Heard on the Hill: Kansas first lady helped Code Talker receive degree; KU prof says Mayan apocalypse business is nonsense; 1996 Dole campaign site still up

Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Earlier this week I had the pleasure of writing about the KU degree awarded to former World War II Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez. I can’t recall the last time I was in a room filled with so many obviously happy people.

But something I failed to report on amidst all the applause and smiles that day was exactly how the event came about.

To its credit, though, the University Daily Kansan did: It was Kansas first lady Mary Brownback who alerted KU to the fact that Nez had attended KU but withdrew 60 years ago when his GI Bill funding ran out.

Brownback spoke at the event where Nez received his degree Monday, but she didn’t take public credit for helping to make it happen. She met Nez at the Kansas Book Festival in Topeka in September, where he was visiting along with co-author Judith Avila in connection with his memoir released last year, “Code Talker.”

KU spokesman Gavin Young confirmed that Mary Brownback’s tip was the impetus for the event.

Avila told me Monday that his September visit was when Nez actually saw the KU campus for the first time since he left in 1952. He took a campus tour in a car, and since then, Avila said, he had been asking about when he would get to come back.

• If you’re excited about the pending Mayan apocalypse that you believe is scheduled to arrive on Dec. 21, a KU anthropologist would like to burst your bubble.

John Hoopes, an associate professor of anthropology at KU, appeared at a media event promoting the upcoming season of the National Geographic TV show “Doomsday Preppers,” which features people who are getting themselves ready for the end of the world or something close. Thus, he’s getting a few media mentions this week.

His comments largely concerned the myth of the Mayan apocalypse prediction, which, yes, is a myth, according to him. He told the site LiveScience that the whole Mayan apocalypse hubbub is the result of Westerners’ misinterpretation of the Mayans’ calendar.

• Here’s something that the pop-culture site the A.V. Club alerted me to: The official website for the 1996 presidential campaign of KU alumnus Bob Dole is still up and available for viewing at dolekemp96.org.

It’s a neat little piece of Internet history, and the design and layout, though adorably quaint, is not as bad as it could have been in 1996. Many of the links are dead, but you can still read some of the speeches made by Dole and running mate Jack Kemp, download campaign desktop wallpapers or read news updates from 16 years ago.

At the top of one release, about the launch of the website itself, there’s a now-rather-ironic quote from Bill Gates that reads, in part: “There’s no doubt we’ll look back at Web sites today and basically say … that they were quite primitive.”

It doesn’t appear the site has gone untouched since ’96, though: at the bottom is a link to the Dole Institute of Politics at KU, which didn’t open until 2003.

• With your help, we can make sure that Heard on the Hill is still here 16 years from now, perhaps making it possible for Internetters to chuckle at its outdated design. So send your KU news tips to merickson@ljworld.com.