Kansas University basketball and politics weren't on the agenda at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center benefit Thursday night, but they were hard topics to avoid considering the featured guests.
Former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker and basketball coaching legend Dean Smith were invited to reminisce about the days on their alma mater's campus in the 1950s.
Through stories and a "KU in the '50s" slideshow shared at the fifth annual "Evening With..." fund-raiser, it was clear that traditions and friendships formed in college remain special in the hearts of many.
Kassebaum Baker and Smith's friendship actually began in their hometown, Topeka, where they both graduated from Topeka High School.
Later, Kassebaum Baker became the first female senator to reach office without first having served in the House of Representatives or having succeeded her husband after his death while in office.
Smith, who played on KU's 1952 NCAA National Championship basketball team before eventually becoming head coach at the University of North Carolina, became one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history.
The honored guests and about 200 others helped contribute to Bert Nash during its biggest fundraiser of the year.
David Ambler, governing board director of Bert Nash, said they try to select people in athletics or others who have made valuable contributions to Lawrence to honor at their fundraisers.
He said when Bert Nash asked whether Kassebaum Baker wanted to speak about being a woman in politics she declined and instead suggested the theme KU in the '50s.
"One thing I like about her is that she's never spent a lot of time dwelling on the fact that she's a woman; she just goes about being a competent person," Ambler said.
Kassebaum Baker said she was surprised to be invited to attend as an honored guest.
"It's hard to believe this (Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center) started in 1950 and professor Nash was dedicated to wanting to try to help young people, children and families in distress," Kassebaum Baker said.
The evening's hosts were fellow Kansas greats, Hank Booth, who was the voice of Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium for years, and Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten, who also served on the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas State Senate.
The room was sprinkled with former KU basketball players, former "Voice of the Jayhawks" Max Falkenstien, a former Bert Nash honoree, donors and Bert Nash staff.
Eunice Ruttinger, director of adult services for Bert Nash, said she appreciated how genuine the guests were.
Dave Johnson, CEO of Bert Nash, said the event was crucial for the center's endowment.
"The Bert Nash endowment allows us to provide services that we don't get any funding for or are underfunded," he said. "It helps put counselors in school, elderly outreach, professional education and public education, so this event is very important to us."
Bert Nash's son Bob was present. He and his sister followed in their father's footsteps in the mental health profession.
Bob Nash is a psychiatrist and medical director of the Wyoming State Hospital, and his sister is the chief psychologist at the John Tracy Clinic for the Hearing Impaired in California.
"My sister and I are honored that Bert Nash is doing so well in the community and keeping good mental health in the forefront and accessible. People are learning that it's an appropriate thing to do, and people in the mental health center are doing a lot to reduce the stigma."