Yellow tape blocking off every other booth wasn’t the only surprise awaiting a few longtime regulars who gathered for The Wagon Wheel’s first chicken-fried steak special of the fall semester (allowable under county health guidelines, with masks mandatory until patrons are seated and strict social distancing): A young, fit guy shouldering an enormous backpack made his way into the 14th Street tavern for lunch and an ice-cold beer. Ice cold, as in, a single can of light beer poured into a plastic cup packed with ice.
Hey, it’s hot out there for a hiker ambling coast to coast.
“I wanted to do something challenging,” says Keith Doubman, a Pennsylvanian who started his cross-country trek May 17 in Delaware, “and I’m just so grateful for my health. I also wanted to do something to better humanity, so I’m raising money for cancer research.”
Doubman, who previously hiked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain, is following a route called the American Discovery Trail, which—who knew?—passes through Lawrence. He’ll next walk south to Ottawa before turning west into the Flint Hills. The rest of his Kansas journey will take him to McPherson, Great Bend, Kinsley, Dodge City, Garden City and Coolidge; Doubman says he’s been grateful to find respite in homes of people following his trek online, so Jayhawks who would like to share their Kansas hospitality while making an interesting new friend can follow Doubman’s trek on Instagram and TikTok, @KCDAdventure.
Estelle Johnson, a four-year anchor on some of the most stifling defensive units in KU soccer history, this week launched her FIFA World Cup dreams as a member of the Cameroon National Team, which opened its Group E play against Canada Monday in Montpellier, France.
Johnson, c’11, who grew up in Colorado, is eligible for the Cameroon squad because she was born in the Central African country to an American father and Malian mother. Her father, Jerry, worked with subsistence farmers across the continent until moving the family to Fort Collins for a job at Colorado State University when Estelle was 7.
“I had been thinking about playing for Cameroon since 2015,” Johnson told the Sun newspaper, of Edmonton, Canada, shortly before the Cameroon-Canada match, “when I saw them play in the last World Cup.”
Johnson appeared in all 85 games of her four-year KU career, from 2006 to 2009, and was named to multiple All-Region teams. She began her professional career with the short-lived Philadelphia Independence, then stepped away from the game for graduate school at Avila University in Kansas City. After earning her MBA, Johnson returned to professional soccer with the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit; she now plays with New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC.
Johnson was unable to reach any team officials in Cameroon until coach Alain Djeumfa took over in January, and she didn’t make her first international appearance with Cameroon until shortly before the World Cup began.
“I’ve been playing professionally now for nine seasons, so I’ve played with some of the best players in the world,” Johnson told the Fort Collins Coloradoan. “Just watching them achieve this and knowing I can hang with them … that’s when it hit me: I think I can do this and I want to actually try to make this happen.”
Cameroon advanced to the second round in its first World Cup four years ago in Canada. After Monday’s match, a 1-0 loss, Johnson and her Cameroon teammates face the Netherlands on Saturday and New Zealand on June 20.
One of KU’s most beloved artists is partnering with the University again.
Mike Savage’s latest work is historic Watson Library, which alumni can buy a print or ornaments of as a fundraiser for KU Libraries. The art is available for purchase through Savage’s website and is available through April 20.
Savage, f’80, is a longtime supporter of all things KU, often donating paintings for auction at the Alumni Association’s Rock Chalk Ball.
For more on Mike Savage, read a profile by Chris Lazzarino from Issue 3, 2012, of Kansas Alumni.
Savage colors his world with flair and passion
Now long established as one of Kansas City’s iconic painters, Mike Savage says it was a KU photography class that provided his pivotal insight. As Professor Pok-Chi Lau examined a selection of Savage’s images, he first praised—“I really like what you’re doing”—then added the comment that has since made all the difference: “But get rid of your ego.”
“That was a turning point in my life,” Savage says in his airy, book-lined studio above the garage behind his Westwood home. “He thought I wasn’t delving in far enough. I was trying to make it look good instead of doing what was coming out of me. You’re good at what you do; believe in that. Go find out. Make mistakes.”
Savage, f ’80, has been ridding himself of artistic ego ever since. He describes himself as a contemporary Impressionist, but that’s as far as he’ll go in attaching himself to the slightest scent of a high-minded, difficult artist. (“ARTSY-FARTSY” is a 20-point word in the novelty Scrabble blocks arranged near his desk.)
Savage’s work is accessible both literally and figuratively. His colorful acrylic-on-canvas paintings are prized by collectors and displayed across Kansas City, including his own gallery, Sav-Art, and yet he donates original works for numerous causes (his KU images have become a Rock Chalk Ball tradition) and he accepts commission work, even if the commission ends up being zero and the subjects are beloved pets or the four children of a woman whom a buddy hoped to marry.
“I’m a happy-go-lucky guy about the art,” he says. “I don’t have any angst about it. I like the beauty of painting.”
Savage embraces technology—he has 58,000 songs in iTunes and music is his constant companion while working—and, after photographing his paintings, he generates prints from a high-end digital printer; when galleries call in their orders, he not only makes the prints, but he’ll often deliver them, too.
“It’s kind of magic stuff,” Dave Seal, owner of Framewoods Gallery in downtown Lawrence, says of Savage’s KU prints, “and it’s affordable. Yes, he’s contemporary and Impressionistic, but he makes it a little more modern, and local.”
Spencer Museum of Art’s featured spring exhibition, which runs through June 30, radiates throughout the sparkling central court and first-floor galleries, offering visitors an eclectic array of styles, techniques and ideas, all exploring the topic of place.
As is to be expected with the Spencer’s original exhibitions, “The Power of Place” is both challenging and rewarding, yet also offers plenty of opportunity to pause and ponder the people and places that shape us as Jayhawks and Kansans.
Let’s get this out of the way right up top: Yes, KU has a hockey team. It’s not varsity competition, but it is the next-highest level, University-sponsored club sports, which compete against teams from other schools. As documented a year ago in Kansas Alumni magazine, the hockey ‘Hawks, who play in Independence, Missouri, have made a mighty resurgence, and this season has been their best yet.
The Jayhawks completed their American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 schedule 20-0-1, capped by a two-game sweep at the U.S. Air Force Academy Feb. 1 and 2. Next up: a pride game against Division 2 Mizzou, Feb. 21 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“Mizzou has been struggling all year,” says junior Jimmy Samuels, KU’s club president, “but they’re going to be a whole new team when they step on the ice against Kansas, and we’re not going to hold back, either. It’s much more than just a game. It’s a historic college rivalry and we’re one of the few sports that gets to continue that tradition.”
The ice ‘Hawks feature two of the ACHA’s top-10 scorers, who both hail from Overland Park: sophomore Dane Johnson, who has a dazzling 38 goals and 30 assists in 19 games, and junior linemate Dawson Engle, with 28 goals and 34 assists in 21 games. Close behind is hard-charging team leader Preston McConnell, a senior from Liberty, Missouri, who sports 16 goals and 21 assists in 17 games.
“Give a lot of credit to [coach Andy McConnell, j’16],” Samuels says. “He really analyzed each line and their chemistry. He has matched each line with their speed, chemistry, passing abilities, positioning, everything. Every line has great potential to produce amazing plays.”
KU and Mizzou are both depending on strong fan support at the game, which faithfully replicates the intense border contests of old. The ‘Hawks, however, also need fan and alumni support to help them travel their next challenge: the ACHA playoffs.
If, as expected, KU is awarded a bye for the first round of regionals, KU would likely head to the Division 3 finals in Frisco, Texas, at the end of March.
KU’s club sports fund awarded the hockey team $9,000 for its $60,000 annual budget at the start of the season, with the rest being covered by players, their families, and a few faithful supporters. Now the Jayhawks are looking at a likely bill of $15,000 to rent a team bus to travel to and from Texas, secure hotel rooms and buy meals.
They have raised $6,000, and are asking fellow Jayhawks to assist the hard-earned journey by contributing through a GoFundMe account. All donations go directly to the club’s account at KU Endowment.
KU-Mizzou T-shirts will be available at the Feb. 21 game, as will team hats and pucks. Team officials are still working with vendors to produce a KU hockey game jersey available for purchase, but that won’t happen soon enough to help cover expenses for the Texas trip.
Samuels says players and their families will have to cover any budgetary shortfalls for the trip to nationals; should there be a surplus, any remaining funds would carry over and help alleviate player costs next season.
“It’s been a crazy ride the past few months,” Samuels says. “It’s been awesome, and there’s still more to come.”
Photo: KU hockey’s leading scorers, sophomore Dane Johnson (19) and junior Dawson Engle (25).
Read more about the KU Hockey team in the January 2018 issue of Kansas Alumni Magazine.
Rabbi Zalman, as he is known within the Chabad community and across campus, doesn’t know how he was identified for the honor, but he’s glad it came.
“How did they pick it up? I’m not sure,” he says. “I think it’s because of the number of things that happened in the last year that triggered a very strong response, whether it was the kosher kitchen here at KU, whether it was the goodness and kindness campaign, but more than that, I think it’s the fact that it surprises people that in a small town in Kansas, in the middle of America, there’s such vibrant Jewish life.
“People don’t realize how much of a diverse and fascinating community KU really is.”
Working in concert with KU Dining, Rabbi Zalman helped launched dedicated kosher dining, available for the past year at South Dining Commons, a program that he says will expand next fall. In the wake of disturbing mass shootings both in downtown Lawrence and Las Vegas, Chabad created a “Good Card” program that encouraged random acts of kindness, which Chabad followed up with an ark coin-bank program to benefit Lawrencians in need.
Citing 13 years of leadership in Lawrence by Rabbi Zalman and his wife, Nechama, The Forward wrote, “Working from the Rohr Chabad Center, the Tiechtels have done their bit to make KU home to their growing band of Jewhawks.”
Rabbi Zalman praises KU’s diverse student body, as well as leadership decisions that have helped create a welcoming campus within a Midwestern public university where outsiders might not initially expect to find such a hospitable community.
“It’s a big statement. It says a lot about KU, to have been recognized at such a level in the global Jewish community,” he says. “It says a lot about how open and how diverse and how embracing KU as an institution is. This is what this makes us so special: all of the beautiful, different, colorful expressions that we have in this community.
“That’s why everyone loves KU, because of its very unique family spirit.”
Image courtesy of The Forward magazine and used with permission
Money was tight for Joanie DeGraw Jones and her family in the late 1960s, so she was only able to spend her freshman year at KU before returning home and completing her nursing studies in Kansas City, Kansas.
Jones, ’72, made the most of her limited time on the Hill, however, joining the Frosh Hawks pep club and cheering on the football ’Hawks as they stormed through a one-loss 1968 season on their way to a Big Eight championship and a trip to the Jan. 1, 1969, Orange Bowl in Miami.
While watching classmates pile into southbound cars, buses and trains for a trip she could not afford, Jones consoled herself by purchasing two keepsakes: a short-sleeved KU Orange Bowl sweatshirt and the custom-pressed single “Hawk it to ’Em,” by The Tips.
“I am really sad that I didn’t get to finish all four years,” says Jones, now retired from a long nursing career at Providence Medical Center, “but I treasure my things from there.”
She recently pulled the mint-condition sweatshirt and red-vinyl record from a sealed bag tucked safely in the back of her closet, where they’d been stored for 50 years, and asked her children what they might do with the mementos if they inherited them.
“They really couldn’t give me an answer,” Jones says, “and I thought, you know what? I’m just going to call [University Archives, in Spencer Research Library], and the lady said, ‘We don’t have anything like that. We’d love to have it.’ I wanted it be somewhere where it will be taken care of and treasured.”
Jones’ sweatshirt and record recently joined University Archives’ student life collection, significantly boosting KU’s holdings of 1969 Orange Bowl items, including photographs, negatives and color slides donated by the Alumni Association (which can be viewed with an “Orange Bowl” search here); a media guide and game program; and an as-new carry-on bag given to travelers by Maupintour.
“This is one of the best collections that we have that reflects student life at the time,” says Archivist Becky Schulte, c’76. “We don’t really have this much for any other athletic event that I know of. This is really exceptional. These photos of players with fans, signing autographs, lounging by the pool, we just don’t get that kind of stuff.”
As for her own keepsakes, Jones says she “treasured them all this time,” but she’s glad she decided to donate them to University Archives while she’s still here to savor the satisfaction of her decision to pass them along for sharing and safekeeping.
“I’m glad I’m alive to enjoy what I’ve done,” Jones says, “rather than donating after somebody passes away. I wanted to see that they benefited somebody else.”
Cue Wright hopes to one day retire from a successful music career and return to KU as a hip-hop professor. “Helping people,” she says, “is what I really like to do.” The following profile originally appeared in issue No. 3, 2018, of Kansas Alumni magazine.
On Feb. 4, 2017, a new Cue Wright was born. Already having earned two KU degrees and in the early days of a promising career in higher education, Wright shed her naturally shy self and stepped onto the outdoor stage at Mass Street’s Replay Lounge as the hip-hop artist Cuee.
“I knew I could write raps,” says Wright, j’15, g’17, “but I didn’t know I could perform as well as I did.”
A Chicago native, Wright was coaxed into a campus visit by her mother’s longtime employer, “Uncle” Gale Sayers, d’75, g’77. Front-row seats to a basketball game didn’t hurt, but it was Mount Oread that stole Wright’s heart.
Memories of that day are valuable tools in her current part-time job as senior coordinator of student ambassadors. When she meets with prospective students, Wright uses her story to help others write their own.
“I always channel that with my out-of-state students,” she says. “They’re thinking, ‘Why am I at Kansas?’ Well, go out on this campus and let it fill you.”
Finding her way
Wright arrived as a civil engineering major, but felt lost. Her mother asked what she was doing outside of class, to which Wright responded, “Nothin’.”
Wright switched her major to journalism, found her way to KJHK and eventually became director of hip-hop programming. Shortly before winter break of her senior year, her J-School adviser noted her “people-person” personality and suggested she consider a student affairs role in higher education. That required a master’s degree, yet another unknown for Wright, but she dove in. Soon her advanced studies were wearing her thin.
“I need an outlet. I need an other. I need something else. And so I started writing rap. Everything I’m doing is self-taught, but luckily I love to learn.”
Encouraged by family and friends, Wright in 2017 released “Master’s Cap,” in which six songs each explore a year of her college experience.
“My thing is,” she says, “school is cool. I love school. I’m a nerd.”
Wright’s current mixtape, “Shameless,” which she’s dropping online throughout 2018, displays her growth as an artist, both in writing skills (My life is a tornado/The haters all around me, everything will be OK, though) and emotional maturity that “lets the world know who I am.” Her success led to a busy summer schedule in Lawrence and Kansas City, including a prominent gig at the Middle of the Map Fest at Crown Center.
“Pursuing hip-hop in Lawrence has been different. They put me on a lot of alternative shows, and the audience sees this hip-hop opener and it’s totally different than what they’ve signed up for. The rewarding part is when they say, ‘Now I’m a hip-hop fan.’
“I take the blank stares as a challenge, and I love challenges.”
At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, former KU defensive lineman and part-time fullback TJ Semke knew he was just about the perfect size and body type to play fullback in the NFL. He also knew that NFL offenses no longer feature fullbacks, so career prospects were slim at best.
“That dream kind of died out,” Semke, d’16, says from the North Carolina headquarters of Hendrick Motorsports. “But I still wanted to do something that would keep me competitive and have that locker room feel, be around the guys, and NASCAR ended up being a good fit for that.”
Thrill of victory
Now in his second season with Hendrick Motorsports and his first on the pit crew team for Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, Semke on Aug. 5 got to experience the thrill of victory when Elliott held off the determined Martin Truex Jr. on the Watkins Glen International road course.
It was win No. 1 for Elliott, a third-year driver and son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, and the 250th in the illustrious racing history of Hendrick Motorsports, and nobody celebrated more enthusiastically in victory lane than a jackman from Kansas City who just a few years earlier knew next to nothing about auto racing.
“It was pretty special for Chase to get his first win, and it was the 250th for the company, which is a big deal,” Semke says. “All the pieces fell together and it ended up being a big deal. It was definitely good vibes coming back to work on Monday.”
An unusual path
Even before he became a professional athlete in NASCAR, Semke’s route through athletics was unusual and his story unique.
Semke fractured a vertebra during his junior season at Lee’s Summit North High School; he made it through his senior season while constantly fighting through “a lot of issues with my discs.” When his doctors finally told him to stop playing football, Semke complied and turned down offers to play at Division II colleges.
He grew up a “big MU guy,” and shocked his family when he came to Lawrence and enrolled at KU as a full-time student.
“Something drew me there,” Semke says. “I liked the school when I went on a visit, so I just went there.”
Ripe for recruitment
An energetic and successful student in high school, Semke likewise threw himself into his studies on the Hill, and even worked part-time for his mother’s boyfriend’s bail bond business, tracking down absconders who skipped court dates.
Although work as a bounty hunter provided the occasional adrenaline rush he still craved, it wasn’t the same as football. After two years away from the sport, Semke was ripe for recruitment when he noticed a University Daily Kansan advertisement announcing open tryouts for football walk-ons.
He tried out during the spring of his sophomore year, made the team, and entered his junior year with sophomore standing in football. A natural fullback in a pro-style offense with little need for fullbacks, Semke fashioned himself a high-energy playmaker on special teams; during practice, though, he moved to the scout team’s defensive line.
Putting in the work
“I was a little bit undersized for that,” he says, “but I was just out there every day, working hard, making plays, and I kind of got noticed. So they thought, why don’t we give this a shot? That whole next spring, my redshirt junior year, they put in a lot of time with me, getting me ready to play, and I ended up starting the first six games of my junior year on the defensive line.”
After being featured in Sports Illustrated thanks to his bounty-hunter background, Semke played defensive end as a senior, along with fullback when necessary—like Turner Gill before him, coach Charlie Weis rarely featured fullbacks—and when his KU playing days were done Semke began focusing on the NFL. He performed well at his Pro Day workouts, earning a workout with the Kansas City Chiefs and a minicamp invitation from the New Orleans Saints.
Leaving football behind
Realistic about his chances, Semke left football behind for good when he was invited to join more than 100 other candidates for pit-crew tryouts at Hendrick headquarters.
Hendrick, it turns out, sends a pit-crew coach out on the road with its race teams, and he spends race weeks visiting collegiate football program near every track, searching for potential recruits. At Kansas Speedway, KU coaches put in a good word for Semke, touting his speed, strength, attitude and energy.
Semke lived up the billing he received from his former football coaches, and in spring 2016 he was introduced as one of five new pit crew recruits at Hendrick’s second Signing Day event.
He spent his first full season learning the jackman’s job on a variety of teams and racing series, and this year was named a full-time member on Elliott’s No. 9 Camaro.
Steep learning curve
“TJ is a pretty special guy,” says veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson. “He’s physically gifted, to say the least, to be that big and that fast and strong. He’s a really competitive guy and a fun guy to have on our team. We’ve been really impressed with him and his ability with relatively no experience pitting the car. His learning curve has been amazing. We expect really big things from him in the future.”
Semke’s learning curve got steeper this season when NASCAR announced new pit-lane regulations that allowed for only five crew members over the wall during races, rather than the previous limit of six. That meant double-duty for someone on each crew, and Hendrick’s solution was to make the jackman also responsible for putting on tires, all within the 13-second timeframe of a high-pressure pit stop.
“You have double the work and you’re still trying to be fast,” Semke says. “It presented a lot of challenges, but that’s kind of what’s fun about it. We have a bunch of athletic guys who know how to adapt and change, so it worked out in our favor.”
Brains and brawn
As expected, Semke relishes the vigorous physical environment at Hendrick, where pit crews lift weights under the supervision of a team of trainers, go through full-speed pit training and even spend Mondays doing yoga to improve flexibility.
Perhaps not as expected, though, is the intelligence Semke brings to the team, which pays off in the team’s constant film study. He was named Academic All-Big 12 and graduated with at 3.1 GPA.
“A lot of people might look at me—the tattoos, and I’m a big, strong guy—and they might think, ‘Oh, this guy’s just a meathead, a cave-man type of guy, eats a bunch of meat.’ At a glance you might just think that’s what I am.
“But anything I do I want to be really good at it. I can hit the books and I can hit the weights, both. It definitely feels good to have a degree from the University of Kansas, that’s for sure.”
TJ Semke, No. 9 team jackman, gives fans a closer look inside the Hendrick Motorsports heat training program.
The call came Tuesday and was entirely unexpected:
“We need anthem singers who are music students at each of the Final Four schools. Could you do it?”
Before sophomore voice major Darius Sheppard could fully process this most unexpected opportunity to perform the national anthem at Saturday’s Final Four in San Antonio, he quickly replied, “I’m only 20. I need to ask my parents. Can I email you tonight?”
Sheppard—a tenor who performed a spine-tingling rendition of the national anthem with fellow students from Michigan, Villanova and Loyola-Chicago before the start of Saturday evening’s first game in the packed Alamodome—laughs when he recalls the reply he heard from the NCAA official: “OK, but instead of emailing tonight, can you call back in five minutes?”
Sheppard immediately phoned his parents, and, permission secured, on Wednesday booked his flight and on Thursday arrived in San Antonio, thrilled to represent KU on the biggest stage on collegiate athletics.
“It’s been an amazing week, absolutely incredible,” Sheppard said, shaking his head and smiling broadly. As he returned his attention to the first half of the Michigan-Loyola game, playing out just a few yards from his floor-level seat, Sheppard grinned and shouted over the crowd, “Rock Chalk!”