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.”
Kate Feller McSwain faced a big challenge taking over as network leader for one of the largest University of Kansas alumni groups. Her hard work bringing Dallas Jayhawks together will be honored with the Dick Wintermote Network Volunteer of the Year Award, to be presented at a wine-tasting event July 26. The annual award recognizes volunteers who provided extraordinary leadership to their network.
McSwain, b’12, a fourth-generation Jayhawk, has four years experience volunteering with the Alumni Association, including serving as network leader for the past year. Fellow Dallas Network volunteer John Jacobs praised her leadership, saying she “consistently looks to empower members to lead their projects but is willing to help out herself where and when she can.”
McSwain’s work in establishing more frequent network gatherings year-round, such as the Jayhawks & Java breakfast, has impressed Nick Kallail, assistant vice president of alumni & career programs.
“The Dallas Jayhawks Network has led the way on providing compelling and diverse events that connect Jayhawks from all walks of life,” Kallail says. “Kate has been a huge part of our network growth in Dallas and was able to amplify programming even more in her first year as Network Leader. We are fortunate to have many great Jayhawk volunteers across the nation, but Kate is truly a star of stars.”
McSwain works at Match Group, a Dallas-based company that owns several online dating websites and apps including Match.com, OkCupid, and Tinder.
The award is named for Dick Wintermote, c’51, who served as the executive director of the Association from 1963 to 1983. His legacy represents the importance of building a strong volunteer network, the need for a dues-paying membership program and establishing the KU Alumni Association as one of the premier associations of graduates in the country.
The mentality of March Madness is ‘survive and advance’ or your season will become a casualty of the tournament. Along with defeat, the hopes and dreams of fans and alumni can die in pursuit of that one shining moment, and that loss can be tough to take. Now imagine how it must feel when the symbol of your team, your school’s mascot, literally passes away.
Like losing a family member
The University of Colorado announced this week that Ralphie IV, also known as “Rowdy,” was laid to rest near Boulder as fans mourned the passing of their beloved buffalo mascot. This has been a tough year for live mascots, as LSU’s Mike the Tiger VI succumbed to cancer last October and had to be humanely euthanized. Texas’ Bevo XV sent flowers, as did Reveille from Texas A&M. Bevo XIV had passed just a year prior.
When a school’s mascot passes on, fans and alumni mourn the same as if they’d lost a member of the family or a cherished pet.
“Losing ‘Rowdy’ is like losing a family member,” said former associate athletic director Gail Pederson who oversaw the Ralphie program at CU for 20 years. “I know all Buff fans, and especially the Handlers that had the honor to run with her, will always have her in their hearts, especially when Ralphie V and all the future Ralphie’s take the field each fall.”
While they’ve been in the news more lately, the practice of having live mascots to represent university athletic teams dates back more than a century. KU alumni may not know that some of the university’s earliest mascots required feeding, and we’re not talking about birdseed.
Before Big Jay
KU teams have been called Jayhawkers or Jayhawks since around 1886, when Professor E.H.S. Baily first coined the famous Rock Chalk chant, but the sidelines of KU’s first football games were guarded by a bulldog, common at many schools around that time. The bulldog even made its way onto pennants and postcards symbolizing the KU team (Frank Mason would be proud).
Then for a brief time in 1909, KU’s gridders were pictured with a pig. According to KUhistory.com, the proud porker–a gift from an assistant coach–was known as Don Carlos, and the sow only appeared for one year.
KU’s history with live mascots was short-lived, as the mythical Jayhawk came to life only in the illustrations of Henry Malloy in 1912, leading off a parade of cartoon variations of Kansas’ beloved bird. Today, the famous symbol of KU pride appears court side in the costumed form of Big Jay and Baby Jay.
Animal rights activists abhor mascots kept in captivity, but age-old college traditions die hard. At LSU, officials made sure the next Mike the Tiger would have an accredited tiger sanctuary. According to a January 2017 news release, “Becoming an accredited sanctuary means that LSU has met high standards of excellence in animal care and is operating ethically and responsibly.” Doing so, however, means Mike will never again run onto the field at Tiger Stadium, ending a tradition that dated back to 1936. Killing the tradition was the trade-off for keeping–and caring for–a live mascot on campus.
Meantime, Ralphie V, Rowdy’s successor, remains in good health as fans witnessed when he ran onto the field at last weekend’s spring game. The fan-funded program lives on at Colorado, even while alumni mourn the loss of Ralphie IV. And the loss feels very real.
Jayhawks send condolences to our former Big 8 brethren in Boulder.
Many times, members of our alumni network find themselves engaging with one another in a way that promotes personal and professional engagement. Glen Collins, c’98 , wasted no time after leaving KU to start his career as a marketing professional.
Now the marketing director and partner for Switch in Dallas, Collins sees the value of his KU experience weaving into his everyday work. Switch offers strategy, branding and digital assistance for a variety of companies: American Heart Association, Coyote Grills, Country Club Plaza, Maggiano’s Little Italy and Vim + Vigor to name a few.
We caught up with Collins to find out more about how he came to be a partner at Switch.
Tell us a little bit about your experience as a student at KU: things you were involved in, your favorite professor, your favorite traditions.
My experience at KU can be summed up in one word: transformative. The relationships, education, culture, the Midwest, Lawrence, the fraternity, live music and the cult religion that is KU basketball. It ran through my veins, and still does.
Growing up in Dallas, I knew very little about KU. Fortunately, the fraternity I joined, FIJI, on-ramped me quite well. My favorite experiences included directing Rock Chalk Revue, working at a brand new store called Hobbs on Mass Street, enjoying live music at Liberty Hall and The Bottleneck. But it’s all the filler in between that was the greatest—making friends from all over the country, reading the University Daily Kansan before class, and having awesome exchanges with professors and teaching assistants. I loved every minute of it. I had too much fun my sophomore year, and my GPA slipped so much my parents made me come home for a semester to straighten up. It was the best thing for me. I worked to save up enough money to go back, and it made me appreciate just how great it was. I never took KU for granted after that, and while I didn’t make the Dean’s List, my grades were significantly better until I graduated.
How did you meet your business partner, and how did that lead to your company?
I met my business partner, Kimi Dallman, through a friend I met at KU. That friend was Matt Dallman c’01, a great guy who was a few years younger than me in my fraternity. Matt and I originally bumped into one another at a KU Alumni Association watch party, then soon after that at an alumni happy hour. We were catching up on life and business, and he suggested that I connect with his wife, who was in a similar career as mine.
At the time, my company was a marketing consultancy supporting small to medium-sized businesses. Kimi’s company, originally Switch Creative, was a design firm focused on branding and web. A week or two later we all had lunch, and Kimi and I immediately connected and discovered the means to support each other’s businesses. We worked together for six or eight months on a number of successful projects before we started talking about merging our shops. A few months later, we merged and have grown more and more ever since. At the time of our merger, Switch had five total employees. Currently we have sixteen employees and have merged with another interactive development shop, Good Work, to grow our service offering even more.
We have had a blast running Switch, and KU is central to core of our business — both consciously and subconsciously. We’ve hosted multiple March Madness watch parties at the office, with the bell cow being Switch Sixteen (a pre-party/pep rally) that preceded KU’s sweet sixteen game in Dallas in 2013.
How do you stay connected to KU as an alumnus living in Dallas?
Fortunately I have several very close friends that I met at KU that live in the DFW area. The KU bond is real, and we often seek each other out. My best friend married a Jayhawk. One of my other best friends is on the alumni board and is very plugged in to the alumni events (watchers, happy hours, coffees). I attend as much as I can. Honestly, I would have to try to not brush up against KU friends past and present these days. And I like it that way. A lot.
What advice do you have for current KU students and graduates?
Never take it for granted. KU is a special place with a heartbeat all it’s own. It’s authentic and pure, and the relationships you develop there reflect that purity and authenticity.
For existing students: Enjoy all aspects of KU and Lawrence: slugging to class in the cold; the pageantry of game days; Day on the Hill; and the live music of Lawrence. Get a job if you can — I worked in restaurants, as an intramural referee and in a retail store. Those relationships are so meaningful to me as I was transforming from student to graduate and professional.
For graduates: Lean on the KU network. The trust tree is strong, and the reception is always warm and comfortable. Jayhawks look after Jayhawks — they really do. Seek out the community. You’re gonna watch KU hoops somewhere, so you might as well go to a watch party and do the Rock Chalk chant with strangers. Eventually some of those strangers will become relationships that are more than basketball buddies.
Tell us a little bit about the recent Dallas Network breakfast and what alumni can expect when they attend a KU event.
The Dallas Network breakfast is great. It’s very intimate and casual. You can expect to meet Jayhawks from a variety of different places, ages and careers. Often one or two Jayhawks are singled out to share their story, and specifically their business background. It’s a great time on a relational and business networking level. It will invariably lead to spin-off meetings, lunches, etc. Don’t miss it.
If you’re a Jayhawk in Texas, here’s another way to show your school spirit: an official Jayhawk license plate on your vehicle.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles opted to renew its contract with My Plates, a license plate provider, for another five-year term. According to My Plates, as of last month, 378 cars in the state are sporting KU plates.
If you’ve been thinking of ordering a special plate for your car, now is a great time to do it—My Plates is offering a rebate that provides an extra savings of up to $75, depending on the length of license plate term you purchase.
That’s it! My Plates will mail a rebate check within 4-6 weeks of the purchase date. Take advantage of this offer from now until Oct. 31, 2014. If you have any questions, contact My Plates directly at 888.769.7528.
10% of the plate design fee is paid to the University of Kansas to help support scholarships.
And if you need a little extra incentive? Our neighboring school to the west can currently claim three more plates on the road… and we know some of you are a little competitive.