The most interesting people of 2014
Behind the headlines are people making things happen. Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing area people in the news over the past year.
Kansas University football defensive coordinator Clint Bowen began 2014 preparing for the third season of his most recent coaching stint with the program. Nine months later, he found himself standing at a podium discussing how being the head coach at Kansas was his dream job. Promoted to interim head coach after the firing of Charlie Weis, Bowen took players and fans on a wild ride.
Smart, tough, disciplined football was a staple of Bowen’s tenure. He reworked his schedule to spend even more time in the office and changed the tone of practices by bringing fun back, routinely participating with the players in drills and conditioning exercises. Many players were outspoken in their hope that Bowen would remain KU’s coach when the season ended. In line with his true-blue-KU roots, Bowen, though clearly wanting the job, said that all that mattered was that the right guy get the nod. On Dec. 5, KU announced that David Beaty was its choice to succeed Weis. In the first quote in the news release confirming Beaty’s hire, the new coach tipped his cap to Bowen and said both he and KU were lucky to have him.
— Matt Tait
Kansas University Business Dean Neeli Bendapudi has been excited about KU since seeing her first Jayhawk — a stuffed toy her father gave her as a child growing up in India. He got a degree here, and Bendapudi later followed in his footsteps. Bendapudi and her signature enthusiasm now are leading the business school at a particularly exciting time. Construction began this year on Capitol Federal Hall, the business school’s new $65.7 million home and the largest privately funded project in KU history.
The school also reported faster-than-anticipated growth this year. Enrollment in the undergraduate program increased from 1,023 students in fall 2011 — when Bendapudi started as dean — to 1,486 in spring 2014, a bump of more than 45 percent. An earlier five-year projection put total student growth rate at 30 percent.
— Sara Shepherd
For the past few years, Lawrence Arts Center CEO Susan Tate has catalyzed efforts to lasso Lawrence’s famous artsiness and channel it in official ways.
Some big pieces fell into place in 2014, following task force discussions and grant proposals led by Tate and the Arts Center. Lawrence’s first director of arts and culture started this fall. The Arts Center received a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant to enhance the Ninth Street corridor, a joint project with the city. And the Arts Center’s first Free State Festival — an expansion of its annual film festival, also enabled by a national grant — drew crowds to the Lawrence Cultural District and the multidisciplinary arts within.
The ArtPlace term for these types of activities is “creative placemaking.” Tate is making it happen in Lawrence.
— Sara Shepherd
Rep. Paul Davis
The 2014 election brought intense national media attention to Kansas, and much of that was due to Paul Davis, the Lawrence Democrat who very nearly unseated a sitting Republican governor during a Republican wave election.
Davis, an attorney who grew up in Lawrence, was the House minority leader when he agreed to take on Gov. Sam Brownback. Polls at the time showed Brownback and his conservative policies were widely unpopular. Davis sought to build on the strategy of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius by forging a coalition with moderate Republicans who’d grown disaffected by the conservative tilt of the GOP.
Davis raised more than $4 million for the campaign, a record for a Kansas Democrat, and for months it looked like Kansas would be a strange anomaly in an otherwise Republican year: a solidly Republican state that was about to elect a Democratic governor and, perhaps, an independent U.S. senator.
In the end Davis was weakened by a strong negative ad campaign, most funded by outside political groups. And Brownback got indirect help from the national Republican Party, which poured unprecedented amounts of resources into the state to bail out Sen. Pat Roberts’ struggling campaign.
— Peter Hancock
The 2014 elections in Kansas were full of controversy. But in Douglas County they went off without a hitch, thanks in large part to County Clerk Jamie Shew and his staff who manage the nuts-and-bolts technical processes of running an election.
Shew has been known for finding creative ways to help people comply with the state’s new voter restriction laws. In 2012, for example, when the state began requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, he bought a digital camera and equipment to produce a county ID card and sent his staff around to nursing homes to provide them to residents who no longer had a driver’s license. This year, in the face of another law requiring voters to show proof of citizenship to register, he came up with the funds to help people born in other states obtain their original birth certificates. He also deployed new technology called “ballot on demand” that reduced the cost of printing ballots, and he expanded the number of sites available in the county to cast advance ballots. The office counted 38,246 ballots on Nov. 5, a local record for a midterm election.
— Peter Hancock
Patricia Lockwood, the “Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas,” could have ended up on a list of the city’s most fascinating people just for that title — the headline of a much-read New York Times profile published in May.
It’s one honor among many within the last year that have made this recent Lawrence transplant a major name in American poetry. Her second collection of poems, “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals,” debuted in May and was recently named a “New York Times Book Review Notable Book.” The book has also appeared in various best-of-the-year lists from publications such as Rolling Stone and The Boston Globe.
Lockwood, who is married to Journal-World copy chief Jason Kendall, burst onto the national literary scene after her poem “Rape Joke” debuted on The Awl website in July 2013. Her memoir is due on bookshelves in 2016.
— Joanna Hlavacek
Judge Frank Theis
The judicial system played a major role in shaping policy in Kansas in 2014, and Shawnee County District Judge Frank Theis Jr., was in the thick of most of the controversies.
In addition to presiding over the three-judge panel hearing the school finance lawsuit, Theis was also on the panel that decided the Kansas Democratic Party could not be forced to replace Chad Taylor on the ballot for U.S. Senate. He handled a voting rights lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s administration of the proof-of-citizenship voting law; and he remains in charge of one case challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage.
First elected to the bench in 1976, before Shawnee County changed to a merit-based selection process, Theis is the longest serving current judge on the state bench. He is the son of a renowned Wichita federal judge by the same name, a judge once described as a “wordsmith with a strong command of the English language and a unique flair for colorful expression.” Many say his son inherited and polished those skills.
Known for his lengthy and detailed — some might say “ponderous” — legal opinions, Theis could be voted the Judge Most Likely to Quote Blackstone’s Commentaries. But he is rarely overturned on appeal and is seen on the 3rd District bench as the go-to judge for cases involving complex and volatile constitutional issues.
— Peter Hancock
In the five years prior to 2014, Haskell Indian Nations University was led by more acting presidents than permanent ones. Venida Chenault, it is hoped, will steady the ship.
The new Haskell president, who started in January, is a Haskell insider whose passion for the school shows and who already has taken steps to clean up problems there.
Chenault, a Haskell alumna, has held several faculty and administrative positions at the school dating to 1991. So far in her presidency Haskell has adopted a strategic plan — which languished for years under previous administrations — and resurrected the Haskell Foundation to raise money for the school. Chenault also has amped up efforts to educate Haskell about sexual and domestic violence, her research specialty, and has begun to tackle long-running issues including aging facilities and low graduation rates.
— Sara Shepherd
She may be a Hawaii native, but it wasn’t until after Kawehi moved to Lawrence that she became a full-blown Internet superstar.
The one-woman band, whose full name is Kawehi Wight, released a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” in March that soon prompted praise from publications including Esquire, Spin, Elle and The Huffington Post. Kawehi’s interpretation of the grunge classic — reimagined with her signature looping style, synth effects, beatboxing, mini keyboard, vocals and about half a bottle of wine — even won approval from Courtney Love, widow of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who proclaimed it “genius.”
Since then, she’s released an EP (“Robot Heart,” in July) and has another in the works — “Evolution,” slated for early 2015, reached its funding goal on Kickstarter in just one day.
In January, the musician will kick off a cross-country tour with mostly coastal stops. Lawrence fans need not worry, though; Kawehi will play Jan. 23 at the Bottleneck.
— Joanna Hlavacek
Kansas University senior Schuyler Kraus and a small student group she’s president of made news this year questing to uncover how the billionaire conservative Koch brothers influence KU. The onerous task so far has involved raising $1,800 to pay KU for records — and having a judge block the university from releasing most of them, specifically emails of Art Hall, founding executive director of KU’s Center for Applied Economics and a former Koch Industries Inc. Public Sector Group employee.
Kraus, a Texas native, was a Chinese linguist in the Navy before pursuing degrees in environmental studies and Chinese at KU. She says transparency is crucial to ensure academia is a place of “genuine, honest research” and estimates she spends more than 20 hours a week researching Koch ties.
“This has become most of what I think about,” Kraus said. “I feel like this is morally imperative work.”
— Sara Shepherd