’s old hospital — the oldest in the Army, built in 1958 — to its new one, which officially opened Oct. 17.
The new facility features an outdoor healing garden, labor and delivery rooms with built-in hydrotherapy tubs and 45 percent more space to accommodate patients.
An inpatient psychiatric wing with 10 behavioral health beds increased access to psychiatric services in Kansas. The wing will tentatively open early next year, said Col. John Melton, the hospital commander. In addition to more services, the new hospital provided a centralized healthcare location and reduced the number of medical buildings on post from 32 to eight.
— Stephanie Casanova
Varney’s, one of the oldest businesses in town and a major supplier of textbooks for Kansas State University, closed in June after 126 years of business. The business, which had been a local staple, had three locations: a local store in Aggieville and two more in Salina and Lawrence. Varney’s started in 1890 when 22-year-old Guy Varney opened it in downtown Manhattan, according to ‘The Varney’s Book Story,’ a book by local historian Dan Walter. The company, owned by Jon Levin and his family, struggled with revenue in recent years after losing its contracts for the Kansas State University bookstore and K-State Athletics textbook supplier as well as online competition. Jon’s son,Steve Levin, said the store’s revenue decline of 80 percent in the past three to four years led to this ‘very difficult decision.’ The company implemented cost-saving measures to accommodate for the lost in revenue.
Varney’s reduced its fleet of seven stores and made its Aggieville store smaller, which led to Pie Five’s opening. The company went from 400 employees five years ago to 75 employees. The space occupied by Varney’s since 1998 didn’t stay empty long. Rally House, a sports apparel store, opened in August.
— Bryan Richardson
Manhattan became the third city in Kansas to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.
On Nov. 1, the city began protecting against discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations within the city. The city joined Lawrence and Roeland Park in a move championed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their supporters.
The commission unanimously passed the ordinance in August. The decision was a marked change from the commission’s divided vote during the city’s previous attempt in 2011 to add those protections.
The commission passed the ordinance in February 2011, but the April 2011 election established a more conservative commission that repealed the ordinance in May 2011 before it was officially implemented.
The main differences between the 2011 ordinance and the 2016 ordinance are a smoother investigation process and reduced penalties in the new version. In addition to another commission shift toward being more liberal, the community’s reaction changed between 2011 and 2016. Awaken Manhattan, a group of local pastors and Christian leaders, advocated for the commission’s 2011 repeal. This year, the Flint Hills Human Rights Project led the way in advocating while having local pastors step up to support the group’s efforts.
— Bryan Richardson
Manhattan businessman Zac Burton began serving a nearly 3-year prison sentence in November after pleading guilty to one count of unlawful sexual relations in September.
Burton, 38, was arrested June 7 for having sex with a female student at Riley County High School, where he was an assistant boys’ basketball coach and substitute teacher.
The victim turned 18 shortly after her relationship with Burton began, but state law make it a crime for school employees in a position of power to have any sexual contact with students. Burton has extensive land holdings in Manhattan, including apartments near K-State’s campus and at Grand Mere on the city’s west side, in addition to multiple vacant lots in development projects and some commercial properties. In 2015 Burton had announced plans for Hartford Hill, a 320acre, 500-home development northwest of Grand Mere and Colbert Hills Golf Course. The Manhattan City Commission approved annexing 25.7 acres of Burton’s Hartford Hill property into the city in March.
— Greg Doering
The commander of Fort Riley was removed from his post in September and the Army, citing an open investigation, declined to provide information on the type of incident or violation involved.
Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby was first suspended, then fired because of a “loss of confidence” in his ability to lead, Pentagon officials said.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin was named commanding general in October just before deploying to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division Headquarters. The deployment was announced in April with Grigsby scheduled to lead the unit. In September, Army spokesman Col. Patrick Seiber said Grigsby was still receiving a paycheck from the Army but that he had been fired as commander. ‘He’s being retained on active duty pending the outcome of the investigation,’ Seiber said at the time. ‘He’s just relieved of that duty, of that assignment.’ Grigsby assumed command of the base in August 2015, after 31 years of military service that included a stint as commander of the Combined Joint Task Force in East Africa. A second general, Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Bobeck, was suspended on the same day as Grigsby. Officials said Bobeck is being investigated after he was accused of having an extramarital affair — a violation of military law if proven true.
— Stephanie Casanova
Dave Dreiling sold GTM Sportswear to Hanesbrands Inc. in September.
He said the negotiations began in March in an effort to grow GTM more rapidly.
Dreiling said this deal is similar to Hanes’ 2010 acquisition of Lenexa-based Gear For Sports, which sells customized and licensed logo apparel. Hanes paid $55 million for the company and retired about $172 million in debt as part of the purchase agreement.
At that time, Gear For Sports had revenue of about $225 million. Dreiling said Gear For Sports has grown by more than 70 percent since then.
Dreiling, now the managing director, started It’s Greek to Me in 1989 with partner David Barnes, selling apparel to sororities and fraternities out of vans.
Dreiling bought out Barnes’ stake and consolidated operations in Manhattan in 1991. He shortened the name to GTM in 1993 when the company’s product line began including team uniforms.
Dreiling still owns the real estate associated with GTM, which Hanes has agreed to lease for 10 years.
Dreiling said GTM’s revenue in 2015 was about $50 million, and the company had 660 employees at the time of sale.
— Bryan Richardson
As part of K-State’s 2025 Master Plan, new buildings opened for use on the university’s Manhattan campus, while construction continued on others.
While Wefald Hall, the newest residence building on campus, looked like it might not be finished before the 2016-17 school year began in August, the building opened just in time. The $80 million building is the first residence hall built at K-State in nearly half a century and consists of eight floors and 540 beds for students.
The hall is named for Jon Wefald, who served as K-State president for more than 20 years and retired in 2009.
“This is spectacular,” Wefald said when he toured the building with a Mercury reporter in November. “It could be the most extraordinary, special residence hall up and down the Great Plains. From Texas all the way to Minnesota. It’s that unique.” In October, the university had a ribbon cutting for its new $60 million College of Business Administration building, which is more than 160,000 square feet and took more than five years of planning, fundraising and construction.
The university also continued construction on major campus projects, including the Seaton Hall renovation and expansion, Bill Snyder Family Stadium upgrades, and the K-State Student Union’s renovations, which is slated for a grand opening in spring 2017.
— Dylan Lysen
Bill Snyder continues his miracle Bill Snyder responded to winning his 200th game as K-State’s football coach in typical fashion for the 77-year old gridiron wizard.
“You know, I probably don’t sound in a pretty good mood,” he said, “but I’m responsive to how we played, and we played rather ugly today. I don’t feel good about that, I assure you.” The Wildcats’ 34-19 win over Kansas on Thanksgiving weekend made Snyder the 26th coach to reach 200 wins. He’s just the sixth to do so at one school. K-State has come a long ways since Snyder’s first victory, a 20-17 win over North Texas State in 1989. After the win over KU, Snyder’s team tacked on two more wins,including Wednesday’s 33-28 victory over Texas A& M in the Texas Bowl.
— Greg Doering