Kathy Andel of Marquette has not missed a Northern Michigan University home football game in 24 years. She is also a hockey regular and routinely attends other Wildcat athletic events. Her unwavering loyalty could easily be tested at times, but she remains a fixture in her front-row seat on the 50-yard line. Even health conditions that now require her to use a walker and portable oxygen, or have thinned her hair to the point she no longer spray-paints it with team colors, have not diminished Andel's spirit. She still wears Wildcat apparel accented by a feathery boa and other “bling” while cheering on the players. She's also there to support her son, Hans, the equipment supervisor for all NMU varsity sports except hockey.
“The players call me Mama Hans or Grandma,” Kathy said. “Football is my favorite NMU sport. I'm a big Packer fan, too, so green and gold is basically my wardrobe other than church on Sunday, when I dress up. I figure I'll keep going to the games as long as I can and the good Lord allows me to. I don't want to break my streak. And I've just enjoyed it so much with the guys. Years ago, I'd attend every single practice. If I missed one, guys would come up and ask if I was alright; they noticed. I also drove to many away games until I needed oxygen. Parents can't always come to watch from long distances, so they thank me for supporting their sons. It's a good feeling. Someone's got to be there for them.”
“She started out this journey as a team mom and it has evolved over years to the team grandma,” added Hans, a 2007 NMU alumnus. “The players really do appreciate all that she does and especially the incoming freshman, as it feels like a little bit of home having someone else watch out for them when they are away from home for the first time. She has made an impact on so many young men through the years and they still come back to visit and always love seeing her to this day. Her support for both me and NMU athletics over the years has been such a great source of pride, confidence and inspiration, especially with seeing her health decline. She still makes an effort to still come to every single practice. She really is the heart of this NMU football team and has been since 1999. I can't even begin to say how happy it makes me to see how much everyone enjoys and loves her.”
Kathy's dedication was rewarded when she was named the 2020 Lindsay Griffith and Todd “Stix” Honch Fan of the Year by Wildcat athletics. While she appreciated the plaque and recognition, she clearly isn't immersed in NMU sports for the accolades, and her involvement with the team has extended beyond the bleachers.
For years, Kathy would devote Friday evenings to baking cookies—at least 10 different varieties and hundreds total—to put in the locker room for after-game consumption. They could either serve as comfort food to ease the sting of a disappointing loss or a celebratory treat to complement a sweet victory. Her email handle appropriately includes an “NMU Cookie Lady” reference.
Now Kathy prepares festively decorated bags of prepackaged treats for the players to celebrate holidays such as Halloween and Valentine's Day. Her grandson, Karsten, who attended his first game at six weeks and still accompanies his grandma at 11—often sporting a green mohawk—used to deliver Easter baskets in a bunny suit that Kathy and other relatives once wore. Unlike Ralphie in A Christmas Story, Karsten loved the suit and was disappointed when he outgrew it, Kathy said with a chuckle. She also makes annual fall trips to King Orchard in Central Lake, Mich., to pick up “tons of apples” to distribute to the football and soccer players and coaches.
“The NMU Marching Band was practicing at the Superior Dome recently and I was talking to [Director] Steve Grugin about bringing them some apples from downstate as well,” Kathy said. “Something memorable came out of that conversation. Steve had heard that I've had a longtime dream of being able to crash the cymbals at the end of the national anthem. So he said to me, ‘Let's do it at the Wayne State game on Oct. 28.' I'm beyond excited! When I was in grade school, I played flute in the band, but I always wanted to crash the cymbals, and now it looks like I'll get my wish 65 years later.”
Her ascent to NMU super fan status actually began at Marquette Senior High School, where Kathy sold 50/50 tickets at football games while Hans was playing on the field. She said she received a call from someone who heard that she loved hawking the tickets and asked if she would do the same thing for the Lions Club at NMU football and hockey games. Kathy would linger afterward to watch the remainder of the action, particularly after Hans was hired as a student equipment manager for the Wildcat football team in 1999.
“My mom has always been a great supporter of her kids,” said Hans, who was promoted to equipment supervisor in 2011. “When I got hired as a student equipment manager, she was so proud and wanted to continue to show support for me as she had in everything I have done. She started coming to all the practices and the games, both home and away. She traveled to all road games up until the last couple years, when her health got worse. She would meet us at the buses every morning before we would leave for away games, and for the first 15 or so years, always made homemade cinnamon rolls from scratch for the whole team and staff for the road.”
International student-athletes on the men's soccer team call Kathy their “American grandma.” She has invited them to barbeques and to Karsten's birthday at a bowling alley. Kathy and a player from the Czech Republic, whose birthdays are a day apart, held a joint celebration dinner at a local restaurant.
“We do a lot of fun things with them,” Kathy said. “I have a soft spot for athletes from foreign countries because I know what it's like to be in another country and not have friends nearby.”
That empathy stems from Kathy's service in the U.S. Army. Motivated by a desire to travel, she enlisted in 1970, four years after graduating from Northern's LPN program. She spent some time at Fort Ord, Calif., where she was born before her family moved to Calumet while she was very young, then received orders to go to Germany. Kathy was among the first women to join all-male units there after the Women's Army Corps dissolved. She worked in the 31st combat support hospital.
“I met my husband [Wolfgang] there,” Kathy said. “He was in the German Army at the time. They would try to partner up German and American units that had similar duties. We married six months later. The support hospital was going to move near the French border, but I was allowed to go to Giessen, where my husband's unit was stationed, and kept extending my time in the Army over there until he got out.”
The couple's daughter, Christine (Karsten's mom), was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Kathy was pregnant with Hans when the family moved stateside to San Antonio, Texas. After she got out of the Army in 1980, Kathy worked at the former Calumet Public Hospital, then relocated to Marquette to use her GI Bill to study radiography. She worked at the former Marquette General Hospital for a number of years in various capacities before retiring. While Kathy and Wolfgang divorced, she reports they still got along very well until his death and interacted together with their kids and grandkids as “one big happy family.”
Given the way Kathy has endeared herself to NMU student-athletes and coaches for nearly a quarter of a century, it's safe to say “Mama Hans/Grandma” is a much-loved member of two big happy families.