Small-town Kansan makes big impact at KU

Posted on Dec 5, 2018 in Alumni News and News

Joe HannahJoe Hannah’s introduction to KU came by way of a boyhood friend whose family parked a camper near Memorial Stadium before home football games. One weekend they took Joe along.

“We camped out the night before the game and played on the Hill and walked around campus,” recalls Hannah, c’79. “Coming from a small town, a big college football game and all the people on campus made a big impression on me. It was an experience that I wanted to have more of.”

Hannah grew up in Lyons, a central Kansas town of about 4,300. Making the move to KU, home to nearly 22,000 students when he arrived in fall 1975, was not so hard, thanks to his membership in Phi Gamma Delta. The “academic jump” to a campus where some classes were larger than his entire high school was a tougher transition.

“The academic challenge of being in organic chemistry with 500 students and not having a very good science background made me work like never before,” Hannah says. The fraternity’s strict study hours helped, too. “They kept us working, and for me it really worked to have that structure and it helped a lot to have those immediate friendships as well.”

Now an orthodontist with offices in Olathe, Emporia, Lenexa, Louisburg and Kansas City, the Life Member designated an estate gift to KU that will include scholarships for students who come from small, rural Kansas communities like the one he grew up in. The gift also will support Alumni Association programs.

He was inspired, in part, by childhood friends who hoped to attend KU but did not have the financial means to do so. He not only sees benefits for the students his gift will help attend KU, but also for University itself.

“It’s important for KU to have some rural kids in there, too, and they do,” says Hannah, who lives now in Johnson County. “You don’t want to go to college and know everybody there; you want kids from all over the state. I think it’s real beneficial for the kids who come from these big suburban areas to meet kids from smaller towns.”

His practice puts him in daily contact with high school students, and their post-graduation plans are a popular topic of conversation. “I’ve talked to many over the years who are maybe a little scared of going to a bigger university, and I tell them that once you get wherever you may live—be it a fraternity or a dorm—it’s not going to feel quite as large and it will be an outstanding education.”

Though he’s happy for them whatever their college decision may be, he enjoys sharing his KU pride when he can.

“If a patient wears purple, then they’re going to have a hard time from me,” Hannah says. “They know it, and they do it on purpose. We might make a bet or two every now and then to wear red-and-blue braces instead of purple-and-white, depending on who wins. We have a lot of fun with it.”

For more stories on Jayhawks like Hannah, and to learn more about the successes of the Alumni Association this year, read our annual report.

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