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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

10 KU chapters bleeding crimson & blue

KU Alumni Association boosts programs around U.S.

August 11, 2007

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Among 10 growing alumni groups that serve loyal Jayhawks, it's easy to see how the numbers make the K.C.-area chapter among the top of the flock.

The stats: 8,569 Greater Kansas City chapter members. Four major events: the Rock Chalk Ball, which has raised more than $1 million in the last decade for alumni programming; the Jayhawk Generations Picnic, which this year drew 400 students and parents; the K.C. Football Kickoff, where at least 3,000 attendees are expected, and the new K.C. Legends Golf Tournament, with celebrity players such as Jo Jo White, Wes Santee and Jim Ryun.

Here's a new number: One KU Alumni Association staffer dedicated solely to advancing Kansas City programming. Jill Miller, the former director of national programs, took on her new role July 1.

"We feel like Kansas City is a great area for further growth," Miller says. "It just shows that we are dedicated to K.C. and making it even stronger. There's a lot of opportunities for the Alumni Association to grow in Kansas City because there are more alumni there than anywhere else."

The chapter has undergone other changes in the last year. Among them, the K.C. chapter board has developed six committees that directors oversee in different outreach areas, from membership to legislative advocacy. Miller says the move has assisted with efficiency.

"Now each board member knows what their role is. It's been amazing what we've been able to accomplish," she says.

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The Alumni Association's Wichita chapter gathers for discussions far livelier than who should be KU's starting quarterback in the coming year.

Last fall's hottest topic, actually, was a special lecture by KU professor Don Worster on global warming, delivered in Wichita's Hall Center for the Humanities.

"We had about 85 people attend," says Sue Watson, chapter president and member of the Alumni Association's national board. "We planned some programming to go beyond sports-related activities. It's been part of our efforts to do outreach for more alums in our area."

She'd like to continue working with Jill Docking, with the Kansas Board of Regents, and Victor Bailey, with the Hall Center, to put together a lecture series for interested alumni down the road.

"We'd like to hear about some of the exciting things happening in the classroom at KU," she says. "We want to learn and grow."

The Wichita chapter isn't slighting its traditional programming, though. The Jayhawk Generations picnic, honors programs and Mark Mangino football reception are still events for the Wichita group, which was chartered in November 2005.

"We had a group here that didn't have an official chapter," Sue says. "There were strong alums here, but under Kevin Corbett's leadership and direction from (Kansas programs director) Heath Peterson, they've helped us get so much more organized and people involved."

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St. Louis can be a lonely place to be a Jayhawk.

Chapter president and pediatrician Vip Singla found that out when he located to the town from Dallas about four years ago. On the one hand, the city is, of course, crawling with Mizzou Tigers. Then another large faction of St. Louis pledges its loyalty with the Fighting Illini - the Big 12 isn't even on their radar (at least not until the NCAA Tournament).

As such, Singla says his chapter's unique in that KU alumni of all ages are happy just to find each other.

"We've got new graduates, and then we have people who went to KU in the '50s," Singla says. "It's a different kind of social networking - the way we're bringing different generations together. We have a great time."

The St. Louis chapter mostly gathers for happy-hour style events, sometimes assembling when the Kansas City Chiefs or Royals pass through town. Singla would like to broaden the scope of activities, too; there's been discussions about visiting wineries in mid-Missouri or seeing the St. Louis Symphony as a group.

"This is a developing chapter," Singla says. "My e-mail list (in the hundreds) has probably doubled in the last two years."

He credits Alumni Association support for carving new Jayhawk territory in the Show-Me State.

"(Staff) come out for our freshman picnic, for the Chiefs-Rams game," Singla says. "They want us to grow and are always showing us how we can do that."

***

Deep in agricultural territory, Erick Nordling is amid a lot of purple and Powercats. But he's proud of the commitment he sees in his fellow "dyed-to-the-wool blue" Southwest Kansas chapter members.

The attorney graduated from KU in 1979 and then settled in Hugoton in 1985 after finishing law school at Washburn University. He and his wife, Debbie, became the Stevens County coordinators for the Kansas Honors Program. The Alumni Association approached them to develop the Southwest chapter shortly after Kevin Corbett took over the organization in 2005.

"Most of what we've done so far is putting together the Jayhawk Generations Picnic and Southwest Jayhawk Golf Classic. We've had good success with that," Nordling says.

"I like what the association is doing - it's really showing a concerted effort to utilize our resources out here in the state," he adds.

"This is a family affair for us. I met my wife at KU, and my sister attended also," he says. "I see us always having involvement with the university."

***

The Alumni Association's Tri-State chapter has undertaken an ambitious outreach effort.

As the chapter name suggests, alumni aren't just concentrated in the territory's nine southeast Kansas counties. The organization also recruits members from bordering counties in Missouri and Oklahoma.

"We're still a work in progress, but we do have participation from Joplin, Missouri," says Henry Menghini, board president and class of 1987. "There's not too many in-roads yet into the Miami-Oklahoma area, but we've got board members from Fort Scott, Pittsburg, Parson and Columbus. We've done a pretty good job of getting folks in the Southeast counties involved."

"We've only been in existence a couple of years," Menghini continues. "We planned our first Jayhawk Generations picnic last year. We've had two golf tournaments. We did watch parties for the basketball games; we do the Kansas Honors Program."

He says he hopes there will be a chapter road trip to the KU-Oklahoma State game this year; certainly Jayhawks in his hometown, Pittsburg, have a reason to tune into KU football.

"We've got the Kerry Meier hometown connection - we traveled en masse to see him play last year," Menghini says. "He's the first of the four Meier brothers to go to KU. The first went to Pitt State, and the other two went to K-State.

"Finally, we've got one who's a Jayhawk."

***

The Chicago chapter of the Alumni Association has a unique advantage for its programming: location, location, location.

Think boat cruises on Lake Michigan, spectacular all-city fireworks shows. Or some Jayhawks might just settle for an opportunity to rub shoulders with Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich.

"He's been great to us," chapter leader Annessa Staab says of the former Jayhawk. "He's wonderful about coming to our events and meeting alums. Talk about a big draw."

While the lively group boasts a membership of 827, it's by no means insular. Being in Big 10 territory has actually brought the Jayhawks together with fellow alumni from the Big 12.

"Our Big 12 boat cruise is a big success - there's a nice sense of camaraderie," Staab says. "We've still got our rivalries, of course, but it's friendly."

Staab was a cheerleader at KU from 1995 to 1999 and had opportunities then to get involved with the Alumni Association. So when she settled in Chicago, she was pleased to discover plans under way for the Jayhawk programming to grow.

"They've revamped the chapter here," Staab says of the association. "We're a big group here. Hopefully in time we'll be doing professional as well as social networking here, too."

***

It turns out Jayhawks and Tigers can work together - at least in the neutral territory of Denver.

Chapter leader Renee Dechadenedes met with the University of Missouri's Denver chapter president for the purpose of planning a Big 12 event. And they were pleased to discover that other alumni leaders - Kansas State University and Baylor among them - were equally enthusiastic about creating a Rocky Mountain Big 12 Golf Tournament.

"We were excited, because no one school had quite enough people to fill an entire tournament," she says. "But together, we were able to raise funds we could split out for scholarships at all the various schools."

But when the focus is just on Jayhawks, the more than 1,000 Denver chapter members have their own special place to gather: Choppers in Cherry Creek.

"It's owned by KU alumni, and they've filled it with pictures by Rich Clarkson, who graduated from KU," Dechadenedes says. "There's photos of Jayhawk basketball hanging up everywhere, and there are specials on gameday."

She praises the Alumni Association for boosting the program.

"They're amazing. They've shown me how to be an effective leader and how to delegate," Dechadenedes says. "They're really good about that - they know it's a volunteer position."

***

The Jayhawk Generations picnics that have become a staple of chapter alumni events actually began outside of the Sunflower State.

The energetic Dallas chapter, as it turns out, is one that likes to keep the ball rolling.

"We're a dynamic group. We're serving people of all ages to the greatest degree we can," says Brad Korell, a 1997 graduate who also spearheads the Austin chapter.

The group, which numbers 623 members, gathers whenever former KU players (from Nick Collison to Raef LaFrentz) play in town. The Dallas chapter also gathers for a joint event with K-State to see the Kansas City Royals play the Rangers.

But the group also has taken an active interest in volunteer work.

"We do charitable projects on occasion," Korell says. "We've raised funds for Habitat for Humanity. We gathered with Texas and Texas A&M for relief funds after 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina. We'll arrange a happy hour and donate the cover to the Red Cross."

Korell plans to remain active with the group for years to come; he says his best friends are Jayhawks whom he didn't even know when he attended KU.

"It's important how much support we're getting out of Lawrence," he adds. "It's enabled us to do a lot of the local programming we've put together."

***

U.S. Highway 83 is one of the longest north-south highways in the country, nearly 1,900 miles long.

When travelers pass along the road in Garden City, they'll see KU pride in the form of the Great Plains chapter billboard: "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!"

While the Great Plains region features the first Alumni Association billboard, it isn't the last. The second was erected in Pittsburg, and more are planned statewide.

"From my Kansas perspective, alumni in the state were starving for a KU presence in their community," says Heath Peterson, director of Kansas programs. "When Kevin Corbett came aboard, his goal was to paint the state of Kansas KU blue. We're fortunate to have someone like Kevin, where his priority is our home state."

The Great Plains chapter boasts the highest membership of Alumni Association members to KU graduates in the country, at 24 percent. Peterson praises the group for its crimson-and-blue commitment.

"Proceeds from their golf tournament partly paid for the sign," he says. "This group is really proud of its strong KU presence."

***

Like the Wichita group, the North Central chapter has expanded beyond sporting events to recruit new Alumni Association members.

Its first-time "Night of the Arts" event was a collaboration with the university, recruiting students in disciplines from music to ceramics to showcase their talents for alumni in Salina and surrounding areas.

"We wanted to deliver a unique program that we want to see more in the future," Peterson says. "The School of Fine Arts recruited students willing to demonstrate what kind of events are put on at KU. It was great to bring that to alumni who don't have the kind of access to university events the way people do in Lawrence."

Jim and Joyce Troyer are leaders for the North Central chapter, which has 443 Alumni Association members.

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