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Field of Dreams

New softball field turf, facility upgrades surpass expectations

Softball renovations ribbon cutting

From Bell Tower - Fall 2019

When Bill Gahnstrom sees a need at Washburn University, he doesn’t hesitate to answer the call.

The math professor retired after 24 years of teaching, only to return three months later to fill a void in the department. Now two years into his second stint as a teacher, Gahnstrom’s influence on campus is extending beyond the classroom and on to the field.

He and his wife Emilie, who is an active volunteer, have been instrumental in the effort to raise funds for new field turf on the Washburn softball diamond. The Ichabods could only host four of their 52 games on campus during the 2018 season, and frequent postponements and relocations left the team at a competitive disadvantage.

Like his open-ended return to the classroom, Bill was proactive in meeting with softball Coach Brenda Holaday about how he could help the program.

“Coach Holaday and I talked about various needs for softball last year,” Bill said, “and it became crystal clear the biggest need was a turf field. When Coach decided that’s what she wanted, I talked to Emilie and said, ‘If it’s going to happen, we’ve got to do something.’”

Bill and Emilie worked with the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation to set up a challenge gift, which allowed the couple to match any donations made toward the turf project. The Gahnstrom’s lead gift successfully recruited several others to contribute including: Cynthia Heath, ba ’71; Greg, bba ’88, and Jaena, ba ’89, Greenwood; Tom McClure, ba ’65; Mark, bba ’77, and Sheree Yardley; Lonnie Hossfeld, bba ’80; and James, bas ’87, and Martha McClinton. The Sunderland Foundation and Hoyt and Laurie, jd ’90, Moore with Hoyt Truck Center also contributed to the project. The Gahnstrom’s also actively organized bowling night fundraisers the softball team participated in at Gage Bowl.

“We decided a few years ago that we cared enough about what the University has done, and continues to do, for us that we wanted to start giving back while we had an opportunity to see the results,” Bill said of the Gahnstroms’ donations. “That’s what we’re about: finding needs and seeing results.”

The couple moved to Topeka from San Diego in 1994 when Bill retired from a career as a surface line officer in the Navy. He taught as an adjunct professor at Washburn for three years, eventually became a full-time lecturer and has been in the role ever since. When Holaday took over as coach three years ago, he added an unofficial title: Washburn softball’s No. 1 fan.

“The thing that sold me on her program was her philosophy that the girls are here to get an education, they’re here to play softball and they’re here to do community service,” he said. “I loved that it wasn’t all about the sport. She was still looking for the best athletes, but they have to be good students and give back to the community.”

Bill frequently attends practices, and the appreciation between fan and team is mutual.

“The girls know and love him,” Holaday said. “When it came time to move toward doing this field, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without him.”

Holaday, who led Washburn to an MIAA title and NCAA Tournament bid in 2018, said having a field that’s playable year-round provides priceless benefits. Players can compete in a stadium that will be on par with the rest of Washburn’s upgraded campus.

“It was so expensive, but so necessary for a Division II program that wants to be at the top of the conference,” Holaday said of the new field. “It’s the standard you need when welcoming recruits to Washburn. This, along with the indoor facility, will win over recruits.”

Efforts continue to raise funds needed to make significant changes beyond the field turf, including a new bleacher system and lights.

Sophomore outfielder Maddie Stipsits said she couldn’t wait to play on the new field for the first time this October.

“I like that I was able to experience the facilities before so I can see how good it is now,” the Olathe native said. “I’m excited for our opponents to see how good of a softball school we are. Not many teams in the conference will have this type of facility.”

Stipsits said as thankful as the team is for the donations, they’re equally appreciative of the backing that isn’t financial.

“We’ve shared a lot of thank-you’s,” Stipsits said. “Bill has always been a big supporter. He waves goodbye to us on the bus and is there when we come back. He sends Holaday a text to the girls when we’re away, and we’re always like, ‘We got a text from Bill!’”

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Phone: 785.670.4483
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