Sixty-six students will be recognized for earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas School of Engineering at the school’s 2013 fall recognition ceremony Saturday, Dec. 14, at Murphy Hall. A 67th degree will be formally awarded that day to a student who first arrived on campus more than 70 years ago.
Warren Spikes enrolled at KU in the summer of 1942 and worked toward a degree in petroleum engineering until the U.S. Army drafted him in 1945, just a few credits shy of earning his diploma. The Army then sent Spikes to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., for six months to study civil engineering. Despite the extra education, Spikes never transferred the college credits back to KU.
Earlier this fall, Warren’s son, Kirk, researched his father’s case for receiving his degree from KU, keeping his efforts a secret from his dad. Kirk obtained his father’s records from Rutgers and asked KU to review all the information to see if he’d completed the requirements to earn a degree. Officials in KU’s Registrar’s Office and Engineering Dean’s Office reviewed the transcripts and determined Spikes is eligible for a degree based on the KU curriculum in 1945.
Warren’s family and friends surprised him with the news that he’s now an official KU graduate at a party for his 90th birthday over the Thanksgiving holiday in his hometown of Hugoton, located in southwestern Kansas. He turned 90 on Dec. 4.
“At first I thought they were pulling a big joke on me. I was really surprised. I had no idea this was coming, but it’s certainly an honor,” Spikes said.
In addition to pursuing his degree in petroleum engineering during his time on campus in the 1940s, Spikes loved to play basketball. He starred on his high school team and at Garden City Junior College, and when he arrived at KU, he drew the attention of the basketball coaching staff.
“We were playing intramurals in Robinson Gym, and I was playing pretty well. I was a good passer,” Spikes said. “I heard that somebody went and asked Phog Allen to come and take a look. I was told he watched for a couple of minutes and decided I wasn’t tall enough or fast enough, so that was that. But I still love basketball, and I watch KU every chance I get.”
After his time at Rutgers, the Army sent Spikes west to begin training for an invasion of Japan. His unit stopped in Hawaii for final preparations for their attack, and the day before they were due to set sail, the Japanese surrendered. Spikes spent a year in Japan as part of the Allied Forces occupation of the island nation following the official end of World War II.
At the end of his military service, he returned to southwest Kansas. He had a long, successful and diverse career in fields ranging from farming, ranching and other agricultural businesses to oil and gas ventures. He’s also a trained pilot.
“When I came home, I knew I could go back and finish in one semester, but I was just too busy to come back and finish it up. It’s something I kind of regretted over the years, so to have this now is an honor,” Spikes said.
The degree awarded to Spikes strengthens the family’s ties to KU, now spanning three generations of graduates. The diploma is now proudly displayed in his home.
“It’s right there on the wall next to pictures of my grandkids and great-grandkids,” Spikes said.
The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. Dec. 14 in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre of Murphy Hall. A reception for all graduates and their guests will follow in Eaton Hall.