“Now it’s getting real,” Jeff Colyer said as he showed his lunch companions at Al’s Chickenette his phone.
The photo he’d just received by text showed his name being applied to the door of the governor’s office at the state Capitol.
Colyer, who served as lieutenant governor for seven years, took the oath of office at 3 p.m. Wednesday, succeeding Gov. Sam Brownback, whose resignation became effective at that time. On Thursday, Brownback will be sworn in as U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.
Colyer started his inauguration day in his hometown because it’s his touchstone, he said.
“It’s just great having the opportunity to come home. It’s one of the best places in the world, right here,” he said.
“It was real important to touch base, see some friends.”
Colyer’s day started at sunrise where his family once farmed north of Hays.
“It was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.
“Plus, we had a lunar eclipse to boot. The first time in 500 years that it was a supermoon, blood moon, all of that,” he said, referencing Wednesday morning’s celestial event of a lunar eclipse, the red tint of Earth’s shadow on the moon and the second full moon of the month.
He didn’t take the event as any kind of sign, however.
“But the scientist geek in me thinks that was pretty cool,” he said with a laugh.
“I think the sign was just all the friends here.”
Several of those friends joined him mid-morning for Mass at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, where Colyer graduated in 1978.
Kevin Gottschalk, who sat beside Colyer during the service, said he was happy to see his classmate moving into the governor’s office.
“It’s great to have somebody who believes what we believe in,” he said.
TMP Principal Chad Meitner said there’s been some excitement in the school around Colyer’s visit.
“The fact that it’s happening during Catholic Schools Week just adds another festive feel to it, so there’s definitely some energy in the building,” he said.
Several pews of the school’s chapel were filled with members of the senior class who chose to attend the invitation-only celebration. Classmates, some of Colyer’s teachers and TMP officials also were invited.
Father Mike Scully, who was one of Colyer’s teachers at TMP, performed the Mass. Scully told those gathered they were celebrating leadership and the school’s role in Colyer’s formation.
“One of the challenges of this day — when for the first time in our history, one of the young people will become governor of our state — one of the challenges that we have is to take the spotlight off of Jeff long enough to say, as he said to me all the time, he is only one who has learned leadership in the school,” Scully said.
He drew some laughs when talking about Colyer as a student. A member of the debate team, Colyer often would argue with Scully in religion class, he said.
“It was sort of a free atmosphere where we could speak our minds,” he said. “He was there, listening and arguing.”
Scully gave a special blessing to Colyer during the Mass.
“It is a great privilege for us to do it,” he said, as Colyer stepped forward and Scully raised his hands for the prayer.
Following Mass, Colyer toured West Side Alternative Mental Health Center for Kids, a cooperative effort among Hays USD 489, High Plains Mental Health Center and West Central Kansas Special Education Co-op.
“It was also important to visit with (Executive Director) Walt Hill and the High Plains Mental Health people,” Colyer said. “That’s one of our most important charges. I just wanted to see it again and be able to visit with them.”
Following the tour, he and his entourage had lunch at Al’s Chickenette, where he visited with residents Errol Wuertz, Ron and Elaine Adams and Al’s General Manager Al Estrada.
Estrada offered the governor-to-be some advice he said he’d learned from the restaurant industry.
“Take care of the people that take care of you. Listen to folks,” he said.
Colyer said trips to Hays and other parts of Kansas are in his future as governor.
“You’ll see me a lot across Kansas. That’s just how I am,” he said.