Fort Hays State's annual back-to-school picnic welcomes one and all to the new school year


By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. – There should be a lot of gold seen across the Fort Hays State University campus this year.

Students lined up 45 minutes before the start of the 2018 back-to-school picnic Monday to check in and swarm the first booth in line at the annual event on the Quad.

It took just a little more than 28 minutes for personnel from the admissions office to distribute 500 gold TGOF shirts to promote the wearing of Tiger Gold on Friday.

“Fastest ever,” said Hugo Perez, assistant director of admissions. “We decided to set a stop watch this year. We were out of shirts at 28:25.”

The annual event began in the late 1980s as a way to welcome freshmen to campus.

Now, 30 years later, the event immerses community members into the entire campus community, with several of the tables represented by businesses and organizations in town.

“It’s all about us supporting the community because the community supports us,” Dr. Tisa Mason said.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship to have the businesses and non-profits help our students understand and be aware of their role in supporting our university.”

Those relationships will continue to grow next week when students walk from campus to downtown Hays, taking part in an event called March2Main.

State Representative Eber Phelps of the 111th District, who grew up in Hays and is an FHSU alum, said he has enjoyed watching the communities of Hays and Fort Hays State become closer over the years.

“I’ve been coming to this picnic forever, and this has got to be the biggest crowd ever,” he said. “It’s great to see the community and campus connection here.”

“And,” he added, “how great is this for businesses and organizations – set up a booth and have 3,000 people walk by.”

While that number might have been a little high, the crowds were large nonetheless. Several hundred people were served a barbecue dinner, and many more browsed the Quad, checking out the booths and socializing.

A total of 169 campus organizations and clubs, city businesses and non-profits were represented. In addition to T-shirts, there were numerous other giveaways, including drawstring bags that could be packed with freebies such as pens and candy and cups – and all sorts of swag imaginable.

“My aunt is here on campus,” Bucklin freshman Hunter Hearne said of Robyn Brungardt, a financial aid advisor.  “She told me to come today because there are lots of things to pick up.”

It wasn’t just freshmen who came to check out the booths.

Alicia Wondra from Buhler was busy guiding her 5-year-old daughter, Trysten, through the crowds. A non-traditional student, Wondra is in her second year at FHSU, seeking a degree in education with an emphasis in early childhood development.

Wondra’s parents, Korey and Leann Wondra, are both Fort Hays State graduates and spent their careers as teachers. That was part of the reason she chose FHSU to continue her education after working for several years after high school. The main reason, she pointed out, was because “it’s a better program than anywhere else. And everyone here is so friendly.”

Mason said that welcoming nature is something she has always enjoyed about FHSU and Hays.

She was impressed Monday when two freshmen from Wichita approached her at the picnic, asking her if she was the new president.

“They shook my hand and said hello,” Mason said. “I was so pleased to see they felt comfortable enough to do that.”

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