Alumnus ahead of the times

BCBSNE president and CEO Steven S. Martin and Washburn president Jerry Farley.

BCBSNE president and CEO Steven S. Martin and President Jerry Farley.

That Steve Martin is in the process of ground-breaking work as president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

This is, after all, a man who worked toward a nursing degree at a time — the 1970s — when the field consisted almost entirely of women. He’s comfortable chartering unfamiliar territory.

Martin, the guest speaker at Thursday’s Wake Up with Washburn breakfast lecture series, put his degree, a bachelor of science in nursing, to use immediately after college, climbing the ranks in the health care industry.

Martin had the foresight to found Prime Therapeutics, a “comprehensive pharmacy benefits solutions company owned by eight independent Blue Cross Blue Shield plans that integrate pharmacy claim processing, drug manufacturer contracting, drug utilization analysis, clinical programs and consulting services into Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and other regionally oriented health plans, HMOs, and specialty pharmacy benefit organizations,” according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska’s website.

Prime Therapeutics is the largest privately owned pharmacy benefit management administrator in the country.

As the CEO of BCBSNE, Martin is one of the leaders of a company studying and preparing innovative models during a time of health care reform.

Martin discussed his work during Thursday’s presentation, which he titled “New Health Care Business Models and Opportunities Arising from Health Care Reform.”

You can read more about Martin’s visit on the Alumni Association’s website.


Junior Day: Make an impact


As I watched dozens of high school juniors file into Memorial Union this morning, it reminded me of my first visit to Washburn as a prospective student (that’s me above, with hair, as editor of The Review). That was centuries ago (1996), but the memory is as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

I remember it well because I wasn’t here long that day. As a transfer student from Allen County Community College, my father and I were on campus to survey the setting. We left about two hours in when we heard — incorrectly — that many of my credits weren’t going to transfer.

The drive back to Burlingame was not a comfortable one. I wondered where I was going to go next. I’d already left Kansas State after a year. Too big, not enough interaction with my professors. So a “big” school was not an option.

I remember calling Emporia State … no journalism degree. Strike two (strike three for ESU). But my angst didn’t last long. Just minutes after we’d arrived home, I got a phone call from the director of admissions at Washburn.

He assured me that the credits would transfer and asked that I come up the next day for a one-on-one meeting. So I drove back to Topeka the following day and spent a few hours touring campus, including a visit with the dean of the mass media department.

Those interactions, that personal attention, the caring … that sealed the deal for me. I chose Washburn that day and have been grateful for that decision since. I owe those folks a debt of gratitude for going out of their way to get me here.

Washburn is a special place. We offer experiences most schools simply can’t. Don’t be afraid to share your stories with the prospective students here, as well as the ones who will be here in the future.

Everybody here has an important role. When folks visiting Washburn see that, they often fall in love with this place.

Calwell: ‘It’s like coming home again’


Serving as a campus guide, making phone calls for Dollars for Scholars, attending class, running six miles around campus, mowing lawns – you name it, chances are Ken Calwell did it as a Washburn student.

“A lot of the students were like me; Washburn fit into our lives,” said Calwell, the 2013 Oscar S. Stauffer Executive in Residence. “Washburn was wonderful from a lot of perspectives, from the size of the school, to the ability to really get to know the professors. I actually became pretty close friends with two of my professors.

“Washburn helped me in learning to balance family, working and all the other important things in life.”

Calwell, bba ’84, Portland, Ore., has made the most of what he learned at Washburn, building a successful career as a marketing executive at several restaurant franchises. He worked as an executive at Dominos, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, FritoLay and Pillsbury, and is the president and chief executive officer at Papa Murphy’s International.

He attributes his career to this education and a message his father delivered often.

“My dad always said, ‘You’ve got two ears and one mouth, so listen as twice as much as you talk,’” Calwell said. “You’ve got to love people because it’s a people business, and you’ve got to take time out to listen. Listening to people, you hear their stories and you learn what gifts they have. You know which mountain you want to get to, so you match what you want to accomplish with what gifts people have. That’s marketing and leadership.”

Calwell’s ascent to his current position came with obstacles. In the early 1990s, he overcame a biking accident that resulted in multiple broken bones and skull fractures. While he and a friend were training for the national triathlon championships, a driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossing into their lane and resulting in a head-on collision.

“We were biking out toward (Derby, Kan.) on a training ride. She was going 50 miles per hour, and I was going 20,” Calwell said. “We collided at 70 miles per hour, I hit the grill, went into the windshield, then I got pulled along the side and got caught under the rear tire.

“They didn’t know if I’d make it for the first seven days. Lots of prayer, and lots of people praying; I saw God working through it.”

Calwell’s body gradually healed. Five months after the accident, he was told his left leg wouldn’t be amputated. A little more than a year after the collision, he started to get the feeling back in his right arm.

By June 20, 1992, his 30th birthday, Calwell was swimming a leg of the Topeka Tinman triathlon. In 2002, he was selected to carry the Olympic torch.

“I had goose bumps all over,” Calwell said of his torch run. “When it’s your time, you’ve been thinking about it and you just take off! Then you’re thinking ‘Wait, I’m going too fast,” so you slow way down.

“The coolest thing isn’t the actual run. The morning of, the people that get to run gather and each person tells why they were nominated to run with the torch. We all sat there and cried; you listen to inspirational stories.”

A Topeka resident, Calwell said he has fond memories of his hometown and the university.

“Everything comes back to Washburn,” he said. “I grew up on one side of campus, and lived on the other side. (Coming to campus) is like coming home again.”

A full day

Calwell owned a lawn-mowing business while at Washburn, which included cutting grass on campus. He talked about a full day that included mowing and his role as a student senator:

“By my senior year I’d gotten involved on campus, in the student senate, so I was helping to promote Washburn. I was on campus, mowing a yard, and some folks came through. They were all in suits and ties, all in a car; they were lost. They asked for directions, so I gave them directions and didn’t think anything of it.

“The day goes on, and as a student senator, I had to host some folks, so I got all cleaned up, dressed ­… well, it was the same people. They didn’t say anything because they didn’t recognize me. So I showed them around campus.

“The next day we had Dollars for Scholars, so I was doing a calling campaign. The same folks came through and saw me and finally one says, ‘Are you the guy that gave us the tour the other day?’ Another one said, ‘You were the one that gave us directions!’

“So what’s an Ichabod? An Ichabod is somebody who gets their hands dirty and gets involved. Part-time student, part-time promoting school, part-time mowing the school. Still to this day when I hire people, I try to find other whether they’re comfortable in the real world, willing to get their hands dirty.”


In the magazine: Looking ahead to August

Washburn alumnus Shane McCall, left, and his son, Marshall, are featured in Joe Drape’s “Our Boys.” Shane played football at Washburn, once covering NFL great Jerry Rice.

I called Roger Barta right at 8 a.m. in late May. I figured if anybody is up that early, it’s a high school football coach on a Friday, even in the middle of the summer.

Barta did take the call, politely answering my questions about the book that has made the longtime coach a celebrity. Unfortunately, I’d yet to reach the chapter in “Our Boys” that detailed many of his habits, including occasionally sleeping in now that he’s retired from teaching. Oops.

Maybe it helped that I’ve known Barta since my days at the Topeka Capital-Journal, dating back to a 2006 story on dream matchups in high school football. We figured his Smith Center team, a small-school powerhouse, should play his son Brooks’ Holton squad, a bigger school and an emerging juggernaut.

As he did then, Roger obliged the interview, providing several details (something he’s probably done thousands of times since Joe Drape’s book was published in 2009) for my story on iRead, Washburn’s community reading program.

That story is one of the features in the August 2012 edition of The Ichabod alumni magazine. Drape, a Kansas City, Mo., native and sports writer at The New York Times, will be on campus on Sept. 18. That day includes a discussion in the evening, one we’d like alumni to participate in.

That Drape is traveling to Washburn in the midst of a hectic schedule is quite a coup for the university. There’s also a good chance Roger Barta, now a legend with eight state championships under his belt, will make the trip from Smith Center to Topeka for the event.

IRead is a great program for the Washburn community, serving as an avenue for our students to connect with each other and the folks in Topeka, including alumni. That we’re reading a book about Kansas high school football and a town similar to those many of us grew up in makes it that much more intriguing.

For more information on iRead, visit the website or shoot me an email. To purchase the book at a discount, visit the Washburn Bookstore.

Don’t forget to check this blog in the coming weeks for more details on the August issue.

Go Fourth … Go to Washburn

Barbara Mellen and I in 1999, back when I had hair, at The Review office.

I was going to preview the August magazine in this blog, but that can wait. I thought it’d be a little more interesting to take a stroll down memory lane today.

A little after lunch I walked across Jewell planning to take a few photos of the fountains. I figured a caption like “Tempted to dive in on a smoldering day like this” might draw a few laughs. A weak attempt at humor, at best.

After snapping a few shots, I walked to the Memorial Union to grab a drink and buy one of our slick new sesquicentennial baseball hats. Armed with a 25-percent-off coupon as a member of the Alumni Association, the hat came at a good price ($17).

Washburn’s baseball sesquicentennial hat, a great-looking cap.

As I left the book store, several memories came rushing back. First, the year I spent working as editor-in-chief of The Review. To this day, it is one of the best experiences I’ve had.

I remembered living on a steady diet of 32-ounce cherry Dr. Peppers and turkey sandwiches while hammering away on stories and laying out pages in PageMaker (how much does that date me?).

I’m still in touch with many of the folks I worked with at The Review. Barbara Mellen, my managing editor that year (1998-99) and I exchanged posts on Facebook (thank goodness for Facebook!) just the other day, for example.

I also remembered what the lowest level of the Union looked like in those days. It was a large cafeteria with a small kitchen, handful of video games (pretty sure I spent a good chunk of my Review wages on those games) and a stage for local bands and other events.

The newsroom was old-school, to say the least, complete with a dark room and a couch Chris Waterman convinced his dad to let us use. It also served as a bed on numerous occasions.

As I walked through the lower level, another memory raced through my brain. That of music videos, vending machines, an arcade and elevators.

In fact, that’s my first memory of Washburn. Many folks are surprised to learn that I actually grew up in Missouri. We didn’t move to Kansas until I was an eighth-grader.

By that point, however, I knew of Washburn. My parents were in the crafts business (my father still is), and one of the stops on our arts and crafts tour every year was Go Fourth right here on campus.

Born on July 3, I spent a handful of birthdays in Topeka, including hours at the Memorial Union playing “Goonies” and “R.B.I. Baseball” in the arcade and watching music videos on MTV. In the evenings, we’d hang out with the Scardina family at West Ridge Mall, which had just opened.

Other fond memories of Go Fourth weekend included fireworks, listening to the 1994 World Cup at our booth on the east side of campus, riding the elevator dozens of times for no apparent reason and watching Wimbledon in the commons at the Union.

I miss those days sometimes, especially the “Goonies” machine.

I really wasn’t kidding … I’d love to dive in there today.

Where to find the Travel page

The red arrows point to where you need to click to access the Travel page from the Events & Reunion homepage

Inevitably when you revamp a website, there will be adjustments for the users. Despite the changes, I’m confident the alterations we’ve made will make navigating the Alumni Association site easier.

One of the many differences on the new site is the site navigation. While most of the pages are located where you’re used to finding them a few did move. One of those was the Travel page.

After inquires as to where the page is now, I’ve added a page to the Events and Reunion section. The page, which you can find by clicking on this link, contains information about our trips and will continue to grow as I work on the site this summer.

The Travel page is also located in the Alumni Services section at this link. It can also be access on several other pages on the website, including our Events and Reunion homepage in the menu on the left side of the page (See the red arrows in the photo above).

If you have questions about the new site, please call me at 785.670.2303 or send an email.

Keep a look out for my next blog, which will preview the August edition of the Alumni magazine.

Have a great weekend!