Fourth-generation Tiger continues family legacy

4th Generation

09/17/15 local, area
By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
Madeline Withington already had a supply of Fort Hays State University T-shirts when she came to campus this fall.

Despite living 50-some miles away -- where she attended school at Ransom-Western Plains, her mother's alma mater -- Madeline has frequented the FHSU campus most of her life. Now an FHSU freshman, Withington is a fourth-generation Tiger.

Her mother, Lynnette Nichol Withington, played basketball for the Fort Hays State women's team back in the mid-1980s.

Lynnette's parents, Don and Pat Nichol, both are graduates of FHSU, where they met in 1947. And Pat Nichol's parents, Albert and Bessie O'Toole, both received teaching certificates from Fort Hays State back when it was called Fort Hays Kansas State Normal School.

While the O'Tooles' great granddaughter doesn't have any shirts with "Normal School" across the front, she does own some black and gold shirts that her friends have never seen.

"I'll have on a different Fort Hays State shirt, and someone will ask where I got it," Madeline said. "I'll tell them, 'I don't know. It could be from four or five years ago.' "

Ironically, one of Madeline's shirts isn't one that new students receive when they come for their official visit. That's because she didn't take an official visit.

Madeline had a chance to continue her athletic career after high school and considered playing volleyball at the NAIA level. Once she decided to concentrate on academics and play intramural sports, she said the decision was easy where she would continue her education.

Now, the stuffed tiger that Madeline received as an infant has made his home in FHSU's McMindes Hall.

"My mom went here, my grandparents went here, and my dad only lives 15 miles from here," Madeline said. Geoff Withington now lives in Ellis. "I've always loved Fort Hays State. I still love it so much. It's great."

Pat O'Toole Nichol was an only child, and she said she knew from early on that she would attend the same college as her parents. And her daughter was recruited to play basketball for the FHSU women's team.

While Madeline became familiar with the FHSU campus over the years, Lynnette said she didn't nudge her daughter to attend her alma mater.

"I wanted her to make her own choice," Lynnette said.

But she admitted that Madeline had heard plenty of Fort Hays State athletic stories, not only about her mom but her grandfather as well.

Don Nichol was a three-sport athlete at Fort Hays State, competing for legendary coaches in all three sports -- Ralph "Red" Huffman in football, Cade Suran in basketball, and Alex Francis in track and field. In the stands cheering him on was Pat O'Toole, a member of the pep club who made her own mark during her college days. She was yearbook queen and served as president of Pan Hellenic Council.

Even with all the family connections, it was ultimately an academic program that brought Madeline to FHSU.

"I looked for schools that had what I wanted to major in -- human resource management," she said. Other factors drew her to FHSU, too.

"Fort Hays State isn't too big, and it's so affordable," she said. "I thought I could get to know my professors here, and I was right. All my professors are so helpful."

So, now Madeline should get a black and gold shirt with "Fourth-Generation Tiger" on it.
"The four generation thing is kind of cool," said Madeline, who now will have plenty of college stories to tell her younger sister, Anna Belle, a junior at Ransom-Western Plains.

It's that type of family commitment that President Mirta M. Martin said makes her "jittery with excitement."

Pat Nichol sure was excited about her granddaughter's decision.

"I didn't know if she was going to go here or not, so we were pleasantly surprised," said Pat, who retired last spring from Ransom-Western Plains after a 40-plus year career in education. She said she enjoys being "involved with the alumni association because it allows for chances to gather with old friends."

Her daughter agreed.

"I am proud to be a Tiger because of the pride that the school takes in itself," Lynnette said. "FHSU is a great school with lots of tradition. It has a hometown pride that is possible because of the type of students that attend."

Family is something that President Martin has embraced since coming to Hays in the summer of 2014.

"There are generations of family members who have attended Fort Hays State, and it's in that spirit of family where they immediately self identify," said Martin, in her second year at FHSU. "There is a very unique and wonderful feeling here where people swell with pride."

"Part of that pride is the education they receive," she continued, "but part of it is the spirit of family here. That's something that inspires me and energizes me and makes me realize my decision I made to make Fort Hays State my home was the right decision."

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