McDill "Huck" Boyd
Every week we begin this program with a reminder that it is produced by the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development. And for some, that may raise a simple question: Who the heck is Huck?
Today, we'll answer that question. We'll talk about a leader in a rural community. It's through local leadership that rural development really happens.
Let me tell you about a young man who was born and raised in northwest Kansas. His name was McDill Boyd. In 1925, McDill enrolled at Kansas State University. He was having a successful collegiate career -- but when his hometown bank suddenly failed, his savings were lost, and he returned home to work in the family newspaper business. The business was located in a county seat town of about 3,000 people. He took over the operation of the paper when his father died, and continued as editor and publisher the rest of his life.
But that is not where the story ends. Like his parents, McDill had a larger vision for his community. He once said that his mother taught him "every day is a good day, so make the most of it." McDill made the most of his community, as well as of his days.
When he saw the need for jobs in the community, he helped develop local industry and was instrumental in bringing a new, cooperatively-owned oil refinery to the town. It was the world's first cooperative refinery. He worked on projects to benefit the elderly, young people, and the under-privileged. When he saw the doctor shortages in rural areas, he worked for legislative approval of funding for the first family practice residencies in Kansas, legislation copied elsewhere in the U.S.
He cared deeply about his community, and that fact made all the difference. He got involved. He served as county chairman with his political party, and worked his way up the ranks to become national committeeman for Kansas. When senators and presidents wanted to know what rural people thought about an issue, they would call on him.
Then came the time that the Rock Island Railroad took bankruptcy and proposed to abandon 465 miles of rail line across the heartland -- including McDill's hometown. Loss of the rail line would have been devastating to the communities, farmers, and other businesses served by the railroad. McDill led the effort to form a Mid States Port Authority to buy the line and continue service. Today a private sector shortline, named the Kyle Railroad, is operating on what would have been abandoned track.
All this is testimony to what one motivated local leader can do. McDill had a saying that "Community service is the rent you pay for the privilege of living on this earth."
He had a global vision, but he still cared about his hometown. He was willing to serve, to volunteer, to help make it a better place. He served as a U.S. delegate to a United Nations' month-long Economic and Social Council in Geneva, Switzerland -- yet he found time to lead the fund drive so that the local high school band could go to a bowl game.
And so we remember McDill for his community service. But not many people knew him as McDill. When he was a little boy, his tousled, sandy hair, twinkling blue eyes, and winning smile made him a "Huckleberry Finn"-sort of character. The nickname stuck, and all his life he was known as Huck.
Huck Boyd passed away in 1987. His lovely wife Marie continues to be very active in their town of Phillipsburg. And the Huck Boyd Foundation was established in his honor. One of the Foundation sponsored projects is the National Institute for Rural Development at KSU.
So who the heck is Huck? He was a heck of a guy.
Today the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at KSU strives to honor and replicate his legacy of service to rural America. May Huck Boyd's example remind countless others of what is possible when local people want to make a difference.
Today I would like to announce the multi-million dollar federal grant that did not get awarded to a rural Kansas community. Yes, I said did not get awarded.
That's a different type of announcement. Usually, people announce the grants which did get awarded. Those grants do lots of good in a lot of communities.
But sometimes there simply isn't enough federal grant money to go around. This story is about a town that applied for federal grants to build a community center but was turned down -- not once but twice.
They never received a penny of federal funds. And on December 12, 1992, they will celebrate the completion of their new community building.
How did they do it? The accomplishment is a tribute to the energy, determination, and resourcefulness of the people in and around Blue Rapids, Kansas. The chairman of the committee which got this project started is Jack Haller.
Jack is a native of Randolph, Kansas. His wife Maxine was born and raised on a farm near Blue Rapids. After living in Kansas City, Jack & Maxine moved back to Blue Rapids in 1949. Jack built houses and farmed for years. Now he is a real estate broker and account executive with Ogdon Financial Services.
But all along, he has been something else, something that is extremely important in rural Kansas: a volunteer. He has been deeply involved in making his community a better place to live and work.
Jack was president of the Chamber of Commerce years ago. He was also involved in the effort to build a nursing home in Blue Rapids. The home first opened in June 1972. Five years ago the home was expanded to a 60 bed facility. Jack helped get it done. He describes his current role as former president and volunteer lawnmower for the facility.
Jack is also chairman of the board of the Blue Valley Institute of Alcohol and Drug Addiction. This is to be located in a mansion that was built by a young couple in Blue Rapids but was never used.
The mansion is a large and elaborate building, complete with a courtyard and landscaped grounds. It is estimated that it would take more than 1 million bricks to build such a structure today. Now the building may house a treatment center for people recovering from substance abuse.
These are the types of projects on which Jack has volunteered to help....and that brings us to the community center. Jack and others in the community saw the need for such a facility in the town. They wanted a better place to meet. The town square needed to be enhanced. Several devastating fires had damaged downtown.
But how would the community pay for such a facility? Of course, federal funds appear to be an attractive option. Federal funds are free, right? - or at least they seem like it.
Jack and his group applied for federal funds. The feds turned them down. They applied again, and got turned down again.
At that point, they turned to other options. They had to resort to grass-roots fund-raising and a lot of volunteer effort. We're not talking about multi-million dollars here, but rather local efforts that raised amounts small enough that you and I can grasp them.
They held a rummage sale. They contacted alumni of the high school and asked them for donations. Funds came from as far away as California. Eventually, they got the job done.
In the meantime, they discovered something: by not getting federal funds, they avoided the restrictions, paperwork, and red tape that go with federal grants. They were able to save money on the project as a result.
Today the new community center stands in Blue Rapids. It has a banquet room with space for 200 people to meet, plus a recreation area for retirees and others.
This is a remarkable achievement. I asked Jack for his advice to leaders in other communities which need major fundraising projects.
He said, "Shoot a little higher than you know you'll need. That way you'll have a piece to give away."
I think this means that the cost estimates for construction projects should have some room for error. It also means that there would be room to negotiate down the cost of such projects, thus building public support in the process.
As Jack says, "Community fundraising is like sales: Success is 85 percent due to psychology and 15 percent due to product knowledge." A trainer or engineer might make you think the opposite, but knowing the people of a community probably is more important than knowing the project.
I asked Jack Haller what made his volunteer fundraising efforts successful. He told me the following four key elements: Number 1, the project must be economically feasible. Number 2, the chair of the group must have the time and interest to devote to making it go. Number 3, the chair needs flexibility to pick the members of his or her committee -- otherwise, the chemistry might not be right.
And Number 4, the vital component that can be summarized in one word: Persistence.
"You have to have your heart set to do it," Jack says. "You just need to take the time. You may make people mad and you may get shot down, but you've got to stay with it."
Persistence. It's vital in rural areas, because times can be so difficult. And in Blue Rapids, the town that didn't get the federal grant, it inspires volunteer leaders like Jack Haller to make a difference in their community.
"And now, we go to Hollywood for the American Music Awards. Here we are onstage. There's the winner, and here's a beautiful award. It's a magnificent trophy."
And where do you think the major part of this trophy might have been produced? Hollywood? New York? No. Try Lincoln, Kansas -- population 1,381 folks.
How might a trophy from Lincoln make it to the American Music Awards? The answer to that question starts with Jim Laubach and Scranton, Kansas.
Talk about rural. Scranton is a town of 674 people in Osage County. That's where Jim Laubach began. His parents lived on a farm near Scranton. When he was very young, he and his mother moved, but the mechanical skills of his father the farmer stayed with him.
In his early teenage years, he lived with his grandparents in Wichita. School wasn't a lot of fun for Jim. He says he had a struggle in English class, for example, but in a shop class, he could get straight A's and run any piece of equipment.
During this time, Jim and his grandfather started making fishing sinkers in his grandfather's basement. They sold some, and Jim started collecting antique coins. Then he made a coin holder out of some scrap plastic from a local airplane plant. Local coin dealers saw his coin holders, and they wanted some just like them. Jim started to sell them to local dealers, and a regular business began to develop.
Jim realized that he could do more if he had the right equipment. At age 14, he approached his grandmother for a loan. She loaned him $2,000 to expand his business.
Jim says now, "Where could a 14 year old kid go to get a $2,000 business loan today?" The answer might be, only to a grandmother. Anyway, she made him the loan and he put it to good use. He was producing specialty plastic items in his grandfather's basement and selling them.
The business grew. Jim made good money. Considering inflation, Jim says it would be like giving $40,000 to a 15 year old kid today. In one year, he had three new cars.
He couldn't wait for school to get over so he could go work in his grandfather's basement. He would walk by the football practice field on the way home and say to himself, "Those guys are crazy! They're out doing that stuff for nothing." He enjoyed holidays, because they enabled him to work all day.
In fact, he began to wonder if school was worth it. But two people pushed him to continue his studies: one was his grandfather, who had never gotten his diploma; and the other was a young woman who was a classmate of his.
There's a happy ending to this story. He graduated from high school and, sure enough, he married that young woman who encouraged him to finish his schooling. His plastics business then continued from his own basement.
But with the marriage, he thought to himself: Maybe I'd better get a "real job." He went to work for Beech in Wichita. After some time, he went to work separately for the man who was his boss. In 1969, he went back to the plastics and set up his own business.
The key to the business at the beginning was those specialty items made out of plastic. Jim set up his own manufacturing company with a plant in Wichita. In 1971, the company started making products from Lucite. By the mid-70s, Jim's company had gone exclusively to Lucite and started making awards and commemoratives. Over time, the company grew dramatically.
At one point, Jim asked the city of Wichita for industrial revenue bonds to help his expansion. The city turned him down.
Not long after that, he found a good deal with plant facilities in Lindsborg and in Lincoln, Kansas. He even has a plant in Malaysia -- and that's not Malaysia, Kansas.
Today Jim's company, named Century Manufacturing, has $10 million in sales and employs 220 people. His company by itself has as big a share of the ad specialty market as all his competitors put together. Asked what is his competitive edge, his answer is instant: "Service and quality."
The company has branched out significantly. Today Jim's company can do spin casting, silk screening, offset printing, and computer engraving. The company has a machine shop, graphic art department, color photo lab, sculptors, and two kinds of lasers.
"We do everything in-house," he says. "If someone wants to see a sample, we don't have to send it out someplace to get it finished -- we can do it ourselves and get it back to them within one to two days."
Jim Laubach is pure businessman. He will find a way to produce whatever award or gift the customer wants. Jim says, "If you can dream it up, we can produce it."
For example: When Time magazine wanted to have a special historic gift for Time's distributors, they contacted Jim. Jim's company produced a high quality piece of Lucite containing the cover of Time magazine when the Berlin Wall was built, the cover when the Berlin Wall fell, and an actual piece of the Berlin Wall itself. Wouldn't that be neat to hang on your wall?
Jim has even produced a special award for the Sultan of Brunei. It had the Sultan's likeness engraved on it by laser with a script in foreign dialect below it. The Sultan is reportedly the world's richest man. I hope he liked the picture!
Jim believes that investing in rural Kansas, by locating plants in Lincoln and Lindsborg, has been a good deal for him. For one thing, by buying an existing building from a bank whose previous customer had taken bankruptcy, he paid less for the finished building in rural Kansas than he would have paid for bare ground in Wichita.
Beyond that, Jim is high on the workforce in rural Kansas. He says, "They are hard working and they care about their work."
Asked about his marketing plan, he says, "Our marketing plan is a little different. We don't have one." He goes on to explain that their business growth is in repeat customers and word-of-mouth. "It's going well," he says, "so why waste the postage?"
But don't interpret this to mean that he is not a marketer -- just the reverse is true.
One observer saw Jim working at a trade show in Las Vegas. He saw that, when Jim had a strong prospect, he would put them on his corporate jet and fly them to Wichita to tour the plant and bring them back to Las Vegas on the same day. Now that's marketing. That's customer service.
Jim has come a long way from his grandmother's investment of $2,000. Yes, it has taken his products to the American music awards, but it's also making a difference in Lincoln, Kansas and that's an award of which we can all be proud.
Today I want to talk about Garfield County, Kansas. Does anyone know where Garfield County is? No, I'm not talking about the town of Garfield, nor even Garfield the cat. I'm talking about Garfield County, Kansas.
Here's a clue. Garfield is Kansas' 106th county. Ahah, you say, this is a trick question: There are only 105 counties in Kansas. Well, you're right, but there used to be 106.
Here's another clue. If you look at a county map of southwest Kansas, you will find that all the counties are shaped like squares -- except for one. Finney County is shaped like a square, but with an additional section added on to it. I'll tell you why.
This is the fascinating and true story of Garfield County, taken in part from the book "Ghost Towns of Kansas." This story might be subtitled "A Tale of Two Cities" or "The Price of Non-Cooperation" -- or maybe even "Never Say Never."
Garfield County was organized in July 1887. The key issue at the time, as it was in many counties, was this: What town will be the county seat?
That was a very important issue. Becoming a county seat meant that a town would have additional jobs and people coming to that town to do business.
That point remains true today. There are still economic benefits to being a county seat.
In Garfield County in 1887, there were two contenders to become the county seat: The town of Eminence, and the town of Ravanna. Eminence and Ravanna became bitter rivals.
The two towns were growing communities, as they served the ranchers and cowboys of the area. These were the days of the wild west, and the towns could be a little rowdy.
For example, when a Methodist minister came to Ravanna, the only building available in which to offer worship services was the local billiard hall. That was fine until one Sunday when a bunch of drunken cowboys came in and created a disturbance. A man in the audience named B. L. Stotts politely asked them to be quiet. He was hardly seated when the noise began again.
Mr. Stotts then got up, walked to the front, faced the audience and said, "If you fellows want to remain here, you are welcome, but if you stay, you will have to behave like men. The first fellow who makes a disturbance will have to be carried out that door." Then he sat down by the preacher, took out his six-shooter, and laid it across his lap. The preacher finished his sermon without interruption.
When was the last time that happened at your church?
Anyway, that's the kind of things that were going on in Eminence and Ravanna. So when the Board of Commissioners fixed a date for an election to decide who got the county seat, there was a fear this might lead to gunfights. They brought in none other than Bat Masterson himself and twenty deputies from Dodge City to preserve order on election day. The election was held without bloodshed.
And these were the results: Ravanna got 467 votes and Eminence got 432 votes. So, Ravanna had won. Ravanna became the county seat.
But, as the saying goes, never say never. Eminence didn't give up. The citizens of Eminence began an investigation of the election. Sure enough, it was found that votes had been cast illegally for Ravanna by an out-of-state construction crew, as well as by a few people who were already in the cemetery. One man in Colorado was quoted as saying he got paid for every one of the nine times he voted that day...And I thought that only happened in Chicago!
After the Attorney General investigated, he invalidated 60 of the votes for Ravanna. That changed the outcome.
Eminence had won. Eminence became the county seat.
But, never say never. Ravanna didn't give up. In fact, Ravanna refused to release the county records to Eminence. Reports differ as to what followed, one suggesting there was a big fight and another suggesting that some raiders simply rode in and grabbed the records at dusk.
Finally, the issue went to the state court. They found in favor of Eminence.
Eminence had won. Eminence became the county seat.
But, never say never...You knew I was going to say that, didn't you? Ravanna didn't give up. Quietly, Ravanna employed a surveyor and found that the county was a few acres shy of the amount required by law for legal organization.
The courts found that Ravanna was right. Eminence was denied the county seat.
Ravanna had won...or had it?
In 1893, the whole issue went to the Kansas Legislature. The Legislature gave all of what was Garfield County to Finney County, where it remains today.
And what of the towns of Ravanna and Eminence? That is the point of this story.
Some time ago, I was in Garfield County. I looked for Ravanna and Eminence, and I can tell you that there is nothing left.
When neither town became the county seat, businesses began to leave and the railroad chose not to build there. Over the years, the towns literally died away. A couple of crumbling stone buildings are all that is left of Ravanna and Eminence.
In recent months, we have spoken many times on this program of the benefits of multi-community cooperation. Today's story -- and the ruins of Ravanna and Eminence -- remind us of the price of non-cooperation. The way we as citizens choose to work together -- or not to work together -- makes a difference in the success of our communities.
If you don't believe me, just ask Garfield County.
What is "post rock country?" To some, that may sound like a new age kind of country music. However, knowledgeable people know that post rock country is the nickname of the region in the center of Kansas.
It gets its name because early settlers in that area had no trees or metal with which to build fences, and so they carved out long pieces of native limestone to serve as fenceposts. Those were the post rocks. Some are still standing today.
This example is still being followed in central Kansas. Yes, there are craftsmen carving the stone, but more than that is the principle of finding new and ingenious ways of using their resources to solve a problem.
In this case, it's not done only by carving stone, but by building a market. And one of the builders is Marge Lawson.
Marge is a native Kansan, who was raised in Dorrance. She is a businesswoman, artist, and entrepreneur. She helps her husband on the family farm near Sylvan Grove, and their children have gone to K-State. In addition, she is a nationally known photographer. Her photos have been published in 20 national magazines, such as Midwest Living, the Furrow, the cover of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Directory, Farm & Ranch Living, and so forth.
Through her work, Marge became familiar with various artists and craftspersons in the area. They shared a common problem: they loved to do their work, but they didn't have a good outlet for it.
Like their ancestors of the post rock country, they looked for a new way to address their needs. One potential resource was obvious: Interstate 70 runs right through post rock country.
And so the Post Rock Opportunities Foundation was born. The Foundation is a non-profit corporation organized to build a market near I-70 that would sell Kansas products. The chair of the Foundation's board of directors is Marge Lawson.
Marge says that a group of people had been working on this for three years. Then a grant from the Presbyterian Church Self-Development of People program made it possible. Financing was put together with help from the North Central Regional Planning Commission.
When I say they were building a market, I mean that literally. A building to market Kansas products was constructed beginning in April and completed on August 1, 1991.
Today the Foundation is operating the Kansas Originals market near Wilson, Kansas. The market building is located right on the north side of I-70 at the Wilson exit.
Come inside and you can sample Kansas foods, browse through fine art, folk art, and expert crafts created by some of Kansas's finest artists and craftsmen. You can view storyboards depicting side-trips and tourist attractions from throughout the area.
Products include paintings and photography, wheat weaving, metal sculpture and wood carving, quilts and handiwork, ceramics and pottery, stained glass, and Kansas foods -- wheat snacks, cookies, and kolaches, a fruit-filled Czech pastry.
Then there are items that are especially unusual. You can find a metal sculpture of a turkey made out of old farm machinery parts and paper made not from trees, but from wheat straw or cotton. In fact, the wheat straw paper was handmade, dyed, and then shaped into angels to decorate the Governor's Christmas tree last year.
If there was ever a state where you'd want to make paper from wheat straw, it would have to be Kansas.
Twice a month, the Kansas Originals market brings artists and craftsmen in to talk about their work. These aren't from New York or LA -- they're from places like Jetmore, Bunker Hill, Concordia, and Salina. Their handiwork is remarkable.
And how does a Kansas art market fare in the middle of post rock country? Well, they are capitalizing on their access to Interstate 70.
Last year billboards promoting the Kansas Originals market were put up on I-70. Business doubled the next day.
In July of 1992, Kansas Originals did business with customers from 43 states and 21 countries -- I didn't say counties, I said 21 different countries.
All this is very impressive to me. More than that, it is a fun place to visit and browse.
The manager of the Kansas Originals market, in addition to all her other jobs, is Marge Lawson. Marge feels the whole project has been a learning experience. One thing they've learned is that it took a tremendous amount of volunteer hours to get the project off the ground. Record-keeping became a major issue, in dealing with so many different artists.
Service is a key as well. They have learned they must be open early and late to meet customer's desires. Kansas Originals market is open twelve hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. That's a lot of hours of work, but I know that as a traveler, I really appreciate it.
This market is creating jobs. There are seven people who work there, plus the volunteers. In addition, it is creating a new outlet for Kansas arts & crafts. Today Kansas Originals deals with 348 artists from 64 counties in Kansas. The Post Rock Opportunities Foundation welcomes charitable contributions and encourages people to stop by the Kansas Originals market.
All this is happening in post rock country. Like their early ancestors, these are Kansas pioneers. They are making the most out of what's around them. They have built a new outpost for arts & crafts in post rock country -- and that is making a difference in rural Kansas.
Mary Lee Frewen
Do you ever hear someone say that their local government is like a circus? I hear that complaint once in a while, usually when there's been a lot of conflict or a scandal.
In Cheyenne County, Kansas, the county isn't like a circus, it has a circus -- or more accurately, a carnival. And before I get myself really in trouble, let me explain.
There is a carnival in Cheyenne County alright, but the way it came to be there is an outstanding example of community initiative and self-help.
Let's start with a little background on Cheyenne County. This county is in a corner - literally. In fact, it is the corner. Cheyenne County is the far northwest corner of the state, bordering Colorado and Nebraska. The county seat is St. Francis, a town of 1,495. The population of Cheyenne County has fallen by nearly 12 percent in 10 years. And -- get this -- the current population is 26 percent less than the population was in 1890!
That's a little scary.
How does a county fight back against these odds? For one thing, people there have learned to solve their problems themselves.
For example: In 1980, people in St. Francis were unhappy with the carnivals that brought in the rides for the county fair. The rides were seen as dirty, expensive, and possibly even unsafe. Parents were becoming reluctant to have their children at the carnival. And yet, things wouldn't be the same without the fun of a carnival once in a while.
A community meeting was held to discuss alternatives for the carnival. One of the people at that meeting was Mary Lee Frewen.
Mary Lee is an insurance agent in the community. She was president of the Chamber of Commerce and has been involved in many community activities.
Mary Lee is a native of Norcatur in Norton County. She and her husband graduated from K-State and moved to St. Francis. Mr. Frewen passed away in 1975, and Mary Lee now operates the family insurance agency with their son.
Mary Lee was also concerned about the quality of the carnival. People were unhappy with the carnival company, yet concerned that a different carnival company would be just as bad.
It was a dilemma. But if you're independent-minded and resourceful, you find a solution. That's what the people in Cheyenne County did. At the community meeting, the citizens came to a conclusion: If you can't bring in the kind of carnival you want, then build your own.
This idea is not as unusual as it might sound. Oberlin and Sharon Springs have home-owned carnivals also, and the people in Cheyenne County received help from them in implementing this idea.
Cheyenne County extension agent Libby Curry describes what happened. "The county set up an amusement authority, with representation from the fair board, county commissioners, and community leaders. They took out a loan, located carnival equipment, bought rides, and built game booths."
Yes, Cheyenne County built its own carnival. This happened under the leadership of a local board of directors. Among the people on that first board of directors was Mary Lee Frewen.
She says, "It takes a lot of community effort. All the rides, all the booths are run by volunteers."
And how did it turn out? Libby Curry says, "It was extremely successful -- they made most of the money to pay off the note in the first year."
Cheyenne County continues to operate the carnival. Mary Lee Frewen says, "Now certain clubs have adopted various rides, such as the Jaycees running the Ferris wheel. County-wide participation is very important."
"One of the best things that came out of this project was the cooperation," Frewen says. "There are two towns in Cheyenne County -- St. Francis and Bird City. As in many counties, there can be a lot of competition between two neighboring towns."
And here's a great quote from Mary Lee: "We learned that in a smaller populated county like ours, we need everybody."
Cheyenne County's carnival draws fun seekers from throughout the Tri-State Area. This carnival has kept our county fair a family affair.
What a great statement. That's a good lesson for all of Kansas.
These principles of cooperation, volunteerism and self-reliance have carried over to other projects. Cheyenne County has finished and is in the implementation stage of a strategic planning program designed to help shape its future. The effort was county-wide, involving leaders from St. Francis, Bird City, and the county commission. Eleven key issues were identified, along with plans to address them.
State government has a grant program to help counties develop strategic plans -- but Cheyenne County did it without a government grant. Specialists from the Extension service provided assistance, and volunteers gave more than 2,000 hours.
Libby Curry adds, "The old-timers say it was the first time in recent history we had all three governing bodies in one room at one time talking about economic development." She goes on, "The key thing is, we all have to pull together to make it work."
"We all have to pull together to make it work." That's an excellent message for us today. It's a philosophy of self-help and cooperation.
Yes, local government can be a circus. But in this case, Cheyenne County has more than a circus or a carnival. They have a group of local leaders who are working together, and that makes a difference in rural Kansas.
Today I'd like to introduce you to the President and CEO of Continental Development Corporation. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? But before you go looking for him in the Fortune 500, you can relax -- he's also a corn farmer from Clay County, Kansas.
Today's story is about an entrepreneur. He is a farmer in Kansas, but one with an eye for diversification.
He's involved in the food business -- not just as a producer, but all the way through to putting the hamburger and fries on the consumer's plate.
Kyle Bauer is this young farmer with big ideas. He graduated from K-State with a degree in Ag Economics in 1980. Kyle and his wife, Lisa, returned to the family farm. In those early years, he was probably pretty typical of hard-working, modern young farmers in Kansas. He concentrated on operating and managing the farm, meaning taking care of the crops and livestock.
In 1985, he went in to buy a sensor for his corn planter. It was an electronic device that monitored the flow of seeds, manufactured by some out-of-state company. He was told that little part would cost 65 dollars.
That seemed like a lot. So Kyle went to the owner of a local electronics manufacturer in Clay Center and said, could you make one of these?
That question led to a remarkable joint venture. The owner, Roy Jennings, and Kyle concluded that they could make a corn seed monitor, and they could make it better. And then they figured out that other farmers would like them too.
They formed a company named Grainland to produce these sensors. They placed an ad in Successful Farming magazine.
Kyle says, "I thought we'd sell a thousand. My partner thought we'd sell a hundred. Would you believe we sold more than 5,000 of those sensors?"
It was a good start. Their next product was water flow meters; then custom manufacturing of medical cable for a company in California.
Kyle says that the electronics manufacturer "incubated" Grainland, which is an aggie's way of saying that the one company enabled the other to get started and to grow. The next step was that Grainland incubated another company, called Continental Development Corp.
Here's where the food business came in -- all the way from producer to consumer. This corn farmer was still raising crops, but he was also raising kids: a boy and two girls, ages 10, 8, and 2. Like many kids -- and lots of us adults -- they wanted burgers and fries for lunch, and they wanted them fast.
The Clay Center Chamber of Commerce set up a search committee to work on getting a fast food franchise. One of the people who got involved was Kyle Bauer.
By the time this process was done, Kyle had helped form Continental Development Corporation and was a franchisee of Hardee's. They have a new Hardee's in Holton and are working on one in Clay Center.
One interesting thing about Hardee's is that they are willing to consider franchises in rural communities, or at least as small as 5,000 to 2,500.
Kyle says there was lots to learn about this highly competitive business. The placement of a fast-food franchise is very important. As in real estate, the three keys are location, location, and location.
Kyle says, "If you are not a destination, you must be on the way to one. You must serve the customer, not expect the customer to go out of his way to come to you."
That's a good business school lecture, in just one sentence.
Kyle's management style is part of this success. He says, "My job is helping everybody do their job. I've got really great people working for me. They are capable, they have a good work ethic, and they're willing to take responsibility."
Asked what advice he might have for other start-up businesses, his comments are very practical: "Stay liquid as long as you can. Rent, and keep your costs low. Look for resources where other people don't. If there's something that's a problem, make it a resource. Help other people get what they want."
This advice is seasoned with experience. Like other young farmers, he experienced the farm crunch of the 1980's. Kyle's father died at the worst of those times in 1985.
Kyle says today, "The farm crisis left us stronger than we were before it hit. My business plan was to diversify, and we've done it."
This corn farmer also feels strongly about the quality of life in rural Kansas. He says, "Family and faith are very important to me. I love living in Clay Center, Kansas. Our kids are safe. We enjoy a reasonable cost of living. We live near the core of Utopia."
Hmm. I can't find Utopia on my Kansas road map -- but maybe it's been there all along, and we've just been too blind to see it.
This concludes our visit with the President and CEO of Continental Development Corporation. As he returns to his executive suite -- I mean to his cornfield -- we see someone who values the rural quality of life. We see a farmer who is an entrepreneur, and that's making a difference in rural Kansas.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for the headquarters of the 220 million dollar business located here in this town. Can you give me directions?"
"Why sure. Go south and take a left by the grain elevator. You'll come right to it."
Does that conversation sound a little unlikely? It does to me. How often do we find a 220 million dollar business headquartered in a rural Kansas community?
The answer is, not often enough. But we can find such a business in the town of Abilene, Kansas.
The business has a familiar name: Duckwall/ALCO. The national headquarters of this firm is in Abilene. And how did this 220 million dollar company come to be in Abilene?
Well, it wasn't recruited there or brought in from somewhere else. It was home-grown....just like its president, Glen Shank.
Glen is the president of Duckwall/ALCO Stores. He is originally from Herington, Kansas. He graduated from K-State and began his career with the Target company in Minneapolis. That's Minneapolis, Minnesota -- not Minneapolis, Kansas. Then he joined the Duckwall/ALCO company.
Glen shared a history of the Duckwall company with me, and it is quite interesting.
The Duckwall family came to America from England in 1737. They settled in Greenleaf, Kansas.
At age 18, a young man named Alva Duckwall opened a small shop in Greenleaf that specialized in sewing machine sales and bicycle repair. When he was 25, he was selling sewing machines door-to-door in Abilene when he learned of a store there that was for sale.
He borrowed 413 dollars from a local bank and threw in his life savings of ninety dollars to buy the store. The year was 1901, and the history of Duckwall/ALCO stores had begun.
The first store was called "The Racket." To me, that name sounds like a gambling casino or a ride at the state fair -- or maybe a tennis specialty store. But it was none of those.
This was a store selling a variety of household goods. It was called "The Racket" because of the "racket" made by pots and pans as they clanged together hanging on the sides of Conestoga wagons moving west through Kansas.
That's some great Kansas history. From this humble beginning, Mr. Duckwall built a chain of stores across Kansas and later the midwest.
In 1968, the Duckwall company opened its first full line ALCO discount store. The store wasn't in New York or LA. It was in Newton, Kansas. The discount retailing operation grew dramatically.
In 1985, Mr. Duckwall, Junior, the first owner's son, retired from the company. In 1988, the company was looking for a new president. The man they chose was Glen Shank.
Glen points out that the company has been through turbulent and challenging times since then. Today there are 89 ALCOs and 26 Duckwall stores in 13 states in the midwest. What particularly impressed me was the way that Duckwall/ALCO stores are committed to rural America.
We have heard plenty about major retailers closing down catalog and local store operations, particularly in rural communities.
Duckwall/ALCO, by contrast, sees smaller communities as a resource.
Here's the proof. Duckwall/ALCO has opened or re-opened four variety stores in Kansas last year. These aren't in Kansas City or Wichita, or their suburbs. Listen to the names of the towns where stores were opened: Plainville, Oberlin, Wakeeney, and Sedan. That's rural! The average population of these towns is less than 2,000 people.
And listen to the names of the towns where Duckwall/ALCO opened stores this year: Hoisington, Osage City, LaCrosse, Clearwater, Osborne, and Johnson. That's not Johnson County, that's Johnson city -- in Stanton County, in far southwest Kansas. What a great commitment to rural Kansas.
So why would Duckwall/ALCO locate in these rural communities?
Glen Shank says, "These towns are well-kept secrets." Duckwall/ALCO has found them to be a good place to do business.
Glen is particularly high on the work force in these communities. He says, "There is more pride in these towns and a reliable work ethic."
The headquarters of the company remains in Abilene. I asked Glen how he would respond to the public perception that it would be hard for a multi-million dollar business to operate in a small town.
Glen pointed out that they have contract carriers to ship goods wherever they are needed anyway. Duckwall/ALCO has a 350,000 square foot distribution center in Abilene, which is very centrally located for their operations and is on the interstate.
Glen acknowledged that there may be difficulty in recruiting some business executive from the east coast if, for example, they already have a negative stereotype of Kansas. However, the high quality of living here is a positive selling point, particularly if the executive is raising a family.
Another positive point about locating stores in rural communities is that the communities themselves get involved. Glen Shank says, "It takes initiative and investment from the community to make it work."
Yes, it is possible to find a 220 million dollar business in the town of Abilene, Kansas. Just go south and take a left by the grain elevator. You'll find the headquarters of Duckwall/ALCO, but you'll also find a company that is making a difference in our rural communities by its commitment to do business there.
What do these towns have in common: Lubbock, Texas; Hollywood, Florida; Louisa, Virginia; Neodesha, Kansas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado?
The answer is, they all had people from there at the same barn on the same week on a farm near Valley Falls, Kansas.
Yes, I said "barn": B-A-R-N. There is a barn near Valley Falls which has attracted visitors from around the nation, and even overseas.
It's a barn that used to store horses and hay, just like your grandfather's. But today, it holds king-size beds and a heated swimming pool.
This is no ordinary barn. And it belongs to no ordinary owner. It is owned by a man named Tom Ryan.
Tom and his wife have farmed in the Valley Falls area for a number of years. In the mid-1980s, Tom decided to turn the cropland over to a larger farm operator. As a result, the big barn on the farmstead was no longer used.
This was pretty much your typical barn. It was big and drafty, but built to last. In fact, it had been standing there since 1928.
Now, there's a barn at my parent's farm. It is lived in by horses, cattle, and a few barn swallows. But Tom and his wife began to wonder if their barn could be made livable for humans.
Sure enough, their first project was to convert the barn to a home. They found the building was structurally sound, so they did a total remodeling project complete with adding all the modern conveniences.
Tom's sister-in-law was an airline flight attendant. She suggested that they open a bed-and-breakfast.
It was a good idea. They certainly had plenty of room in a barn this size! Tom was able to build 10 rooms into the new design.
On April 1, 1986, the Barn Bed & Breakfast Inn first opened for business. And what was the customer response?
Tom Ryan says, "In two years, we were overrun. There were so many people wanting to stay here that we had a two-month delay for rooms."
They made plans for expansion. In October 1989, they built an addition with more sleeping rooms and glassed-in living rooms overlooking the countryside. Their latest addition includes a heated indoor swimming pool and an exercise room.
Today the Barn has sleeping quarters for 36 people, several meeting rooms, and a banquet room that will seat 200. Overnight guests are treated to a complete breakfast featuring eggs and bacon topped off with all the dollar-sized pancakes they can eat. Let's go right now!
What is the attraction of this place? If the typical city-dweller told his wife he was taking her to a barn for the weekend, she would want his head examined.
Yet the Barn has become very popular. Perhaps it's not only what the Barn has which makes it popular -- it's also what it does not have. It does not have traffic jams, noise, pollution, and crime. It has the modern conveniences, but it also has a quiet, pastoral countryside around it.
Tom Ryan estimates that 95 percent of his business is R & R -- rest and recreation. The Barn is a setting designed to relieve stress.
Tom says, "One of my customers is a woman who runs stress management seminars in Kansas City. She tells her clients, 'If you don't get out of the city every weekend, you're not going to make it.'"
Tom estimates that 78 percent of his business is repeat business. For example, the Barn has hosted more than 20,000 guests during its history -- but there are only 4,000 different names in the guest register. In other words, more than three-fourths of those people have visited more than once. That's a good sign.
The Barn hosts conferences, seminars and corporate retreats as well as family or individual visitors. Governors and legislators have participated in meetings there.
Tom Ryan says, with the economy in the shape its in, studies show that family discretionary dollars are being spent differently for entertainment. He summarizes the change in three ways: number 1, people want something to do every weekend; number 2, they want something close to home; and number 3, they want something inexpensive. The extended family vacation is becoming a thing of the past -- except in Chevy Chase movies -- and is being replaced by the weekend getaway.
The Barn fits this new buying pattern exactly. And it's a big business, with big benefits. Tom Ryan says, "If we bring in 150 people each week and each dollar they spend turns over seven times in the economy, that generates 1.5 million dollars a year."
But Tom Ryan's current passion isn't a barn, it's a railroad: specifically, the railroad line between the cities of Atchison and Topeka in northeast Kansas. In 1991, that line was sold by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe company to an out-of-state railroad company. In 1992, the new owner filed a request with the ICC to abandon the line.
In the meantime, a grass-roots group met and formed in the community. They called this group the Atchison, Topeka, and Scenic Railroad. Their vision is to purchase the railroad locally, and to operate an excursion train along that line. They believe the same tourism principles which help the Barn will help the railroad as well.
This group is fighting the proposed abandonment through the ICC, and seeking to raise $3.8 million to buy and operate the rail line. The President of the Atchison, Topeka, and Scenic Railroad is Tom Ryan. He had a vision of what the Barn could be, and now he has a vision of what the railroad could be.
One day earlier this year, I stopped by the Barn while driving through the area. I saw how visionary leaders like Tom Ryan can make a difference. I read the names in the guest register from all those towns around the country. There have also been guests from Scotland, Sri Lanka, and Brazil.
It's a reminder that rural Kansas has some special qualities that can be marketed to an urban world, and that even a Barn can become a bonanza.
Today let's visit the office of a country newspaper publisher. We see some typical things hanging on the office walls. There are lots of pictures of grandchildren, various awards, a golf prize or two, and some photos with famous politicians.
And then there is a small map of the world, with 73 pins placed in it. That's a pin for each of the countries he has visited.
This is no ordinary publisher. Yes, he publishes a weekly paper in a rural Kansas town, but this is a publisher with an international vision.
We are in Belleville, Kansas, population 3,200 people including the outskirts. The publisher we are visiting is Merle Miller.
Merle is the publisher of the Belleville Telescope. He has deep roots in Kansas newspapering.
The story begins with Merle's father, A. Q. Miller. A. Q. was born in what is described as a "thatched roof hut situated on a rocky Kansas homestead." His father's country store was located near Clifton, Kansas. After graduation from high school, he applied for a job as a printer's devil at the local newspaper, the Clifton News.
The story goes that Mr. Miller didn't know what a printer's devil was, but he got the job. I didn't know either. Apparently a printer's devil is the lowest man on the totem pole in a newspaper office.
From this humble beginning, A. Q. Miller began his career in journalism. After a stint in Colorado, he returned to Kansas and bought the Belleville Telescope. He became a nationally renowned publisher and civic leader, much like Huck Boyd himself. He worked for progressive government and improved transportation.
He also raised five sons and a daughter, all of which attended Kansas State University. Today, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at K-State proudly bears the name of A. Q. Miller.
The Miller sons and daughter carry on the family tradition in various ways around the country. The one who is continuing to publish in Belleville, Kansas is Merle Miller.
In addition to publishing the Belleville Telescope, Merle also continues his father's tradition of seeking improved transportation. Early in his father's day, they began trying to upgrade from dirt roads to gravel and then concrete roads. In 1911, Merle's father led an effort to build a north-south road across Kansas.
Today, his vision has grown into the Pan American Highway.
The Pan American Highway links North and South America. In fact, it reaches the Alcan Highway of Alaska at its northern end and touches the strait of Magellan at its southern end. In Kansas, it is known as U.S. 81 north of Salina.
Thanks to a lot of effort from Merle Miller, Bob Dole, and others, U.S. 81 is being four-laned almost all of the way across Kansas. It is already mostly four-lane across much of the U.S.
When I say it has taken a lot of effort, I mean a lot. The Pan American Highway has been the labor of a lifetime for the Miller family. In 1991, Merle received a plaque for 38 years of service as president of the Pan American Highway Association.
One of their more interesting promotions came in 1967. That year, Merle led a caravan of 23 cars and 63 people on a three-month road trip from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This trip passed through some fairly primitive territory, by today's U.S. standards. Merle's stories about this trip are fascinating -- and almost unbelievable.
Would you believe they used chewing gum to patch holes in the gas tanks of their cars? In South America, Merle's group found that roads had been built using boulders from the neighboring streams. That was okay, until a truck would come by and dislodge one of these boulders. When the boulders were loose, they would hit the car's gas tanks and knock holes in them. Chewing gum was the solution to temporarily patch the holes.
One time, when one of their cars broke down, a gang of men on horseback rode up to them. They could see the men were carrying guns. Then the rest of the group came along, and the prospective banditos rode away.
If you think that sounds interesting, listen to this one. Merle's group was enroute to Managua, Nicaragua when they met an American salesman who had just been there. He told them that 80 people had just been killed at a hotel in Managua. What hotel? The Grande -- which was the hotel where Merle's group was supposed to stay!
Merle called ahead to a friend outside of Managua. The friend offered them a place to stop and a plan for getting safely into the town. Merle says they had rioters beating on the fenders of their cars at one point, but managed to get safely to the hotel. Merle says, "I could lay in my bed and count 50 bullet holes in my hotel room."
In the end, the group made it back to the U.S. safely. In fact, instead of losing any lives, they gained one: one lady had a baby while on the trip! And in the same vein, a young bachelor on the trip met a girl in Chile whom he subsequently married.
All this sounds quite amazing. It generated a great deal of interest in the Pan American Highway, and lots of stories for Merle Miller's newspaper.
Merle hasn't lost sight of the reason for all this effort. He says, "Transportation is the key to economic growth. We need it for the entire state. And I've learned that if I can help build the economy of the surrounding area, it will help me as well."
As we conclude our visit, we look again at the map of the world showing Merle Miller's travels. As Merle says, "I've been fortunate. I could have lived anywhere. But we've chosen Belleville. It's a wonderful place to raise a family, and the people are great. And now our grandchildren are moving back to Kansas too."
Match an international vision with a commitment to rural Kansas -- that's what you'll find in Merle Miller, a leader who is making a difference.
Today let's meet a man who is called the "most published living Kansas author." He writes with clarity and realism. This esteemed writer isn't found in Kansas City or Wichita, nor immersed in some ivory tower somewhere. Instead, he's at a cattle ranch on Route 5, Emporia.
His name is Don Coldsmith. And how did he become such a writer? His answer is, the horse business. Yes, I said the horse business. Let me explain.
Don Coldsmith was a physician in Emporia. He loved the countryside. He and his wife raised five daughters, two of which graduated from K-State. The daughters were in 4-H and took horses as a project. That meant lots of meetings and horse shows -- and even subscribing to some horse magazines. Don read the articles in these magazines and said to himself, "I could do that."
So he did. He wrote an article about his family's funny experiences hauling horses and sent it off to the magazines. To Don's surprise, they liked it -- in fact, one magazine sent back a $30 check. A promising career was born.
Don says, "Writers are on an ego trip. Oh, it's just not from seeing your name in print -- I can get that by running a stop sign -- it's seeing your ideas in print, that's what is exciting."
Don's ideas started showing up in print. He wrote articles on horse and medical topics. Then he was asked to write a weekly column.
"I drug my feet," Don says. "I was afraid I'd write everything I knew in 3 weeks." Well, Don is still doing that column -- and it is now 22 years since he did his first one. He says he still hasn't run out of material.
Meanwhile a chance encounter occurred that led to some publishing history. It all started on a family vacation. Don says, "We used to take what my daughters called 'El Cheapo' trips." For example, they could visit Oklahoma for not a lot of money.
One time while sightseeing in Oklahoma, Don happened upon a barrel in a western gift shop. The barrel was filled with rusty old iron things, "your choice for a dollar." That investment wasn't too steep, so Don picked out an old horse's bit and brought it home. A bit is a metal piece which goes in the horse's mouth and enables the rider to control him.
When Don studied the horse's bit, he realized he had seen a similar one before. It was in Santa Fe, New Mexico in a display describing the expedition of the Spaniard Coronado into the north American continent. The horse's bit he found was almost identical to that of Coronado's horse.
And then he began to wonder. How did an old Spanish bit make its way to the middle of Oklahoma?
Sometime later he relayed this story to an editor of a major publishing chain. Don made the offhand remark, "If that bit could talk, it could tell a mighty interesting story." And the editor replied, "I want you to tell me that story."
The rest is history. Don's book titled "The Trail of the Spanish Bit" was so popular that one book begat another -- and then another.
Today, there are twenty books in the Spanish Bit series, with two more soon to be published. Three additional spin-off books have been written, and one more lengthy book is in progress.
These are historical novels of the Indians of the Great Plains, and their early contact with European explorers. You will find these books in paperback in your bookstore or supermarket book rack.
Here is an illustration of his success. In the paperback publishing business, selling 65 percent of the books placed on the rack would be considered good. Seventy-five percent sales would be excellent. Don's books sell at a rate of 80 percent or higher.
Don Coldsmith became president of the Western Writers of America. He continues to be an Adjunct Professor and Lecturer at Emporia State University. But to keep it all in perspective, he still raises cows and horses on the place near Emporia.
Don Coldsmith is now an internationally known writer. He could probably go anywhere. I asked him, what are the pluses and minuses of doing such business in a rural setting?
He said, "They are all pluses. If I lived in New York, I couldn't sit on my screened-in porch in the summertime and watch a family of foxes playing in the meadow. Then I wouldn't have that scene for one of my books. I wouldn't be able to see a deer with twin fawns that were raised less than a stone's throw from the house."
He continues, "I can go out in the flint hills and be inspired by watching a thunderstorm roll in. Every scene I write is a place I can take you to."
I enjoy Don Coldsmith's books. And one reason is the realism of the setting in which his stories occur. You can tell he is writing with first-hand knowledge.
Don says, "If I'm writing history of the American West, I need to be here, not New York. There is more history in this 200 mile circle around eastern Kansas than anyplace on the continent."
Don has deep roots in the American West. For example, Don's grandfather drove a covered wagon and ox team into Kansas at age 16. How's that for a pioneer beginning?
It's time to take our leave from this most published living Kansas author. And thank goodness for the horse business! At last count, Don Coldsmith had more than 4 million copies of his books in print. That's making a difference, from a rural Kansas setting. And you won't find him in New York or Kansas City.
Says Don Coldsmith: "Our horizons are farther out here in Kansas, so we can see more clearly."
Let's go out for lunch today. I know a place with home-cooking and generous portions. Sounds good, doesn't it? Yes, you say, but eating out can be expensive. Well, that all depends...
Today let's visit Yates Center, Kansas. For our meal today, we'll visit a local eating establishment called Frannie's Lunchroom. But I have to warn you about the price: the meal will cost you one dollar, plus tax. Yes, I said one dollar.
This is the story of Frannie's Lunchroom. The owner, proprietor, and chief cook at this establishment is Francis Ward. You can call her Frannie.
Frannie was born and raised in Yates Center. Yates Center is a town of 1,815 people in southeast Kansas. It is the county seat of Woodson County. This is a rural area. Woodson County lost more than 10 percent of its population in the 1980s.
Yet rural people find ways to make things work. Frannie and her husband raised two daughters and a son in Yates Center. Then ten years ago, her husband suffered a massive stroke. Later a malignancy struck his lung. The family medical costs were escalating.
Frannie had never worked outside the home until that time. But, she had cooked for a family for a lot of years.
She started cooking for the local jail and then took a job managing the local Peter Pan store. And then, misfortune struck again: the Peter Pan store was sold, and Frannie didn't have a job anymore.
A local pharmacist told her she should open her own restaurant. Frannie wasn't sure she wanted to do that, even if she could. But her friend found a location for her, which he said was just right.
There was one catch: it was two flights of stairs above the street level.
That isn't exactly good market access. But rural people find ways to make things work.
Frannie did start her food business in that location. The previous owner had tried a restaurant there, but closed it after a few months. As a result, Frannie was able to get a good value on ovens, silverware, and so forth for her to get started.
She began by delivering lunches out. And then she opened up her lunchroom.
Eating out can be expensive, you say? Listen to these prices: a cup of coffee or tea costs a dime...that's a dime, as in ten cents. And refills are free, just help yourself. Did I just step through a time warp or something?
A different hot meal is available each day. One week, Frannie served chili cheese dogs on Monday, sloppy joes on Tuesday, ham slice on Wednesday, chicken & noodles on Thursday, and as always, a taco salad on Friday. Each entree comes with a salad and vegetable. Tea or coffee is included too. The total price: one dollar. It may sound unbelievable, but it's true.
Pies are Frannie's specialties. She may have 10 or 14 pies in the place. She starts with cherry, rhubarb, apple, blueberry, pecan, and so forth. Chocolate, banana cream, pumpkin, and gooseberry get made sometimes too. Pie, with a drink included, costs -- you guessed it -- one dollar.
A few weeks ago, Congressman Jim Slattery had lunch at Frannie's. He asked the same question I asked: How in the world do you do it all for one dollar?
Frannie says, "I work very hard at it. I select buy very carefully, I buy in quantity, and I throw away nothing."
One of the regulars at the lunchroom told the Congressman, "If you ran the government as well as Frannie ran this place, we wouldn't have any of these tax problems!" Maybe Frannie should get together with Ross Perot...
Then there's the matter of how people pay for their lunch at Frannie's. Some big city corporations have elaborate bill collection and financial security systems. Not Frannie!
Her bill collection system is the honor system. Oh, she has a modern electric cash register, alright, but she doesn't even bother to plug it in. She says, "I just leave the cash drawer open and hold it open with a clothespin. People can pay as they go and make their own change."
Can you believe that works in our modern day and age? The truth is, Frannie says, often she comes out ahead.
As I mentioned, Frannie's Lunchroom is that it's located up two flights of stairs from the street. That flies in the face of drive-throughs and fast food. I didn't ask about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but Frannie said there was a partially crippled man who comes to eat there every day. He says the stairs provide him the exercise therapy he needs. And then there's another customer of Frannie's: she is 97 years old.
Yates Center isn't exactly internationally known, but Frannie's is helping make it so. A story about Frannie's went out on the Associated Press. Frannie's has now appeared on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and CBS called from New York; a news crew is coming in April. Frannie has heard from Australia; Paris; England; Johannesburg, South Africa; Anchorage, Alaska; and all over the U.S.
She's had offers to franchise her company and relocate to the city, but she's staying in Yates Center. The lunchroom is like home to many people in the community. Frannie calls everyone she can by their first name. Ladies come for coffee and chatting; everyone gets free cake when one of the regulars has a birthday.
Frannie is proud of what she means to the community. She says, "We are on the southeast corner of the town square, up two flights of stairs. It is beautiful to see the square from here. Many visitors look at the square and see it's so pretty that they decide to walk it, and then they stop to buy. In a town like ours, we need all the businesses."
Well, I've enjoyed our lunch here at Frannie's, and I've especially enjoyed the price. But most of all, I appreciate Frannie's commitment to the community. That's making a difference in rural Kansas.
The Kansas Profile program seeks to cover the four corners of Kansas and everything in between. In fact, today we're talking about the corner of Kansas, and I couldn't mean that any more literally.
Floyd Coen is an outstanding farmer and community leader in Morton County, Kansas. Morton County is located in -- you guessed it -- the corner of Kansas. It is the far southwest corner of the state, bordering Oklahoma on the south and Colorado on the west. The county seat is Elkhart, a town of 2,318 folks.
Floyd has deep roots in that part of the state. His parents homesteaded there and so did his wife's parents.
Floyd says, "I didn't think there could be anything better than Elkhart. There was a road going from Elkhart in every direction, so I figured Elkhart must be the center of the world."
That positive attitude is reflected elsewhere in Floyd's activities. Floyd says, "I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to farm. In fact, I bought a tractor two years before I bought a car."
Try telling your teenager that one today...
In Floyd's case, he knew what he wanted to do and it worked extremely well for him. He and his wife raised three daughters. One son-in-law is involved in the farming operation, where they raise primarily grain sorghum and registered Polled Hereford cattle. And, there's also a new grandson that Floyd is excited about.
A good word to describe Floyd Coen would be "involved." He has served for 21 years as a member of the State Board of Agriculture and the State Fair Board. He's been president of the state Polled Hereford association, served as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, is a silver-haired legislator now, and the list goes on and on.
It was his service on the state fair board that leads to our story today. During the fair, Floyd met with a historical group in Hutchinson that visits various historical sites around the state. They told Floyd that they wanted to see the southwest corner of Kansas -- the actual corner.
It turns out there was no marker of the actual corner of the state. The land is part of the Cimarron National Grassland, but the corner is not officially marked. When the historical group from Hutchinson visited, Floyd made a welcome sign out of a cardboard box and nailed it to a fencepost there.
It started him thinking that a marker was needed. He took the idea to the local PRIDE committee and the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. They got behind the idea, and one thing led to another. The state of Colorado happened to be in the process of updating border surveys, and they paid for the high-tech part. A national group of retired geological surveyors and forest service personnel took it on as a service project.
A local architect donated the design. Another local company donated the iron. A man from the gas company cut out the lettering. And the man who went around to get donations to support the effort was Floyd Coen.
One day Floyd went to a chamber meeting, and two ladies who were working on the project asked him where they could buy a windmill. He said, " I don't know where you can buy one, but I know somebody who will give you one." "Who's that?" they asked. The answer was, "Me." Floyd and his wife donated a windmill tower that had been built on the family homestead in 1908.
That provided the tower, but what about a marker on top? Floyd thought about all kinds of designs, from dancing girls to stars. Then he thought of the line from "Home on the Range": Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam...
Today at the southwest corner of Kansas, there is a historic windmill tower topped by a symbol of a buffalo and three pointers marking the borders of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. A brass plate directs observers to the actual corner, which is a spot on the state line road.
After surveyors identified the spot, the utility company excavated it and placed a marker under a manhole. Satellite technology was used to pinpoint the actual spot of the corner.
Floyd was told this was the first time such technology had been used for this process, and that as a result, it was absolutely accurate within one-tenth of one inch. Now that's amazing.
This is a historic area. Floyd tells of the story from one old cowboy who remembered driving cattle in to the railhead at Elkhart during the old days. He said they would always make night camp at the corner of the Kansas border, because there was a grassy meadow there. At the time, the corner was marked with a wooden post. Somehow some of those cowboys had been mistreated in Colorado along the way. So the story goes, each morning those cowboys would get up, place their backs to the wooden post, and relieve themselves on Colorado....Well, there goes this program's "G" rating...
The point is that this was a historic area dating back to the cattle drives and before. Through a lot of community effort and initiative, a rallying point was created.
Floyd Coen says, "This started out to be such an insignificant thing, but now it has become a point of community pride. I have never seen a community pull together so well to get something done."
Yes, Floyd Coen is very involved. He just celebrated his 68th birthday. Floyd says, "I think I'm getting into mid-life." Don't you like his calendar?
Floyd has had many honors, but he says that his greatest satisfaction comes from helping others. "Maybe it's corny," he says, "but I feel best when I've made a contribution to someone else's life, just as so many people have made in mine."
That's a commendable spirit, of involvement and of service. It is making a difference in rural Kansas. And we might say, it is a 'cornerstone' of the future of our state.
For Mark Hager, the change may have started in Leoti.
What does this mean? Well, Mark Hager is a K-State graduate student, Leoti is a small town in western Kansas, and "the change" is what we will talk about today.
Mark Hager might have been considered a typical Kansas kid. He grew up with his parents and brother, mowing lawns and having fun in Scott City, Kansas. He did well in school and had various scholarship offers to be a debater at different colleges. Along with many other Scott City students, he chose K-State.
Mark debated for two years and was majoring in math education when a friend told him about something called the Community Service Program. It consists of a summer-long service project with a team of students in a Kansas community. Mark didn't particularly care one way or another about the idea. He describes himself at the time as somewhat green and directionless. But, he applied for the KSU Community Service Program and was selected.
His assignment was Leoti. Leoti is a town of 1,738 people in Wichita County, just west of Mark's home county of Scott County. It is definitely western Kansas -- for example, the west side of Wichita County borders the mountain time zone. Now that's western Kansas!
In the summer of 1989, Mark and his fellow students ventured to Leoti for their community service project, a business trade survey for downtown development. Mark says, "We had the normal problems associated with a new project. But it ended up being my first experience with real responsibility, meeting a variety of people and learning the goals of a community."
"The change" had begun. Mark returned to K-State in the fall and was asked to be coordinator of the Community Service Program's summer teams for the following year. He decided that communicating with people was really what was important to him. He switched majors. He took to heart the concept called "service learning."
Through the Community Service Program, he got involved with a group called Youth Service America. He became one of 15 young people in the nation selected to a group now called the Youth Action Council. Mark says, "There were young people there from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, LA -- and then there was me." Aren't you glad Scott City, Kansas was represented on that group?
Mark says, "All of us were committed to the idea of young people serving their communities." The group put on various activities, including a national conference on youth service in Washington DC in February of 1990. Mark continued to work with young people across the state.
The change continued. After graduation, Mark volunteered to join the Peace Corps. In the summer of 1991, he was sent to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Sierra Leone is a poor country. Mark says that on the most recent UN ranking of human development, Sierra Leone ranked 160th out of 160 countries.
You've heard of third world countries, the developing nations? Mark says Sierra Leone has been referred to as a "fifth" world country, because they are moving backwards in development. After developing roads, water systems, and power plants, many of those systems have become defunct in the last 20 years.
Serving in this country was the challenge facing Mark Hager. In addition to his role as math teacher in a remote high school, he became involved in helping villages in Sierra Leone build basic services, including latrines, wells, and roads.
Mark says, "At a university, we hear lectures about community development through self-help. It is defined in various academic ways. But in Sierra Leone, I saw all the men in a village meet together, divvy up the work, and then build a bridge for their village out of sticks and vines. A villager told me, 'This is self-help.' I gained a new appreciation for people working together for everyone's benefit. That is real community development."
When he returned to K-State, Mark took a class in rural sociology from Dr. Len Bloomquist.
Mark says, "That class brought together a lot of strands for me." And this fall, Scott City grad student Mark Hager will go to the University of Minnesota to work on his Ph.D. in Rural Sociology. For Mark, the important element is service.
Mark says, "We try to express the importance of citizenship, of taking care of the people around us. It is a mentality that is deeply rooted in the American tradition. It goes back to the principles of Jeffersonian democracy and what Alex de Toqueville called our 'volunteer spirit'. "President Clinton has been very clear about the value of service."
He goes on, "In a rural community, it is part of our heritage. Volunteers can be the lifeblood."
This year, National Volunteer Week is April 18th through the 24th. National Youth Service Day is April 20. And one of those leading the youth service day activities in the Manhattan area is Mark Hager.
Mark says, "If we base our beliefs on cold hard cash alone without a concern for our fellow humans, then we're missing something. If we all looked after each other, there would be less need for government. We need the mindset, the ethic, the ideal of voluntary service."
Not long ago, a group of architecture students met with Mark. The students were saying, "We are getting ready to graduate but we don't want to just go to some impersonal firm. We want to be involved in ways that support people." Mark described some of the housing service groups he knew, including organizations in California. The students got excited. They talked about LA and New York.
Mark told them, "Think about what you can contribute to Kansas. We have unique needs. Let Californians take care of California. I encourage you to consider what you can return to your communities here."
Now that's a change from a directionless young man. That's someone who is making a difference, through service, grass-roots community development, and volunteerism. This summer, Mark will join a group of students for eight weeks, in Hutchinson, to investigate how social services can better serve homeless and at-risk youth in Reno county.
It's a long way from Scott City to Sierra Leone, but Mark Hager's commitment to service remains. And the change may have started in Leoti.
Today let's go to a theatrical performance. There's an interesting character up on stage. He's playing a sophisticated Shakespearean performer, speaking old English and wearing a beret and satin smoking jacket.
But he's not a full-time actor. He has a separate job. What's his real job? Well, he's a cowboy at the neighborhood feedlot.
Now there's a clue that we're not on Broadway in New York City. No, we're in Dighton, Kansas -- but the stage performance may mean more to Dighton than a broadway show does to New York City.
We are attending the annual community melodrama in Dighton. Conducting such a performance requires a lot. Someone needs to be the sparkplug. Someone needs to find the actors and support people. Someone needs to find the scripts and organize the building of the sets. Someone needs to be the producer. In Dighton, that person is a volunteer: Mrs. Pat Kershner.
Pat is originally from eastern Kansas. She was raised in Pottawatomie County. While at K-State, she met and married a young man from Manhattan named Craig Kershner. They got their degrees from K-State and then Craig went to law school at Washburn.
When Craig graduated from law school, he was interested in serving as a county attorney. He checked around the state. There was only one opening for a county attorney in the entire state: You guessed it, in Dighton, Kansas.
Dighton is the county seat of Lane County. There are 1,361 people in Dighton. There are only 2,375 people in the entire county. That makes Lane County the fifth smallest county in the state.
Craig Kershner had relatives in Dighton, so he had an idea what it was like. Not Pat. When she and Craig first moved to Dighton, she says, "I gave it three years."
Today, twenty-one years later, she says, "We really have enjoyed it. The people are great, and it's been a really good place to raise our two children."
In doing so, Pat got involved in the affairs of the community. For example: There were no tennis courts in Dighton. Pat and others got organized and raised funds to build some courts. The high school and city park needed facilities as well. Pat and others raised funds. Today, the school has an all-weather track and the park has an Olympic-sized ice skating rink.
And what does this have to do with a Shakespearean actor? Well, the answer to that goes back to 1986. A group of people were planning the Lane County centennial. Someone suggested that the community put on a melodrama. The person who made the suggestion was Pat Kershner.
People liked her idea, and then they asked her to take charge of it. She did, and it went very well. It was so popular that people wanted her to direct it again the following year -- and every year since.
Interest in the show has grown remarkably. It started with shows on two nights. Then three years ago the performance expanded to three nights. Next year they will add a fourth show.
Just to give you an idea of how popular this show is: Tickets for this year's performance went on sale on a Monday. The show was sold out by the end of Tuesday.
Pat says this is a fun show. It is a melodrama, with some slapstick but done very professionally, and always with wholesome family humor.
The performance occurs in the American Legion building. Pat and her group seek to create an 1890's atmosphere. They set up round tables with checkered tablecloths and coal oil lamps. They serve popcorn in old crock bowls. Servers and performers wear period dress: bow ties, bowler hats, and garters on the sleeves.
Pat says they schedule the melodrama in late March each year -- between the high school basketball and track seasons. That's my kind of scheduling! Pat says that's important, because Dighton is a school-oriented community.
The performance is a lot of fun. But it also can mean something deeper to a community.
For example, Pat says, "I'm amazed at the talent and the diverse occupations that get involved in our community show. It brings together people from diverse socio-economic groups." Pat has had nurses, bankers, feedlot cowboys, school teachers and others.
Pat says, "Someone might always be a quiet type, and sit on the back row at meetings. Then through the show you find they have a lot of talent. It brings out the best in people."
So a stage performance like this is important to a community. It provides entertainment, unity, and identity.
And it wouldn't happen in a town like Dighton without volunteers.
This is a story of rural self-help, of people who volunteer, who care about their community and give of their time and talents to make it better.
As Pat says, "We don't have a big corporation located here in Dighton which would fund a lot of services for us. If we need something, we just do it ourselves."
That's the kind of spirit it takes to make things go in rural America. That's the kind of spirit that we find in Pat Kershner.
Well, our stage performance has come to an end. The Shakespearean actor has taken his last bow, and tomorrow he'll return to the feedlot. But for him and the people in Dighton, the world has been made a little more fun: Thanks to Pat Kershner and all those volunteers, who are making a difference in rural Kansas.
Have you noticed that someone from far away sometimes sees things clearer than those of us who live up close?
For example, let's call on a business owner in Sterling, Kansas. The owner is getting ready to visit his new plant. Let's go with him! Oh, you'd better be prepared for a long trip -- the new plant is in Amman, Jordan...
How did a business in Sterling, Kansas happen to be opening a new plant in Amman, Jordan? Well, this particular business owner has some special knowledge of that area of the world.
His name is Gene Zaid, but his original name was Najib -- and his story is a fascinating one.
Najib was born in Jerusalem...yes, the original Jerusalem. Unfortunately, there is much conflict in that region of the world. Najib tells of hearing bullets flying and seeing tank battles as he was growing up.
His parents were poor. But he had a dream of coming to America. He worked hard in school. At age 17, he found himself on a plane to New York with $200 in his pocket. It was literally a one-way ticket. He was scared. "I looked down at that big ocean," he says, "and I knew there was no way I could walk home if I didn't make it."
He came to a small Christian school in York, Nebraska to start his higher education. He found support and compassion there.
This transition was not without its rough spots, however. Late one night while doing laundry in his dorm, Gene saw a red sign on the wall that said "Pull." So he did. Only after the alarms started did he read the fine print that said, "In case of fire." But Gene didn't know any better.
He says, "Imagine all those students rushing out of the dorm in their underwear in the middle of February. In my country, you would be evicted for such a thing. I was called to the president's office, and I had my suitcases all packed. I told the president I was sorry. To my surprise he put his arm around me and told me it was okay."
This compassion and understanding helped Gene through the rough spots, and he completed his academic career successfully. He attended Hesston College in Kansas, Kansas Wesleyan in Salina, and received his masters in chemistry from Wichita State. While at WSU, he met Miki Loudermilk, a young woman from Sterling.
The two were married, and they moved back to her hometown of Sterling in southcentral Kansas. Gene worked for various companies as an industrial chemist. One day Gene asked a visiting salesman, "I'd like to go out on my own. What is some chemical product that you really need?" The salesman replied, "We wish we had this combined with this -- but I've got to warn you, our scientists have been trying to do that for five years without success."
Gene took up the challenge. He set up a laboratory in his garage. Gene developed a way to combine the two products, applied for a patent, and had the new product on the market -- within six months. It was a great beginning.
Gene developed a product to prevent corrosion in oil wells. He called several oil companies and offered them the product as a trial. He said, "Pay me only if it works" -- and every one of them did.
Today this enterprise that started as a part-time job in a garage is a multi-million dollar company. JaCam Chemical Partners owns five patents and has four more patents pending. The company headquarters remains in Sterling, Kansas, and the president of the company is Gene Zaid.
JaCam got its name from the two sons of Gene and Miki -- Jason and Cameron. Then daughter Jennifer came along. Now Gene's company has an international division named JenKim. Maybe there's a connection. From an economic development standpoint, I hope these two have a big family!
That international division has led to the development of the new plant in Amman, Jordan. Gene is excited about serving his homeland. But he's also glad to be employing people in rural Kansas.
JaCam employs 27 people, including field engineers in such locations as Great Bend, Hays, and Medicine Lodge. The company manufactures chemicals for use in oil fields and services oil wells for JaCam customers. Gene has pioneered the process of pelletizing hazardous liquids so there is no environmental damage from spills. He is very sensitive to the environment.
The oil fields can be messy places to work. When Gene would be out in the oil fields, he would come home with lots of stains on his clothes that Miki couldn't get out in the laundry. That sent Gene back to his laboratory. Sure enough, he developed a new stain remover which did the job. Now this new product will take JaCam into the consumer market for the first time.
And how does a young boy from Jerusalem feel about doing business in rural Kansas? "I love it," Gene says. "People live here because they want to live here."
To potential entrepreneurs, he says, "Find a need in any market. Arm yourself with knowledge, work extra hard, make personal sacrifices, and with desire and determination you can succeed." That spirit is making a difference in Sterling.
Gene Naid knows first-hand how fortunate we all are to be living in America. He says, "The opportunities I've had here are non-existent where I come from. I feel Americans are God's chosen people."
Yes. sometimes someone from far away sees things more clearly than those of us who live up close.
Let's go now to the annual state baking contest, where people bring their best recipes and try to win the prize for the best baked goods. There are five regional winners competing for the state title.
The makers of Hudson Cream Flour are very interested in the outcome too. They are thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if the state winner used our flour in his or her recipe?" They were wondering if one of the regional winners might have used Hudson Cream Flour.
That wasn't the case. There wasn't one who used Hudson Cream Flour -- they all used it.
What is Hudson Cream Flour, and why is it so popular among leading bakers? For those answers, let's talk to Al Brensing.
Al is president of the Stafford County Flour Mills Company, makers of Hudson Cream Flour. Stafford County is in south central Kansas. The flour mill is in the town of Hudson. Hudson is a small town. According to the census, Hudson has a population of 159 -- and Al Brensing says that might be stretching it.
Nonetheless, Hudson is home to a highly successful flour milling company. Its roots go deep in Kansas history. How deep? Try more than a century.
During the 1880's, a man named Gustav Krug came to Kansas from Germany. His father had been in the milling business in Europe, so Gustav wanted to build a flour mill here. In 1905, he built a wooden mill at Hudson. In 1913, the mill burned down. At that time, Gustav Krug was 64 years old and walking with a crutch. One might think it would be time to quit.
Not Gustav Krug. He raised money locally and built a new mill. By the time he died in 1920, all that money had been paid back.
Today the site of that old wooden mill is the location of a modern, state-of-the-art milling facility which produces a flour that is recognized nation-wide for its high quality. One who has helped make it grow is Al Brensing.
Al was raised on a farm in Stafford County. After graduating from business school, he went to work for the Krug family. The year was 1937.
Through the years, Al has seen many changes. He says, "In 1984, we had to make a decision. The way we'd been bagging flour wasn't letting us be competitive any more. So, we automated our process. The market has expanded so much we have expanded our mill two and a half times."
With help from a retired milling engineer, the plant brought in new technology. The milling process is now handled by an air-powered system -- you can see wheat flashing by through some of the clear chambers. The workers used diamond bits to drill holes to install the new equipment, including specialized machines from Switzerland valued at nearly $100,000 apiece. With the new system, virtually no grain dust leaves the building.
Stafford County Flour Mill specializes in serving families, with five, ten, or 25 pound bags of flour. They also make flour and package it for other companies, such as Dillon's.
The high quality Hudson Cream Flour comes in a sack with the trademark logo featuring a cow on the front, as it has for years. These days big corporations spend millions on researching and developing their logos. Not at Stafford County. When I asked Al about the Hudson Cream logo, he explained, "In those early days, everybody had a few cows, chickens, and hogs. They chose a Jersey cow for their symbol because Jerseys gave the richest cream."
That creamy smooth flour has become nationally recognized. For example, on the day I visited they were loading a truck to go to Parkersburg, West Virginia. When we asked how that came about, Al said: "Never underestimate the influence of two good women."
A family in a nearby community had a daughter go to Southwestern College. She met and married a farmboy there, who turned out to be a brilliant chemist. His career took him to West Virginia, where he became the inventor of Prestone antifreeze. But his Kansas wife wasn't very happy with the flour she got in West Virginia stores, and she told her local grocer.
One time her mother came for a visit, and at her request her mother brought along a sample of Hudson Cream Flour. The local grocer tried it, and he liked it. The word spread. Today, Hudson Cream Flour has a huge share of the market in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
How is it that Gustav Krug's wooden mill has become a ten million dollar business employing 30 people in rural Kansas? Al Brensing says, "Mr. Krug was always very quality-minded." And Al says the key to their current success is three things: "Quality, service, and price. We must be competitive."
All this leads us back to the state baking contest. The winner has just been announced, and of course, the winner used Hudson Cream Flour in her recipe. But in a sense, there are a lot of winners here: the bakers and the consumers, and also this rural community and the economic base of the region. These winners result from a commitment to quality -- and that's making a difference in rural Kansas.
What do you know about Marquette, Kansas? I first learned about Marquette years ago from a fellow named Dev Nelson, known to generations of K-State sports fans as the "Voice of the Wildcats." He was proud to be from Marquette.
Dev passed away in January of 1993, so I thought I would visit his hometown in his memory as I was driving through that area one day. Traveling cross-country, I came through a number of small towns with boarded up storefronts and decaying main streets, depicting the tough times facing rural communities. And then I came to Marquette.
What a contrast! Marquette is a beautiful little town, with a well-maintained main street and restored historic storefronts. I was told that someone local had been a catalyst in bringing this about. His name is Allan Lindfors.
Allan was born and raised in Marquette. After graduation from Bethany College, he went to work for a bank in Salina. Then one day a call came with an opportunity to come back and work in his hometown bank, and he took it. That was 18 years ago.
Marquette is a town of 593 folks due west of Lindsborg in northwest McPherson county. It has a strong Swedish heritage in its population. Allan believes that is part of the success.
He says, "We are family-oriented, and our Swedish roots run deep." In Allan's office, he showed me a black and white photo from 1907 showing the main street of Marquette. Visible in the photo are Victorian designs on some of the buildings.
But by the mid-1970s, Marquette and other smaller towns were losing their historic roots. They were feeling the impact of declines in the rural economy. It was time to fight back. One of those who wanted to reverse the tide was Allan Lindfors.
Through the Marquette Businessman's Association, he and others began to work on community improvements. The K-State Extension Community Forestry program provided assistance in adding trees and benches downtown.
Then in the late 1980s, Allan led the effort to restore the old historic storefronts to their Victorian design. Some of the front work had to be rebuilt, which was done by the Lions Club and other volunteers.
Allan says, "We started at one end of main street and talked to each business. Some paid for the cost of the paint on their building, some paid to have it painted, and donations paid for the rest." He says, "It took a year to get it done, and it took a tremendous amount of cooperation."
Allan is quick to share the credit for the downtown improvements with other local citizens.
For example, there's Larue Olson and his son Dana. Their family has been operating a furniture store in the same building in downtown Marquette since '86 -- no, not 1986, 1886. That original building has been expanded and remodeled several times, and Olson's is a key part of downtown.
Then there's the president of the bank where Allan works, Scott Johnson, who is the fourth generation to own the bank. Allan was right -- the roots do run deep here...
And then there's Nyla Rawson, the editor of the Marquette Tribune. She told me how great it was that the young people fixed up the storefronts. By young people, I thought she was referring to high school kids -- then I found out she meant people my age! That makes her a friend for life...
All this makes me think of the state government's program for downtown redevelopment, called Main Street. I asked Allan if Marquette had considered that program. He said, "We talked to other communities who are in the main street program, but it seemed we were already doing the things that the main street cities do. If you join the government program, you have to fill out the paperwork -- and we have enough of that already."
In fact, how much government money would you guess went into this project? Try "zero." It happened through local initiative and private volunteerism.
So why put all this time and labor into a town this small? Allan says, "I want Marquette to be here for my children and grandchildren. We feel safe in Marquette. Our kids are 8 and 10, and we know they can go anywhere in town and be okay. We are close to Salina, Hutchinson and Wichita, but with the advantage of not having to lock our house."
He says, "I've had opportunities to go elsewhere, but I like not being just a number. In a big city, a person doesn't know his neighbor -- or want to. In a town like Marquette, everybody cares about everybody. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Local initiative. Caring for others. Volunteering to improve one's community. These are the things that make a difference.
I enjoyed my visit to Marquette, Kansas. And as I go, I believe that somewhere up in heaven there is an old sportscaster by the name of Dev Nelson who is smiling. He can be mighty proud of the people in his hometown, for they are making a difference in rural Kansas.
Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball. But does Bo know rural development?
Well, maybe in a round-about sort of way, he does.
Yes, I'm talking about Bo Jackson, the Heisman Trophy-winning football player who went on to play professional baseball. In 1991, he suffered a serious injury to his hip while being tackled in an NFL playoff game. Most people thought he'd never play again.
But thanks to modern technology, an artificial hip was designed for Bo Jackson which, amazingly enough, enabled him to return to professional baseball. And in his very first return to the plate, he hit a home run.
What does this have to do with rural development? Only this: the exact same technology which was used to design Bo Jackson's hip is also available in Kansas. Its primary use is to help manufacturing companies. And it is located not in Wichita or Kansas City, but in Pittsburg, Kansas -- population 17,775.
David Lomshek is a professor in the Engineering Technology Department at Pittsburg State University. He works directly with this new technology, which he calls a "rapid prototyping system." It might also be called 3-D modeling.
This system enables the operators to rapidly create new models of manufactured items, for example. Here's how it's done.
The design of the new item is entered into a computer, which depicts a three-dimensional display of it on the computer screen. Once the design is done, another machine feeds a small plastic filament into a liquefier. The melted plastic is then extruded through a tiny nozzle -- as small as 10 thousandths of an inch -- to create the object in the exact design that was entered into the computer.
The process is entirely automated and computer-controlled. The product is an exact prototype of the newly-designed item. And the result is a big benefit for Kansas companies.
David Lomshek has a special appreciation for these companies. He was raised in southeast Kansas on a farm in Crawford County near Cherokee -- population 651. He worked on the farm before spending more than ten years as a machinist in a small aircraft industry. His first-hand experience as an industrial toolmaker has served him well as he got his advanced degree and joined the faculty at Pittsburg State.
Meanwhile the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation provided a grant for technology transfer at PSU. The focus was on assisting small and medium size companies, and that's what David Lomshek's operation does.
He says, "A small company couldn't afford or justify the expense of equipment like this. We make it available for a fee to these companies to develop prototypes of their products or potential products to show to prospective customers or investors."
Until the newer technology came along, it might have taken several months to design and produce a prototype of a new product. For example, first you would make a molding which you use to produce the prototype. You would show the prototype to the customer, who makes some changes. Then the engineers make changes. It may go through 3 to 4 iterations. In the end, you throw away the first prototypes and the temporary tooling that went with them.
A company could easily spend 3 to 4 thousand dollars in producing a sample that is hardly used -- but a company can't do without them.
David Lomshek's system can produce these prototypes -- not in a few months, but in a few days. It also enables changes to be made very rapidly.
For example, if the customer looks at the prototype and says, "Well, I want this part an inch longer and that hole moved from here to there," those changes can literally be made in a few minutes. That's almost instant gratification. It's the manufacturing equivalent of cooking your dinner in the microwave.
And what is important to David Lomshek is that it enables small companies to get good designs to market even faster.
David says, "This is cutting edge technology. We also bring industry and academia together."
For example, David is part of a Beta team. That sounded to me like something in a fraternity football game. But it refers to a small group of experts who are asked to pilot-test new products. For example, a company's Alpha team might develop something new in-house and then provide it to the Beta team of outside experts for testing.
David's Beta team includes a few corporate members that you might recognize -- such as General Motors, 3M, Texas Instruments, and Pratt & Whitney.
I asked David what type of design he would need from a Kansas company to be able to use his system. He said, "It can be a formal blueprint or a design on computer disk or tape, but it doesn't have to be. I can take a freehand sketch and enter it into the computer."
Now that's amazing. David says, "I really get a good feeling when I am able to help a customer." Fortunately, those customers are Kansas enterprises.
Yes, Bo knows football, and Bo knows baseball. And Bo was even able to recover from injury and hit a home run with the help of this new technology.
Now rural Kansas manufacturers can hit a home run through this technology as well. It enables them to be more competitive in the global marketplace, and that makes a difference for rural Kansas.
Someone has said that California gets everything first and worst. And it does seem that lots of trends begin in that state. You can find anything in California -- but one thing I didn't expect to find was a product bearing the name of a town of 500 people in Kansas.
One day while leafing through a publication I saw an ad for a livestock fencing company. The ad listed sales locations in three states: Kansas, Nebraska, and...California. The first two made sense, but how did these products make it into the trend-setting west coast?
For the answer, let's call on Mike Peters. Mike is manager of Linn Post & Pipe Supply in Linn, Kansas, located in Washington County in the north central part of the state.
Linn is a town of 500 people that I referred to earlier. However, I may have been fibbing -- there's actually only 472 people....And that is truly a rural community.
The year is 1973. Emil Peters is a farmer near Linn. He and another farmer were looking for a quick way to put up a solid fence. They had the idea of welding together a few pieces of metal tubing into a gate and panels. It worked great.
Soon some neighbors wanted to buy this new fencing. Emil formed a family company, and Linn Post and Pipe Supply was born.
Emil sold his fencing locally. The demand grew, and in 1975 the company started branching out.
A banker at Creighton, Nebraska was interested in the fencing. With his help, a second plant was located there.
At that time, the metal for the equipment was coming from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Then in the early 1980's, a metal tubing plant opened in Nebraska and the company was poised for growth.
In 1982, Linn Post & Pipe linked up with a company in California through a neighbor from Linn. The neighbor had a son in California whose company was producing modular classrooms for use in Los Angeles. In this day and age, Los Angeles classrooms might need to be made of bulletproof material!
Anyway, the company was looking to diversify. They entered into a business relationship with Linn Post & Pipe to produce and market the fencing materials in the west and pay Linn Post & Pipe a royalty.
Their product is called continuous fencing, a patented system with continuous connections. The company also makes specialized equipment that is easy to set up and move. For example, circular pieces with a gate attached are called crowding tubs, which enables a rancher to move cattle together for easy loading and transport. Alleyways can be set up along with those, for safe and convenient handling of livestock.
What makes this fencing so popular? Well, it is competitively priced and high quality. In fact, it has been described as the best in livestock fencing.
Emil and his family know about working with livestock from first-hand experience. Emil raised his family on the farm, and now several are involved in the business.
For example, younger son Mike was raised in Linn. He went to community college and returned to the farm after Emil had a heart attack. Then in 1982, Mike Peters became sales manager for the company. The growth since then has been remarkable.
Today the products from this little town in Kansas go to 14 states. The company in California handles the states west of the Rocky mountains.
Linn Post & Pipe has sold equipment from Jackson, Mississippi to Washington state to the state of New York. Currently their equipment is going to a sale barn in North Carolina, and if I know my geography, that's practically coast-to-coast.
Sales have doubled in ten years. But that has happened through a lot of effort. Mike Peters goes to lots of trade shows to demonstrate the equipment, and the company advertises in the High Plains Journal and other publications.
The company remains a family business. Mike works on sales and his sister Deb handles the books. Mike and his wife, a registered nurse, live near Linn with their three children.
I asked Mike, "What are the pros and cons of doing this national business from a town the size of Linn?" Interestingly enough, both parts of his answer had to do with the people resource.
He said, "The biggest drawback is that we have a hard time getting enough labor during the rush periods." However, he said the work force is also their greatest advantage.
He says, "Our work force is loyal. They will really give you your money's worth. We have an outstanding crew, and we really hate to lose any of them. The work ethic of our people is the best there is in the country."
The work ethic of our people is the best there is in the country. That's great to hear, and it's a trademark of rural people.
And speaking of work ethic -- remember Emil Peters, the man who started all this? He is now 76 years old. He is semi-retired -- or so the story goes. The fact is that he is usually the first one to the company office in the morning, sometimes as early as 6 a.m.!
It is through hard work and initiative that this company has grown. It is through the work ethic and entrepreneurship that this company has doubled its sales. And it is through producing a quality product that they have attracted customers from coast-to-coast -- even in California.
Yes, maybe California gets things first and worst, but Kansas does things better to the letter. And that's making a difference in our rural communities.
The license tag on the car says "S'WHEAT." Well, that's easier to figure out than some of these vanity tags. But wait -- it's not spelled S-W-E-E-T, as in sugar, it's spelled S-W-H-E-A-T -- as in Kansas wheat.
So this tag describes a combination of something that tastes sweet, and has wheat in it. That's a clue to the enterprise of Shirley Voran in Cimarron, Kansas.
Welcome to the Kansas Wheat House. The Wheat House is a wheat snack food business located in Cimarron. Cimarron is the county seat of Gray County in southwest Kansas. There are 1,626 people in Cimarron. Two of those are Dave and Shirley Voran.
Dave is a wheat farmer. He farms with his dad near Cimarron. He was also playing on the local co-rec softball team some years ago. The softball players were mostly couples, but Dave was a bachelor. So he needed a softball partner. He asked the local extension home economist.
Sure enough, Shirley became more than his softball partner. Today they are husband and wife, co-owners of the Kansas Wheat House, and parents of two of the cutest little girls you've ever seen.
Since Dave was producing all that wheat, he and Shirley began thinking that there must be a way to process it further and maximize the return. Shirley wanted to stay home after their first child was born, so she was looking at starting her own business.
They started experimenting with wheat recipes at home. On March 1, 1986, the Kansas Wheat House began. Shirley and Dave started with five flavors of popped, fried kernels of wheat, called wheat nubs. They rented a space downtown to start producing them.
Their first sale was to a local convenience store. They marketed the products aggressively, with an unconditional moneyback guarantee. Today you will see wheat nubs in grocery stores, Kansas food stores, and tourist attractions. In fact, such locations as Derby Food Center at K-State have wheat nubs as a topping on the salad bar.
I would describe Shirley and Dave as active and creative. For example, I could think of about two flavors of wheat nubs: salted and unsalted. Pretty creative, huh? Well, Shirley and Dave now offer 14 flavors, including onion, garlic, cajun, mesquite, and Hunan, as in the Chinese province. Now that's creative! Maybe it helps to be a home economist.
They also offer a product called trisome, which is a mix of soy, sunflower, and wheat seeds. That takes in crops from all over the state.
But what about the "swheat" on the license tag? Sure enough, the Kansas Wheat House offers sweet-tasting products too, such as yogurt clusters, swheat-hearts, and others. These are delicious candies, chocolate and otherwise, with crushed wheat in them. It is sort of the same effect as a Nestles Crunch bar.
There are also custom creations, such as chocolate cows, tractors, or whatever design you want. They even offer flower arrangements -- with the flowers made out of wheat candy. And you can buy a mix of them, as gift baskets or gift packs.
In fact, one of Shirley's more ingenious marketing strategies is tied to the customer satisfaction inquiries of certain car dealers. These car dealers send a survey to their car buyers shortly after they make a sale. They also may send an appreciation gift.
Shirley worked out a deal with a car dealer in Dodge City for her to send gift baskets with the surveys to new car buyers. It has worked very well, and they are looking for other car dealers to do the same. They can tailor-make the baskets to fit any area of the state.
Last year sales from the Kansas Wheat House were more than 20 times their sales in the first year. But this has required a lot of persistence from Dave and Shirley Voran.
Shirley says, "The problem is that people get 'no' for an answer and then quit. No's are just growing steps," she says. For example, she asked 47 car companies about the gift baskets and surveys before she got her second yes. Now that's persistence!
Shirley also believes entrepreneurs should plug into the support systems which now exist, such as the Kansas Value-Added Center and the DIRECT program. She says, "When I was starting up, I spent days looking for answers to some questions. Now a person can call one of these support programs and get answers within hours, sometimes minutes."
Customer service is another reason for the success of the Kansas Wheat House. Shirley says, "The customer is always right. If we have to replace an order, we'll double the quantity."
What is next for the Kansas Wheat House? Shirley says they're working on a fat-free line of wheat nubs for the health-conscious.
Dave Voran says, "If you have a good idea, it's worth trying. Just don't quit. I believe in our good idea. When you sell a bushel by the ounce, it makes a lot of difference."
It's time to take our leave from the Kansas Wheat House. Parked in front is a Gray County car with S'WHEAT on the license tag. Yes, it describes a combination of something sweet with Kansas wheat -- but it's also a combination of entrepreneurship, creativity and persistence, which together are making a difference in rural Kansas.
How are you at reading Hebrew? Yes, I said Hebrew.
Where I grew up, we were lucky to have foreign language teachers teaching Spanish or French. I don't think Hebrew was even on the list. But recently I was visiting a manufacturing company, and they were producing labels printed in Hebrew for shipment to Israel.
This manufacturing company isn't found in New York or Kansas City. It is in Belleville, Kansas -- population 2,517 people.
How did a company in rural Kansas come to be shipping products to Israel? The answer was told to me by Jim McDonald.
Jim told me about Scott Specialties, Incorporated. This company produces high-quality orthopedic supports for the medical industry, such as back supports and arm slings. This winter I saw quite a few of those arm slings on people who had fallen on the ice! That's the type of product the company makes.
Jim says the company was started by a man named Wilson Scott. In the 1950s, Mr. Scott was a salesman for a company which manufactured items for the medical industry. His territory included Kansas and Nebraska. He would fly to communities and then ride a little motor bike into towns to make sales calls.
In those days, if you broke your arm it went into a sling -- and generally not the most comfortable thing in the world. Mr. Scott had the idea of using hook and loop technology to adjust and attach those slings. You know this hook and loop technology by a different name: Velcro. Yes, Velcro: the stuff which your little kid uses to fasten his tennis shoes, the stuff which makes a crackling sound when you pull it loose -- the stuff which can be adjusted to fit an infinite number of sizes.
Mr. Scott realized that using Velcro fasteners would enable these medical supports to be more comfortable and adjustable. He started putting together some orthopedic products in his basement using this new idea.
He decided to start his own company, and Scott Specialties was born. It began with 5 or 6 products. Today, it offers 4- to 5-hundred products. Mr. Scott is retired, and the president of the company is Jim McDonald.
Jim came to the company in 1978 after graduating from K-State with a degree in business. At that time, Jim says the company had 20 employees - mostly women - sitting at sewing machines and sewing velcro onto these orthopedic products. Jim says, "I learned the whole business -- starting with how to fix a sewing machine." He worked his way up from there.
Since that time, Jim says the company has brought in good people and been willing to invest in the future. The results have been phenomenal.
For example, consider the building space Scott Specialties uses. Jim says, "We were working in a 4,000 square foot building downtown. In 1981, we built a 12,000 square foot building, and thought it would be big enough to last forever."
Not so. In 1983, they built a 4,000 square foot warehouse. In 1984, they expanded into rented space in Concordia. In 1988, another 12,000 square feet were added. In 1989, they built a building in Concordia. In 1991, they doubled the size of the building in Concordia and moved into Clay Center. And in November 1992, they added 24,000 square feet to the building in Belleville.
The growth is remarkable. Those 20 employees have grown to more than 200. And these jobs are located in the towns of Belleville, Concordia, and Clay Center -- with an average population size of less than 4500 people.
This is great for rural Kansas. It also means the useable labor pool is being tapped out. Jim says, "When we talk about the unemployed in Republic County, we don't talk about the percentage -- we think of names." Well, there's Suzy, and Mary, and Frank...
The jobs and the business have grown because of the expanded demand for these orthopedic products. Scott Specialties has moved into serving industrial markets as well as hospitals and doctors. Scott has developed a line of products to prevent injuries to workers, aids to prevent sports injuries, and wrist supports to help typists and others doing repetitive motions avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.
Jim says, "We're very conscious of quality. Our customer service staff will go the extra step to take care of our customers."
The result is that sales have doubled in the last two years to $14 million.
Some years ago, Scott Specialties advertised their product in one of the international trade publications of K-State. In the years since, the growth in international trade has been remarkable also. Today, Scott Specialties' sales are substantial to 16 or more countries, and they are expanding in 50 to 55 countries.
And that's the reason that you can find labels printed in Hebrew in Belleville, Kansas. I still can't read Hebrew myself, but maybe this is more than a lesson on language -- it's a lesson on entrepreneurship in a global economy, and that's making a big difference in rural Kansas.
Today let's talk about someone who established some "firsts." He was the first executive secretary of the National League of Cities, the first to conceive of the cash basis law in Kansas, and the first to achieve many other things as the long-time executive director of the Kansas League of Municipalities.
But let's go back a little further. On the first day of the first week in the first month of the year, he was born in a sod house dugout in Ness County, Kansas -- the first (of course) of eleven children. The year was 1893.
Now in the year 1993, we celebrate the 100th birthday of this remarkable Kansan. His name is John Stutz.
At 100 years of age, Mr. Stutz is still active today, living in a retirement community in Topeka. So as we celebrate his 100 years, it is a good time to appreciate his tremendous service to Kansas.
John Stutz was born and raised on the family farm in Ness County, in west central Kansas. One of his ancestors was a Revolutionary War captain. Young John graduated from common school in 1909.
In 1911, he enrolled in the ten-week short-course at Kansas State Agricultural College in Manhattan. Among the skills he learned there was blacksmithing -- hmm, I don't remember seeing that in this year's course catalog...
He taught school for a time and then returned to KSAC for college. Mr. Stutz told me he remembered getting his hair cut by a lady in Aggieville for 15 cents. I wish her price was still around...
While attending college, he and his roommate subscribed to the Kansas City Star. On November 15, 1915, it happened that the newspaper headline said: "Manager plan is best for taxpayers, Abilene Kansas official says." The article was about a city manager's convention in Ohio.
John Stutz read that article, clipped it, and began planning a career in city management. What a difference that article made.
He went on to KU, served in World War I, and then transferred from KU to the University of Chicago where he got his degree. While at Chicago, he met the young lady, sitting on the front row of one of his classes, who became his bride. Maybe we should tell our current students that's where they find them!
After graduation he applied for several jobs and returned to Ness County to help with harvest. On the last day of wheat threshing in August, he received a telegram offering him the position of Executive Secretary of the Kansas League of Municipalities. He took the job.
Thirty-five years later, he retired as Executive Director of the Kansas League of Municipalities. He could look back on years of tremendous change and progress, brought about in large part by his vision and leadership for Kansas communities. The list of his accolades, achievements, and honors is tremendous.
Here's just one example: Governor Alf Landon cited John Stutz as the man who contributed the most ideas for good legislation and public administration during his four-year term. That's a mighty good source.
Mr. Stutz' contributions didn't stop within the state. In 1924, he organized a meeting with nine other state league directors to discuss the idea of establishing a larger entity to assist state municipal organizations. This marked the beginning of what is now the National League of Cities. John Stutz was the first -- and unpaid -- executive secretary.
Here's an interesting story from those days. In his first financial report on the new association, Mr. Stutz reported expenditures of $149. These were paid from a budget of $65 in dues and $100 from an anonymous source. Forty-six years later, a letter revealed the identity of that anonymous donor: John Stutz.
And his leadership didn't stop at the national level either. He served seven years as executive director of the International City Managers Association. From 1936 to 1949, he served as vice president of the International Union of Local Authorities, which was officed in Brussels, Belgium.
After retiring from the League, Mr. Stutz was involved in public service, writing, researching, and business. In 1987, he published his autobiography, titled "Planning a Farm Boy to be a City Manager."
Mr. Stutz is now 100 years old. When I contacted him, he had his secretary send information to me -- and I learned that she is 75! Maybe there's hope for all of us in our later years.
It's time to take our leave of John Stutz. We appreciate the many firsts which he accomplished. We appreciate his decades of leadership for Kansas and the nation. And we appreciate the fact that he came from rural roots to a lifetime of service, which have made a difference in all of Kansas.
What happens if you're a small town, but you're in the same county as the largest city in the state? The answer is, sometimes you get forgotten.
Cheney, Kansas is in that position. Cheney is a town of 1,560 in Sedgwick County. Of course, Sedgwick County is also the home of Wichita -- population 300,000.
Next to a city that size, Cheney sometimes gets forgotten -- and I mean that literally. Someone told me that when Sedgwick County's nuclear evacuation plan was developed, it left Cheney out altogether. "They forgot us," someone said.
So what do you do to make things work in a town like that? For Cheney, part of the answer is that they pulled together. The town and the school found ways to work together for mutual benefit.
Let's talk to Don Wells, superintendent of schools in Cheney. Don has a wealth of experience as an educator. He is a native of Washington, Kansas who received degrees from Emporia State, Wichita State, and his doctorate from Oklahoma State University.
He was a teacher and administrator at such urban locations as Kingman and Abilene before coming to Cheney, where he has served for eight years.
Five years ago, Cheney was selected to participate in a rural community leadership program sponsored by the Pioneer company. In fact, Cheney won an award as as Outstanding Rural Community. As part of the Pioneer program, a group of community leaders met and set up five committees to work on key issues. One of those local leaders was Don Wells.
Don says, "The most important thing we did was have a town hall meeting. When we held it, I bet a steak dinner that less than a hundred people would show up. The night came, and we had more than 150 people at the meeting." Don, I'll take my steak medium rare...
The point is that community participation made a difference. Cooperation between the town and the school has been part of their success.
Don Wells says, "The tax revenues to support the school, the city, and the county all come from one bucket. So we have a policy of sharing or nominal fees. My attitude, and that of the Board of Education, is the school was paid for by the people, so they can use it."
The result is that, instead of standing idle, the school is used as a resource by the community. That's good for the school and community both.
When a new city manager came to Cheney, there was a new opportunity to expand the sharing. When needed, the school has shared the gym, walkie-talkies, chairs, risers, typewriters, and copiers. The fair association has been the primary group with whom they have shared.
For example, the local rec commission needs lawnmowers to trim their parks and recreation sites. The school has lawnmowers which are only in use part of the time. So, the school shared mowers with the rec commission. The school also provides office space for the rec.
It seems to make common sense. But there was one major problem: that's not the way we've always done it.
Don Wells has gotten beyond that thinking to find practical ways that the school and community can help each other. Some of these are as simple as some informal barter of services.
For example, the city purchased floor wax from the school and borrowed the school's buffer machines to do the community room. Then when a snow storm hit, the city was more than happy to come grade the snow off the parking lot at the school. Don says, "They were a great help."
Don Wells doesn't have much patience for red tape that gets in the way of these sharing arrangements. He says, "The important thing is to have the policy-makers behind you. The secret is, how much power and control are you willing to share?"
Earlier this year, the planners of the annual Kansas Community Economic Development Conference were looking for a speaker on inter-local cooperation. The person they chose was Don Wells.
Don says, "My daddy taught me that when you're involved, you're paying your community dues. Sharing services can be a good way for small towns to operate. But sharing a mission, an idea, a dream -- that's what's important."
You can see why he was chosen as a speaker. But more importantly, you can see how his approach is benefitting the community. Both the city and the school can work more efficiently by sharing what they have and what they need.
Maybe Cheney sometimes gets forgotten. After all, it's a small town in the same county with the largest city in the state. But we will remember the local leaders of Cheney, people like Don Wells, who are working together and making a difference for rural Kansas.
Today let's go to a drive-in restaurant for lunch. Of course, there are lots of drive-ins across rural Kansas, but this one is unique. It doesn't just have cars and trucks that drive in for dinner -- it has a train that stops as well.
How in the world does a train drive in to a restaurant? For the answer to that question, let's talk to Roy Chestnut.
Roy is a retired farmer in Phillips County, Kansas. Roy and his wife Norma farmed and raised a family there, but in 1986, he had bypass surgery. In 1987, the family decided to try something different. So they opened a grocery in the little town of Speed.
"Speed, Kansas" sounds like it might be the motto of an interstate truck driver. In fact, it is a small community in Phillips County, population 64. That's right, 64. Now that's rural!
Roy Chestnut and his family ran a small grocery store there, and started making sandwiches in the store. Before long, the sandwiches outgrew the grocery.
In 1988, the family dropped the grocery business and went 100 percent for the food business. They built a 40 by 80 foot building for a restaurant, and have added on to it twice since then.
This is truly a family enterprise. Family members constructed the building, and Roy's brother came from Denver to do the wiring. Roy's wife is now the head cook, and grand-daughters are the waitresses.
As the restaurant was getting started, someone had the idea of selling memberships and displaying members' names and towns on finished wooden boards displayed on the walls. The idea caught on.
A family member burned names into the boards and made designs to go with them. More and more people wanted them. Then one day a rancher asked to have his brand displayed on his board. She put the brand on the board, and the restaurant's name was born. It is now known as the "Branding Iron."
Today at the Branding Iron, there are 916 boards on display. They line the walls of the main restaurant and spill out into the next room. Roy says, "The more names that go up there, the more that want to be up there."
Along the walls, you will find names of many locals, but also names from Hawaii to California to New York. The long distance winner is probably Piotr Zupendowski from Poland. He visited while an exchange student in the U.S.
The boards themselves have become an attraction. For example, we all like to have our food served quickly, right? The waitress at the Branding Iron told me of the time she brought a lady her meal and the lady said, "Oh wait -- I'm only through part of the boards."
Yes, there are lots of boards -- but there's also lots of food. One specialty is the Branding Iron Burger. This is for hearty eaters.
You've heard of a "quarter-pounder?" Well, the Branding Iron Burger consists of a half-pound patty -- plus a second half-pound patty -- on a five inch bun. That's a total of one pound of 80 percent lean beef in one sandwich. As I said, hearty eaters.
The book "Let's Go Eat" describes the Branding Iron Burger as the largest burger in the state of Kansas, and I can believe it. What is hard to believe is the price: it costs just three dollars.
Of course, there are many other foods. The Chestnuts have a two acre garden which produces lots of fresh vegetables. Friday night is Mexican food, and various other ethnic foods have been tried. Every Saturday night the Branding Iron has live country and western music, and the place is packed.
Special events are held there as well. After a local lady was hurt in a farm accident, a benefit for her was held at the Branding Iron. More than 600 people were fed that night, and $15,000 was raised.
Roy Chestnut says, "We enjoy the work and especially enjoy being with people. This business also helps our family stay together."
As one observer says, "There used to be nothing here at all. These people have built it into an active place which draws people from all over."
And how in the world could a train come to this drive-in restaurant? Well, it's very simple. The Branding Iron is next to a railroad spur which serves the grain elevator in Speed. When the Kyle Railroad comes to pick up grain cars, the train crew schedules it for lunch time. They stop the train right next door and come in for lunch. And where but rural America could you see that happening?
The initiative of the Chestnut family has made for quite a unique drive-in -- and that's making a difference in the community of Speed, Kansas.
It's a challenge to be a rural banker these days. All too often we hear that a small-town bank has become a branch of a larger city bank.
Today we'll hear about a banker who turned the tables. Oh, there was a branch bank opened all right -- but it was the smaller town bank that opened a branch in the larger town nearby.
If that sounds like a remarkable achievement, let me introduce you to a remarkable banker. His name is David Allen.
David Allen is executive vice president and CEO of the Farmers State Bank. Farmers State is headquartered in Circleville, a town of 153 people in Jackson County.
But Farmers State now has a branch bank, located in the nearby town of Holton -- population 3,196. That would make it approximately 21 times the size of Circleville.
The main office remains in Circleville, and so does a very community-spirited banker by the name of David Allen.
David himself graduated from Holton High and Washburn University in Topeka. He taught math and physics for several years and then came to the Farmers State Bank in 1974. The 19 years since have been a turbulent time for rural communities and rural banks.
David is looking to the future, thinking about young people and the community. The professors call it intergenerational transfer -- David is just concerned with helping match retiring businesspeople with young entrepreneurs.
David is proud of the community of Circleville. As one small example of the community spirit, the town has been able to maintain a public phone booth when larger towns haven't even been able to keep a gas station open.
Circleville may have only 153 people, but David is proud to point out that it has a hardware store, feed store, mechanic, grocery store, restaurant, post office, beauty shop, and an attorney. That last one is a bonus, however -- it turns out the attorney is his wife.
David continues to think about the future. He is looking for ways that his bank can help. One of his ideas is to encourage local business by setting up a mini-mall owned by a bank holding company, and then lease the space to them.
He also points out that young people can get a good value on square footage in the rural communities.
The banks in this area also can work well together. One example was when his bank went with three others to finance a city hall. That would have been more than his bank would have taken on individually, but together they were able to get the job done.
Another thing that pleases David Allen is the success of his customers. He told of an example in Soldier, Kansas. Soldier is also near to Circleville and Holton, but it only has 135 people. Does that make it a suburb of Circleville? Maybe we should be talking about the Circleville standard metropolitan statistical area...
Anyway, a woodworking enterprise is located in the town of Soldier. The woodworker was also in a full-time job away from his enterprise.
Through David's help, the woodworker found the additional financial backing that he needed. It happened that a woman from Soldier had gone to Emporia and met and married a gentleman from Kuwait. The Kuwaiti became interested in the woodworking enterprise in his wife's hometown and provided the finances to help it grow.
And it is growing. Today, that woodworking business includes 15 jobs and is operating two shifts. And in our rural communities, 15 jobs is a lot.
Now we have come full circle -- appropriately enough for Circleville. It is now David's son who is graduating from college and thinking about his future.
But even when David's son was in high school, David was telling him: "Be thinking about a career that enables you to come back to rural America."
That advice has paid off. In 1993, David's son graduated from Kansas State University and will be enrolling at the KU Medical School in the fall. He already has an arrangement with a rural hospital to return to that community when he graduates as a family physician.
That's good for rural America.
Can a small community find ways to strengthen itself? Yes, just as a small bank can open a branch in a larger town. It isn't easy, but with good leadership it can happen.
As David Allen says, "It's not what you make that is important, it's the mark you leave behind you that really matters." David is making a mark on his community that will make a positive difference for the future.
"Let's go to a barn for dinner tonight." That statement might not sound too appealing, unless you're a Holstein cow on an alfalfa diet.
But today we'll take you to a place which was an authentic barn that has been modernized and now serves terrific food for people. It's located in the town of Goessel, Kansas.
Larry and Mary Lindeman run the Barnstormers restaurant in Goessel. Goessel is a town of 506 -- now that's rural -- in southwest Marion county. It is located on Highway K-15, about 40 miles due north of Wichita.
Larry has two excellent credentials for knowing about food: Number 1, while growing up he was cook and assistant manager for a burger hut in Newton when burgers were 15 cents apiece; and number 2, he was a truck driver for 14 years. You know that truck drivers can always find the best food for the best value.
Larry's wife Mary is from Goessel originally. Two years ago, the Lindemans had a chance to come back to Mary's home area and run a restaurant -- and what a unique restaurant it was.
In 1930, material for this barn was purchased from a Sears and Roebuck catalog. That's a classic in itself.
It was originally built as a hay barn on a farm two miles south of Goessel. In 1946, it was converted to a dairy barn. In 1983, it was moved to it's current location and converted to a restaurant.
Moving that old barn must have been quite a proposition. They cut off the top half of the barn to get it under the power wires. That top half is the roof the restaurant today, and the original hay track is there for you to see it.
The local history doesn't stop there. The silo that goes with the Barnstormers restaurant is built with bricks from an old grade school south of town.
It makes a distinctive sight when one is driving along highway 15. The main floor seats 40 people, the banquet room downstairs seats 150, and the hayloft seats 40 to 60. Wouldn't it be nice to be in a hayloft and not have to do any work?
Of course, atmosphere is only part of the fun. The real test is the food.
Larry and Mary Lindeman seek to vary the menu, while being true to the ethnic roots of the region. The menu says, weekends are special at the Barnstormers restaurant.
Friday night is the prime rib special and Sunday noon is the fried chicken buffet. But listen to this German buffet served on Saturday night: german sausage, verenika (which is noodle dough fried with cottage cheese), fried potatoes, ham gravy, borscht soup, and zwieback. That sounds like the real thing from the old country.
We asked Larry what advice he might have for others who are interested in the family restaurant business. He said, "You need to like meeting people. We try to appeal to everyone, whether they're wearing blue jeans or they come in suit and tie in a limo."
It is hard work to find family time, Larry says. "It takes a total commitment and long hours." He advises not to offer all three meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner - unless you're located in a populated area. Larry offers lunch and dinner, plus he lets the coffee bunch in early in the mornings. Still, most of his business is non-local.
Larry told me when his busiest time of year usually is, and it was a surprise. I think it says something about the importance of working together on a regional basis.
Larry's busiest day isn't during the annual Threshing Days festival or on Mothers Day or Fathers Day as you might expect, it's the day of the big arts and crafts show in Hillsboro. In other words, an event happening in a totally different town has the biggest impact on his business. That shows the importance of the region on our individual businesses in rural Kansas.
So, we can go to a barn for dinner tonight. It's a very special barn, where Larry says, "We want to offer good service and good food, so people go away happy and come back." That's a challenge in a town of 506 people, so it's making a difference in rural Kansas.
All of us have adversities in our lives. Sometimes these adversities seem unbearable. Today's story is about a rural Kansan who took a bad situation and made it more bearable -- and I do mean bear-able...
This is the story of Pi Bear -- that's Pi, spelled P-I, Bear. Pi Bear is the creation of Marvin Malcom of La Crosse, Kansas. La Crosse is a town of 1,427 in Rush County. It's also the site of Pi Bear, Incorporated.
A few years ago, Marvin Malcom was a plant engineer at a packing plant in Cozad, Nebraska. He was having a normal career. And then one day, everything changed. Marvin was going through his normal work at the plant, and suddenly he slipped and fell on a long flight of metal stairs. When he awoke, he was paralyzed from the waist down. He didn't know if he would ever walk again.
Marvin says, "I was always the strong one. I never expected others to do for me."
Adversity was not new to Marvin's family. His brother is a paraplegic. His wife's mother suffered from MS. Both were bound to wheelchairs.
Marvin says, "Suddenly I was laying there. It gave me a lot of time to think. I thought, this is tough for me. Imagine how sad it is for little kids who are wheelchair-bound."
The germ of an idea had formed. But in the meantime, Marvin began to experience some recovery. He was in a wheelchair for 8 months before his legs began moving. Today he is fully recovered, and no longer confined to a wheelchair.
He used his time and skills to become an inventor of devices for the wheelchair-bound. He started making durable medical equipment and adaptive devices for the disabled, such as wheelchairs and dining plates with edges on the side to make it easier to eat.
Marvin opened a store to sell these devices in Nebraska, and operated there for five years. Then he relocated to Oberlin, and when his business outgrew the building, he moved again to La Crosse.
He continued to sell the medical devices, but he still had a heart for children who were wheelchair-bound. He thought of a way to help those children deal with their adversity.
Marvin's solution is a teddy bear who lives in a wheelchair and who has a life story. His name is Pi Bear, referred to in one story as Physically Inconvenienced Bear. Marvin's company assembles and markets the Pi Bears, and each one comes with a series of booklets.
They tell the story of how little Pi Bear experienced an accident in the mountains, and is taken to the hospital. Volume one tells of how he comes to accept his wheelchair. Volume two tells of coming home and his fears of denial or rejection from his friends. And Volume three tells of Pi Bear's first day of school.
The stories are written in simple language. They are accompanied by cute pictures. They can help little kids adjust to life in a wheelchair. And they are enough to make a grown man cry -- or at least they brought tears to my eyes.
Marvin says, "I simply related my own fears and insecurities about my wheelchair to a child's level. I want to help children see the wheelchair, not as a handicap, but merely as a new way of life."
For some children, a wheelchair will be a reality. Pi Bear can help make that life a little easier.
The Pi Bear company is new, but Marvin is building on the idea. He received help from the Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center in Garden City.
Now a family can purchase a Pi Bear with a registered serial number and a certificate of membership to Pi Bear. PI BEAR comes with a chair backpack, which holds his three storybooks, and his very own personalized T-shirt. He is non-allergenic, non-toxic, and washable. Maybe this would be a good gift to build sensitivity in any child.
Marvin's company even has its own 800 number now. The number, of course, is 1-800-467-BEAR -- what else?
Marvin continues to work in manufacturing wheelchairs. Another person manages the Pi Bear company.
Marvin has found this effort to be rewarding, and he has found La Crosse to be a good place to live and work.
He says, "This is one of the friendliest communities. People go all out to help, they really do. We've had lots of love and understanding, and people going the extra mile."
So when you encounter adversity, remember Pi Bear. And remember Marvin Malcom, who found a way to make something good come from that adversity. That's making a difference in rural Kansas -- and more importantly, it's making a difference for unfortunate little children, who are finding life a little more bear-able.
Let me tell you about a seminar I attended some time ago. A businessman named Frank Meyer was making a presentation there, and I thought he missed his topic. According to the program, Frank was to address the future of American small business. But instead of talking about business, he talked about education of our young people.
And then I realized the point: Frank Meyer sees that effective education of our young people is fundamental to the long-term success of American small business.
That's a sign of a businessman with a vision. This example demonstrates the forward-looking vision of Frank Meyer. He is not only concerned with today's bottom line, he is thinking about the future.
Frank Meyer is owner and president of Custom Metal Fabricators Inc. in Herington, Kansas. Herington is a town of 2,685 people in the southeast corner of Dickinson County.
Of course, Herington looks like the big city compared to where Frank Meyer started. He grew up on a farm near Latimer, population 20. Yes, 20 as in 2-0. Latimer may win the prize for being the most rural town we've talked about yet.
Frank attended a one-room country school in Latimer, and then went to Herington High School. That was an adjustment -- he went from 4 in his class to 50! Frank says that's what made him bashful...but I don't think he's bashful anymore!
After school Frank worked for Ehrsam Manufacturing, a company which produced grain handling and farm equipment. In 1977, he went out on his own.
He formed a company called Custom Metal Fabricators. He get his start by buying scrap iron from an abandoned building at Forbes Field in Topeka. From that beginning he built a building and developed his own line of grain handling equipment. Then he started to diversify. His company got into the manufacture of abrasive blasting and shot peening machines and heavy industrial equipment.
To make a long story short: the company which Frank Meyer started in 1977 with four people today employs 76 people, and is engaged in marketing its products around the world. And the headquarters is in Herington, Kansas.
Did I say he wasn't bashful anymore? Listen to this. He was in the Leadership Kansas class of 1992, the Kansas Industrial Council Board of Directors and was named the 1992 SBA Small Business Person of the Year.
Did I say he believes in education? Listen to this. He is on the Human Resources Committee and Industrial Development committee of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry, business advisory council of the Occupational Center of Central Kansas, and president of the Herington school board.
Frank Meyer's vision extends world-wide. 95 percent of his company's products go outside of Kansas, and 30 percent go overseas.
I asked how such an international company could do business in Herington, Kansas. He said that labor costs and transportation were better there than on the east or west coast. Frank said, "I can get something quicker than you could around the block in a city."
For example, he knows his local delivery service people well. They will come to his plant to make their deliveries first, then make their rounds and come by again to see if there is anything more to pick up.
Frank says, "That's better service than I would get in New York City."
When inspectors from Philadelphia or New York have come to his plant, they have said to him, "What do you do to make these people work so hard?"
It's that Kansas work ethic -- and a business leader who cares about his people.
Another example is his commitment to education. Frank actually goes to the schools in Herington with a sample job description for a position in his company to show to the students.
Another of his strategies calls for businesses to adopt students. In one example, Frank hired a bright young student to sweep floors after work at the company plant. When the sweeping was done, Frank invited him into his office. Frank showed him something in an engineering manual, and said, "Figure this out by next week." The young man was stimulated by this real-world problem, and he would do it. That young man became a national merit scholar and went to Kansas State University.
It's another example of a business-education partnership that works.
Yes, I thought at first that Frank Meyer missed his topic at the seminar that day, but he hit it exactly right: the effective education of our young people is vital to the future of small business, and its making a difference in rural Kansas.
Today we're going to have to go underground for our story. I don't mean going in secret -- I mean going underground.
The underground I'm talking about isn't the black market or the mafia -- this underground is the set of historic tunnels along the streets of Ellinwood, Kansas.
The person who told me about these tunnels is a big believer in promoting them for tourism and appreciation of our history. Her name is Cindy Luxem.
Cindy grew up in Ellinwood, a town of 2,329 people in Barton County near Great Bend. She went to Arizona State University -- and she says, "I had no intention of coming back." She got her BA degree in speech communications, and met her husband who is from Chicago. They went on to California.
But after a stressful time in California, they decided to make a fresh start and come back to Kansas.
Today Cindy's husband manages another business and Cindy works for Barton County Community College. She is a prevention specialist with LEAD, which stands for Leadership Education and Action Against Drugs.
Cindy is making a difference in her community in a variety of ways. She serves on the Ellinwood Economic Development Committee. She also served on the community strategic planning team for a program offered by Pioneer Hi-Bred International. This program helps rural communities plan for their future with several strategies, including tourism.
Cindy says, "It boggles my mind. We have all this history around us, and we don't share it."
One part of this rich history is the Ellinwood underground. In the early days of the town of Ellinwood, wood frame buildings were built downtown. In the 1880's, disastrous fires wiped out these buildings. They were replaced by sturdy brick buildings, complete with basements.
These basements served as storage for merchandise and coal, and also were occupied by businesses. These businesses included a barber shop, several saloons, a meat market, shoe shop, harness maker, tailor, and even a house of ill repute. Access to these businesses was gained by a stairway leading down from the board sidewalks.
With the coming of cement sidewalks, most of these businesses were eliminated and the stairways were closed over. This left a string of underground passages along and among these buildings.
If only those tunnels could talk. Rumor has it that there was a tunnel from the railway depot to the hotel, which might be handy for a quick getaway. The tunnels provided safe refuge from tornadoes, and also a safe refuge for brewing moonshine during Prohibition.
Today most of the tunnels have been filled in for safety reasons. However, those under the historic Dick building are opened regularly for tours. At last count, the tunnel tours have attracted 10,000 visitors to Ellinwood.
That appeals to Cindy Luxem. She says, "I'm not a big believer in industry, but I'm a big believer in tourism. It's better for the environment. Those people come in, spend their dollars, and then go on down the road."
And how many ads have been placed to promote the tunnel tours? The answer: none.
Cindy Luxem says, "We have so many resources in this area, and now we are doing a better job of partnering. We are doing community coalition building." She says, "The same thing can work for economic development."
Cindy and her husband have two boys, ages 11 and seven. She is concerned about getting future generations involved in the community.
She says, "My dad is 79. He's still real active in the community. But he shouldn't be doing it; we should be doing it."
That caring for the community came through when Cindy's father was head of the local hospital board. One day he got a call from the only doctor in Ellinwood. The doctor was calling to let him know that the doctor was retiring -- not next year or next fall, but next week.
The news sent the town into a panic. But someone made the effort to raise funds and develop a recruitment effort, including a video which helped bring in a new doctor, city administrator, and several ministers. The someone who got this done was Cindy Luxem.
Cindy says, "I have family members who are doing well financially. They are going to and from work in the city. But here, we can make a difference and help shape policy for our future."
And that's even better than going underground.
One day Shelly Schierman went to a national meeting in Nevada. At the meeting, she was introduced as being from Louisburg, Kansas. Now there's probably not an awful lot of people in the nation who know about Louisburg. It's a town of 1,964 people in Miami County, Kansas.
But someone at this meeting immediately recognized the name of Louisburg. They said, "Oh, that's where they make cider."
That was exciting for Shelly to hear. Why? Because of what Shelly does for a living: She makes cider in Louisburg, Kansas.
Shelly Schierman and her husband Tom are co-owners and operators of Louisburg Cider Mill. The cider mill is located four miles west of Louisburg. Shelly's father had 80 acres of bromegrass outside of Louisburg, but it was used just for hay until Shelly came along.
Shelly had gone to Arizona State University and then transferred to Missouri where she got her degree in journalism. Her husband Tom worked radio and concert promotion for a radio station in Columbia. After graduation, they came back to Louisburg.
One day in 1977 they were in Topeka, looking around an old barn. There they found the pieces of an old 24 inch cider press.
Shelly says, "We bought it for a song."
That was a fateful decision. They brought the old press back home and started making cider. Today that cider business is nationally known.
It started small. At first, 100 percent of the business was direct sales. People would buy cider right there at the mill. They would drive the thirty miles from Kansas City, for example, to purchase the cider.
But then Tom and Shelly began to wonder: what if people didn't want to make that drive?
The solution was to take the cider to the people. Shelly and Tom began working to get Louisburg cider offered in stores, and it began to catch on. Today Louisburg cider is a familiar sight in your grocery store produce section.
From 1980 to 1982, business tripled -- and it has grown steadily since.
Even Wal-Mart became interested in their cider. Wal-Mart company representatives contacted Tom and Shelly and contracted for the cider. They wanted gallon jugs of cider to sell in four distribution centers serving six states.
One thing Shelly learned is that Wal-Mart has a big appetite: they wanted two semi-trucks of cider every day. Louisburg cider ended up buying apples from as far away as Arizona and Michigan, and worked around the clock to fill the order.
Shelly and Tom started having a special weekend at Louisburg to promote the cider. It was held in the fall, as apple harvest was in the air. And people started to come.
Last fall, during the last weekend in September and first weekend in October, Louisburg played host to 20,000 people.
It has become a community event.
Shelly says, "The schools park cars. The Lions club cooks pancakes. The churches serve ice cream." Yes, it has had an impact on the community.
Today Louisburg Cider Mill offers several products: apple cider, sparkling apple, apple butter, cider spices, gift crates, and -- would you believe -- root beer!
What is a cider company doing producing root beer?
The answer is found in the entrepreneurial eye of Shelly Schierman. She says, "I look for trends. There is growing interest in root beer. We can meet that market, and it allows us to do year-round work." Their product is named Lost Trail Root Beer.
Shelly says she received 300 phone calls from various states during one month this summer asking for root beer.
A lot of marketing assistance has come from the state.
Shelly says, "We are so fortunate to be in Kansas. In some other state, we would get lost among the companies. From the Kansas Value-Added Center, we can have an answer to a processing question in 30 minutes. The Board of Agriculture and Value-Added Center are invaluable."
Yes, someone at a national meeting might recognize a small town in Kansas and say, "Louisburg -- that's where they make cider." But that's not all they make. Through hard work, innovation, and effective marketing, they are making a difference in the rural economy.
That's our topic today: nuts. Specifically, I'm talking about pecan nuts. You may not know it, but pecans are a big part of the rural economy in certain parts of Kansas.
Let's go to Chetopa, Kansas. Chetopa is a town of 1,357 people in Labette County in southeast Kansas. In fact, Chetopa is just four miles from Oklahoma.
In Chetopa, we will find Bob Eads. Bob describes himself as an accumulator.
I wasn't sure what an accumulator was -- it sounded to me like Ross Perot. But Bob Eads is an accumulator, or buyer, of pecans. He accumulates supplies of pecans for a national company which shells and processes the pecans.
Bob Eads is also more than that. He is a grower, a custom harvester, a farm store owner, and a promoter -- in short, an entrepreneur.
Bob came from Commerce, Oklahoma originally and attended Oklahoma State. He worked for B.F. Goodrich for 15 years, but when they were going to relocate him out of the midwest, he opted for something different. In 1986, he bought the feed store in Chetopa.
Things were slow. After he bought the place, he found he couldn't make his second payment. And one of his old employees was sitting there bemoaning the fact that no one was coming in.
But Bob loaded up salt and supplies on a truck and went out and sold them, and made the payment.
Bob says, "I will not tolerate someone with a negative attitude." And things really started to happen when an older man from Oklahoma got him started buying pecans.
Listen to this. In 1986, Bob's company had annual sales of $380,000. In 1993, his annual sales were 3.5 million dollars.
He is an entrepreneur. He says, "I will buy one pound of pecans, or a truckload. I'll take 'em in water buckets, diaper boxes, or semis."
He is a believer in pecans. He says, "I have customers who would not still be in business if not for pecans."
They are a good cash crop. They can generate 400 dollars an acre, Bob says, and double that with good management.
Bob says, "Growing pecans fits well with other agriculture. For example, you can easily raise hay or pasture around the pecan trees. That way you can get two crops off the same land."
There are other benefits too. Pecan trees grow along river banks and help retard soil erosion.
In fact, almost all pecan trees in Kansas grow naturally. Bob says they are found along every major river in the state.
Only in recent years has the state recognized the cash crop potential of pecans. Today, the Kansas Nut Growers Association has 300 members.
A few years ago, the Legislature worked with the Board of Agriculture to establish a Kansas Pecan Commission. In 1992, appointments were made to the Commission. And one of those appointed was
Bob says, "There is good potential for Kansas. The pecan orchards in Georgia are mature, and in Arizona, the water is inadequate."
I asked Bob what were the keys to his success as a businessman. He said, "Junk mail is the root of all evil. If it doesn't look like a check, I chunk it."
But he went on to say that personal service is very important. "I'm my own fieldman," he says. "I bring the supplier company representatives not just to my store, but to my producer's fields. The company rep may not like it, but the producer is my first priority."
Today, rural America faces many challenges. How will we make a difference? How will we diversify our economy? How will we find alternatives to major crops?
Mary Lynn Stevenson
Lots of international tourists come to the United States. Of course, they go to all the important locations: Disneyland, Washington DC, and Fort Scott, Kansas.
What was that last one? Yes, Fort Scott, Kansas has become an internationally known tour destination. Yet Fort Scott is a town of only 8,362 people in southeast Kansas.
The organization which has built this tourism, perhaps more than any other, is the Fort Scott Chamber of Commerce. Its director is Mary Lynn Stevenson.
Mary Lynn tells of the fascinating history of Fort Scott. It began as a town adjoining the military fort from which it takes its name. The fort was established in 1842 on the Indian frontier. It was active during the Mexican war and the civil war.
Meanwhile, the town was bustling. It was a railroad center, and railroad executives built beautiful victorian homes there. Fort Scott vied to become the largest railroad center west of the Mississippi, but finally lost that distinction to another town -- one by the name of Kansas City.
By the 1960s, the town faced many adversities. Population was declining. Jobs were being lost. The economy was sinking, and the old military fort had long been closed.
The first step back came when the Fort was declared a National Historic Site. Through Representative Joe Skubitz, and later Senator Dole and others, funds were received to restore the historic fort.
Many challenges remained in the 1980s. People would come to the fort, but they wouldn't shop downtown while they were there. Meanwhile, the town's largest company was sold to an out-of-town firm which eliminated 500 jobs.
In 1988, the chamber held a board retreat to plan a different future. Mary Lynn Stevenson says this was a turning point.
She says, "The best thing our consultant did was to put our local leaders on a tour bus and show them Fort Scott through the eyes of a tourist. It was a revelation!"
One of those who saw the city in a different light was a local entrepreneur named Dan Ellis. With his leadership, the chamber developed a tourism marketing plan and budget which was approved.
But there was still that problem of people seeing the Fort but not seeing the town. Dan Ellis had the solution: he bought a trolley.
The trolley is a motorized vehicle that looks like an old trolley car. Dan Ellis donated it to the city to be used for driving tours and carrying passengers from the fort to the city and back.
This trolley even has a name: Dolly. And all the kids in town have learned to give a big wave when Dolly the Trolley goes by.
Meanwhile, special interpretive events go on in the community. Homes for the Holidays showcases the historic homes, churches, and museums. The Good Ol' Days is a community festival modeled after an 1899 street fair. Who says you can't still find the good ol' days again?
Another special event is a frontier evening when the fort and downtown are decorated by candlelight. That event is so popular that tickets go on sale each year on October 30 -- and they're sold out on October 30.
The national park service began historic civil war re-enactments, complete with horses, guns, uniforms, and cooking out on campfires. All these interpretive events help bring the past to life.
Fort Scott even has its own 800 number. It's 1-800-245-FORT -- what else?
The chamber's new tourism marketing promotion officially began in 1990. Here are the results:
Since 1990, visitation at the visitors center doubled. Nearly 50,000 people had ridden the trolley. Visitation to the fort reached a record high in 1992. Bus tours have increased by 50 percent, and 13 antique shops, five bed & breakfasts, and two new gift shops are open. The tourism of Fort Scott has even been mentioned in news articles from Sydney, Australia to Madrid, Spain. In the last year, Fort Scott has had visitors from 22 different nations and every state in the Union.
So how did Fort Scott, Kansas make it onto the list of international tourism destinations? The answer is, a lot of hard work, initiative, and investment in themselves. Mary Lynn Stevenson says, "We are really authentic, and we are enthusiastic about sharing our history." The result is making a difference in rural Kansas.
Today's topic is a sticky subject -- but I could also say that this is a very sweet story.
I'm talking about Honey. No, not your spouse. I'm talking about the product honey, the natural sweetener made by bees.
Let's go to Hillsboro, Kansas. There we will meet Richard Barkman, who is president of the Barkman Honey Company. Hillsboro is a town of 2,704 in Marion County, south central Kansas.
His father Esra farmed near Hillsboro. In 1920, Esra got some bees to have on the farm. Richard grew up with bees on the place, but in 1953 when he graduated, he said, "Get more bees or I'm going elsewhere."
Esra got more bees. The Barkmans bought an outfit with bees which were wintered in Idabel, Oklahoma and taken to South Dakota in the summer. That same migratory pattern is followed by the Barkman's bees to this day.
But many other things have changed. They were having a hard time finding an outlet for their honey, so they decided to try selling it themselves.
In 1960, they built a three-story building in Hillsboro to process and package the honey. Richard says, "We packed a bunch of it and then waited around, but nobody came to buy."
Sales were slow but gradually increased. In 1980, Barkmans built a new building with 22,000 square feet. Richard says, "We thought we'd overbuilt."
Not so. In 1987, Rich and his wife took over management of the company, rather than having a hired manager. Good things have happened since.
Today Barkmans Busy Bee honey is a national company. Business has doubled in the last six years. That building which seemed too big in 1980 has been added on to twice, and the most recent addition doubled their space.
The business itself is quite specialized. The Barkmans contract for honey from various producers in the midwest, and it arrives at their plant in metal barrels. The honey is unloaded, heated and filtered, blended and packaged.
One thing I learned is that honey will not spoil. It will turn to sugar eventually, but will not spoil. In fact, when King Tut's tomb was unearthed a few years ago, they found a jar of honey that was still good. Well, that's more than we can say for King Tut...
The Barkmans pack their honey into various containers, including the little plastic Busy Bee bear that you might recognize in the store.
Those containers are now produced right next door, by a company headed up by a man who used to work for the Barkmans for 13 years. It's a good example of a rural company incubating another one.
Barkman honey has gone from 7 employees in 1980 to 32 employees today. The company also involves an awful lot of bees.
Just to put this in perspective: It takes a bee its three-month lifetime to produce a teaspoon of honey. Barkman's annual sales now run around 12 million pounds of honey sold a year. That would keep a bee busy, alright.
What are the Barkmans keys to success? One is a commitment to quality and service. Richard says, "We won't compromise our Christian morals and ethics. We service our clients."
In one example, Barkmans sent a shipment to Florida. The truck company damaged the shipment. Barkmans sent another shipment -- a second trucking company damaged that shipment too. They sent the shipment air freight -- and it was damaged too.
So the salesman loaded the shipment into a trailer and hitched it to his car. Part way there, the car motor burned out. So he got a van, removed the seats, and personally drove that shipment to the customer in Florida.
Now that's service. It also means that the company in Florida is a very loyal customer.
Another advantage is Rich's son Brent. Brent managed the beekeeping company in South Dakota for 8 years, so he has first-hand knowledge and empathy for the producers with whom he deals. The Barkmans' daughter is a student at K-State.
Yes, honey can be a sticky subject -- but the story is a sweet one for the economy of Hillsboro. That's where the Barkmans are making a difference in rural Kansas.
You know how local boosters can be. Today, for example, let's talk to a local banker. This one says, "I don't encourage people to open retail businesses in my town."
Wait a minute. Did I hear that right? A banker who doesn't want more retail businesses in his town?
No, listen carefully. He means something beyond that. It's not that he doesn't want more businesses, just the reverse -- but he wants businesses to fit the right niche. He wants businesses to succeed.
That's the perspective of Nick Hudelson, president of the Coronado Bank of Lyons. Lyons is a town of 3,688 people in Rice County, in south central Kansas.
Nick Hudelson knows about rural Kansas first-hand. He was born and raised in Pomona, Kansas, a town of 835 in Franklin County in eastern Kansas. Nick went to K-State and then worked for banks in Kansas City.
But when his kids got to be school age, he and his wife had a decision to make. They opted to live in rural Kansas.
Nick found an opportunity to relocate to Lyons, Kansas and manage the Chandlers Bank there. He managed it for 10 years, and in 1986, he and other local citizens bought the bank themselves.
Nick's wife is a nurse and their three children are about grown up. One is a student at K-State, one has graduated, and a daughter is in New York.
Nick himself is very active, in community affairs and banking organizations. In addition, he is treasurer of the Kansas Rural Development Council.
So how does a good banker like him not encourage retail businesses in his town? That comment should be placed in context so it isn't misunderstood.
He believes very deeply in the community, and he is suggesting that businesses should look beyond the retail sector to succeed.
Nick says, "It is very difficult to compete with Wal-Mart on price. We may need to replace retail with service businesses. Maybe health care, accountants, or lawyers.
"In retailing, someone's going to go buy tennis shoes at the mall because it's a social event," he says. "Rather than just retail, we have stores who will compete through good service."
Nick cites several examples of good businesses in Lyons. He says, "We have a pharmacy which can't compete on price with the discount chains, but he can deliver within an hour. In fact, if the person is shut in, he just takes it to them."
That builds customer loyalty. So does the tire man who goes to the farm when there's a flat on the tractor and changes the tire in 100 degree heat. The same is also true for the local computer vendor. He doesn't just sell the computers, he is there to help. In fact, Nick says, "When you have a problem, just call him. He'll come right down the street and help."
That's the type of service that makes a difference in rural America.
And why did Nick Hudelson choose to move back to rural Kansas? He gives a lot of reasons.
The school system is a big reason, along with a community spirit. Nick says, "We have a great thing to sell: our high quality of life in rural Kansas."
There are financial considerations. Nick says, "The cost of housing is less, in terms of getting better value for the dollars invested. Then there's the recreation opportunities. You can take the family to the local school ball game for a buck-and-a-half a ticket, compared to 26 dollars for a Royals game."
Nick sees more opportunity for economic development in rural areas. He says, "Using computers and a FAX, jobs don't have to be performed in a major city. With today's communications and transportation, we're not as far away as we used to be."
Yes, you heard right. Maybe this banker doesn't encourage certain retail businesses in his community. But that's because he has a larger vision of what is possible in rural Kansas, and it's making a difference for the future.
Gary Anderson has been helping put in a new gate.
That may sound like a fairly typical activity in rural Kansas, but this is no pasture gate. This is a gateway to the future.
It is a brand new, million dollar telecommunications and meeting facility. On the front of the building are these words: Gateway to the Future, Window on the World.
And where is this building? Try Oberlin, Kansas, population 2,197.
What is a million-dollar telecommunications facility doing in Oberlin, Kansas? For the answer to that question, let's visit with Gary Anderson.
Gary is with Farmers National Bank in Oberlin. He's a native of the area, having grown up on a farm in western Decatur County. He graduated from K-State and joined the bank in 1979.
This project came about through the generosity of Madonna. No, not the MTV Madonna nor the biblical Madonna. This was a woman named Madonna Morgan, whose husband's grandfather had first staked out the outline of the town of Oberlin. The family had accumulated substantial landholdings in the area over the years.
On March 4, 1990, Madonna Morgan passed away. And in her will was a special provision. She would donate her million dollar estate to the city of Oberlin for construction of a civic auditorium, if the entire million dollars was matched by the community.
A million dollars is a lot of money. The City Council pursued plans for the project, and proposed a bond issue to raise the matching funds. The bond issue went to a vote, and by 93 votes, the citizens of the community turned it down.
What do you do now? A million dollars is a lot of money to raise, but it's also a lot of money to lose.
A couple of nights after the vote, 60 local people met to discuss the project. They felt the opportunity to fund and build a new facility should not be lost. That led to the creation of a group called Citizens for Oberlin Civic Center. The co-chair of the group was Gary Anderson.
At the next city council meeting, Gary and more than 200 people attended.
Gary says, "I read to the group the headline from the front page of the Wichita Eagle. It said, 'Bequest too much for Oberlin.' It hurt our public image, and I felt we should prove them wrong."
Gary Anderson's comments and others spurred the city leaders to try again. The plans were revised. More community input was sought. A door-to-door campaign was initiated. The bond amount was lowered and a private fundraising drive was implemented.
Gary also chaired the fund-raising subcommittee. Gary says, "More than 200 people volunteered to go door-to-door." Letters were sent to 1,900 alumni of the school.
The effort paid off. More than one hundred thousand dollars were raised, and in June, the bond issue was approved by the voters.
The grand opening of the new facility was March 12, 1993. The facility includes an exhibition hall, theater, office space, recreation center, and interactive video classroom.
Since the opening, the facility has played host to everything from a John Deere show to violin concerts. Shows include "Up With People's '93/'94 World Premier Show" (and only performance in Kansas); nationally known country artists - "Bellamy Brothers" and "McBride and The Ride"; "The Russian Folk Life Festival"; and coming up next spring, The National Shakespeare Company's production of "Romeo and Juliet".
In October 1993, a telecommunications conference was held at the new facility. One highlight was when the conference was addressed by a U.S. Senator. The conference was in Oberlin, but the Senator was in Washington DC, addressing the participants through interactive video transmitted through telephone lines from halfway across the country.
Gary Anderson says, "There are many intrinsic benefits of living in rural America. They relate to our high quality of life. But one pitfall is a lack of access to cultural or other activities."
This modern facility bridges that gap. It creates that access.
Gary believes in the quality of life so much that he has purchased a building in downtown Oberlin. It was built in '86...That's 1886. It was built as a bank and became the first courthouse in 1896. Gary has gotten the building named to the National Register of Historic Places and is restoring it to be a bed and breakfast.
Meanwhile the new facility maintains a very busy schedule of meetings. But before it opened, one dilemma was what to name the building. Community leaders had used the phrase "Gateway to the future, window on the world." The phrase seemed to fit. Shortly before it opened, the facility was officially named The Gateway.
Yes, Gary Anderson has been helping to put in a new gate -- not to keep people out, but as a gateway to bring ideas in. His leadership is opening a gateway and making a difference in rural Kansas.
Every community needs a core group of people who care. Today we'll hear about such a core group -- and I do mean a "core" group.
Let's go for a drive on Highway 99 to Frankfort, Kansas -- population 927. Right downtown on the east side of the street is a building with a giant picture of a red apple core in the window. This isn't an Apple computer store or a fresh fruit stand, it's a sign of a community resource.
There's a new core group in Frankfort. The organizer is Marilyn Dressman.
Marilyn is a native of the Frankfort area. She and her husband attended K-State and went back to the farm. She interrupted her classwork to have three children, and then returned to finish her degree at K-State.
In the spring of 1992, one of her teachers required that each class member complete a community project. Marilyn says, "I was looking for something that would last a week." What she found was much more work -- and better for the community.
A friend told Marilyn about the Community Resource Act. This is a program through K-State Continuing Education. It provides funds for startup of non-profit programs designed to meet the recreational, cultural, social, and educational needs of communities. Typically, these programs involve non-credit classes on a variety of subjects taught by local volunteers.
Marilyn decided to give it a try. She sent letters to a cross-section of community members in Frankfort, and the response was unanimous: let's try such a program in our town.
An advisory council was formed, and one day they were trying to come up with a catchy name. Someone suggested naming it the Community Organization for Recreation and Education. The initials spell CORE -- C-O-R-E. Someone laughingly suggested that a red apple core could be their logo -- and it stuck.
What has happened since is remarkable. Today in Frankfort, there are apple core signs, apple core buttons, apple core t-shirts -- you get the idea. But more importantly, nearly 400 students have participated in classes provided by the CORE program. And the first coordinator of the CORE program was Marilyn Dressman.
She says, "It has been really rewarding. I know that my own kids will benefit from the program. For example, we've started a swim team. That's something the kids in Frankfort have never had before."
The CORE group applied for funding from the Community Resource Act and did receive a small grant. But Marilyn says, "We started classes even before we got the money."
CORE has offered four sessions of 10 to 15 classes per session, on everything from parenting to pottery. Classes include CPR first aid, tae kwon do, golf, gardening, home decorating, and a trip to the Nelson Adkins art gallery in Kansas City.
The kids have learned gymnastics and karate. The senior citizens have learned bridge and are now playing together.
CORE sponsored a presentation by Manhattan's Sunset Zoo at the 1993 Frankfort Summerfest. The group sold tickets to promote a historical society event to commemorate Alcove Springs, which was a nearby site on the Oregon Trail. A float was exhibited in the Summerfest parade, and an open house at the Frankfort Education Center was coordinated by CORE. CORE puts on an annual Christmas Homes tour and Santa's Workshop.
Meanwhile, the community has embraced the program. Class instructors waive fees and contribute the proceeds to CORE. Board members serve as volunteers. The high school typing teacher has her students do the typing and formatting of the annual brochure of classes.
And what's the result? People learn and the community benefits.
Marilyn says, "I can't say enough good things about the community." She is proud of Frankfort.
"I wouldn't live anywhere else," she says. "When I hear about the crime rates, it really makes me appreciate being able to send my kids to a school where they'll be safe. There's a quality of life here."
Yes, every community needs a core group of people who care. Just take a drive up Highway 99 and stop by the apple core in the window. You'll find a community where volunteers like Marilyn Dressman are making a difference.
Today let's find a virtuoso pianist. He performs the classics. He has been a pianist for opera and ballet companies in Seattle and New York City.
And where would we find this talent today? Try St. George, Kansas -- population 397 people.
St. George is a small, economically distressed town in southwest Pottawatomie County. There we will find Mr. LeRoy Johnson.
LeRoy was born in Garden City, Kansas. His family settled in the Manhattan area. LeRoy grew up east of Manhattan and went to Manhattan schools.
While in grade school, an older student taught him some of the basics of piano. His mom noticed his interest and got him started taking lessons from local teachers. His talent and his interest continued to grow. He took lessons from university faculty.
After high school, he majored in applied piano at K-State. And then the time came to take the big step: New York, New York.
How does someone from a little town come to go to New York for a music career? LeRoy says, "I'm a Christian, and sometimes we have to step out on faith."
LeRoy stepped out a long way -- all the way to New York City. He played for ballet studios there for a couple of years.
His next major stop was in Seattle. First he got a job as a seafood cook, and then found a position as a preview pianist for the Seattle Opera Company. They performed Magic Flute, Don Pasquali and others.
In 1988, he went to New York again. This time he played for the Alvin Ailey school and later the Joffrey Ballet School in Greenwich Village, eventually serving as a company pianist for Joffrey II Dancers.
But in his heart, he was hearing the call of Kansas. LeRoy notes, "People say that Kansas is one of the three most livable states -- and it's true. New York is one of the least livable."
So LeRoy returned to his home area and lives in St. George. He is school accompanist at Rock Creek School. Currently he is doing benefit concerts for various charities in the area. He also is a volunteer pianist at St. George United Methodist Church.
At one of his recent recitals, he performed works by Robert Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin, and Franz Liszt. It sounds sort of like Music from the Masters, doesn't it?
LeRoy remains a loyal Kansan. Who but someone from rural Kansas would describe Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 as a "real barn-burner?"
And speaking of burning barns, that brings up another interesting aspect of LeRoy's life: his interest in flight. As a child, he dreamed of building a spaceship. When that was proven unrealistic, his thoughts turned to airplanes and hot-air ballooning.
Someone told him that it was possible to build a hot-air balloon from the plastic bags that cleaners use to cover laundry. He taped together such a balloon and built a fire to heat the air to make it lift. Unfortunately, he did so in a nearby barn.
It wasn't just the balloon that went up, it was the whole barn -- and it went up in flames.
That grounded LeRoy's career as a balloonist for a while. But in later years, he successfully constructed a large balloon out of plastic trash bags. And in 1992, he went up in the air in a hot-air balloon of his own construction.
Apart from this hobby, LeRoy spends his time in music. He has also been active in working with the Youth for Christ organization.
And how does this New York pianist feel about being in St. George, Kansas?
LeRoy says, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world. It's home to me."
He says, "I like the friendliness. And in small towns, people are able to develop a confidence that enables them to succeed."
LeRoy says, "I am a dreamer. And with hard work and God's help, I've been able to see my dreams come true."
Yes, we can find a virtuoso pianist in St. George, Kansas. He's someone with the talent to perform in New York, but who chooses Kansas instead. And by contributing his talents, he is making a difference for those around him.
Today let's talk about networks. I'm not referring to the television networks, I'm talking about networks of people. You might say that sounds like the "good ol' boy" network, and in a way it does, except for one thing: The "good ol' boy" we're talking about is a woman.
Deborah Divine is the founder and head of Reaves Planning Consultants, now located in Salina. Looking at her business is like taking a look at the future. Her business is home-based, woman-owned, technologically-involved, and service-oriented.
Part of her success has come through networking, and that's our theme today. Debbie says, "Using your network is something I believe in."
Another thing we learn about Debbie is that she is a Kansan by transplant. She is actually from Rhode Island originally. Debbie got a BS degree in sociology from Bucknell University and her masters in Transportation Engineering from the University of Florida. While there, she worked in the transportation research center.
The next step in her career was to be selected as director of the technology transfer program for the state of Florida. Each state has one of these tech transfer programs.
These programs are funded by the Federal Highway Administration. The purpose is to take relevant findings from federally-funded research and transfer that to people who could use it most directly. It's the same principle that has worked so successfully in Extension over the years. Often the recipients are in the smaller communities.
Debbie was one of the fifty state directors of these tech transfer programs. Her network began to grow.
Then one day a person in one of the smaller cities called and said, "Are there any management and supervisory skills training programs that are specifically for transportation officials?"
Debbie said she would check, and somewhat to her surprise, she could find none with that specific focus. And the thought came to her: "I could do that."
And she did. She formed her own independent transportation consulting firm to provide that type of management training.
Now, after all this, how did she get to Kansas? For that, we should thank one John Divine. John is a Kansan, who was born and raised in Hutchinson. He graduated from K-State and went to Florida where he worked with banking software. Along the way he met Debbie and started dating. Then a career opportunity opened up in his home state.
Debbie says, "He asked me to move to Kansas and marry him, all in one breath."
She consented, and five years ago they came back to Kansas. John continues his work and takes some time off to assist Debbie with her consulting work.
Debbie's firm provides training seminars in management and supervision for public works personnel. She says this includes city, county, and state workers, transportation engineers, and others. It includes everyone from the road crew foreman in the orange vest to the city engineer.
And how has the business succeeded? Debbie has now presented these seminars from Florida to Wyoming. She has presented in North Carolina, Montana, Michigan, Alabama, and Arizona.
A key part of her success has been in utilizing her network of former colleagues, the directors of the state tech transfer programs.
And how has this transplanted Floridian found Kansas? She says, "I miss the ocean. I don't miss the traffic and congestion."
Debbie did find one unexpected glitch in Kansas, however. She says, "The first months we were here it took longer than normal to get through the grocery store, because people wanted to meet you and talk." That's a sign of a friendly place.
In her brief time in Kansas, Debbie has gotten very involved with a host of volunteer, church, civic and service organizations.
She says, "In Florida, people didn't know their neighbors and didn't feel like socializing. Here the quality of life is much improved. People in Salina are much friendlier and more stable."
Today we've been talking about networks. And maybe networks can take several forms, from the business networks among current and former colleagues to the community networks of good citizens and volunteers. Through all these networks, people like Debbie Divine are making a difference.
Kansas has a new newspaper. Today let's meet the staff. We'll visit with the editor, publisher, layout specialist, photographer, salesperson, and custodian. Don't worry, it won't take as long as it sounds: They're all one person.
Debbie Lyons-Blythe is this woman of many talents. We find her at White City, Kansas, population 533 -- and that's rural. White City is in Morris County, south of Junction City.
Debbie is the owner and operator of this new Kansas newspaper, named The Prairie Post. The Post is a new combination of two old newspapers, the White City Reporter and the Alta Vista Journal. The staff meeting for this newspaper can be held in a phone booth.
Debbie is originally from a ranch near Manhattan. She says, "I grew up a K-State junkie. And I liked to write." She worked on the school paper, the town paper, and the university newspaper. You may remember her voice as she was the Agriculture Assistant to Eric Atkinson for 1 1/2 years, here on KKSU. In 1988, she graduated in Agricultural Journalism.
While attending a Livestock Entomology class, she met a young man named Duane Blythe and they started dating.
She says, "It was a great incentive to study together. I ended up getting an A in the class." I think there's a few other students around here who could use a dating service like that...
Debbie and Duane got married and moved back to his home place at White City. They live in the same house where his parents got started. Duane is now in charge of the trust department at Central National Bank in Junction City. They also run around a hundred head of registered Angus and crossbred cattle.
Debbie worked as county ag agent in Morris County for a year or so, until a little baby girl was born. Two years later, another little girl came along.
Meanwhile, her interest in journalism suddenly found an outlet. A family in town had the local paper, but the owner wanted to retire.
Debbie says, "I had thought it might be something I could do someday after the kids got a little bigger, but I was afraid the paper might not be there at all if I waited."
So she and a partner bought the papers, and Debbie later bought him out.
It keeps Debbie very busy. She says, "When the baby was born, people were concerned that the baby would keep me up at night. The funny thing is that the baby sleeps very well -- it's the paper that keeps me up at night!"
Debbie says, "I love the newspaper business, but I'm a Mom first." The business also gives her the flexibility to bring the children with her.
She says, "I'm the boss, so if I decide to bring the kids with me to the office, there's no one to say no."
When we spoke with her, with help from one other person, Debbie wrote, produced, sold ads, and mailed this weekly paper. Since then she has added part time help to her staff to help with those jobs.
Her first management action was to computerize. The old typeset machine was there, but she invested in the modern equipment which enables her to do so much more.
A more difficult decision was to merge the two papers, which she decided to try after a lot of thought and study.
Debbie says, "I suspected that people would be upset about losing a paper with their own town name, but I was surprised at the level of support I received. People wanted to keep a newspaper going."
She says, "I call it a hometown newspaper for several different hometowns. The heart of what we cover is the schools. We focus on kids, community government, and community events." With that local focus, what started as an 8 page tabloid is now 20 pages long.
Debbie says, "There's a lot going on for a town our size." She continues, "I grew up in the Manhattan school system, with 300 in my graduating class. White City has 15. That means the kids get lots of one-on-one attention and identity. If Mrs. Stilwell sees the slightest problem with my little Meghan, I will hear about it." Debbie says, "I wouldn't want to send my kids anywhere else."
Her understanding of local merchants has changed also. Debbie says, "I used to think you couldn't afford to buy locally. Now I see it costs time and gas money to drive somewhere else to shop. We must patronize our local businesses, to insure that they will be there in 5 years.
She also finds she gets personalized service. Debbie says, "I just tell the grocer when it's time for the next larger size diaper."
This concludes our visit with the staff of Kansas's new newspaper. Not only is she editor, publisher, and producer, you can add the titles of rancher and mother. Through it all, you see a person very committed to rural Kansas, and that is making a difference for people throughout these communities.
It's the Christmas season. Let's admire a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. It's adorned with lovely angels, all made of paper. But this is no ordinary paper -- it's paper made of wheat straw.
Did you know paper could be made from wheat straw? I didn't either -- but two years ago, angels from wheat straw paper were used to decorate the Kansas Governor's Christmas tree.
And who would know more about wheat straw than a Kansas farm wife? Today let's meet Pat Nichols, who is the farmer, artist and entrepreneur who created these angels.
She and her husband farm near Alton, a town of 115 people -- and that's rural -- in Osborne County, in north central Kansas. It turns out that Pat is a Kansan by transplant.
She originally came from South Dakota. Growing up, she was interested in being a veterinarian. Since Kansas State was ranked as one of the top three veterinary schools in the country, she came to K-State. There she met a young man from Osborne County. They married and came back the farm where his family had farmed for generations.
Today, 31 years later, the Nichols have raised a daughter and continue to farm. They have a commercial cow-calf operation and raise corn, milo, and wheat -- and that last one is where Pat Nichol's artistic talents come in.
She says, "I had been weaving wheat since 1976. It was a common endeavor around here. But I'm a person who likes to try new things."
She says, "Seven years ago I was reading in an art magazine about a woman who made her own paper for her watercolors. That sounded interesting, so I looked into it. I got excited when I found that you could make paper from any plant product, including wheat."
And so Pat Nichols began making her own paper from wheat straw. And that's not the only plant material Pat uses.
She says, "You can make paper from yucca, sunflowers, pine needles, iris leaves, or any plant." I was really amazed when she said you could make paper from musk thistle -- that's a noxious weed that we ranchers have been trying to kill for years!
But Pat says, "Wheat straw is my favorite. It is most versatile, offers the greatest variety of texture, and readily accepts dyes so you can get vibrant colors."
So how exactly do you make paper from wheat straw? Pat says, "There is no recipe. I learned by trial and error."
She starts with a wheat variety named Sage, which is a long-stemmed type of wheat well-suited to weaving and paper. She dries the plant material, cuts it into one-inch pieces, and then cooks it in crockpots for six hours.
Pat says with a smile, "My husband learned right away not to eat anything in a crockpot!"
The straw is washed repeatedly and the straw is literally beat to a pulp. This can be done by hand using an acrylic mallet, kitchen blenders, or special pulping machines. Pat says, "Hand pounding is a great way to work off frustrations."
As the straw is pounded, it breaks down and bonds with other pieces. Over time, it will form a sheet of paper, much like that created by the Egyptians centuries ago.
Pulp made with blenders or beaters must be added to water from which a wet-leaf is pulled using a mold and deckle.
The Dane Hansen Foundation learned of her handmade paper, and asked for a Christmas ornament. Pat wasn't sure what to make, but she finally thought, "I can make a paper angel." It was an inspiration.
Today, those paper angels have decorated the office of the Governor and graced homes throughout the United States and other countries. Two angels even spent Christmas in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and later traveled to Korea. Pat also sculptures nativity scenes, Father Christmas, and roses. Other artistic creations are collages and pieces created on the vacuum table.
"It's a home-based business," Pat says. "But the enjoyment I get out of it is the creativity." She says the State Agriculture department does a good job of promoting Kansas products.
And she says her adopted state has been good to her. "I like the country and I like the people," says Pat Nichols.
Yes, it's the Christmas season. We admire the beauty of the angels on the tree; and we can also admire the energy and innovation of a farm wife like Pat Nichols, who is using her talents to make a difference in rural Kansas. Happy holidays to each and every one.