By RANDY GONZALES
Special to Hays Post
The tradition of bringing big-name acts to Fort Hays State University did not start with I.B. Dent.
But Dent, who was director of student activities at the university from 1984 to 1999, made sure to carry on that practice.
“It was something for the students to go to. They didn’t have to drive to Wichita or someplace to see a band that had a name,” Dent said. “Second was the educational value for my (student workers). Third, was the name ‘Fort Hays State.’ We were advertising all over the area. The name ‘Fort Hays’ was out there.”
Dent liked Hays so well – and kept in touch with friends there over the years – that he moved back there and recently reminisced on his “glory days” at Fort Hays State.
Dent’s love for all things musical came at an early age. He still has programs from concerts he attended when he was about 11 years old. However, his given name was not music to his ears.
Dent disliked Irving Barclay, his first and middle names, so when he went to college, he started referring to himself as I.B. He has been referred to as I.B. ever since, with some friends shortening it to just “B.”
By whatever moniker, the 86-year-old Dent has made a name for himself, including receiving the lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Campus Activities. Perhaps just as important is knowing thousands of Tiger students were entertained through the years.
“It was my job,” Dent said with a laugh. “I enjoyed doing the big shows. I liked putting on programs people enjoyed.”
Even before Dent’s arrival in Hays, numerous acts performed in Gross Memorial Coliseum soon after the spacious new building opened on campus in 1973.
The Memorial Union Activities Board brought in everything from comedians to country stars to rock bands. According to an article published by FHSU’s Forsyth Library, the first concert in GMC was Mac Davis on Oct. 18, 1973. Two days later, Henry Mancini came to town.
Comedians Bob Hope (1974) and Lily Tomlin (1976) performed at Fort Hays State, and comedian David Brenner opened for Barry Manilow in 1975. Other acts in the early years included John Cougar, J. Geils Band, Pat Benatar and Chicago.
When Dent arrived on campus, he brought Alabama to FHSU twice. The second date involved his persistence and connections to book the band. Dent knew Alabama was scheduled to perform in Kansas City and two nights later in Denver. He convinced the group’s agent to play in Hays in between those two concerts.
Cheap Trick was Dent’s first rock group to perform at the university. He relied on his stage manager and student workers.
“They were doing things I had never done, which were those big concerts,” Dent said. “I’d never done those. I was scared, is the best way to put it.”
Dent was involved with similar work at an institution in his home state of Virginia when he decided he needed a change. He applied for an opening at Fort Hays State and was helped by an FHSU student who had heard him talk at a convention and recommended giving him a look.
Dent interviewed with Bill Jellison, vice president for Student Affairs, and he was offered the job before leaving town.
“With Bill, I was given a lot of opportunities,” Dent said.
In 1986, Fort Hays State named Edward Hammond its new school president, and Dent hit it off with Hammond in no time.
“Ed Hammond came in and pretty much let me do anything I wanted,” Dent said. “I was crazy about him.”
Dent stressed he could not do it alone.
“The stage crew was great,” Dent said. “[Memorial Union Activities Board] was great to work with. There were students on the committee who helped look at who we brought in.”
“I emphasize it was a group effort, with all the kids,” he added. “I didn’t do any of these shows by myself.”
The basement walls in Dent’s Hays home are adorned with signed concert posters, starting with his first one, Cheap Trick. That poster is next to famous groups such as 38 Special, Alabama, Survivor, Jefferson Starship and The Judds.
However, the tradition of GMC concerts also ended with Dent. According to an article in FHSU’s Forsyth Library, the last concert was Clay Walker on April 13, 1996.
“I helped cut some of that out myself. I hate to say that,” Dent said. “The rock bands were getting all kinds of pyrotechnics. I was afraid it was going to damage the ceiling.”
Dent did schedule some country acts after he stopped bringing in rock bands.
In his final years at FHSU, Dent handed over his duties as director of student activities to someone else and concentrated his efforts on the Encore Series. He has some of those posters on his basement walls, too.
“I think the university has two significant roles – education and culture,” Dent said. “Encore was the culture part. In my opinion, culture is a huge variety, from jugglers to tap dancers, to ballet, to opera, to symphonies.”
After concerts or Encore performances, Dent would play host to his legendary after-parties. Performers mingled with students and local residents.
Dent, who was active in the civil rights movement in Virginia, and also spent two years in Tanzania while serving in the Peace Corps, wanted to mesh different cultures together at his parties.
“His parties were amazing,” said Dottie Staab, who has known Dent since he first lived in Hays.
In fact, it was Dottie who was somewhat instrumental in bringing him back to Hays from Virginia, where he had moved in retirement after a stint at the University of Mississippi when he left FHSU.
After her husband, Glenn, passed away last year, Dottie flew down to visit Dent in Virginia. Dent drove Dottie back to Hays after her visit and decided to move back because he had several friends still living there.
During Dent’s time at FHSU, Dottie and Glenn had season tickets every year for the Encore Series. Dottie fondly remembers her time helping out in Dent’s kitchen at the after-parties.
“I learned so much in his kitchen,” Dottie said. “I learned a lot of life lessons in I.B.’s kitchen because I had not been exposed to a lot of things he brought here.”
Now, that no doubt is music to the ears of I.B. Dent.