Fort Hays State University is getting a $1 million gift. According to the school, the gift from Don and Chris Bickle will impact a multitude of students in a variety of areas at the university.
“Don is known to lead the band and crowd in cheering on Tiger athletics, but Don and Chris Bickle’s encouragement permeates the university,” said Jason Williby, president and CEO of the FHSU Foundation, at a news conference announcing the gift.
Historically, support received from the Bickle family has enhanced university administration, leadership, scholarships and capital improvements.
“The Bickles’ support for the largest fundraising initiative in Fort Hays State’s history shows that they are true difference makers,” said Williby. “Their most recent gift benefits all four pillars of FHSU’s Journey Campaign – programs of distinction (academics), scholarships, athletics and student life.”
As an entrepreneur himself, Bickle recognizes the importance of fostering the entrepreneurial spirit and how, in turn, entrepreneurs increase the vitality of western Kansas. The Dane G. Hansen Foundation enabled Fort Hays State to construct the Dane G. Hansen Scholarship Hall, and a portion of the Bickles’ $1 million gift went toward the Hansen Scholarship Hall’s building fund, allowing the housing wing to be named in honor of the Bickles.
“The Bickles’ willingness to support the next generation of business people and entrepreneurs is exemplary,” said Dr. Mark Bannister, dean of the W.R. and Yvonne Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
“Their gift will make a difference to both the students they are supporting and also to the communities in which these Fort Hays State University graduates will live,” he said. “Few people are as extraordinary in their support of a variety of community and university assets as the Bickles.”
The Bickles also understand the need for students to be experienced in foreign language and cultural awareness, so another part of their gift established a scholarship fund for study abroad. The benefits positively impact all aspects of a student’s life: academic, social, cultural, personal and professional. Most students simply cannot afford this experience without financial assistance.
Andree Brisson, who leads the study abroad program at Fort Hays State, said that private donations have helped send FHSU students to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, and the Caribbean. Examples include a trip to Italy by art students studying Renaissance art; history students walking the World War I trenches of France and Belgium; and nursing students working alongside nurses in the Dominican Republic.
“Students have been humbled by these experiences, and at the same time they have learned to be more independent, more tolerant and more appreciative of a greater world,” said Brisson.
“You are responsible for helping to create these global citizens,” she told the Bickles.
The quality of life for all students at FHSU is also important, and another major component of campus life is a support system where high-quality, accessible programs provide support in academic advising and career services, counseling, wellness, physical and mental health, and tutoring or supplemental instruction. The endowed Bickle Family Success Fund serves as a resource for all student services.
“The addition of the Bickle Family Success Fund aligns perfectly with the goals of the university and the Student Affairs division with respect to our student success initiatives,” said Dr. Joey Linn, vice president for student affairs.
“This wonderful gift is an investment in our students and will be key to driving innovative programming to assist with the recruitment, retention and graduation of our student body,” he said. “Their generosity will also provide resources for many years to come as it will support programming in the future Fischli-Wills Center for Student Success.”
With more than 450 student-athletes on the Fort Hays State campus, of whom more than half are honor students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, the need to compete at the highest level calls for additional support and program enhancements.
“Don and Chris Bickle have been consistent supporters of Tiger Athletics in scholarships and facility development,” said Curtis Hammeke, director of athletics.
“These are two areas critical to our growth and future success. The Bickles have made significant impacts to both,” said Hammeke. “In addition to their financial support, they have been true ambassadors for Fort Hays State University and our department, from leading cheers at games to encouraging others in the community to join in on the fun. We are grateful for their ongoing generosity to Fort Hays State University and the Hays community.”
Don Bickle has played key roles as a friend of the university as an FHSU Foundation trustee and by serving on various advisory committees. The Bickles understand the importance of giving back to the community in which they live.
“These news conferences are a celebration of gift, giver, and legacy, all in support of this great university and its students,” said Dr. Andy Tompkins, interim president of Fort Hays State. “And I admit, I feel especially privileged and humbled to serve this university as its interim president during an extremely exciting moment in its history.”
He made note of some of the circumstances that make this a particularly exciting moment in the university’s history: Several major construction projects nearing completion; 16 consecutive years of record-setting enrollment growth; an outstanding faculty and staff dedicated to the mission of education; one of the lowest undergraduate tuition rates in the country; a 95-percent placement rate for graduates going into a career or advanced education.
“And,” he said, “we have one of the most ambitious capital campaign goals of any university of our size and type – $100 million, and we are already over halfway to that goal with three years remaining in the campaign.”
He attributed the university’s accomplishments to “an incredible synergy” of leadership, students, faculty, staff, the support of its community, in Hays, in Kansas and around the world, and “the commitment of the alumni and donors of the university that make dreams possible.”
The Bickles, he said, “are the quintessential role models for philanthropic giving.”
“They not only want to give to the university, but they want to find new and meaningful ways to keep supporting the university,” said President Tompkins. “They have discovered what I call ‘the joy of giving.’ ”
“So today,” he concluded, “Don and Chris, we say ‘thanks’ again for helping this and future generations of our students.”