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Archive for Sunday, April 14, 2002

Gold Medal Club forges new alumni ties

April 14, 2002

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Frances Flynn Koppers smiled with delight as she was wheeled into the Kansas Union surrounded by 19 members of her family.

Below her wheelchair, the floor depicted the different versions of Kansas University's mascot through the years.

Koppers, 102, and a 1921 alumna, has been a Jayhawk during every era of the mythical bird. The Olathe resident was the oldest Kansas University graduate to return for reunion events this weekend.

"It's amazing," she said. "I really don't expect to see anybody I know."

She ate brunch Saturday with the Gold Medal Club, or alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago.

When Koppers graduated, Strong Hall was under construction and The Jayhawker yearbook had a page celebrating the 30th anniversary of the invention of basketball by James Naismith.

Koppers said she was impressed by the new buildings and development of campus.

"I used to come back often, but not in recent years," she said. "I haven't been back in 20 years."

Her grandson, Brian Janes, Olathe, said the family came to celebrate Koppers' connection to KU.

"It's an amazing thing to think that she went to school here 80 years ago," he said.

Koppers joined about 155 members and guests of the Gold Medal Club for the brunch. The KU Pep Band and the Men's Glee Club provided entertainment. After brunch, university officials, including Al Bohl, athletics director, and Chancellor Robert Hemenway gave short speeches.

Hemenway spoke about the state budget crisis in Kansas and said KU would have to "cinch up" its belt, but that cuts must be planned wisely.

"I just believe that the University of Kansas is so central to the state of Kansas," he said. "If we're going to have a successful economy in the future, we've got to make higher education a priority."

In the afternoon, about 150 members of the class of 1952 and their guests gathered for lunch in the Kansas Union Ballroom. The alumni all received Jayhawk pins and became members of the Gold Medal Club.

Jo Putney Wenger, a 1952 alumna, and her husband, Virgil Wenger, 1953, came back to see old friends and visit family in the area. They now live in Darien, Conn.

The campus, which today has four times as many students as 1952, is a different place, Jo Wenger said.

"It's like 'Back to the Future,'" she said. "I can't believe the size of the campus."

Don Hull, 1952 class president, has kept close ties with KU. As a campus minister, he worked at the Wesley Foundation at KU from 1960 to 1966, and his son got his Ph.D. here in 1991.

Still, the time has gone quickly, he said.

"It's hard to believe that it's 50 years," he said. "As they say, 'It flies if you're having fun or even if you aren't.'"

During the pinning ceremony, Hank Booth of Lazer radio read a brief biography of each graduate. In 50 years, the class members had become executive vice presidents, served in the military, traveled the world, honeymooned in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom, and shaped the world for their children and grandchildren.

Betty Frazier Clark, an elementary teacher from Mission, said she was proud to be part of the group and enjoyed catching up with old friends.

"It gives you a chance to see the girl and the lady, the boy and the old man," she said. "A lot of them are the same inside they haven't changed."

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