MANHATTAN – Growing up, Kansas
State University athletics director John Currie idolized his grandfather.
A World War II veteran,
U.S. Army Maj. Farnum Gray landed on the beaches of Normandy June 6, 1944 – D-Day
– and lived to tell his grandson all about it.
With wide eyes, a young
Currie said he would soak up stories from his grandfather. By the time he
finished the fourth grade, Currie had gone through just about every WWII book
in his elementary school’s library.
“It was always something
that I was interested in, and when I was a kid, I read every WWII book I could
get my hands on,” Currie said. “By the time I got out of elementary school, I was
fascinated by military history and have had a great appreciation for it.”
That appreciation for the military
lasted through college, where Currie graduated with a bachelor’s degree in
history from Wake Forest in 1993 – but it didn’t stop there.
Fast forward a few years,
and although Currie’s grandfather was not present, his memory lived on April
14, when Currie was presented with the Department of the Army’s Outstanding Civilian
Service Award recognizing the partnership between K-State Athletics and
Soldiers and families at Fort Riley.
Among the highest awards a civilian
can receive by the Department of Defense, the Outstanding Civilian Service
award was presented to Currie by Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general,
1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley.
“It’s clearly an
extraordinary and special award, but it’s really an award for our staff, our coaches
and student-athletes, who are the ones who make this partnership special,”
Currie said. “I believe that as much as Fort Riley says they get out of this partnership,
we get far more out of it. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff love the
experiences and interaction they get with the young men and women serving our
Nine athletics teams at K-State
are partnered with Fort Riley units, and, in Currie’s five years with the
university, the partnership has resulted in more than 30 military appreciation events
for Soldiers and their families. From camps, where military children with
deployed parents can go to work with student-athletes, to the annual military-themed
Fort Riley Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium each fall, K-State and Fort Riley have
formed a special bond beneficial for all who are a part of it.
“Our partnerships are so
important on the athletics fields,” Funk said, before presenting Currie with
his award. “It is a tremendous, tremendous opportunity to share those kinds of
lessons. It’s the same age group. We try to treat (Soldiers) like they are
world-class athletes out there. We train them that way, even though the
facilities aren’t the same.”
Although two different worlds,
each group in the partnership – the Soldiers and the student-athletes – has the
opportunity to learn about, grow with and appreciate each other on a higher
“What they do is they give us
a connection to world-class athletics,” Funk said. “We’re able to see a
world-class program, reflect on that and then apply those lessons, and, then, we
get to bring the (student-athletes) over to our place and show them what we do,
Along with Currie, K-State leaders
who also received the Outstanding Civilian Service Award April 14 were Briana Nelson-Goff,
K-State’s Human Ecology Department; Daryl Youngman, associate professor, Hale
Library; and Todd Holmberg, executive director, McCain Auditorium. Through
their own unique ways, each department represented at the ceremony has formed a
special bond with Fort Riley, its Soldiers and their families over the years.
“Most significantly, these four
leaders at K-State have been in this partnership for the long haul. They have
been doing very, very exceptional work for the Army, and, in particular, Fort
Riley and its Soldiers and families,” said Art DeGroat, K-State director of Military
As DeGroat said, K-State Athletics
is in this partnership for the long haul.
And for Currie, having the
opportunity to carry on a passion of his at K-State in the memory of his hero,
his grandfather, has been a special endeavor.
“He’s the best athletics director in the country,”
Funk said. “That’s been pointed out several times – he’s a treasure. He comes
from a military background, and he reflects on that. He understands the good values
and morals; that’s what drives this program and that’s what drives him.”