Ruth Zohner is as proud as they come while talking about her alma mater. But it doesn’t get much better than this week for Zohner, a 1969 graduate of Fort Hays State University.
Her oldest granddaughter, Abbie Maxwell, is a member of the 2019 graduating class at FHSU. And Zohner is among a large group of family members coming to Hays to celebrate.
While Zohner has plenty of stories to tell of the impact that FHSU has had on her family, one that stands out is the fact that Abbie is a nominee for the Torch Award.
Coincidentally, Abbie’s mom, Anne Maxwell, was a 1993 nominee for the Torch, given annually to an outstanding senior nominated by faculty.
It’s going to be a memorable weekend, said Abbie, who actually has several special ceremonies to attend. There was a reception Wednesday for outstanding senior nominees for the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. Thursday evening was a banquet honoring the Torch and other commencement award nominees.
Abbie was set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing Friday morning. In the afternoon she will participate in the traditional pinning ceremony, a rite of passage for nursing graduates.
Abbie, who grew up in Andale, transferred to FHSU her sophomore year when she decided to go into nursing. Her mother, and grandmother, couldn’t have been happier.
Anne’s other three siblings also attended Fort Hays State, with two of them receiving degrees. Not only did Anne’s parents graduate from Fort Hays State, but so did her husband’s parents, the late Leonard and Karen Maxwell. In fact, both sets of Abbie’s grandparents met at FHSU.
“My existence is owed to Fort Hays State,” Abbie said.
Nonetheless, she wanted to try something different right out of high school and attended another college for one semester.
“But once I decided on nursing, I knew I wanted to transfer to Fort Hays State,” she said. “Hays and Fort Hays State have a good, small-town feel. Being from a small town, I really enjoyed that.”
Once she was certain of her path, Abbie excelled at Fort Hays State. She was on the Dean’s Honor Roll every semester and will graduate summa cum laude — with greatest honors, with a 3.9-plus grade-point average. This spring, she was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.
Abbie will begin work in July as a critical care nurse at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.
Abbie’s relatives, including Grandpa and Grandma Zohner, from Penokee, will take part in a celebration Friday evening at an Airbnb in Hays. No doubt a story or two will be told from the family’s association with FHSU that spans parts of six decades.
Josie Hemphill from the Denver area, one of Anne’s nieces — and another Zohner grandchild — is completing her sophomore year at Fort Hays State, keeping the lineage intact for the Zohner family.
Abbie also is the oldest of four siblings, so there’s a possibility of more FHSU graduations in coming years.
The Zohners said they drive through campus every time they visit Hays, and sometimes get out and walk around. Ditto for Anne.
“The university has changed a lot over the years, but I still love what has all remained the same,” Anne said. “You put your feet on that campus and the quad and look up at the pillars on Picken Hall, and you know you’re home.”