Snyder's letter-writing touches all kinds of people

Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Bill Snyder has built an incredible winning legacy at Kansas State.

For that, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, becoming just the fourth active coach ever to be enshrined in the college hall.

But Snyder's legacy at Kansas State will go far beyond any accomplishment on the field.

Over the years, he has touched hundreds upon thousands through his anachronistic tradition of writing letters by hand.

"Those letters are part of his legacy," said Kansas State grad Julie Horvath, whose family alone has received three letters from Snyder in the past year.

Since his coaching career began as a high school assistant in the 1960s, Snyder has penned close to a dozen letters daily. As a result, his left-handed, diagonal calligraphy has become as recognizable as the wind-breaker jackets he dons on game day. And at 76 years old, he hasn't slowed down. In fact, he still writes so many letters that go through four purple felt pens a week, and a couple hundred a year.

"With all the responsibility he has, with a million things to do, he takes the time to make you feel like the most special person to him -- when he's doing the same for a thousand different people," said Wayne Goins, director of jazz studies at Kansas State. He has received five letters from Snyder over the years.

Snyder's letter-writing gained notice recently, as opposing players have begun posting them on social media. TCU's Trevone Boykin posted such a letter from Snyder after he quarterbacked the Horned Frogs to a last-second win over the Wildcats.

"If a young man gets hurt, I want to let him know I'm thinking of him," Snyder said. "If somebody does something that maybe others see as a reason they lost a ballgame, I'll respond to that, because no one loses a game. If somebody has a good performance, you certainly want to let them know you thought they did well."

But the letters like Boykin's are just a drop in the ocean.

And to anyone who has received one of Snyder's letters, he will always be so much more.

It's always been important to me to respond to people. Anyone in my position is always going to receive an ungodly amount of correspondence on a daily basis. But I always felt it was important. Put yourself in the same position; you don't want to reach out to somebody and never get a response. -- Snyder

Through his letters, Snyder made three major events for one family all the more special.

That began with Julie Horvath, who wanted to do something unique for her sister Alicia's wedding. She had heard rumors of Snyder responding to wedding invitations. So she passed along her sister's announcement. Sure enough, Snyder wrote back, congratulating the newlyweds with a note.

"They absolutely loved it," Julie said. "It was the coolest thing."

Shortly after Alicia's wedding, Julie got engaged to Ryan Wallace, a writer for the K-State website, GoPowercat.com. Alicia secretly returned the favor, sending Julie's wedding announcement to Snyder, who once again wrote back.

This fall, the sisters teamed together. Their parents were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. So the daughters bought them tickets to K-State's season opener. And for the kicker, they wrote Snyder to see if he would surprise them with a note. Without fail, he did. And the daughters surprised their parents with the letter on the way to the game.

"My mom was so excited," Julie said. "Her eyes welled up."

When players, coaches or people -- students, student-athletes, professors -- do something significant, people that have some kind of association with our university, I want to recognize they've done something extremely well. -- Snyder

Any time people want jazz in the Little Apple, they call Wayne Goins.

"It's usually either my students or me playing," said Goins, who also plays guitar for a faculty jazz band.

Years ago, Snyder saw Goins' band play. Snyder enjoyed the music so much, he went up to the stage between numbers to let the band know.

Days later, Goins received a letter from Snyder telling him again.

Snyder and Goins have since become friends. They cross paths at events. Snyder will go see Goins play around town. He has even had Goins' band play at fundraisers.

This year, Goins was awarded the title of "University Distinguished Professor," the highest honor K-State gives professors.

Shortly after, Goins received another note from Snyder, who wanted to let Goins know he was proud.

"He stays on top of things," Goins said. "Not only is he the nicest and most genuine man on the planet, he goes the extra mile to let you know he cares.

"That's what's amazing to me. ... That's what's so great about him."

If you communicate with someone, you'd like the response to be genuine. -- Snyder

This spring, fourth-grader Claire Gottschalk was given a poetry assignment: to ask someone to share a favorite poem and explain why it's meaningful. Most of Claire's classmates chose family members. But Claire, part of an avid K-State family, chose Snyder.

She didn't know if he'd answer. But she took the chance. Three weeks later, the reply came. Snyder did have a favorite poem, "Grandpa," and he enclosed it with the letter.

"When you read it, you may understand why it has been my favorite for a long time," Snyder wrote. "My grandpa was a guiding light in my life."

The poem hit home for Claire. Her grandpa had died when she was young, but she had memories of going to the Kansas State Fair, which he had helped run for 25 years.

"The poem made me think of my grandpa," Claire said. "It was really special."

Claire received the class award for eliciting the "coolest" reply.

"The fact he can relate to anyone, doesn't matter if it's a 10-year old," said Claire's father, Joe.

"That shows what kind of person he is."

The personal touch of being able to write it down. I think that has meaning. -- Snyder

The Lannous had always bled green and gold. Ken was a Baylor athletic trainer. Their son Kenny had received his degree in Waco, Texas. But after Kenny got a job in K-State's athletic department, the Lannous had a second Big 12 school.

Ken's wife Patti quickly became a hit at K-State, thanks to the chocolate pecan cookies she'd bring whenever visiting her son. Snyder loved them so much he wrote to tell her.

But last spring, the Lannous had a scare when Ken felt a sharp pain. After tests, doctors discovered a mass in his chest. They decided Ken needed open heart surgery to determine if the tumor was malignant and whether it had spread to his heart.

Though the procedure was risky, surgeons successfully removed the mass. While recuperating, Ken received several get-well cards. But only two of them came handwritten. One was from a 90-year-old aunt. The other, from Snyder.

"It was like we were best friends," Ken said. "That's really what made it special."

Ken has since made a full recovery. Recently, they welcomed a new grandchild through Kenny.

"I feel like we've been accepted at K-State, strictly because of the way Bill is," Ken said. "Here's a guy in the College Football Hall of Fame, the entire nation knows him. There's no reason for him to take the time to write in that detail that he's thinking about you and praying for you.

"If I walked in a room, he probably wouldn't know me. And yet, I feel like I'm part of his family."

It's important to care about people. That's what's important in our program, portraying that. -- Snyder

Brad Jackson was undergoing chemotherapy this summer to combat the softball-sized tumor on his liver. The bile-duct cancer had even forced him to go on disability.

He and his wife Kathy had anxiously been monitoring the mail for his first disability check when an unexpected letter arrived instead.

Their daughter Briana, a K-State grad, had heard about Snyder's letter-writing. So without telling her parents, she composed a letter to Snyder.

"I understand that my timing is very poor," she wrote. "You have a football season to focus on. However, it would mean so much to my father to hear from his favorite college coach."

That day when the Jacksons went to the mailbox, they found the letter from Snyder.

"I couldn't believe it," Brad said. "I was overwhelmed. For him to take the time to write me just meant the world to me. After I got that, I looked at my wife and said, 'This is way better than my disability check. This trumps it completely.' "

Said Kathy" "Our family loves Bill Snyder. He lifted our spirits."

There isn't a day that goes by I don't get a letter saying how the 16 goals have had an impact in someone's life. -- Snyder

At just 25, Patrick Hines was on a dangerous path. He was 50 pounds overweight from gorging pizza and slamming cans of soda. His cholesterol was through the roof. He had no energy and couldn't sleep.

"I had no motivation," said Hines, a recent K-State grad.

After one week in the gym, Hines was already about to quit. But in bed, he began reading a K-State poster on his wall, which included Snyder's famed 16 goals for success.

Hines suddenly felt motivated.

He committed to a salad diet. He only drank water. He dragged his body to the gym daily. And whenever he felt weakness, he would think about the poster, which espoused the qualities of "commitment" and "self-discipline." In six months, Hines dropped 40 pounds. Never feeling better, he wrote Snyder.

"I wanted to thank him," Hines said, "even if it was probably a long shot he'd read it."

But Hines soon heard back from Snyder, who encouraged him to "keep up the great work."

"All the hard work, all the dieting, for Bill Snyder to acknowledge it, meant such a great deal," Hines said. "Even to this day, it helps me keep going."

It's not about tradition. It's about doing the right thing. -- Snyder

Kaiden Schroeder was in an all-too-familiar place. Diagnosed with leukemia at four, Kaiden was back at the hospital in Kansas City. He was drained emotionally from living in a hospital bed, and physically from the chemotherapy.

But this day would take a turn for the better when an unexpected letter from Snyder arrived. It was the first of several letters, posters and Skype videos to Kaiden.

"He was having a down time then," said Kaiden's father, Chris Schroeder. "When he saw what it was, he just started smiling from ear-to-ear."

Kaiden's story is well known locally.

He was the boy who Snyder, former defensive end Ryan Mueller and the Wildcats invited to the 2013 spring game. There, they designed a play for him to score a touchdown.

"Had his own locker, with his own nameplate," Chris said. "Seeing the whole sideline clear out to go to the end zone and carry him to the sideline -- it was just awesome."

Shortly before, Kaiden had undergone a bone marrow transplant. His younger sister, Ashlyn, then only 4, was the donor.

The fight against the leukemia hasn't come without setbacks. This summer, he required another bone marrow transplant; this time, Chris was the donor.

Before returning to the hospital, Kaiden packed up all the letters and memorabilia he'd received from Snyder and the players. He then placed them on the windowsill of his hospital room.

"They remind him of all the support he has," Chris said.

"Coach Snyder is a real gentleman. It's been a blessing, keeping our spirits up, keeping Kaiden's spirits up. The whole Wildcat family been phenomenal."

There's never something that comes across my desk that I don't respond to. -- Snyder

Ryan Archer didn't have any special reason to write Snyder, other than wanting to do something special for his daughter Riley's 12th birthday.

"We'd heard about Coach Snyder writing people," Archer said. "Honestly, I really didn't think he'd respond."

Well, he did.

Archer saved the letter for Riley's birthday, which happened to be on the same day as K-State's spring game. On the way there, Archer surprised his daughter with the letter.

"We didn't have a cause. Nobody was sick," Archer said. "So for him to take the time just to wish a 12-year-old happy birthday, meant a lot."

The most significant person in my life was my mother. So I have a great appreciation for mothers and what they go through. There are so many single parent mothers out there, which is what my mother was. I recognize what it takes to do that. So many people don't understand what that type of individual has to do. I wish we had players that had that that kind of work ethic, work habits, persistence and determination that so many mothers do. -- Snyder

In October 2004, the Finney household was changed forever.

J. Finney died of a heart attack, leaving his wife Christy on her own with four kids, including their youngest and only son, B.J.

To cope, Christy quit her better-paying position in Wichita, Kansas, and took two jobs in the Andale school district to be closer to her children, driving a bus in the mornings and afternoons while serving as a secretary in between during the day.

"It was overwhelming," Christy said. "I was a mess for a long time. But I finally pulled myself together. I didn't have a choice."

After the three girls graduated high school, it was just B.J. and Christy in the house. That pulled them even closer. She took him hunting, and whenever he needed it, she helped him with his homework.

In sports, B.J. blossomed into a state championship wrestler and standout offensive lineman. He was hoping for a football scholarship to Ohio University, but it never came. B.J.'s only FBS recourse was to walk-on at K-State. Christy knew what kind of financial strain that would bring. But she also wanted to help her son reach his dream. So she gave him one semester to earn a scholarship.

While redshirting at K-State, B.J. did just that. Then, he won a starting job at center. Then, he became an All-Big 12 player.

During B.J.'s first year, Christy received a Mother's Day card from Snyder, which caught her off-guard, especially since B.J., after all, was still just a walk-on.

"That was very emotional," Christy said. "Very touching."

Snyder would send four more Mother's Day cards to Christy. And after B.J.'s career ended last season, Christy wrote a long letter back to Snyder thanking him for the influence he had in B.J.'s life.

Snyder, of course, responded with a letter back.

"The man B.J. has become is because of [Snyder]," Christy said. "I have the utmost respect and love for that man."