K-State roots: Lasting a lifetime

(Photos courtesy of Sandi Lawrence)

Every K-State supporter has their story. It may be how they came to be a K-State fan, the campus tour that turned them from a Jayhawk to a Wildcat, or simply a defining moment from when they were a student.

For 1939 home economics graduate Jean Robinson, formerly known on the K-State campus as Jeanne Underwood, her defining story began when she was voted the first K-State football homecoming queen in the fall of 1936.

The homecoming game was played against the University of Kansas, with K-State winning 26-6. Through a contest sponsored by the Blue Key organization, Jean won the title homecoming queen – which was announced at half-time during the football game.

“K-State faculty were very against having football, as it brought a rough element to campus,” said Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, executive director of the Chapman Center for Rural Studies, in regards to the introduction of a football homecoming queen. “I think (having a homecoming queen) was a way of appealing to the women on campus and containing them in a safe spot rather than as participants on the field.”

While attending K-State, Jean was a member of the Chi Omega sorority, the Glee Club and was involved in intramurals. Through Chi Omega, she was a member of the Enchiladas, a social dancing honorary organization composed of seven members from each sorority on-campus.

“She was the first (football) homecoming queen,” Craig Robinson, Jean’s son, said. “Then, she was the ROTC queen of the ball the following year. We joke that since she was back-to-back queens, our family was the true royal family.”

Jean was born on a farm north of Hoisington, Kansas, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse for her primary education. When it was time for her to attend junior high and high school, she and her mother moved to Manhattan.

“Her father quarried limestone for fence posts to put her through high school and then continued to do that, helping put her through college,” Sandi Lawrence, Jean’s daughter, said.

Jean made good use of her education as a mother, cook, seamstress and gardener, according to her family.

On Jean’s 95th birthday, with some premeditated plans from her family, she received a birthday card from the athletic department including individual notes from Coach Bill Snyder and Athletic Director John Currie. That same day, she also received a telephone call from former quarterback Collin Klein.

Craig described his mother as looking like a blushing new bride as she took the telephone call.

“She was so pleased with the call she wanted to send him some cookies, so shortly after a box of cookies arrived for the athletic department,” Craig said.

Not only did Jean have the opportunity to speak to Klein and receive a note from Snyder, her reach of celebrities extend beyond just the K-State family. She also met John F. Kennedy when he was a senator running for president.

“My mom and my dad were at the Allis Hotel in Wichita for a democratic convention and they met JFK in the elevator,” Craig said. “My mom always said, ‘He took my hand, cupped it in his two hands, gazed into my eyes so I almost melted and said, ‘It’s so nice to meet you, Jean.’”

Jean married G.I. Robinson in 1939. Shortly after their marriage, G.I. Robinson joined the army and the family moved around the U.S. to stay close to him.

They then settled down in Ellinwood, Kansas, where Jean lived the rest of her life as a gardener and homemaker. She had four children and spent her time involved in a variety of community activities including the garden club, the Rotary Auxiliary, a membership in the United Church of Christ, an active bridge club member and delivered for Meals on Wheels.

Jean Robinson, 98, died on March 17 at the Ellinwood District Hospital.