When Sarah James started blogging in 2005, she was searching for no more than a creative outlet to offset the somewhat draining days as a pharmaceutical sales representative, a role she held through most of her 30s.
“I wasn’t looking to completely sidetrack my career,” says James, c’97, “but sure enough, that’s what happened.”
Soon after launching Whoorl.com, a site dedicated to beauty recommendations and tips for healthy living, James started a weekly series called Hair Thursday, in which readers submitted photos and asked for hairstyle advice. The regular feature, which ran from 2007 to ’10, stemmed from the overwhelming success of James’ own bangs-debate post, which revealed that more than 700 of her followers were eager to weigh in and participate in a web-based poll. The series became so popular that in 2008 The New York Times published a story on James and the growing trend of online reader engagement.
“That feature definitely led to a huge amount of exposure, including televised appearances, so my brand essentially blossomed that year” says James, who was a guest on the Rachael Ray Show and ABC’s Nightline. She also became a national commercial spokesperson for Pantene and was featured in a Levi’s campaign.
Rise to influencer fame
Nearly a decade after her unexpected rise to beauty-blogger fame, James continues to churn out engaging web content and connect with her readers, though she now uses popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where she has amassed almost 35,000 followers across all three platforms. “When I started blogging, social media was in its infancy,” she says. “No Twitter, no Instagram, and Facebook was only a year old. … To say the day-to-day operations involving my brand have changed over the past decade is an understatement.”
James’ beauty recommendations also have evolved. Since transitioning to natural, nontoxic products five years ago, James focuses her research on clean-beauty brands, which she reviews regularly, sharing her results with readers. Popular posts like “Best in Green Beauty” showcase James’ favorite cosmetic and skincare finds, and feature candid pro-tips and relatable, often humorous videos that take viewers through the blogger’s skincare and makeup routines.
Now in her 40s, James is shifting her attention to women just like her—those who are celebrating the effects of aging rather than trying to disguise it. She recently launched a new #CleanOver40 series, which addresses the challenges women face as they age and highlights effective skincare, makeup and lifestyle products for 40-somethings. She also plans to develop a one-on-one consulting service in the near future.
Although maintaining Whoorl.com and its social media presence—not to mention finding new ways to stay fresh as a bona fide influencer—is a full-time job, it doesn’t really feel like work to James. “I am so grateful to have made a career out of doing what I truly love,” she says.
The KU Alumni Association receives hundreds of letters from Jayhawks across the globe, but it was an ominous note from Brooke Collison, a Corvallis, Oregon, alumnus, titled “Insidious KSU Plot” that recently caught the attention of several staffers. Curious what Collison had uncovered about our pesky neighbors to the west, we read on.
Dear KU Alums,
I am an Oregon resident where automobile license plates have three numbers, a space and three big letters. I purchased a new car last month and my new license plates have arrived. Much to my chagrin, the three letters are “KSU.” I am aghast! How can I possible drive my car with those letters emblazoned on both the front and back of my ride?
I seriously suspect there may be an alum of that other Kansas university working in the Oregon license bureau who has a warped sense of humor and has decided to play a cruel joke on me. Imagine the agony I will go through when asked for auto identification on all kinds of forms—even when checking in to an [un-named] cheap motel! And what will I do when a driver passes me and waves with enthusiasm?
Please, does the Alumni Association have a department to help victims such as myself?
Sincerely, Brooke Collison
Though the Alumni Association doesn’t have a department dedicated to helping wrongfully persecuted Jayhawks such as Collison, we certainly couldn’t sit by and watch a fellow alumnus suffer. Tegan Thornberry, d’05, g’09, the Association’s director of marketing, membership and business development, rushed a KU license plate frame to Collison, hoping to dispel any confusion about his loyalty to KU and ease the pain of the tragic tag.
“It was nice to receive the KU Alumni Association license plate frame so that I’d have something to partially cover or correct my embarrassment of having that huge ‘KSU’ stuck on the back of my car,” says Collison, d’56, g’62, a retired professor at Oregon State University. “I figured it was the best I could do because I knew the local law enforcement folk would frown on my putting masking tape over some of the letters.”
If you’re a Jayhawk in Kansas, Texas, or Maryland, you can show your KU pride with a distinctive license plate on your vehicle. You do not have to be a member of the KU Alumni Association or a graduate of KU to have a Jayhawk license plate. Visit www.kualumni.org/license to learn more!
With masses of students milling outside the Adams Alumni Center at 5:15 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10—15 minutes before Finals Dinner was scheduled to begin—Ally Stanton, director of student programs, opened the doors at 1266 Oread Ave. and welcomed the crowd inside.
“The food was ready,” she said, “so why not?”
Within minutes, students were flashing their cell phones to show their Student Alumni Network membership cards—or downloading the KU Alumni app to activate their memberships—and dashing upstairs to feast on a scrumptious barbecue meal provided by Bigg’s BBQ.
During the two-hour event, students were also treated to 15-minute aromatherapy massages and were invited to visit with therapy dogs John Wayne, Siena and Layla, who were stationed in the lobby, where they shamelessly flopped over for belly rubs. Students also received snack bags provided by HyVee and Jayhawk bag tags, which enable students to receive prizes when worn on campus.
Gwendolyn Sibley, a Garnett junior who’s majoring in English and rhetoric, arrived at the center for the free food but was delighted to discover therapy dogs were on site. “I’m so happy they’re here,” she said. “I’m allergic, but I can pet them for like five minutes.”
The annual tradition continues to grow in popularity, and Stanton, j’10, g’12, estimates that nearly 600 students attended this year’s event. “We host so many events throughout the year, all of which feature free food, but there is something special about Finals Dinner,” she said. “We simply want students to enjoy dinner with other Jayhawks and to be able to take away the planning of one meal during a hectic and oftentimes stressful week. It’s the simplicity of giving students a space to take a breath, recharge and refuel.”
Students are also encouraged to stop by the Adams Alumni Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during finals week for a quiet space to study. Free coffee and a snack bar will be provided by HyVee.
During his deployment to Africa in 2011, Maj. Michael Hayes was tasked with distributing care packages from the National Guard’s family program director to his fellow soldiers. He was surprised, after about seven months, to receive a gift of his own: a grim-faced ceramic Jayhawk, which resembled the KU mascot introduced in 1941.
“I didn’t want to just set it on my desk,” recalls Hayes, c’08, an ROTC instructor and assistant professor of military science at KU. “I wanted to take pictures and send them back to her to say, ‘Look! I got it. Thank you!’ That’s how the pictures started.”
Inspired by Travelocity’s roaming gnome, Hayes took Jay on all of his deployments and work-related travel, capturing his crimson and blue companion riding in Chinooks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and overseeing troops at bases throughout the country and overseas.
As his collection of photos grew, Hayes started a Facebook page, “The Story of the Jayhawk,” to document their experiences.
Although the small figurine has been broken and repaired twice and now travels in the safety of a Styrofoam cooler, Jay shows no signs of retiring to a space on a shelf. Hayes even sends the mini mascot on journeys with other Army cadets and friends.
“Jay’s traveled more than I have,” Hayes says, “and I’ve jumped all over the place.”
What started as a means to pass time between NCAA tournament games turned into much more for Jarrod, f’95, g’03, and Kate Neely Williams, ’97, who this spring masterminded the construction of Alhen Field House, a wildly creative chicken coop built in the likeness of KU’s legendary basketball arena.
The Maryland transplants, who moved to Grimesland, North Carolina, last year after retiring from the U.S. Naval Academy Band, hatched a plan for the hen house while discussing permanent lodging for the family’s 15 baby chicks, which include Devonte’ GrayHen, Bawk Vaughn, Chick Collison, Scot Pullet and Greg Roostertag.
“They can’t stay in the brood house forever,” Jarrod recalls telling his wife. “Why don’t we put them in Allen Field House?”
Alhen Field House
The Williamses, who were members of the KU basketball band, relied on memory and details they found online to construct the 10-by-14-foot structure, which features the field house’s signature red roof, limestone-hued walls, abundant rows of windows and large 3-D block letters that spell out “Alhen Field House.”
“We were just going to do the outside, but we thought how plain the inside looked,” says Jarrod, who embellished the coop’s interior with hand-painted championship and final four banners, as well as a Bawk Chalk scoreboard—complete with a blowout KU win over Mizzou—and the retired jerseys of Jayhawk greats. He even recreated the antique Longines clock that hangs on Allen Field House’s west wall.
“The 172-95 score is our all-time record against Mizzou,” says Kate. “We didn’t just make it up out of thin air, or it would have been even more lopsided.”
Jarrod insists there are no ruffled feathers in his ‘hood, despite the fact that nearly everyone is a Tar Heel or Blue Devil. “I’m really making friends in my new neighborhood,” he jokes.
Nearly 500 KU alumni and friends gathered April 13 at Murfin Stables for the Alumni Association’s Jayhawk Roundup, the Wichita Network’s largest fundraising event, which was presented this year in partnership with Kansas Athletics and Williams Education Fund. The event, typically held in the fall, moved to spring this year for the first time in its 15-year history.
The theme for the festivities was “Game of Hawks,” a playful spin on the popular fantasy epic “Game of Thrones.” Bleached-white trees with crimson leaves lined the stables and centerpieces of swords and shields adorned each table, echoes of medieval times.
The event featured silent and live auctions, with top dollars going for a trip to the 2018 Champions Classic in Indianapolis, and the KU Libraries exhibit “Commemorate the Gr8s,” which celebrates the 1988 and 2008 men’s basketball national championship teams. Guests were also treated a feast of food and drink and live music from the band Annie Up, as well as a live carving of a Jayhawk from Kansaw Carvings artist Dan Besco.
Alumni Association President Heath Peterson, d’04, g’09, thanked event chairs and stable owners Dave, e’75, b’75, and Janet Lusk Murfin, d’75, for hosting the Roundup and honored longtime Wichita volunteer and 2017 Wintermote Award winner Camille Nyberg, c’96, g’98, along with Mildred Clodfelter Alumni Award winners Jerry, p’69, and Lucy Burtnett, who hosted the event in 2011 and 2012.
Chancellor Doug Girod detailed the University’s recent accomplishments in Wichita, which included the debate team’s victorious run to the national championship title and the Jayhawks’ first- and second-round wins in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which brought thousands of alumni and fans to the area in March.
Several members of Kansas Athletics also attended the Roundup, including head football coach David Beaty, men’s basketball assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger, PhD’96, who was celebrating his birthday.
“We had more guests in attendance than we have had in years,” says Danielle Lafferty Hoover, c’07, director of donor relations and Wichita programs. “The fans love having University partners and KU guests in the stables—it’s like bringing a part of Lawrence to Wichita.”
Check out more pictures from Jayhawk Roundup! Photos may be downloaded for personal use. Photos from the Lamphouse Photo Booth Company can be viewed here.
Heather Biele’s feature story in Kansas Alumni magazine, issue No. 2, 2018, describes how the center came to be.
Turmoil on campus
In September 2014, the Huffington Post detailed the story of an anonymous KU student who accused the University, Lawrence police and the local district attorney of failing to properly respond after she reported her sexual assault.
Within days, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little assembled a task force to examine how the University prevents and responds to sexual assault.
As the 2015 spring semester came to a close, task force delivered a report to the chancellor with 27 recommendations for improvement. She approved 22 of them. One of the recommendations was the creation of a sexual assault prevention and education center.
Jennifer Brockman arrived on Mount Oread in Jaunary 2016 as the first director of SAPEC, and she embraced the significant task ahead of her. She has spent her career providing support for those affected by sexual and domestic violence. Today, she leads a staff that includes two full-time prevention educators.
This spring, SAPEC moved into a stunning new space in a coveted location—the recently completed Burge Union in the booming Central District.
The KU Alumni Association and KU Endowment welcomed more than 100 veterans, alumni, students and military family members March 13 for a donor appreciation event at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City.
Jayhawks gathered on the Paul Sunderland Glass Bridge, a stunning structure suspended over a field of 9,000 poppies, symbolic of the 9 million who perished in the war, before touring the museum and the Wylie Gallery, which currently features John Singer Sargent’s powerful masterpiece, “Gassed,” as part of a limited centennial exhibition.
University leaders attend
Several University leaders participated in the event, including Chancellor Douglas Girod, a former Naval surgeon; Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Reggie Robinson, c’80, l’87, who served in the Army; and retired Marine Corps. Col. Mike Denning, c’83, director of KU’s graduate military program and president of the Veterans Alumni Network.
Before delivering opening remarks, Denning playfully teased the crowd. “I have to admit,” he joked. “I think the Marines are probably outnumbering everybody else about five to one.”
Though Marines may have dominated the event in attendance, representatives from each branch of service turned out, including retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mike Flowers, c’77, an Alumni Association board member, and Col. Bob Ulin, g’79. Both men serve on the advisory board for the Veterans Alumni Network.
This year, KU was named the No. 5 school for veterans by the Military Times, up five spots from its top-10 ranking in 2016 and 2017. The Veterans Alumni Network has been instrumental in strengthening several resources for military students and veterans, including the Wounded Warriors Scholarship Fund, which since 2012 has provided $200,000 to military service members, veterans, primary caregivers and surviving spouses or children who want to attend KU.
“The scholarship offered me a chance to actually be a student for the first time,” said Leach, a first-generation student. “It gave me access to advisers, mentors and the opportunity to network with other veterans who had the same experiences I did while I was in the military. I’m very thankful for that.”
“As soon as you walk in there, it’s like you’re back in the service,” said JR Cadwallader, b’18, a Marine Corps veteran and past president of KU’s Student Veterans of America. “It’s like you’re at home with some of your greatest friends again.”
Chancellor Girod applauded Jayhawks for their generosity and commitment to funding programs like the Wounded Warrior Scholarship and the military-affiliated student center, emphasizing how critical these services are to military students and their families.
“You heard the students talk about how [the center] has become a core site and a home for our students—a very comforting home,” he said. “But more important, a lot of services take place in that center.”
Jeff Larkin, c’06, a Lawrence dentist who served in the Air Force, attended the event with his wife and daughter. He was pleased to learn his alma mater had established itself nationally as a top-ranking institution for military students and veterans.
Jim Doepke, aka “Mr. Trumpet,” returned to Allen Field House Feb. 3 to play the alma mater and national anthem before the KU-Oklahoma State men’s basketball game. It’s Doepke’s sixth time performing before the Jayhawk faithful, but he insists it never gets old—especially when his return coincides with the anniversaries of the 1988 and 2008 NCAA National Championship teams and the basketball program’s 120th anniversary.
“That just adds to the excitement,” says Doepke. “It’s just so cool to be part of that.”
Doepke, d’74, a retired high school band director who lives Florida, arrived in Lawrence on Friday with his son, J.P. Their first stop was Allen Field House, where father and son toured the exhibits and interactive displays in the Booth Family Hall of Athletics. “I’ve never really had time to do that,” Doepke says. “We really enjoyed it.”
Later, with trumpet in hand, Doepke visited the Adams Alumni Center, where he surprised staff with a special performance of the alma mater.
Doepke, who has set a goal to play the national anthem at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, is scheduled to perform Aug. 2 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Aug. 4 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which will raise his ballpark tally to 19.
Their gifts were years in the making. Nichole Jeter Wheeler, b’98, and her husband, Jon, c’96, first discussed getting Jayhawk license plates five years ago when they moved to Montgomery, Texas, a suburb just north of Houston.
“We talked about it off and on,” Nichole says. “But we hadn’t talked about it in a couple years.”
The Wheelers were in for the ultimate surprise this past Christmas, when they decided for the first time in years to exchange gifts. A few months before the holiday Nichole ordered her husband a “KU HAWK” plate. She soon discovered, after reviewing their credit card statement a month later, that he had purchased a “LOVE KU” plate for her.
“It was just kind of funny,” says Nichole. “The one year that we actually decided to exchange gifts, we got each other KU vanity plates.”