Students and Faculty at Fort Hays Kansas State College were preparing for the last days of classes before finals began during the week of May 20 in 1951. The evening of May 22 changed their lives forever when Big Creek, which flowed through the campus, flooded the campus and the southern part of the city of Hays. Many homes and businesses, including the Post Office and the campus, sustained damage from the flood waters. Three people died when their car was swept off the highway west of Hays – 18 year old Gerald Gipson of Napa, Idaho, 19 year old Joanne Donham and her sister, 17 year old Treva, both from WaKeeney. Robert Ripperteau, the 14 year old stepson of President Emeritus L. D. Wooster, was killed in the basement of his home after a wall collapsed when the water broke through. Dr. C. F. Wiest, 75 year old retired faculty member, was also killed in his home. Hays resident June Bissing Herman, 24 years old, was killed when a tree came through the wall of her basement apartment allowing water to come into the basement.
From the book written by Dr. Wooster titled “A History of Fort Hays Kansas State College 1902-1961”, he writes The campus was inundated, and damage to the buildings and campus made it impossible to continue with classes or to house the students. The college year ended without the usual final examinations and commencement. Faculty members prepared grades for students, degrees were granted in absentia, and the graduates were honored at summer school commencement. (pg. 144) Little did they know that one month later, on June 21, another flood would hit the area and do some more damage. The only good news was there was no loss of life from the second flood.
There is now a 1.8 mile levee between Big Creek and the campus which has served its purpose well up to the present day.
Forsyth Library’s front doors the day after the flood. Today this is McCartney Hall.
Looking at the Cody Commons from Picken Hall the day after the flood. Cody Commons was located where the south part of the Memorial Union now stands.