Alumni team up for groundbreaking of FHSU's Themed Housing

groundbreaking ceremony

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- There were lots of hugs and reminiscing on the grassy area north of Fort Hays State University's Lewis Field Stadium Saturday morning.

FHSU alumni were giddy as they greeted each other and current students and faculty on the site of many a tailgate party over the years.

But the 2016 Tiger football season is still five months away, and these folks were dressed far too formally for a tailgate party.

Instead, several hundred men and women dressed in suits and business attire were celebrating the groundbreaking of a new residential life building for Greek organizations.

Cheers went up as President Mirta M. Martin was joined by members of the local and national Greek communities in turning over some dirt in a ceremony celebrating a new venture at Fort Hays State -- the construction of a Themed Housing residence for student organizations.

"Today marks the beginning of a new era at Fort Hays State University," Martin said. "It's an era where we bring the Greeks back home, back home where they belong.

"This is momentous because you symbolize everything that Fort Hays State symbolizes -- the importance of scholarship, the importance of leadership, the importance of service, the importance of sisterhood and brotherhood," she added.

Following the groundbreaking and unveiling of a large rendering of the 31,000 square-foot, three-story Themed Housing building, different groups climbed a set of risers for numerous photo opportunities.

"Great weather, great day," said Tanner Younie, a Hays senior and FHSU chapter president for the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

The Themed Housing is part of a $35.7 million Wiest Hall replacement project that includes a 450-bed residence hall near the site of the current Wiest Hall. Projected completion date for both new buildings is June 2017, with occupancy planned for the fall 2017 semester.

There is room for four groups of 24 students each. Three Greek organizations -- Delta Zeta and Sigma Sigma Sigma sororities and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity -- have committed to filling three-fourths of the building.

Funding for the Themed Housing comes from several university categories, including residential life, with the bulk of it ($25 million) coming from a bond sale. Greek alumni also pitched in to help with additional fees to upgrade interior finishes.

His donation is a way of giving back, said Sigma Phi Epsilon alum Derrick Tice, a 1996 graduate of Fort Hays State.

"I think this will be invaluable, being on campus," said Tice, who now lives in St. Francis with his wife, Heidi, and their two children.

Tice grew up in Hoxie and said when he came to Fort Hays State his freshman year, he was greeted by several SigEps to help him carry his belongings into his residence hall.

Tice checked out the fraternity and joined that first semester of his freshman year and lived in the SigEp house his sophomore and junior years.

"The biggest mistake I made was moving out my senior year," he said. "You lose track of what's going on, on a daily basis."

Likewise, Susan Nickerson had no plans to join a sorority when coming to Hays from another small Kansas community in the mid 1970s.

But Nickerson, who grew up in Ellsworth, started working for the FHSU yearbook, and her assignment was Greek section editor. So she decided to go through the Greek recruitment process to get a feel for the sororities.

She liked what she saw and joined Sigma Sigma Sigma, with which she is still active today.

"There was a lot of emphasis on scholarship in the sorority, and there were a lot of service projects and neat things I would never have had an opportunity to do as a group," she said. "And I got to know a lot of different people, ones who will be lifelong friends."

Nickerson went on to earn two bachelor's degrees and a master's from Fort Hays State. She now lives in Grand Island, Neb., and made the trip to Hays for Saturday's ceremony.

The Themed Housing building is designed on a townhouse model, with each of the four houses featuring separate entrances as well as private bathrooms and its own family room, kitchen and stairway.

A central area open to all residents will house two large meeting rooms with capacity of 50 people each, as well as a shared elevator and laundry area.

There are seven active Greek organizations currently at Fort Hays State, with a new one set to start up in fall 2017.

FHSU juniors Rebecca Vincent, president of the Panhellenic Council, and Charlie Murphy, president of the Interfraternity Council, spoke at the ceremony.

"With our substantial growth over the next year, we are confident this themed housing development will better cultivate the Greek spirit and will become a centralized location for any and all Greek events," said Murphy, a member of Sigma Chi from Amarillo, Texas, who is majoring in business management. "This prime location will give us the opportunity to market to students, family and community members."

Vincent, an organizational leadership major from Frederick, Colo., agreed.

"These last two years have been the best two years of my college experience," said Vincent, a member of Delta Zeta. "It's given me the opportunity to grow not only as a person but as a sister. The Themed Housing will give us the opportunity to create new traditions and to better ourselves through the Greek community."

While most of the Greek houses are normally located in the neighborhood close to campus, Nickerson and Tice both see a big advantage of living in campus housing.

"I see the potential for more joint activities and socials and projects and service with this being located on campus," she said. "This is just another great opportunity for Greek presence on campus."

Tice's son, Kobe, is in seventh grade in St. Francis, and Tice thinks Fort Hays State -- and Sigma Phi Epsilon -- would both be good choices if Kobe picks FHSU as his destination of choice for post-secondary education.

If all that should come to pass in fall 2021, Kobe would be able to live in a residence hall his dad helped build.

"It's neat," Tice said, "to feel like you're leaving a legacy for your kids."

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