Posted on Feb 2, 2015 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News
As Larry Hickey Jr. recalls his student years on the Hill, he says he’s 92 going on 18. “It was the opening of my whole life. I just revel every time I think about the University, the beauty of the campus and the thrill of being there.”
Hickey, b’43, has remained close to the University, serving for decades as an alumni ambassador in southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri from his home base in Joplin, Missouri, and contributing financial support for alumni programs. This year he provided $100,000 to support the Alumni Association. “I don’t feel that I ever really left KU,” he says.
He became a Jayhawk with help from a banker in his hometown of Coffeyville. After he finished his studies at the community college, he wanted to continue his education at KU, but money was tight. Thanks to the banker’s $250 loan, Hickey made his way to Lawrence. To earn living expenses, he waited tables at his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, and worked in the basement of Hoch Auditorium, firing cement cinder blocks in a kiln for 10 cents each. The following summer, he paid off the loan by delivering ice in Coffeyville, working for 30 cents an hour. When the banker asked how much he needed for his senior year, Hickey thought $250 would suffice, but the banker insisted he buy a new suit.
After graduation, Hickey paid off the second loan and attended the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman School at Northwestern University. He served in the Navy until 1946. He began his career with the Phillips Petroleum Co., where a fellow KU graduate hired him to work in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Through the years, he and his wife, Virginia, ’40, hosted numerous events for area Jayhawks and campus leaders. He served on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors from 1976 to 1981. In 1996, the Hickeys received the Mildred Clodfelter Alumni Award for their longtime service to KU in their community.
Hickey describes Virginia, who died in 2003, as “absolutely flawless.” As a leader in her KU sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, she was chosen to start a new chapter at the University of Southern California, where she graduated summa cum laude as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. But she remained a Jayhawk at heart.
The Hickeys traveled 16 times with the Flying Jayhawks. “Our alumni were always peppier than any other school on the trip,” Larry recalls, “and travel with the Flying Jayhawks was a great education. We didn’t know the language, but we could get anywhere with a handshake, a smile and a ‘Thank you.’”
Like her husband, Virginia became a devoted community volunteer in Joplin. They are the only couple to each earn distinction as Joplin’s Outstanding Citizen.
Hickey credits fellow Jayhawks for helping him succeed in business ventures throughout his career, and he hopes his involvement and support of the Association will extend the tradition of friendship and generosity: “Life has been a road map of miracles for me,” he says, “and I’m truly grateful.”
This profile was originally published in the KU Alumni Association’s 2013-14 Annual Report, a supplement to Kansas Alumni magazine. Click here to view the full report and learn more about membership and alumni records, Presidents Club, the Association’s year-end financial report and highlights from the year.