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University Relations

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March 5, 2009
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, (785) 864-8853.

Garden City students to receive letters from astronauts, including KU professor

LAWRENCE — Twelve astronauts will give about 500 seventh- and eighth-grade students at Abe Hubert Middle School in Garden City a special boost to “Soar to Success” — the school’s motto.

Beginning this month, Abe Hubert students will receive a monthly letter and autographed photograph of an astronaut through a gift membership to Astronauts Autograph Club from the University of Kansas. Astronaut Steven Hawley, a KU alumnus who now teaches at KU, made the membership possible.

Hawley is one of the 12 astronauts featured by the autograph club for 2009. The featured astronauts each receive a complimentary membership. The club serves to raise funds for college scholarships through the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation in Titusville, Fla. Club membership is limited to 350 and, for 2009, costs $499. Hawley donated his complimentary membership to KU.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway asked Kansas Board of Regents member Juana “Janie” Perkins of Garden City to suggest a school in her western Kansas district to receive the membership. Perkins, an instructional coordinator for the Garden City USD 457 and a former Garden City mayor, conferred with Darren Dennis, director of Learning Services for the district.

They chose Abe Hubert Middle School, one of two middle schools in this high plains community of more than 27,000 about 200 miles west of Wichita. Dennis said he suggested Abe Hubert because “I hoped the astronauts’ letters might inspire more students to stay in school and to challenge themselves.”

The photographs show the astronauts at work in space, and their letters tend to describe their work or mission when their photographs were taken. Often the letters encourage club members to study in general. Some specifically encourage studying math and science to prepare for the future.

English is a second language for many of the students at Abe Hubert, and many are at risk of not completing an education, Dennis said. Garden City’s district enrollment is about 62 percent Latino. At Abe Hubert Middle School the enrollment is 66 percent Latino.

Gerald Neumann, principal at Abe Hubert, plans to deliver the monthly letters to students through their science classes. In addition, KU noted the middle school’s mascot is a hawk and is sending bookmarks and window clings featuring KU’s Jayhawk for each Abe Hubert student. This month, the students will receive astronauts letters for January, February and March.

January’s letter is from Vance Brand, command module pilot on the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first linkup in orbit between U.S. and Soviet Union spaceships. Brand later commanded three Space Shuttle missions.

February’s letter is from Hawley, whose first shuttle experience was the 1984 maiden flight of Discovery. He was a mission specialist on shuttle flights in 1986, 1990, 1997 and 1999. A Salina native, Hawley is a 1973 KU graduate. He was the third Kansan — all of whom are KU graduates — to fly in space. In May 2008, he retired from 30 years of service with NASA. Last fall, Hawley joined KU’s faculty to teach physics and astronomy and to promote education in science and math.

The March letter and photograph is from Gemini and Apollo astronaut James A. McDivitt. Letters will continue to arrive through December from Jim Lovell, Gemini and Apollo astronaut; Owen Garriott, Skylab and Space Shuttle astronaut; Hank Hartsfield and Rick Hauck, veteran Space Shuttle astronauts, and four more.

Although Garden City sits in a region once claimed by Spanish as well as French explorers, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the area had almost as many Latino as non-Latino residents and a sizeable number of Vietnamese Americans. A meatpacking boom in southwest Kansas spurred two decades of rapid economic and population growth. Garden City has been nationally recognized for its leadership in meeting the cultural and societal challenges that accompanied the rapid growth.

The Astronaut Autograph Club supports the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which provides 20 scholarships of $10,000 each for exceptional college students interested in science and engineering. For more information,visit


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