KU alumni and friends have been hitting the skies and traveling to foreign and domestic vacation spots for more than two decades as the Flying Jayhawks.
When a certain group of Jayhawks take wing, no country is safe from their migration.
Since 1970, the Flying Jayhawks, a vacation travel program sponsored by the Kansas University Alumni Association for KU alumni and friends of the university, has been covering the globe with group travel excursions. The trips are designed to bring KU alumni or KU supporters, and their family and friends, together for journeys through interesting and even exotic locales.
"It's just one of many opportunities people have to travel with a group," said Donna Neuner, director of membership services for the alumni association. "In this case, they're KU alumni."
Neuner, who handles in-house administration for the Flying Jayhawks program, said the bond created by the trips is usually automatic.
"The camaraderie is just terrific," Neuner said. "They always seem to have a love of Kansas and the University of Kansas."
Gwen Mitchell, who has taken several Flying Jayhawks journeys with her husband, Wiley, agreed that the atmosphere is often relaxed and familiar.
"They're usually a grand group of people," Mitchell said. "If you haven't met them already, you can make lifelong friends."
The couple first traveled with the group to return to Europe, after living in Norway for two years. Their next trip will take them through the rivers of the Carolinas.
Wiley Mitchell, a former professor in the business school, graduated from KU in 1943. He said the precision of planning distinguishes the program.
"They're very well organized and exceedingly well run," he said.
Gwen Mitchell went to Ohio State, but has since become a KU convert, at least when it comes to the Flying Jayhawks.
"They're great trips," she said. "I have always enjoyed them."
The first-ever trip came in 1969, when the alumni association organized a charter-plane trip to watch the Jayhawks play in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The excursion required three planes, prompting the association to begin organizing trips every year.
Hawaii served as the Flying Jayhawks' first destination in 1970.
In recent years, between 18 and 20 trips have been offered to members of the alumni association. And 1997 is no exception. The preliminary schedule for next year includes journeys to Russia, Italy, Alaska and Austria.
And next year's schedule also includes the second Big 12 conference cruise through the Panama Canal.
In general, the trips vary in cost and length, the longest filling more than three weeks. Many of those with the time for the journeys are retired, Neuner said.
Dorothy McGregor, who will go on the Alaska cruise with her husband, Ron, said the vacations are "one of the perks of being retired."
She also said the connections among the guests are immediate.
"It seems like there's a great rapport that develops," she said. "Everybody's immediate friends."
Which is not an accident. Neuner said that, at least once a trip the travelers gather, reminisce and sing the alma mater. The alumni association helps by handing out prizes, KU stickers and other knickknacks.
"Anything anyone can do to spread the word of the bird," Neuner said.