PITTSBURG, Kan. – When Pitt State alumnus Bob McNellis learned Dan Shipp, president of Pittsburg State University, would be embarking on a 12-day, 800-mile trip across Kansas Monday to raise $8 million in student scholarships, he said three words: “Count me in.”
McNellis, a Kansas City native who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Kelce College of Business at Pitt State in 1987, now works for Oracle Health. A quarterback on the Gorilla football team, he lettered from 1982-84.
For his ride with Shipp on a segment from Iola to Lawrence on Tuesday via the Prairie Spirit Trail and backroads, he donned a Pitt State football jersey.
"I was overly excited to join,” he said. “I have really fond memories of being at Pitt State. I have good friends down there in Pittsburg, Rick Webb and several others, and felt it was important to draw attention to this cause.”
“Pitt State is the best university around, and if I can help out, count me in.”
Also joining Shipp from Ottawa to Lawrence was Cynthia Lane, a two-time Pitt State graduate who went on to become a highly recognized leader in education, spending 30 years in the public school system in Kansas City, Kansas. In 2016, she earned the Kansas Superintendent of the Year award.
Now retired, she serves as the chair of the Kansas Governor’s Council on Education in addition to serving on the Kansas Board of Regents, the governing body of higher education in Kansas.
“I wanted to pay it forward,” she said at the end of the ride Tuesday. “I think about all the opportunities that I had because I had the chance to go to Pitt State, and I want others to have the same opportunities.”
Lane earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Pitt State's College of Education in 1982 and a master’s degree in special education from Pitt State in 1986.
“It's about supporting Dan as he does great things for our university, and creating opportunities for others,” she said. “That's what was motivating us as we were going up and down those hills — we can do hard things and we can do them together.”
Also joining Shipp for a portion of his ride on Tuesday were Jody Hoener, president and CEO of the Healthy Bourbon County Action Team based in Fort Scott, and Lisse Regehr, who is president and CEO of Thrive Allen County in Iola, where Shipp gathered with alumni, supporters, and other constituents Monday night.
Regehr’s organization has helped reduce the county’s uninsured rate from 21 percent to nine percent in recent years, built a statewide rural health advocacy network, created bike share and transportation programs, and written grants to improve the quality of life, while Hoener's team has focused on increasing access to healthy food and physical activity, promote commercial tobacco cessation, enhance quality of life, and encourage economic growth.
Hoener also played a role in successfully advocating for the designation of the Prairie Pathway, a designated bicycle route connecting Pittsburg and Iola — the route that Shipp took the first day of his trip.
“This is exactly the kind of trip I imagined when we began planning,” said Shipp, who came to Pittsburg State from Nebraska a year ago, and also spent a portion of his career in California. “I wanted to get to know the state and its people up close and personal, see what’s happening in communities where our students and alumni live, and make these kinds of important connections.”
Shipp also is fundraising, with a goal of $8 million for student scholarships, and pledges have been coming in continuously since he began: by late afternoon Tuesday, more than $235,013 pledges had been recorded.
Tuesday evening, a gathering was planned at the 23rd Street Brewery in Lawrence.
On Wednesday, Shipp will head toward Topeka, arriving in time for the monthly Kansas Board of Regents meeting. Wednesday, a gathering is planned for 5:30 p.m. at Iron Rail Brewing in Topeka.
“Dan Bikes Kansas” will take the president and his sag wagon across 800 miles of Kansas, with planned gatherings in 15 communities and stops in several more along the way, over the course of 12 days.
To learn more and register for a gathering, visit pittstate.edu/danbikesks