The first official acts to usher in Fort Hays State University's Centennial were the dedications of two memorial gardens at Homecoming in 1997. Five years later, in the Centennial year of 2002, the rededication of one of those gardens will be the September event in the monthly series of Centennial activities.
A ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, preceding TailGreat and the first home football game of the young season, will celebrate the Lewis Field Pioneers Garden near the east entrance to the football stadium.
The short ceremony will honor the Lewis Field Pioneers, living and dead, who wrote one of the proudest chapters in the university's history. Arris Johnson, president of the Lewis Field Club, will speak about the history of the pioneers and Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, will talk about the significance of their contributions. Everyone is welcome.
The Lewis Field housing project was born out of desperation. By the early part of summer 1934, following the stock market crash of 1929 and the Bank Holiday of 1933, high school graduates in the farm country of western Kansas found themselves unable to scrape together the few dollars necessary for a college education.
Dr. Clarence E. Rarick, who at the time was acting president of Fort Hays Kansas State College, appointed a committee to help promising young men afford to attend the college. Dr. Bill Moreland and Nita Landrum played key roles in the project that resulted. Two of nine buildings that had been purchased from the Golden Belt Fairground were refurbished. Letters were sent to principals of western Kansas high schools asking for their recommendations of high caliber graduates. The first group of young men, 100 in number, moved into the facilities in September 1934 and became known as the Lewis Field Pioneers.
Each man paid $12 a month for the first year of school, $8 for meals and $4 for housing. They worked 48 hours a month at 25 cents an hour to earn the $12 for room and board. When the east side of Lewis Field Stadium was finished in fall 1937, 75 of the men lived under the stadium in a dormitory. The grand experiment lasted less than 10 years. With the outbreak of World War II, enrollment at FHKSC dwindled to 247 by fall 1943 -- and only 30 of those students were men. However, the nearly 400 men who participated in the project went on to distinguish themselves in many ways.
A plaque honoring the men was placed in front of the stadium, surrounded by a brick patio, benches and landscaping. Inscribed bricks were sold to pay for the memorial, with extra revenue added to the W.D. Moreland Lewis Field Scholarship Fund. The bricks -- $100 for a single and $500 for a double -- can still be purchased. To purchase a brick or for further information, call the FHSU Endowment Association at (785) 628-5620.