Robert and Ann O’Bleness see son’s helpful nature in scholarship recipient

Physician assistant student is first to receive aid memorializing Robert Allen O’Bleness

When Robert Allen O’Bleness heard the news a few years ago that a tornado had hit parts of western Oklahoma, causing heavy damage, he packed his tools in his truck and headed there to help with repair efforts.

   “That’s just the kind of person he was,” said his father, Robert O’Bleness. “He really liked people and cared about them, from little kids to the elderly. It didn’t matter who you were.”


Robert O’Bleness, left, and his wife, Ann, created a scholarship in the College of Health Professions in memory of their son, Robert Allen. Nick Holwey, right, a student in the Physician Assistant program, is the scholarship’s first recipient.

   When their son died in a highway crash in 2010, Robert and Ann O’Bleness decided to honor his memory by creating a scholarship in the College of Health Professions at Wichita State.

   “We picked health professions because that’s a place where people learn to help other people,” Robert O’Bleness said. “We hoped it would help someone like Robert, someone who liked to help people.”

   The couple believes that the scholarship’s inaugural recipient, Nick Holwey, is very much like their son in that regard. Holwey, 24, is in his second year of the Physician Assistant Program at WSU, working his way through a series of clinical rotations in Wichita and in small western Kansas towns. Currently possessing a 4.0 GPA, he will complete his education in 2013. Among the options he’s considering for his practice is moving to a country where primary care physicians are desperately needed.

   “Being a PA, you have so many options,” he said. “There is so much demand. You can work abroad, you can work in rural areas or in highly urban areas. I’m also very much drawn to emergency room care. Just in the brief time I’ve been doing rotations I’ve learned how much need there is for primary care and emergency medicine.”

   Holwey was born in Boston but his family moved a lot during his childhood because his father was a minister. The family lived for three years in Wichita, where Nick attended eighth through 10th grades, then moved to the Chicago area, which he now considers home. He has a bachelor’s degree in food science and human nutrition from the University of Illinois, a degree he’s sure will prove beneficial in his medical career.

“ We picked health professions because that's a place where people learn to help other people.”

-Robert O'Bleness

   He chose the PA program at Wichita State after doing some research and finding several sources that ranked it in the nation’s top 20. And he also missed the friends he had made while living in Wichita.

   Sue Nyberg, associate professor and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant, said Holwey could have chosen any PA program in the country and would have been accepted.

   “A student like Nick is going to have a lot of options,” she said. “He is one of the leaders of his class. The feedback I’ve heard from his clinical preceptors is that Nick is one of the best students we’ve ever had. They don’t typically say that lightly.”

   Holwey has received the Robert Allen O’Bleness Scholarship for two years in a row. O’Bleness had a successful career driving trucks for major concert tours, and was a member of Carrie Underwood’s road crew when his semi-trailer truck was involved in a fatal accident in Connecticut. He was 48.

    His parents committed funds for the endowed scholarship for any health professions field and also established a planned gift to support the scholarship. They have three other children. Several members of their family attended Wichita State, and they viewed the university favorably and especially regarded the College of Health Professions highly, Robert O’Bleness said. They met Holwey in 2011 at the College of Health Professions scholarship reception.

   “I think he’s marvelous,” O’Bleness said. “We like his spirit. We think his heart is in the right place, just like our son’s.”

    Holwey said his introduction to Robert and Ann O’Bleness was a warm one.

    “They basically treated me as if they’d known me for years,” he said. “They saw me as someone who had similar interests as their son, since I’m also into music. I told them how music has gotten me through so many things in life, and it’s such a creative outlet. They were so gracious. I feel very grateful to them.”

circle arrow If you would like to establish a scholarship in memory of a loved one or to help a deserving student, please contact Terre Johnson, WSU Foundation vice president for major gifts, at (316) 978-380 or at

Connect With Us:

 Pinterest  Google Plus Instagram


Wichita State University Foundation

1845 Fairmount St., Wichita, KS 67260-0002
Phone: 316-978-3040 | Fax: 316-978-3277

© 2014 Wichita State University Foundation

Wichita State University Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law.