The six-year saga of what would happen to the $20 million estate of Earl and Winona “Nonie” Field came to an official close Thursday with the Fort Hays State University Foundation announcing how the money will be used.
“Their gift is the largest in school history and unequivocally change the lives of students in perpetuity,” Jason Williby, FHSU Foundation president and CEO, said during a press conference Thursday morning at the Memorial Union.
The money will be used the way the Hays couple asked, Williby said — 50 percent supporting scholarships for Earl’s beloved FHSU athletics, and Nonie’s share for art and music scholarships, each receiving 25 percent.
Curtis Hammeke, FHSU athletic director, said the scholarships will help bridge the divide between what FHSU can offer as a NCAA Division II school versus a Division I school.
Using football as an example, he said a Division I team could receive 85 scholarships, while a Division II team like FHSU might receive 36.
At Division I, “They’re either full scholarship or they’re walk on, it’s all or nothing,” he said.
“The difference is we can split those at our levels. So you take 36 and divide that among 90, 100. Pretty quick you realize that our athletes, even though the time commitment is the same ad Division I athletes, the scholarships are 25 or 30 percent,” Hammeke said.
“So these type of gifts are enormous. We want to be able to at least provide the maximum we’re allowed by the NCAA. This will take a big step in doing that,” he said.
Terry Crull, associate professor of music and director of choirs at FHSU, said the Field gift will allow the department to double or even triple the amount of scholarships it gives.
“We already have so much going for us with low tuition and opportunities at a small school for kids to come,” he said.
He hopes it will help them reach more students who might not be familiar with what FHSU has to offer.
“I just judged yesterday in Wichita. Great choirs in those big schools. They don’t know what we are. Now, if we can offer those kids scholarships and reward them for their efforts and the contributions they’ll make to our department, it’s going to mean a lot to us, especially as we build the theater program, as we build the strings program,” he said.
The funds will be endowed, meaning the Fields’ gift will last “forever,” Williby said.
A portion of the Fields’ estate that was made available to the foundation has already provided 164 scholarships, he said.
“A hundred years from now — God bless if Fort Hays is still here at 250 years — these scholarships will still be awarded every year,” Williby said.
The gift puts FHSU’s $100 million Journey capital campaign at over $84 million, Williby said after the press conference. It is scheduled to end at Homecoming in 2021.
The $20 million was the subject of a years-long legal battle. Nonie Field died in 2009. A will drafted in August 2010 left the majority of the couple’s estate to the FHSU Foundation.
However, after Earl Field’s death in 2013, his part-time bookkeeper and caretaker, Wanda Oborny, claimed she discovered a typed codicil in which Field said he changed his mind about his estate and was leaving the bulk of it to her.
The Fields, both graduates of FHSU, made their fortune in an abstract and title company and investments in agricultural and mineral interests, and what FHSU President Emeritus Edward Hammond called a frugal lifestyle. They had no children.
After a two-week trial in Hays in 2016, Kansas Senior Judge William Lyle ruled the codicil was not valid, leaving nearly the entire estate to the FHSU Foundation.
Oborny’s appeal held up the distribution of the funds further, until the Kansas Supreme Court denied its review in November, upholding Lyle’s ruling.
In February 2017, Oborny was charged in federal court with seven counts of mail fraud and faced up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
She pleaded guilty in March to one count of mail fraud. The plea agreement calls for 12 months probation and charitable donation of $100 a month for 12 months to FHSU. Sentencing is scheduled for May 20 in U.S. District Court in Wichita.
The fraudulent codicil had been signed by Steve and Kathy Little, friends of Oborny’s, as witnesses. The couple died in a murder-suicide after a federal investigation was begun.
Updated 3:30 p.m. with quotes from Hammeke, Crull.
LIVE on #Periscope: FHSU announcement on Field estate gift https://t.co/Pz1oLv4A9W— HDN Juno Ogle (@HDNJuno) April 11, 2019