Topeka, Kan. – Today Washburn University officially named the Sneegas family as the “Family of the Year.” This designation honors the Sneegas’ dedication to, support of and enthusiasm for the university over the last few decades. It also acknowledges their embodiment of the Washburn University motto, Non Nobis Solum - Not for Ourselves Alone - which they have embraced through their careers and work in their community.
Brendan and Kristi Ruiz Sneegas met through their roommates while studying at Washburn University. Brendan grew up in Lenexa, Kan., coming to Washburn on a music scholarship to play the trumpet. However, his true passion is helping others and he earned his Bachelor of Social Work in 1992. Kristi was seeking a smaller, welcoming campus when she moved to Topeka from Wichita, Kan. And, like her future husband, she felt the pull toward serving, earning her Bachelor of Science in nursing in 1992.
Since graduating, their careers have intertwined. As they began their careers, Brendan worked during the day providing supplies to cancer patients while Kristi worked at night as an oncology nurse. Often, they saw the same patients at different times of the day. Kristi now works for Pentec Health, a company providing specialized home infusion therapy for patients with chronic pain and spasticity disorders. She travels to serve 48 patients in four states. Brendan is the director of operations for Angel Flight Central, a non-profit organization dedicated to arranging non-emergency, long distance air transportation free for individuals in situations of compelling need.
“When I was a student, I was warned by many adults, the world of social work will not make you rich, and it hasn’t,” Brendan said. “The reward is getting to work with people who share a common passion and knowing every day you are helping strangers in need.”
They have modeled this passion for their two daughters, Kelsie Sneegas Crockett and Kati Sneegas.
“Washburn University is the foundation that my mom and dad built their life on,” said Kati Sneegas. “That direction influenced their career path paths, how they would raise their family and their deep commitment to the community. My parents unselfishly chose careers that substituted large paychecks with improving the lives of others. So, I was born into a home where I and my sister participated in my parent’s careers and volunteer commitments. We visited the homes of people who were ill. We played with sick kids at our local Ronald McDonald House. We had a garage filled with medical equipment and supplies that were free for the taking to anyone in our community. My mom administered an adult cancer camp twice a year, and I remember assisting with parties and crafts. We rang the Salvation Army bells, ran in 5ks, helped rebuild communities hit by tornadoes, sang in nursing homes, organized the annual block party to get all the neighbors together, delivered Christmas packages, and joined with inner-city youth to encourage, support and befriend. And, that’s just scratching the surface.”
Kati followed in her parents’ footsteps, finding her academic home at Washburn University where she is on the soccer team, works in the Mabee Library, is a Peer Educator and is part of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She also shares their passion for helping others and she plans to graduate with her Bachelor of Applied Studies in family and human services, with a minor in criminal justice in Dec. 2020. She plans to pursue her Master of Arts in psychology, also at Washburn University, upon graduation.
“My career path is following the legacy my parents have built,” Kati said. “But, I must admit that a commitment to helping others doesn’t exempt you from pain and hardship. As a teenager, I struggled too and found that even though I had a supportive family and good friends, I needed the help of a counselor. My high school counselor helped me learn how to turn my struggles into growth, and change my behavior in a way that I became a leader for others who were also dealing with struggles. I want to be that person who students can come to for encouragement and strength. Washburn is providing me exactly what it provided my mom and dad, a direction and purpose.”
The Sneegas family is involved in the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation, supporting special projects, like the new uniforms for the marching band. They’re avid fans of the soccer team – cheering on Kati and each of her teammates. And they’re involved in the Washburn community in various ways, like when they found out the men’s tennis team was mainly young men who were from outside of the United States, they invited them all to their house for Easter.
“Washburn was not just a fleeting thing,” Kristi said. “It was and is a part of our lives.”
Recognizing a family of the year is an annual tradition at Washburn University that normally occurs as part of Family Weekend celebrations, during the football game. Due to the pandemic, this year it was celebrated at on off-site event for faculty and staff. Washburn University students, faculty and staff nominate families.