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FHSU honoree returns 'home' to be grand marshal




Eric Arubayi returned "home" for homecoming.

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Eric Arubayi returned "home" for homecoming.

Arubayi and his wife, Diana, are in Hays for the first time since 1978, when they were students at Fort Hays State University.

Arubayi, the grand marshal for Saturday's 1 p.m. homecoming parade down Main Street, also is the recipient of the Presidential Award for his achievements since leaving FHSU.

"My reaction was it was an award for hard work, my alma mater trying to reward me for hard work," Arubayi said of the honor. "I felt elated; it's not something that comes easy."

In 1976, Arubayi graduated from FHSU with a master's degree in education administration. During that time is when he struck up a friendship with Ed Stehno, a professor of educational administration at the school.

"There were several Nigerian students here," said Stehno, now retired. "He just absorbed everything. I wanted him to come back; I convinced him to come back for his specialist degree."

Arubayi returned to FHSU with Diana and earned an education specialist degree in education administration-superintendent in 1978.

"When we came here, he picked us up at the airport," Arubayi said. "I stayed with him."

The relationship evolved into more than student-teacher; it became father-son. Arubayi often was a babysitter for Stehno's children.

"When he was on his master's, he would come over here all the time," Stehno said. "He babysitted for our children a lot.

"We just kidded each other, that I was his American father. I sort of became his American father."

The bond is so close that years later Arubayi followed a Nigerian custom and asked his "father," Stehno, for his approval of the name chosen for the couple's first of four children.

"That's the kind of relationship we had," Stehno said. "He was my son. He was like my foreign adopted son, it was that close."

When Arubayi learned he was receiving the Presidential Award, he and his wife knew it was time to return to Hays.

"We were looking forward to coming to Hays sometime," Diana Arubayi said. "When the opportunity came, we're very excited, make plans to go."

The couple flew for 17 hours from Nigeria to Kansas City, Mo., then it was a four-hour drive to Hays. They are staying with Stehno and his wife, Donna, for homecoming weekend.

There are numerous places on campus the Arubayis want to see again. There is Wooster Place, where they lived, Forsyth Library, Custer Hall and Gross Memorial Coliseum. But there is one place Arubayi visited when he was a student at FHSU he can't see again.

"The place I like to eat is no longer here -- Hardee's," Arubayi said with a laugh.

Her husband absolutely loves eating at Hardee's everywhere they go on trips, Diana said.

"He loves Hardee's," she said with a laugh. "When we went to Dubai, he was looking for Hardee's."

Hays might not have a Hardee's any longer, but it does have fond memories for the couple.

"It was a small campus, peaceful," Arubayi said. "Very good program in education.

"The university community was very friendly, we enjoyed it. There were few foreign students, but Ed Stehno was an American father."

Arubayi is president and a professor of education administration and planning at Delta State University in Abraka, Nigeria. He named as one of his proudest accomplishments having his work published more than 100 times in publications around the world.

This weekend, Arubayi traveled halfway across the world to return "home" to Hays, where he is seeing his "American father."

"So, you know how thrilled we are to have him here," Stehno said. "It's a homecoming."