Jack Overman will not be able drive for very much longer, if his doctor has anything to say about it. But Overman is putting serious thought into buying a bicycle to get around town, and his daughter, Sandy Haile, just might let him do so.
"How many 95-year-olds have the interest and health to pull that off? I'm not going to say no," she said. "I asked an officer if we added lights and blinkers, if it's OK to ride a bicycle or tricycle on the sidewalk. He told me, 'It's Jack Overman. The city will accommodate him.'"
Thursday afternoon, the city came out to the building that bears his name — the Overman Student Center at Pittsburg State — to wish Jack a happy 95th birthday.
Overman, who was a student cheer leader in the 1930s, would go on to run the student center, which was later renamed in his honor. He has served in a number of roles at the university and in the community, but he also serves as the unofficial human mascot of the Pittsburg State Gorillas.
The visitors on Thursday included dozens of people that have known Overman through the years, and he put on a show for those in attendance, with his pinstripe suit, carefully arranged pocket square, and, of course, PSU pin completing the outfit.
Each person in the welcome line was greeted warmly, with a hug and a smile, and maybe a steady hand on the arm.
Linda Graham, PSU Spirit Squad sponsor, brought a group of female cheerleaders to greet Jack, and she jokingly apologized for only bringing the women.
"Tell the boys I appreciate them, I do, but I'd rather they not come, either," Overman teased.
Throughout the greeting line, Jack Overman II, his grandson who now lives in California, could be seen watching and smiling as his namesake greeted well-wisher after well-wisher.
"Nothing's changed since I was here last, and it's the same as when I was born. He still knows people from years ago," said Jack Overman II. "It's amazing to see how much respect he has around this town. If we go out to eat somewhere, there is someone he knows there."
Out in California, the name Jack Overman doesn't carry the same sort of heft as it does in Pittsburg, Kan. But Jack Overman II makes sure people understand if they ask who he was named after.
"I let everyone in California know to Google his name. Pitt State Gorillas pictures come up, and the student center. It's pretty fun to be able to show it off," he said.
Jack Overman is getting older, though. Toward the end of the reception, he said that so long as his knees and feet hold out, he's feeling fine. His daughter said she doesn't expect him to slow down anytime, and that's what PSU President Steve Scott is banking on.
Scott teased the crowd with a story about the time Overman threw him out of the student center, back when Scott was a student.
"But I think that's a 100th birthday story. Let's reconvene in five years. It's not a 95th birthday story," Scott said.
There were a few interesting anecdotes during the reception, such as the fact that as Gus the Gorilla turns 90 this year, Jack Overman is an older — "and louder," quipped one onlooker — mascot for the team.
Scott recalled a pep rally a few years ago in which Overman felt the need to get up on a picnic table to rally the Gorilla faithful, all while Spirit Squad members looked on waiting to catch him if he needed help.
"Dad's a people person. He's always been a people person. I've said for years that people say to me, 'You're so lucky to have him as your father.' And yes, we're very blessed. But it's the people of the community that keep him going. I have to literally take a number if we're both in town, because he has other people he needs to see," Haile said. "People keep his heart going. He's the Energizer bunny."
Perhaps Jack Overman knew she said that toward the end of the short ceremony, in which he was thanking everyone for coming out to wish a happy birthday to "this old man."
"My battery is charged up for a couple weeks now!" Overman exclaimed.