When faced with decreasing populations and poor health ratings, a Kansas county rallied together to take control of their future.
David Toland, c’99, g’01, serves as executive director of Thrive Allen County, a nonprofit coalition that works to improve the quality of life and economic conditions in Allen County, Kansas.
Toland joined the organization in 2008, when Allen County was ranked 94th out of 105 Kansas counties in overall health by the County Health Rankings. The county of 13,000 came together at a series of town halls and reached a common goal: to become the healthiest rural county in the state.
“It means so much to the people of this community to have their hard work recognized at a national level,” Toland said in response to the award. “It’s an important part of the emotional fuel that people need to keep doing the work.”
While the work to reach the top continues, the results already in place are stunning.
The county re-purposed an old school bus as the MARV—Meals And Reading Vehicle—which provides a healthy meal and books to read for students during the summer. Miles of biking and hiking trails constructed largely by volunteers have proven so popular that a Kansas City bike shop opened a new location on Iola’s main street. And after a proposal to raise the local sales tax to help build a hospital passed with 72% approval, the Allen County Regional Hospital opened in 2013 with Brian Neely, c’08, MD’12, m’16 as the doctor.
“Something special is happening in Allen County — we are fundamentally changing, for the better, how we live,” said Toland. “And we will keep steadily and quietly working toward our goal: being the healthiest rural county in Kansas.”
“The people in Allen County work hard, but in a quiet way. They don’t seek fancy recognitions or awards or acknowledgments. They know that we are facing difficult odds.”
Read the article or watch the video the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created that captures Allen County’s work towards creating a culture of health.
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.
The ’Hawk Days of Summer rolled through southeast Kansas as more than 80 Jayhawks young and old enjoyed ’Hawkstock, hosted at the KAMO Ranch in Mulberry.
Former KU basketball coach Ted Owens addressed the crowd, sharing some of his favorite memories. Along with Coach Owens, many former lettermen were in attendance including Bryan Sperry, d’50; George Nettles, e’50; Jeff Boschee, d’03; and Nick Reid.
Baby Jay visited with the families and also found time to join some of the kids bouncing in and on the inflatables.
Reed, d’01, and Jill Simpson Miller, d’01, and Jill’s family have hosted the annual gathering since 2011. Jill is a member of the Alumni Association’s national Board of Directors.
Watch the slideshow below for pictures from this year’s ’Hawkstock, or click here to view the photos on Flickr.
The Bourbon County Arts Council in Fort Scott recently sponsored a Bad Art by Good People project, and our beloved crimson and blue was represented in a unique way.
Gary Cullor, b’67, e’67, chose to paint “Blue Cat,” inspired by the “Blue Dogs” paintings by George Rodrigue. Of course, Cullor thought it appropriate to make his cat a KU cat to counter the purple cats that populate our state.
24 “non-artists” submitted original acrylic paintings for the project after they were guided by an artist mentor, and the paintings were auctioned at an evening reception to raise funds for the arts council.
The Bourbon County Arts Council was founded by Cullor and his wife Sally, d’68, in 1971.