Christina Hixson isn’t afraid to admit she uses the dictionary when she does crossword puzzles.
Someone once told her she was cheating, to which Hixson replied, “No, I’m self-educating.”
“Self-educating” has served Hixson well. A poor tenant farmer’s daughter unable to afford college, she went on to bestow the $10 million gift that enabled the Lied Center, now celebrating its 20th anniversary at Kansas University.
“Maybe life would have been different if I’d been able to go on to school, but maybe not,” says Hixson, on a recent visit to KU from her home in Las Vegas. “I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve met. Because no matter who you meet or what they’re doing, they can do something better than you can.”
Fresh out of high school at age 17, Hixson borrowed money from an uncle, who worked as a rural mail carrier, to attend a business school in Omaha, Neb.
Those classes led to a temporary job that would become her life’s work.
Kansas University alumnus and businessman Ernst Lied hired Hixson as his assistant. And when Lied moved from Omaha to Las Vegas, hoping to benefit from an anticipated land boom there, she went with him.
With his assistant shouldering much of the work, the hard-nosed Lied scouted and purchased land, and built commercial properties, houses and a hotel and shopping center on the strip.
“If he told you to do something,” Hixson says, “you weren’t supposed to ask how, you were supposed to find out — and do it.”
Not coming from money, Hixson says, she was never impressed with it. She also had an ability to communicate with the “ordinary man” when Lied couldn’t seem to connect, helping them be a successful team.
Lied never married or had children, and when he died in 1980 he left Hixson in charge of his multimillion-dollar estate, almost all wrapped up in land.
What Lied didn’t leave was instructions.
It was Hixson who chose to fund the Lied Center. She first donated money for the Lied Center at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where Lied graduated from college. The Lied Center at KU, where Lied began college, opened three years after Nebraska’s.
“I was insistent it had to have at least as many seats ... and to be at least as big as the one that was in Lincoln,” Hixson says.
Fostering education, Hixson decided, can give opportunities to others who will eventually give back. Projects like the Lied Center — with its active engagement and education program — enable people who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to experience the performing arts.
Hixson sees herself only as a conduit, not a person of accomplishment.
“I think I’ve opened a lot of doors,” she said.