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Love Takes Flight

Ichabod couple providing compassion in their careers

Kristi and Brendan Sneegas in front of an airplane at downtown Kansas City airport

From The Ichabod - Fall 2019

When selecting a college, Washburn was number one for Brendan Sneegas, bsw ’92, who grew up in Lenexa, Kansas. The music scholarship he earned allowed him to play trumpet while pursuing a degree in social work and a career helping others. Kristi Ruiz Sneegas, bsn ’92, from Wichita, Kansas, attended Washburn because of its small size and it was far enough from home to give her the experience she desired.

Each other’s roommates were dating one another and thought Brendan and Kristi would be a good match. That set the stage for a blind date; Brendan and Kristi were to go on a double date with their roommates – or so Kristi thought. The matchmaking trickery that followed produced a couple living a life fueled by compassion for others.

“We were leaving to get ice cream and meet Brendan, and my friend said they needed to get their music schedule in a music practice room first,” Kristi said. “I walked into a room and saw Brendan at a candlelit piano. He had written a poem to ask me out to his fraternity’s formal.”

The romantic gesture worked and Brendan and Kristi eventually started dating. However, when it came to it, the financially-limited students relied on their creativity.

“One time it was snowing, and the football practice field was covered in snow,” Kristi recalled. “Brendan had me go to the top floor of Henderson and look out the window. There I could see he had written my name in the snow.”

Since graduating 26 years ago, the Sneegas’ careers have truly intertwined. In the beginning, during the day, Brendan worked for Cancer Action providing supplies to cancer patients. At night, Kristi worked as an oncology nurse. Often, they would see the same patients only at different hours.

Kristi worked 20 years on the same floor in the same hospital. It worked well when they had young kids, but the night shifts began to wear on her. She moved into home health, hospice and even returned to oncology before finding her current career path.

“The beauty of nursing is I got to practice different kinds of nursing,” Kristi said. “What I love most is helping a patient one-on-one.”

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.

While working for Cancer Action, Brendan received a phone call about a new organization, Angel Flight Central, starting at Wheeler Downtown Airport, in Kansas City, Missouri, which needed help establishing a volunteer program.

“Our volunteer program at Cancer Action was going gangbusters,” Brendan said. “I met with the founders at Angel Flight Central and let them know how to get things going.”

In 2006, Brendan joined Angel Flight Central as their director of operation and development. Angel Flight Central is a non-profit organization dedicated to arranging non-emergency, long distance air transportation free for individuals in situations of compelling need.

“Any issue which can be resolved with two runways is what we are involved in,” Brendan said.

Angel Flight Central takes requests from people in need and pitches their stories to a database of 320 volunteer pilots who own and operate their own planes in a 10-state region. In 2018, Angel Flight Central flew 2,663 flights organized out of the Kansas City office. Nearly 91 percent of the flights transport people to specialized medical care. They also arrange flights to help people during a family crisis, to help children fly to special needs camps and to assist communities in times of natural or national disasters.

“We flew 176 flights three days after the Fremont (Nebraska 2019) flooding,” Brendan said. “We fly 200 to 300 children to special needs camps in northern Minnesota, Colorado and Nebraska that specialize in children with cancer, burns, AIDS and heart disease.”

Brendan is thankful to work with people willing to provide a service to people they have never met and will probably never meet again.

“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.”

The highlight of Brendan’s career came in 2018 when Angel Flight Central was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.

The Sneegases live in Merriam, Kansas, have two daughters and recently celebrated 25 years of marriage. They remain friends with their college roommates and Brendan’s Alpha Delta brothers. Their youngest daughter, Kati, is a junior at Washburn, plays on the soccer team and is following in Brendan’s footsteps by studying human services. Brendan and Kristi have attended all but one of her matches.

“Washburn was not just a fleeting thing,” Kristi said. “It was and is a part of our lives.”

The Ichabod magazine fall 2020

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2020 fall edition online and look for it in mailboxes in October.

View past editions


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