If you follow Cyclone Fanatic on social media, you may have noticed our shout out last week for Cyclone Fanatic Super Patrons Eric and Kristi Wittrock. I’m guessing what caught your eye about their shout out is the same thing that caught my eye: their family’s long and sustained history of attending Iowa State.
More specifically, someone in Eric and Kristi’s direct family line has attended Iowa State in every decade since 1920.
The first was Eric’s grandfather, Alfred Mahany.
“So my grandfather came over from England in about 1905 with a sixth grade education,” Eric said. “He went through some preparatory school and then attended Iowa State College in 1920. He got his diploma in 1923 in agriculture and manual training.”
But Alfred wasn’t just a farm kid. He was musical too.
“He was hired by the Registrar to climb the Campanile stairs, manually wind the clock mechanism and play tunes on the bells—there were only 10 bells then—by pulling ropes,” Eric said. “For this, he was paid $1 per day and was responsible 7 days per week.”
Kristi’s grandfather, Rufus Eckhart, was next.
“He started in 1938 and graduated in 1941, so he covered two decades for us,” Eric said. “I think his degree was forestry and agriculture.”
Eric’s mother, Ruth Mahany, represented the family in the 1950s and graduated with a home economics degree. Like her father, Ruth was also musical, but she didn’t try to play the Campanile bells because she “didn’t think women were allowed to do that in the 1950s.” Forty years later, she’d introduced Eric to the bells.
“She took me up to the top of the Campanile during my orientation,” Eric said. “I took lessons and played the now-50 bells connected to a carillon keyboard from 1987 to 1992.”
After Ruth in the 1950s, it was Kristi’s parents, Keith and Mary Anne Eckhart, who attended Iowa State in the 1960s. They were followed by Kristi’s aunts and uncle and Eric’s sister in the 1970s.
Then it was Eric and Kristi’s turn.
“I started at Iowa State in 1987 and my wife started in 1988,” Eric said. “My wife left for optometry school in 1990 and I graduated in 1992. So we covered the 1980s and 90s.”
The pair met during their time in the marching band and became friends during each of their third seasons.
“We took a charter bus down to Norman, Oklahoma [in 1990] to play the pep band there. There were probably 2,000 seats for Iowa State fans, but there were probably only 50 actual Iowa State fans there. The band was down in the first three rows of the section. But Iowa State won that game in Norman [for the first time since 1961] and we went bonkers. My wife and I became even better friends during that trip.”
But Eric and Kristi didn’t start dating until after Kristi left Iowa State for optometry school.
“I graduated in 1992 and showed my [now-]wife my engagement ring for my [then-]girlfriend,” Eric said. “I left for Pittsburgh on Memorial Day after graduation and told her, ‘Next time you see me I’ll be engaged.’ But I went out to Pittsburgh and realized it was not going to happen. So I took a year off and realized I was in love with my best friend. We started dating the summer of 1993. I spilled my heart to her and she said, ‘I guess I’m bored enough to go along with that.’ It wasn’t much more enthusiastic than that, but we dated a year, got engaged in 1994, and got married in 1995 when she graduated from optometry school.”
After graduating from Iowa State with a degree in mechanical engineering, Eric went on to business school and landed a career in the auto industry in Michigan.
While living in Michigan, Eric and Kristi attended the infamous men’s basketball Elite Eight game against Michigan State in 2000.
“I was high-fiving this guy I didn’t know across the aisle—a guy whose name I learned was Jeff Johnson,” Eric said.
Johnson had just been named president and CEO of the ISU Alumni Association months earlier in September 1999. Eric now sits on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.
Eric and Kristi continued to live in Michigan until the mid-2000s when the auto industry began its downturn. That’s when they decided to return to Iowa to raise their children, Kathryn and Luke.
In the meantime, Eric and Kristi’s families was represented in Ames by their nephews who attended Iowa State in the 2000s and 2010s.
That brings us to the 2020s—100 years after Alfred Mahany began the decades-long streak of someone in Eric and Kristi’s families attending Iowa State. And this time it’s Kathryn, Eric and Kristi’s daughter, who will keep the streak alive for yet another decade.
“My daughter Kathryn started last Monday morning,” Eric said. “She was one of the 20 people waiting to get into the library at 7:30 in the morning when it was unlocked. She is that kind of student.”
And that’s putting it mildly. Kathryn is only 17 years old but is already classified as a junior thanks to all the college credits she earned during high school. She is majoring in biochemistry and plans to go to medical school.
“A few years ago her brother was sick and she thought he wasn’t ever going to walk again. But he came out of it miraculously, but right then she said, ‘I’m going to be a doctor.’” Eric said.
Luke, who was paralyzed from the abdomen down for five days, was featured on the local news for his amazing recovery. He happened to be wearing an Iowa State t-shirt in one of the shots—and Iowa State responded.
“The story centered on his recovery and return to competitive soccer 6-weeks after being released from the hospital,” Eric said. “In a video of his first steps, he was wearing a Cyclones shirt. Based on that brief video showing we were Iowa State fans, Assistant AD Lindsey Long sent a hand-written letter about faith and encouragement to Luke. She also sent a flag signed by the entire ISU women’s soccer team and staff. It was a powerful testament of the ISU family, and a gift that we will cherish forever.”
When asked whether Luke is considering Iowa State, Eric laughed.
“Our kids feel like they have limited options for some reason.”