Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development
1999 Leaders of the Year

Mila Bandel - Leadership Cheyenne County

Do you ever feel like you're in a corner? That's a tough place to be. You feel like you're hemmed in and there's no way out.

Today we'll meet a group of people that is in a corner, in one sense at least C but they're not feeling hemmed in, they are working together and building leadership for the future. If that sounds confusing, just stay tuned C this is today's Kansas Profile.

Let's start with the corner. When I look at the Kansas map hanging in my office, I see the northwest corner of Kansas. That's where I find Cheyenne County, in the very corner of the state. Cheyenne County borders Nebraska to the north and Colorado to the west.

Of course, those state borders are just artificial lines. It's just a map on the wall. Those folks don't feel like they're in a corner.

But this does mean that it's a long way from the corner of the state to the state capitol, for example, which can make it tough on a county. And besides that, Cheyenne is a very rural county. With a total population of 3220 people, it is the 14th smallest populated county in the state.

So how does a county that size respond to the challenges it faces? In Cheyenne County, there are some very positive answers. First, the county is planning strategically for its future, and beyond that, it is actively working to develop leadership for that future.

Meet Mila Bandel. Mila is a K-State Research & Extension agent in Cheyenne County and a founder of a program called Leadership Cheyenne County.

Mila explains that the need for a leadership program was identified when Cheyenne County went through a strategic planning process a few years ago. The Extension service and Cheyenne County Economic Development Corporation jointly got a state grant and organized a countywide leadership program. The program is now in its third year and operating on its own funding.Mila says the purpose of the program is to recognize future leaders and help them develop leadership skills, gain greater knowledge of the county, and stimulate interest in taking leadership positions.

Each year county citizens are invited to apply or to nominate individuals to participate in the program. Twelve citizens are selected annually. Those citizens go through a leadership course consisting of seven sessions, beginning in October. Topics of the sessions include personal leadership skills and team building, economic development, city / county government, agriculture and agribusiness, and state government. There is a graduation ceremony and banquet at the end of the program. Two or three members from each class then help plan the sessions for the following year.

These sessions aren't just lectures -- far from it. They include dialogue with area leaders, group activities, discussions, and tours. The group even experiences such things as visiting a high school, meeting with county commissioners, having lunch at a sale barn, and making a three day trip to Topeka to meet with legislators and experience state government in action. I wonder which they liked better C the government or the sale barn?...

The Cheyenne County program has been recognized as an excellent example of a county-wide leadership program operating in a very rural county. Some of the meetings are held in the county seat of St. Francis, but the group also has sessions in the neighboring town of Bird City, population 529 people. Now, that=s rural.

Results have been excellent. A diverse set of participants has gone through the program, with occupations ranging from homemakers and farmers to lawyers, loan officers, and medical personnel. And in only three years of operation, the program has produced new city council members, fair board members, and others more involved in community organizations.

Mila Bandel says, AIts a great opportunity to involve people. We=re really pleased with it. We encourage all counties to give it a try.

If you would like more information about starting a county leadership program, you can contact us here at the Huck Boyd Institute at 785-532-7690. That number again is 785-532-7690.

Do you ever feel like you're in a corner? Well, Cheyenne County may be in the corner of the state map, but that=s no limitation to the people there. They have a broad vision of what is possible. They are building leadership for the future through this county-wide effort. We salute Mila Bandel and the people of Cheyenne County for making a difference through this initiative.

In that county, we might say that leadership is a cornerstone of the future.



Rural Telephone

High tech. High plains.

Those terms sound similar, but they're very different, aren't they? High tech refers to fancy computers and other cutting edge stuff they do out in California somewhere, while high plains refers to the quiet farmland of western Kansas.

Guess again. Today, we'll learn of a company which is bringing high tech to the high plains, and doing it from a truly rural location. Stay tuned B this remarkable story is today's Kansas Profile.

Meet Larry Sevier. Larry is CEO and General Manager of Rural Telephone Service Company in Lenora, Kansas. The company is usually called Rural Telephone for short.

Rural Telephone is one of several independent phone companies that was set up around Kansas in the 1950s. Rod Wallgren, Rural Telephone's director of community relations, says the company was formed in 1951 by a small group of farmers and businessmen in northwest Kansas.

Rod says, AThey wanted better telephone service so they formed a co-op to provide phone service in the area. They went to REA and got a loan to help do it.

The original business office was in Norton. In 1955, the company bought telephone exchanges in Lenora and Morland. As part of the deal, the company agreed to move the office to the town of Lenora in southern Norton County.

Business grew over the years. In 1986, it was time for the Board to pick a new general manager. The person they chose was Larry Sevier.

Larry is a native of south central Kansas. He graduated from Emporia State and was a field rep and branch chief for REA when Rural Telephone hired him away. Rod Wallgren says, AHe brought to the company background information on financing and lots of ideas about the future.

Those ideas have taken off. Today, this company is one of the top 50 telephone companies in America.

You may ask, what does a telephone company do? Here's a wild guess: it provides telephone service, right? Sure enough, Rural Telephone provides local service to 29 exchanges in northwest Kansas. But that hardly begins to describe the contributions of this remarkable company. Rural Telephone has taken a visionary approach to making northwest Kansas better, and that means they have diversified into other areas of technology to serve the region.

For example, Rural Telephone now offers sophisticated telecommunications service through a state-of-the-art 100 percent digital network transported over 700 miles of fiber optic cable. Six Lakes Directory is the official phone book of Rural Telephone. More than 50,000 copies of the directory are distributed annually to homes and businesses in northwest Kansas.

In 1990, Rural Telephone and seven school districts formed one of the first full motion, two way interactive video networks in the state. It is called ICAN, which stands for Interactive Consortium Academic Network. ICAN now has 20 interactive studios, enables 360 faculty members to interact, and allows more than 3,000 students to take enhanced educational courses B including college credits.

Rural Telephone offers the latest in cellular technology through the largest network in the state. It also offers RuralNet, which makes it possible for rural subscribers to access the world through the Internet. RuralNet is the largest single Internet service provider in northwest Kansas. The company's high speed data circuits allow videoconferencing and telemedicine.

The diversification doesn't stop there. Rural Telephone owns Vision Plus, a cable television company; System Solutions, a statewide computer company; Six Lakes Long Distance, which provides long distance phone service; and RTSC Productions, which is a video production company. Rural Telephone has been a leader in supporting economic development in the region.

With all this activity, it's no surprise that the company has grown to 150 employees. Yet it remains headquartered in the Norton County town of Lenora, population 335 people. Now, that's rural.

High tech. High plains. Maybe there's more of a connection between these terms than we first thought, thanks to Rural Telephone. It is so exciting to see such technological advancements brought to our state by a rural-based cooperative. We commend Larry Sevier and the Board and staff of Rural Telephone for making a difference by bringing high technology to the high plains of rural Kansas.



John and Susan Howell

Do you ever feel like a speed bump on the information superhighway? Many of us do, sometimes. Until a couple of years ago, I thought a homepage was the local section of our weekly paper, and a website was the place behind the couch that I couldn't reach with the broom.

But today those terms have new meaning, thanks to the incredible global computer-based communications system called the Internet. If you feel like a gravel road on the information superhighway, take heart: Help is on the way. We'll learn about it on today's Kansas Profile.

Meet John and Susan Howell. John and Susan have a heart for helping small towns have home pages on the Internet. This is their story.

Susan and John met at Mississippi State. Susan says with a smile, AI'm a Canadian and he's an Okie. Hmm, both from foreign countries....

Anyway, they met and married. They were mathematicians and teachers. John was teaching computer science at a college in Missouri when he found that corporate recruiters were offering his computer students 50 percent more than he was making. John went on to become a computer specialist at Boeing in Wichita and Susan became director of technology at the Wichita Eagle.

A lot of John's work involved the World Wide Web, which is a way of navigating the Internet on your computer. As John and Susan would make weekend trips to Kansas towns, they began to keep a travel diary. The next step was logical: They put information about those communities on the World Wide Web. These locations on the net, which are accessed electronically through your computer, are called websites or homepages.

About this time the Kansas Library Network Board of the State Library was seeking to expand its electronic service to communities. The State Library, in conjunction with the University of Kansas Medical Center, initiated a program called Blue Skyways which is a World Wide Web service to Kansas communities. Blue Skyways provides more than 5,000 pages of electronic information about Kansas towns, education, government, and libraries.

So the Library Network Board joined forces with John and Susan Howell. John's employer, the Boeing Company, agreed to let John serve as an executive on loan until September 1998 to develop websites for Kansas communities.

Susan says, AOften a community will call or e-mail us about this service. We go talk to a community group at a public meeting about how we develop these websites. The process begins with the people discussing their community goals and planning what they would like on the website. The town gathers the information and the Howells do the technical work of putting it into electronic form which can go on the web.

A community website will typically include information about history, places to eat and stay, things to see, organizations, special events, banking, health care, government, industry, utilities, and so on. The Howells say, ABe inclusive. Put in every cafe and every church.

The Howells will build the site for free - that's right, at no cost to the community. The ultimate goal is for a responsible group in the community to take over ownership of the town's website, and to update and maintain it.

John Howell says, AWe're most proud of towns like Pretty Prairie and Phillipsburg, where the local librarians have taken over the websites and are updating and using them in innovative ways. Just think, thanks to this process, people from around the world can get on the Internet and learn about the rodeo in Pretty Prairie, Kansas C population 658 people. Now, that's rural.

How exciting that rural towns can now market themselves world-wide through this remarkable electronic medium. The Howells estimate that they have developed websites for nearly 200 Kansas communities. John Howell says, AI really like Kansas, and Kansas small towns in particular.

If you would like to contact the Howells, their e-mail address is You might also visit the Blue Skyways website at That website address again is

Do you ever feel like a speed bump on the information superhighway? Take heart. John and Susan Howell can help you promote your community through the Internet and World Wide Web. We salute the Kansas State Library and the Boeing Company for making a difference by enabling this service. And we salute John and Susan Howell for bringing this technology to rural Kansas. They're providing the small towns of Kansas with an on-ramp to the information superhighway.