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FHSU readies for presidential change

6/29/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

A new era will begin Tuesday at Fort Hays State University when President Edward Hammond passes the reins of university leadership to Mirta Martin.

Hammond announced in October he would be stepping down from the presidency this summer after 27 years at the helm. Hammond's last day as the longest-tenured president in the university's 112-year history is Monday, but he will remain at FHSU as a consultant.

Martin was one of five finalists brought to FHSU by the search committee during a three-week period in March and April. Martin, who has served as the dean of the Reginald F. Lewis School of Business at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va., since 2009, then was interviewed May 1 in Topeka by the Kansas Board of Regents. Later in the day, she was offered the job.

Not only did the 52-year-old Martin make FHSU history as the first female president, she also is its first Hispanic leader.

The next morning, Martin -- who was born in Cuba but grew up in the United States -- was introduced on campus as the ninth president of FHSU. And life has been a whirlwind for Martin and Hammond since.

For Hammond, there have been umpteen retirement parties and get-togethers.

Following the big announcement May 2, the incoming and outgoing presidents hosted a luncheon for the Half Century Club.

There was a campus-wide surprise birthday party that afternoon for Hammond, who turned 70 on May 4.

Sandwiched around that historical weekend, Hammond was honored in Topeka by state legislators, and a proclamation was read at his final Board of Regents meeting for his leadership that spanned parts of four decades.

Hammond even had a building named after him in China, at one of the universities with which Fort Hays has a partnership.

On June 17, Gov. Sam Brownback gave Hammond the Silver Stirrup Award at the Team Kansas banquet in Wichita, which annually honors businesses and individuals with awards for their leadership and promotion of business in the state.

"It's been very humbling to say the least," Hammond said of all the gestures of appreciation. "Some of them I knew about, but most I had no idea."

Hammond and Martin have been busy moving, both offices and residences.

That's a bit handier for Hammond, who will be moving across campus to the Robbins Center to his new office as a consultant. He and his wife, Mary, moved during the weekend out of the FHSU's president's house to a newly built home near Smoky Hill Country Club.

Martin is making the trip to Hays from halfway across the country Monday while her husband, John, stays behind in Virginia to wrap up affairs at their home and his business. Like Hammond, Martin also celebrated her birthday among all the bustle, turning 53 on June 18.

She will be busy from the time she sets foot on campus, not only arranging the president's home but also her new office on the third floor of Sheridan Hall.

All that is second, though, to addressing the responsibilities of her new job, Martin said.

"My job is to expand an already formidable institution, to take Fort Hays into its next stage," she said. "And I am starting Tuesday."

She actually began two months ago. Martin returned to Hays since the announcement three times to meet with faculty, staff and students, while also closing out things in Virginia.

"I'm a strategic planner," Martin said, "so a transition plan was already in place so that the (change at Virginia State) could be done seamlessly."

Martin said she also expects there to be a smooth transition at FHSU, thanks to Hammond and the community.

"Dr. Hammond has been phenomenal, a mentor and willing to introduce me to everyone," Martin said. "He has had a long and illustrious presidency, and he knows everybody. He has been so gracious about saying there is one president, but he is willing to help in any way possible."

"My job is to do whatever it is to help, wherever she needs me," Hammond said, adding "we're going to be spending a lot of time together this year."

Martin said she was impressed with people in Hays from her first visit. When she was informed she had made the cut for the airport interview in Kansas City, Mo., Martin drove to Hays afterward to check out the campus.

"I couldn't believe how helpful and friendly everyone was," she said. "Even students, I'd ask for directions to something, and they were quick to help. They had no idea who I was. They treated strangers like family. It spoke volumes."

Martin received much the same reception in Hays in late March during her visit as one of the five finalists.

"I thought if they embraced me from knowing me for one or two or three hours, imagine what we can do together when I'm there (as president)," she said.

Now, that notion is reality.

"I don't believe in reinventing the wheel," Martin said. "I want to go out and meet the alumni and meet our donors and meet our industry partners and legislators," she said. "I want to listen; I want to listen; I want to listen.

"This year for me is a year of listening to the dreams of all my constituents. Then we can establish priorities for setting strategies to make this a destination of choice for students, staff, researchers and international partners."