By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
If only the person who wrote copy for the 1940 Kanza yearbook at Pittsburg State University could see Jack Overman now.
“We don’t see how he does it, but Jack seems to keep going day after day in high gear with seemingly unlimited purposeful activity,” said the entry under a full-body shot of a smiling, waving Overman in a dapper suit.
“As head of the Council this year, he carried through a fine program of improving the social life of the campus. We predict that Jack’s greeting, “Hello, how are ya?”; his red hair; and his winning smile will really go places.”
Seventy-three years later, nothing much has changed. Overman, who turns 95 today, still wears a suit. He’s still in high gear. And he still is very much a fixture on campus and in the community, where he’s never without a smile, a wave and what has become his signature, “Hello, how are ya?”
On Thursday afternoon, friends, family members, former colleagues and community members gathered to celebrate at the PSU student center that, since 1985, has borne Overman’s name.
Joplin, Mo., native Jack Kennedy, who attended PSU and for several years taught English there, referred to Overman as “Mr. Pittsburg.” It was an apt title, said many in attendance.
“There is no one in the community who exemplifies that more than Jack Overman does,” said Jack Bache, director of the Pittsburg Family YMCA. “He’s very actively involved in the community, at the Y, at PSU. There’s not very much he doesn’t do or hasn’t been in.”
Overman, born in 1918, began his education on campus in 1936 and graduated with a degree in business administration in 1940. The Kanza cited his involvement in clubs, organizations and leadership roles.
“President of the student council … a past president and a charter member of the Pep Club … Kappa Delta … head cheerleader for three years … twice business manager of the KANZA … a poised public speaker … a shrewd businessman,” reads the entry above his photo.
Overman also was a cheerleader, and today he still is noted for carrying his signature cowbell to community and university events.
It bothered him that upon graduation, he didn’t serve during World War II, having been proclaimed by a physician as a “flat foot.”
“That was when everyone wanted to do their part,” he said. “I’ve always been a team player. I went to just about every recruiting station in the U.S. I could get to, but no one would let me sign up.”
Overman worked at the college during the 1940-41 academic year as assistant to the dean of men, then for the next 10 years worked in private business in the Pittsburg area.
He returned to PSU in 1951 as the first director of the newly constructed student center, where he supervised the campus food service, the scheduling of all activities at major campus sites, campus-wide ticket sales and the university calendar. He also supervised the University Bookstore until 1982, and he often served as chairman of the university homecoming committee.
He earned his master’s degree in 1954, and he and his wife, Doris, settled into a 1916 two-story bungalow built by a former professor on Lindburg Street across from McCray Hall. There, he and Doris, now deceased, raised their two children, Sandy and Steve. The home earned a spot on the Kansas Register of Historic Places in 2001 and the National Register in 2002.
Overman spent 38 years as director of the student center, injecting his spirit into the campus inside and outside its walls.
“When he started, I can remember coming here, and he was the heart and spirit of it,” said longtime friend and colleague Ken Bateman, who was a student then and went on to become director of the Wilkinson Alumni Center.
Overman said he takes great pride in his family members, many of whom traveled to Pittsburg this week for a series of private and public celebrations.
Jenna Overman, his 21-year-old granddaughter from California, said having a grandfather like him is “a lot to live up to. I feel like I need to get busy.”
His grandson and namesake, Jack Overman II, who recently graduated from California State University at San Marcos, jokingly said his grandfather is “the reason I should have come here to school and the reason I couldn’t.”
“It’s a high bar that he’s set,” he said. “But every time we come back here, it’s so nice to see what he’s been a part of. He’s been an inspiration to me, helped guide me when I needed it.”
Nearly everyone in attendance commented on Overman’s contributions to the community and university, noting that he was active in the Chamber of Commerce, the United Way and the Red Cross, and still attends nearly every theatrical performance, concert and sporting event in town.
Said Virginia Lawrence, his longtime friend and his companion since the death of both of their spouses: “You just don’t ever think of him as old.”
JACK OVERMAN is the oldest continuous member of the Pittsburg Family YMCA, where he swims a quarter of a mile six days a week. He is one of the oldest continuous anglers at Roaring River State Park near Cassville, Mo., where he began casting for trout in 1932 and kept at it for more than 80 summers.