When the University of Kansas School of Engineering recently passed out 66 bachelor’s degrees, a 67th degree was recognized for a special and grateful 90-year-old man from Hugoton, Kansas.
Warren Spikes enrolled at the University of Kansas in 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 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 Spikes, researched his father’s case for receiving a degree from KU, keeping his efforts a secret from his dad. Kirk obtained his father’s records from Rutgers and asked KU to review the information to see whether he’d completed the requirements to earn a degree. Officials in KU’s registrar’s office and engineering dean’s office determined Warren was eligible for a degree based on the KU curriculum in 1945.
Warren turned 90 on Dec. 4, and as a birthday surprise, his family and friends gave him the news that he’s now an official KU graduate at a party in his hometown of Hugoton.
Warren was formally awarded his degree in December as part of KU’s fall recognition ceremony for the college’s school of engineering grads, and Kirk said he got the idea to begin helping his father get a degree from listening to stories his dad told about his time in the 1940s.
“He told us that he’d gone to school and that he was drafted when he was going to school at KU,” Kirk said. “The Army sent him back to Rutgers to do more school."
Warren told Kirk he had enough credits for a degree, but he did not have the actual diploma itself, a story that his granddaughter wrote about in a high school paper.
“I read that, and I thought we’ve heard this for many, many years. Maybe, it’s time we see if we can get him a degree,” Kirk said.“I started out by calling Rutgers first because those were the hours we needed to get to Kansas University so they could put them together,” he said. “I thought that would be the first step, and within a few days, I received them by mail, even official transcripts. That wasn’t too difficult.”
Kirk said after leaving Rutgers, his father never found the time to put together the paperwork to transfer the credits.“He ended up going to the Pacific Theater after he got out of Rutgers,” he said. “He served in Japan for a year in the occupation of Japan after the war was over.”
After the war, Warren came back to Southwest Kansas to farm land his dad owned in Stevens County. “He just never did connect the dots and get it all done,” Kirk said. “I think in his mind, he’d earned it. He just didn’t have the piece of paper. Now, he’s got the piece of paper.”
Drafted during his final semester at KU and nearing graduation, Warren, at the time simply felt a need to serve his country in some capacity.“I think he was just fortunate the Army, at some point in basic training, decided to send him back to Rutgers to do more school,” Kirk said. “He was just very fortunate in that respect.”
Warren said when he heard the news, he thought his friends and family were playing a joke. “I was really surprised,” he said. “I had no idea this was coming, but it’s certainly an honor.”
This story was originally published in the High Plains Daily Leader & Times on Dec. 13, 2013