KU’s veteran resources flourish thanks to generosity of Jayhawks

Posted on Mar 19, 2018 in Alumni News and News

KU alumni and veterans at Kansas City's World War I museum
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.

Top-five school

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.

Corey Leach, an Olathe senior majoring in exercise science, was one of 10 KU students awarded a 2017-’18 Wounded Warrior Scholarship. Leach enlisted in the Army in 2011 and was injured the following year in Afghanistan.

“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.”

Centralized resource for students

The network also helped fund the Lt. Gen. William K. Jones Military-Affiliated Student Center, a centralized resource for more than 1,100 military-affiliated students on campus. The center opened in March 2017 in Summerfield Hall.

“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.

“It makes me really proud,” he said.

—Heather Biele

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Jayhawks all the way in Vets Day 5K

Posted on Nov 13, 2017 in Alumni News and News

Veterans Day Run participants run by the Campanile |Vets Day 5K

In the final minutes before the start of the 2017 Vets Day 5K, Nov. 12 at Memorial Stadium, 24-year Army veteran Scot Bird relished the joy of a rare visit to Mount Oread—“Iowa by birth,” he said. “KU by the grace of God”—and the pleasure he and his wife, 22-year Army veteran Mary Bird, would soon share in their leisurely run down Memorial Drive, Jayhawk Boulevard and Sunnyside Avenue.

“We’re not going for time,” Bird said. Holding up his phone and its camera, he added, “We’re going for this.”

The gray fall morning also brought reflective moods from the Birds, who live in Junction City, where Mary is a community volunteer and Scot works as the civilian transportation officer at nearby Fort Riley. Mary served in operation Desert Storm, Scot deployed to Iraq, and the spirit of Veterans Day weekend was very much on their minds.

“We both lost friends,” Mary Bird said. “It’s been going on for so long, it’s almost inevitable. So, yes, they are in our thoughts today.”

Generations of Jayhawks

As the runners, joggers, walkers, stroller-pushers and a few four-legged companions wound their way around campus—Dan Edidin won the race, in 18 minutes, 16.9 seconds, and Lucy Hardy won the women’s competition in 20:34.5—U.S. Air Force veteran John Forney raced with a rare advantage over the rest of the field: years of practicing and racing a similar 2-mile course around and atop Mount Oread while running cross-country at KU, from 1948 to ’50.

“This is in honor of coach Bill Easton,” said the jubilant Forney, c’51, who won the men’s 75-99 age group.

Forney, a third-generation Jayhawk who is now retired in Denver, was joined in the Vets Day 5K by his son, David, e’88, and grandson Sam, both of Charlottesville, Virginia. Cheering them on was Forney’s wife, Eleanor Kothe Hardy, c’57.

“When Grandpa called and said, ‘We’ve got to run this Vets Day 5K,’ we signed up immediately,” Sam recalled. “It’s not just my first visit to KU; it’s also my first time in Kansas, and we’re having a great time.”

High-five for the participants

Honoring KU ROTC’s centennial and hosted by KU Student Veterans of America and the Veterans Alumni Network, the Vets Day 5K attracted 391 registered participants, ranging in age from 7 to 88 and hailing from nine states and two countries (the U.S. and Thailand).

All participants received impressive medals, and age-group winners were awarded custom cooler cups as trophies. (A special shout-out to Kansas Alumni photographer Steve Puppe, j’98, winner of the men’s 40-44 age group.) And, a lucky few were also treated to a homestretch high-five from Ryker Butterworth, young son of racer Matt Butterworth, c’15, who served eight years as an Air Force crew chief.

Veterans Day Run participants are treated to a high five from Ryker Butterworth, young son of racer Matt Butterworth, c’15 | Vets Day 5K

Still riding a wave of euphoria after completing the 5K, Scot Bird explained another level of motivation driving him: He is a cancer survivor who finally forced himself to begin exercising again in February 2016, after months of recuperation following his intensive treatments. After starting with walks of little more than a few dozen yards, Bird rapidly progressed back to something resembling the fitness of his soldier days, and he is now a regular competitor at regional races of all distances.

“She’s really the runner,” Bird said of his wife, Mary, “and I was tired of sitting there watching her go out the door. So, I got up off the couch. I’m vertical because of her.”

—Chris Lazzarino, Kansas Alumni magazine

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