School loyalty, military service drive people to buy specialized license plates

A blank personalized license plate issued by the Kansas Department of Revenue.
A blank personalized license plate issued by the Kansas Department of Revenue.

An exhilarating run to the Final Four by the Shockers men’s basketball team this year means more WuShock license plates on the streets of Sedgwick County.

“I just couldn’t believe how many Wichita State University plates we sold,” Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire said recently.

Her office sold or renewed 372 Wichita State plates from January through April, she said.

“I guess a good Final Four run does make a difference,” she said.

Wichita State plates were the fifth most popular among specialized plates renewed or issued in Sedgwick County for the 12-month period ending in April, according to records from the treasurer’s office.

The most popular plate was a veterans plate, followed by personalized plates, disabled plates and “In God We Trust” plates.

Kizzire has an “In God We Trust” plate. She’s interested in getting an “I’m Pet Friendly” plate, too.

The treasurer’s office offers 34 types of specialized plates. There are breast cancer awareness plates, plates that support Ducks Unlimited and those that honor Purple Heart recipients and former prisoners of war. Care about children? Get a Children’s Trust Fund plate. Work as a paramedic? Get an EMS plate. Drive a vintage car? Slap an antique plate on it.

It takes a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor to create a new plate.

Many specialized plates, such as the Wichita State plate, benefit the organization they honor.

For example, drivers pay a $35 royalty fee every year for the privilege of a WuShock plate. That’s on top of a one-time setup charge and normal registration fees and taxes.

Connie White, communications director for the Wichita State University Alumni Association, said the plates were first offered in 1999. Wichita State plateholders don’t have to be graduates of the school.

“We’re closing in on a cumulative scholarship total of half a million dollars raised,” she said. “The run to the 2013 Final Four, it really has made hot commodities out of almost everything ‘Shockery,’ especially items with WuShock on them.”

Royalty fees from the plates benefit the Drive Your Pride WSU Kansas License Plate Scholarship Program.

In March and April alone, White said, fans bought 300 new Wichita State tags to plate their Kansas vehicles.

Al Bruster has two types of specialized plates — an amateur radio plate and two veterans plates.

He’s had a specialized plate for 19 years.

And his first amateur radio plate was, indeed, special.

His wife made it.

When he tells people his wife made his plate, they ask “What was she in for?” alluding to license plates made in prisons.

But she worked at Center Industries in Wichita, which produces plates for the state, he said.

“When my order came across her desk, she said, ‘I have to go press that button,’ ” Bruster said.

The plate allows people, including law enforcement, to know that he has access to communications other than a cellphone.

Years ago, before cellphones, he said, “law enforcement would be able to flag down an amateur radio operator just by his plate.”

James Van Milligen, known as “Van” to his friends, had eight Vietnam Veteran plates at last count.

He got them to honor his service “and everybody else’s,” he said.

He served from 1971 to 1972 as an Army medic. His parents, he said, are World War II veterans.

The physician’s assistant said he got Vietnam plates as soon as they became available last year.

“Coincidentally, it says 1111, which is Veterans Day,” he said of the one on the Jeep Liberty that is his primary vehicle.

Loren Wormington has a Shriner tag.

“I’ve been a member for 30 years,” he said. “It’s a good organization.”

He said the plate serves as a promotion for the Shriners, who operate Shriners Hospitals for Children.

“People see it and have no idea what the Shriners are, and they just inquire that way,” he said.

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