HAYS, KS -- In one of the special events that will be held each month during 2002 -- its Centennial year -- Fort Hays State University commemorated federal legislation this morning that helped to create the university.
Creating a university on the grounds of an abandoned frontier fort was a long, involved process for western Kansas. It literally took an act of Congress to transfer ownership of the land that had once been a frontier fort. After an earlier unsuccessful effort, the Kansas congressional delegation introduced legislation in 1899 that was signed into law on March 28, 1900, by President William McKinley, paving the way for the birth of FHSU as the Western Branch of the Kansas Normal School of Emporia.
Fort Hays State University celebrated the 100th anniversary of that historic signing two years ago with special events on March 28, 2000, in Washington, DC, and repeated that commemoration this morning at FHSU with a ceremony and reception.
. The ceremony began with a greeting from Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president. U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, who played a key role in the ceremonies two years ago in Washington, talked about the importance of a strong working relationship between the federal government and institutions of higher education. Finally, Dr. James Forsythe, university historian, described the efforts beginning in the late 1800s that produced the federal legislation and eventually the university.
"Fort Hays State University is a unique institution in a lot of ways, but one of the ways that makes us truly unique is that we're one of a handful of institutions in the country that was created specifically by federal law," President Hammond said. "The bill itself specifically says that the abandonment of Fort Hays Military Reservation will occur for the purpose of establishing, one, an experiment station, which the state did with the creation of the Fort Hays Experiment Station, part of the Kansas State University experiment system, and the Western Branch of Kansas State Normal School, which was the first name of Fort Hays State University."
Hammond said that Kansas State University was created under the blanket of federal land-grant legislation, but Fort Hays State was specifically created by federal law. "That means we have a better pedigree than Kansas State," he joked.
"It's important that everyone understand that a law that was passed more than 100 years ago not only created us then, but is also used on a daily basis to make sure we continue to provide services to the citizens of western Kansas," the president added.
Congressman Moran also injected some humor into the proceedings. "It took me only about two or three minutes to accept President Hammond's offer to join him today," Moran said. "It is so rare for a member of Congress to actually be in a place in which you can celebrate something positive that Congress has done."
On a more serious note, Moran said he was delighted to acknowledge the importance of Fort Hays State University and to acknowledge its history. "This university not only reflects its past but it serves a people, a region of the country that is so tied to its history. Who we are and who our students are very much has been determined by the people who settled this area and those who followed," the congressman said. "It is Fort Hays State University that has been a leader in our region and that has provided leaders in our communities to make certain that our future is bright."
Forsythe began his historical remarks by mentioning Hays pioneer Martin Allen as "a man of vision, a dreamer, who started the process that led to Fort Hays State." He described in some detail the lobbying efforts over several years that eventually produced the federal legislation, and he noted that other citizens of Hays have kept that original vision alive through the years.
"The leaders, the presidents of the university, have been individuals with vision, with dreams, with tenacity, and they tended to hire faculty and administrators who supported those dreams and those visions and worked hard at them," Forsythe said. "I could name decade after decade of faculty who helped those presidents achieve their dreams."
Forsythe said that former FHSU President Clarence E. Rarick once stated: "Fort Hays Kansas State College and other educational institutions on the Great Plains are the lighthouses of the people. So, with passage and the signing of Senate Bill 68 of 1900, our western Kansas lighthouse, a lighthouse for the people, was established from an old abandoned military reservation, Fort Hays."
Lighthouse on the Plains: Fort Hays State University, 1902-2002, the 100-year history of the university by Dr. Forsythe, can be purchased from the FHSU Alumni Association by calling (888) 351-3591.