By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
Don and Chris Bickle live up to the Fort Hays State University Athletic Difference Makers moniker.
And do they ever make a difference in one of the most elite clubs of donors to FHSU athletics.
On Thursday, the Hays couple -- long known for philanthropy -- made its second large donation to FHSU in four years, announcing a gift of $1 million for scholarships for Tiger athletes.
That comes on the heels of a large donation in 2010 by the Bickles for the new Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility adjacent to FHSU's Lewis Field Stadium.
"If you give good gifts, God gives better," Don Bickle said following a news conference on campus Thursday.
"When God's been good to you, he expects you to be good to others," Chris Bickle added.
Avid fans of Tiger athletics who are a common sight at FHSU events, the 86-year old Bickles are both graduates of Hoisington High School. So they decided to also give three $500 annual scholarships to FHSU students who are former Cardinal athletes from Hoisington.
"She loves her Tigers," Don Bickle said of his wife.
"And her Cardinals, too," he added with a smile.
The Bickles' donation brings the total of the ongoing $12 million Power of One Scholarship Campaign to $11 million.
"Fort Hays State University is all about family," FHSU President Mirta Martin said. "This kind of scholarship ensures the next generation of family, our leaders, to be able to pursue the American dream. The spirit of family is alive and well at Fort Hays State University."
Martin, who was named president in May and took over in July for the retiring Ed Hammond, remembers the Bickles as some of the first people she met when she came to campus as one of five finalists in early April. And Martin was impressed with the Bickles from the get-go.
"They were the first people at Fort Hays State who I had my picture taken with," Martin said of the Bickles. "Even as a (presidential) candidate, they extended their support to me through every cell of the university."
Curtis Hammeke, athletic director at Fort Hays who also is a former Tiger athlete, was overwhelmed by the Bickles' latest measure of generosity.
"It is hard to describe our sense of gratitude to the Bickles for their major commitment to FHSU, especially our athletic department," Hammeke said at the news conference. "Scholarships are what it's all about to attract those student athletes to represent Fort Hays State."
With numerous FHSU athletes standing around the corridor in the Dreiling Lobby of Sheridan Hall, Hammeke explained how vitally important scholarship money is to athletes at NCAA Division II schools, which don't award full rides like Division I institutions.
The average Tiger athlete receives 28 percent of a full ride, Hammeke said. Therefore, many have to work part-time, too.
"At the NCAA Division II level, scholarships are dispersed in equivalencies rather than full rides," he said. "Consequently, this generous contribution will positively impact a significant number of student-athletes for many years to come. I just want to get up here and say, 'Thanks.' "