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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Keri Harris, volunteer mask-maker

When my family would go on a car trip, we usually would begin by asking, “Kids, have you gone to the bathroom?”

Now we ask, “Kids, have you gotten your masks?”

Mask-wearing has become important due to the pandemic and the requirements of many stores and municipalities. One Kansas woman has helped respond to the need for masks in her community and beyond, earning her recognition as an Ag Hero from the Kansas Department of Agriculture during the 2020 Ag Growth Summit.

Keri comes from the town of Reserve in Brown County originally. Her family moved to Derby, where she grew up and went to college. A job opportunity took her to Lawrence where she met her husband, and they now live on his family farm east of Overbrook and have two children.

Keri Harris has been the district manager for the Franklin County Conservation District since 2001. On her own time, she has become a prolific mask-maker.

Keri Harris

“Our nine-year-old daughter is in the sewing project in 4-H,” Keri said. “When the pandemic first hit, our local extension office sent out an email that the local care home was needing masks. I thought it might be a good, simple sewing project for my daughter.”

Keri and her daughter picked out a design, used some leftover fabric that they had on hand, and sewed several masks which for the care home.

“I posted a picture of her helping me sew on Facebook,” Keri said.  “People said, `Oh, if you have any extra, we could sure use them.’” So, Keri and her daughter sewed some more and gave them away.

“She helped me with about the first 50 before she lost interest,” Keri said. However, people were still asking for masks so Keri continued sewing them. “I had done quilting before the kids were born. It was fun to do this. We were using miscellaneous leftover fabric that we had on hand, so we would sew them and give them away.”

After she started buying fabric, people volunteered to pay for the masks. She told them they could donate money to buy more fabric. K-State, Chiefs, and Royals prints have been popular. Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Keri Harris, volunteer mask-maker”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Norm Conard, Part 1 – Irena Sendler

“Who changes one person, changes the world whole.” That quote from the Jewish Talmud was posted in a Kansas classroom where an idea took shape among an inspirational teacher and three high school girls. The idea would develop into a project which would have impact, literally, around the world. It began in rural Kansas.

Norm Conard was a social studies teacher at Uniontown High School. One of his teaching methods was to involve his students in the National History Day competition.  Through the years, nearly 200 of his students received state history awards and more than 60 received national awards. One project in particular had global impact. It was chronicled in a 2011 book titled “Life in a Jar.”

Irina Sendler

Liz Cambers, Megan Stewart, and Sabrina Coons were students of Mr. Conard’s at Uniontown High School in 1999. He told his students to be thinking about a project on which they could do research for National History Day. Liz Cambers picked up a folder of news clippings to leaf through for ideas. She came across a small story from U.S. News and World Report.

In a few paragraphs, the article told about a Polish social worker named Irena Sendler who smuggled almost 2,500 Jewish children to safety during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. Liz had never heard of Irena Sendler and neither had Mr. Conard. They figured that perhaps the article had a typo. Maybe she saved 250 children, not 2,500.

Liz decided to look into the history of Irena Sendler. She was joined in the project by two classmates, Megan Stewart and Sabrina Coons. The more they looked into the history, the more amazed they were.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Norm Conard, Part 1 – Irena Sendler”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Sara Dawson, Prairie Oaks Designs

Okeechobee, Florida. A package is arriving. Inside is a beautiful metal nativity set, designed and cut by a craftsman at a business halfway across the continent in rural Kansas. It’s especially interesting to find that this craftsman is a woman. This is a special holiday edition of Kansas Profile.

Sara Dawson is the owner and founder of Prairie Oaks Designs in Florence, Kansas.  Sara grew up near Florence and went to K-State. After working in the animal health business for a time, she came back and joined the family ranch. She married Troy Dawson who is farming and ranching and is trained as a master welder. Sara was thinking about how to add value to the family business.

Sara and Troy Dawson

One day in 2014, Sara was flipping through a catalog and spotted a picture of a rusty old metal item nailed to a piece of wood. It caught her eye and she wondered if she could produce similar products.

“How do those people cut that metal?” she asked her husband. “And what would it take to get that equipment?” When he told her the price of a plasma metal cutter, she thought, “Oh, there’s no way we could get that.” But her husband encouraged her to get it and try it out.

Sara decided to try designing and marketing these metal designs as home décor. They ordered the plasma cutter and signed up to exhibit products at an upcoming craft show.

Unfortunately, the plasma cutter was late in coming. When it finally arrived, a major component was missing. Sara’s stress level went up as the date of the show got closer and closer. Once the plasma cutter was ready, she spent lots of late nights self-training on how to use it. She managed to make enough products to take to the show – and the response was excellent.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Sara Dawson, Prairie Oaks Designs”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Don Whitten, Beecher Bible and Rifle Church

Where do bibles and rifles connect? That unlikely combination can be found in the history of Kansas, and particularly in one historic rural community church. This church is continuing to serve its members and its historic legacy.

Don Whitten is a member of the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church in Wabaunsee. He told me this remarkable history. It all began in the 1850s era of Bleeding Kansas, when the people of the territory were involved in a vicious debate over whether Kansas would become a slave state or a free state. Advocates for both sides flooded Kansas territory. For example, abolitionists in Connecticut raised money to send a group of free-state colonists west.

A famous New York preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, raised money for the cause and sent crates of rifles and bibles to the colonists. According to legend, the rifles were covered with bibles so as to get through the pro-slavery state of Missouri.

Don Whitten

In 1856, the Connecticut colonists came to Wabaunsee. In the following year, they organized the First Church of Christ there. A new stone church was dedicated in 1862. This became the site of one of the most influential Congregational churches in Kansas.

By the 1930s, population had fallen, church membership dwindled and the church closed. In 1950, it re-opened. Today, the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church is an independent, non-denominational church which still meets in the original but remodeled stone building. Services are held each Sunday at 9:45 a.m. with Pastor Lynn Roth officiating.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Don Whitten, Beecher Bible and Rifle Church”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Chris White Walker, Emporia Gazette

Sallie magazine, La Voz Latina and the Emporia Gazette. Those publications are produced by the Emporia newspaper, in order to respond to changing needs and markets within its community. Today we’ll meet a long-time Kansas newspaper family which is expanding its commitment to journalism in Kansas.

Chris White Walker, the great grandson of William Allen White is the publisher of the Emporia Gazette.

Chris White Walker is publisher of the Emporia Gazette. He is also the great-grandson of the legendary William Allen White, about whom we have learned during the past two weeks.

Chris grew up in Emporia. His first experience in the journalism business was as a paperboy, delivering the Gazette. He later worked in the production department. Chris went to the journalism school at the University of Kansas and then worked for alternative publications in Lawrence and Kansas City after college.

In 1995, he and his wife Ashley came back to Emporia to help his parents run the paper and eventually assume ownership. Chris became editor in 2000. Today, Chris is publisher and Ashley is editor of the Emporia Gazette. The newspaper has changed and evolved, but it continues the legacy of William Allen White.

“His writing transcends time,” Chris said of his great-grandfather’s observations on politics and community which seem particularly prescient. “Many of the things he wrote about are applicable to the present day.”

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Chris White Walker, Emporia Gazette”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: C&R Railroad Museum

The train emerges from the tunnel and speeds down the mountain track, overlooking a bustling village in the valley below. There aren’t a lot of mountains in Kansas, but this scene features a model train. It is part of a remarkable model railroad museum in rural Kansas.

The C&R Railroad is a model railroad museum, part of the Huck Boyd Community Center in Phillipsburg. The center, named for long-time Kansas journalist and civic leader Huck Boyd, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017.

One wing of the community center houses the C&R Railroad, a legacy of local citizen Bill Clarke. The C in the name stands for Clarke. The R stands for his wife’s maiden name, Reiss.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Jake Worcester – Manhattan Meat Market

Let’s go to New York City to a high-end restaurant and order a Braveheart steak. The steak is delicious. These steaks are available in high quality restaurants across the country – but there is only one place in the nation where a person can get one of these steaks to cook at home. That place is not Manhattan, New York, but Manhattan, Kansas.

Jake Worcester and his partners are the owners of Manhattan Meat Market in Manhattan, Kansas. Jake and his friends wanted high quality, locally-sourced meat so they started this meat market of their own.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Jake Worcester – Manhattan Meat Market”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Cody Foster, Advisors Excel

“Giving back.” It is a simple but powerful concept. Today we’ll meet a Kansas entrepreneur with small town roots who created a remarkable marketing organization that assists independent insurance agents and financial advisors across the

Cody Foster is the co-founder of Advisors Excel, based in Topeka, Kansas.

nation. They also emphasize the importance of giving back to their community.

Cody Foster is co-founder of Advisors Excel, an industry-leading financial and insurance marketing organization in Topeka. Cody grew up in Stockton. His grandparents owned the café in town, but when he was in the fifth grade his grandma had to run the café by herself. “As the oldest grandchild, I worked with my grandma a lot,” Cody said.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: The Schoen Family

“Family.” As the football team comes running out of the locker room, the word “family” is displayed on a wooden block held up high by the players. Lots of athletic programs use the word family to describe their relationship with the fans. Today we’ll meet a family which literally has family members playing in not one, but two, college sports at the same time.

Mason, Dalton and Chandler Schoen

Kelly and Kristi Schoen are the parents of this athletic family. Their two sons are making their marks in college athletics in two different sports.

Kelly Schoen is originally from a farm near the rural community of Downs, Kansas, population 873 people. Now, that’s rural.

Kelly went to K-State and got a finance degree. Kristi is from Manhattan and also went to K-State where the two met and Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: The Schoen Family”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: John McCurry, McCurry Angus

Biloxi, Mississippi. It’s time to announce the Beef Improvement Federation’s national Seedstock Producer of the Year award. And the winner is…a leading farm family from rural Kansas. This family is using modern technology to constantly improve beef cattle production through the development of improved bulls and heifers.

The McCurry family operates McCurry Angus Ranch near Burrton, Kansas.

Last week we learned about Tyson and Emily Mullen in western Kansas. Emily McCurry Mullen grew up in south central Kansas as part of this award-winning farm family at the McCurry Angus Ranch. Her brother John McCurry leads the Angus operation today.

The McCurry family has deep roots in Kansas agriculture. Five McCurry brothers started the Angus operation with two heifers in 1928. The oldest of the brothers was A.J. A.J.’s son Andy met and married Mary who came from an Angus cattle-producing family in Tennessee and was getting a master’s degree in meat science at Kansas State University. Andy and Mary moved to south central Kansas and had Emily and John.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: John McCurry, McCurry Angus”