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A Tiger twist to Christmas time

12/4/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Santa Claus waved at the crowd in front of Sheridan Hall as he rode on a trailer pulled by a large John Deere tractor.

"Santa and John Deere; they go together like holly and ivy," said Mary Hammond, wife of Fort Hays State University President Edward Hammond.

She flashed a big smile at a passerby who questioned that statement.

"It's the way we do things in western Kansas," she said.

The FHSU president always has done things in a big way at the university, and Tuesday was no different.

The annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony he started when he came to FHSU in 1987 marked his last as president of the university. He announced last month he would be stepping aside and retiring from that role next summer.

But it won't be his last tree lighting, he said.

"Everything from here on out will be the last (as president), but I'll still be around," said Hammond, who plans to live in Hays and work as a consultant at FHSU for a year after his retirement.

After songs by the Dickens Carolers, FHSU Interim Provost Chris Crawford flipped a switch to light three large trees in front of Sheridan, and local elementary school children were awarded prizes for a coloring contest before Santa headed inside to hear children's Christmas wish lists.

One of those standing in line to talk to Santa was Evyn Cox, who was going to be late for her dance lesson at Becky's School of Dance.

When Brian and Carla Cox were notified their only child was a finalist in the coloring contest, they decided to attend the event for the first time.

The tree lighting ceremony -- sponsored by numerous FHSU organizations and Wendy's restaurants of Hays -- has grown to include many activities, and it traditionally is the Tuesday following the Thanksgiving break at Fort Hays.

"She's always had dance, so we have never come before," Carla Cox said. "But we're being late to dance tonight."

Evyn was excited when she saw her drummer boy coloring had earned the second-place award in the second-grade division.

She also was pleased to see a third-place ribbon on the artwork of her classmate at Roosevelt Elementary School, Kylie Freed.

"I think they're all winners," said Terrance Freed, Kylie's dad who, like the Coxes, was attending the event for the first time along with his wife, Kira, and daughters Kylie and Taylor, a kindergartner.

More than 500 youngsters entered this year's coloring contest for students pre-kindergarten through third grade. Their artwork will be on display on the lower level of Gross Memorial Coliseum for the remainder of December.

The public will be able to view the children's artwork at Saturday's FHSU wrestling Bob Smith Open and at the rest of the 2013 Tiger home basketball games.