On Thursday, April 11, approximately 200 people attended a press conference at Fort Hays State University as the school announced the receipt of a $20 million gift, the largest donation in the school’s history. FHSU alumni Earl and Nonie Field made the donation as an estate gift.
The couple lived in Hays, and were childhood sweethearts, according to a FHSU press release.
President and CEO of the FHSU Foundation Jason Williby said, “Their gift is unequivocally life-changing for our students, but it is also the largest single gift ever made to FHSU.”
The donation will fund student scholarships in music, arts and athletics.
FHSU President Emeritus Edward H. Hammond knew the Fields for 26 years.
“Higher education was always a very high priority of the Fields,” said Hammond. “Earl graduated in 1937 with degrees in economics and business and married Nonie a year later.”
Noanie Field was a teacher and Earl Field was a teller—Earl also served on the FHSU board and as FHSU Alumni Association president.
Hammond said Earl Field established and ran the Field Abstract and Title Co. from 1946 through 1979. The Fields were actively involved with the university earning its Distinguished Service Award.
“Earl and Nonie did most things as a couple, but a couple with different interests,” Hammond said. “For Earl it was athletics, and for Nonie, it was art and music.”
So far, Fields’s funded scholarships have supported 164 students. One scholarship recipient, Adam Flax, is a senior music major and was born in Hays.
“I have been fortunate to live in a community that holds music and the arts in great esteem,” Flax said. “I would like to thank the Fields on behalf of myself and so many others for allowing us the chance to not only grown and share our talents, but to keep music and the arts as an integral part of Fort Hays State University.”
However, as the Wichita Eagle reports, it took nearly six years for FHSU to receive the donation after a bookkeeper tried stealing the money by forging a change to Earl Field’s will.
Wanda Oborny, 66, Hays, appeared in federal court admitting that she attempted to modify the will, which would have left the school with $5 million and another $5 million going to attorneys, leaving Oborny with the remaining $10 million.
Oborny is scheduled to be sentenced on May 29. Lawyers involved in the case are recommending one-year probation.
Fort Hays State University President Tisa Mason said, “Earl and Nonie are giving educational opportunity to students in need, to students who often must work multiple jobs, and to students who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend college.”