Kansas State University


Kansas Profile

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Damian and Heidi Hilton, Little Apple Aerials

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.

Would you like to learn to fly? How about without a plane? If that sounds impossible, meet Little Apple Aerials. This company’s talented staff demonstrates aerial arts and teaches participants to do gymnastics up in the air, complete with a sensation of flying.

Damian and Heidi Hilton are the founders and owners of this remarkable business known as Little Apple Aerials. Damian grew up at Great Bend, where he enjoyed athletics. “I was picking up a friend after my high school basketball practice and he was at the Barton County Community College facility working with the Barton cheerleaders,” Damian said. The Barton yell leaders invited Damian to join the squad also. He tried it and became a Barton yell leader.

Little Apple Aerials
Little Apple Aerials

Damian went on to K-State. One of his Barton cheer partners was on the cheer squad at K-State and talked him into trying out. Not only did Damian make the squad, he went on to become assistant coach and then head cheer coach.

While at K-State, Damian got a job managing the Manhattan Gymnastics Center. He also coached youth sports. The gymnastic elements of cheerleading became a passion and then a profession.

One athlete that Damian was coaching suggested that Damian call her sister Heidi. “Of course, I didn’t do it,” Damian said. But when Damian and Heidi met later on, they made the connection. Heidi and Damian married in 2004.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Damian and Heidi Hilton, Little Apple Aerials”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Youth Community Perceptions, Ellis

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.

Let’s go to a city council meeting. City council members are listening to a presentation about perceptions of their community. Is this presentation being made by an expensive consultant from halfway across the country? No, this presentation is being made by a local group whose average age is 17 – and they might be thinking about their senior prom. This was part of an innovative program called Youth Community Perceptions which is designed to gain input from youth and engage them with their community.

Ellis youth community perceptions team
Ellis youth community perceptions team

Susan Schlichting is a 4-H youth development agent for the K-State Research and Extension Cottonwood District, serving Ellis and Barton Counties. Susan helped pilot this new program called Youth Community Perceptions.

The program originated from Kansas PRIDE Program discussions about how to get youth more engaged in their hometowns. The PRIDE Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, so this is another in our series of profiles highlighting PRIDE communities.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Youth Community Perceptions, Ellis”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Nick Poels, Phillips County coding

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.

Do you like raspberry pie? I do. Today we’ll learn about a different kind of raspberry pie – the kind spelled P-I, as in the mathematical symbol. In this case, Raspberry Pi is the name of a type of computer used by students who are learning to do computer coding.  This high-tech project is an initiative of an innovative economic development director in rural Kansas.

Phillips County TechSpace
Phillips County TechSpace

Nick Poels is executive director of economic development in Phillips County. He works to build partnerships in various ways to benefit the county as a whole. Phillips County includes the rural communities of Phillipsburg, Logan, Agra, Kirwin, Long Island, Prairie View, Glade, population 86, and Speed, population 35 people. Now, that’s rural.

Nick uses various programs to benefit the county, such as rural opportunity zones, Network Kansas, a commercial revitalization program, and more. In 2018, Nick was in a site council meeting with the Phillipsburg school district when there was discussion about the need to integrate more computer science into education. Forward-looking educators recognized the need for students to have high-tech skills for future careers.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Nick Poels, Phillips County coding”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Mark and Julie Lambert, Athena Spinning

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.


Let’s hop on a transatlantic flight to London. A woman is placing a spinning wheel on the floor in front of her seat and will spin yarn while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The spinning wheel is a handmade, portable spinning wheel which was built by a pair of craftsmen in rural Kansas. These beautiful spinning wheels are being sold from coast to coast and beyond.

Mark and Julie Lambert are the founders and owners of Athena Spinning, the creators of this beautiful spinning wheel. “Five years ago, I didn’t know spinning wheels existed outside of fairy tales,” Julie said. She and her husband Mark were working as insurance adjusters and living in south Texas. Their job required them to travel on short notice to some disaster scene and then stay for an extended period.

Athena travel spinning wheel
Athena travel spinning wheel

“I saw a woman spinning with a wheel and I was intrigued,” Julie said, having crocheted since she was nine. She and Mark also liked to build their own furniture. He’s an engineer. When Julie said she wanted a spinning wheel, Mark said he would make her one.

The plans went through many revisions. “I thought I was done,” Mark said. Julie wanted one that was just perfect: Attractive, compact, and easy to use and assemble when traveling. When told that his creation looked like a work of art, Mark said with a smile, “That’s her fault. She’s the artist.”

After building 17 models to meet Julie’s requirements for the perfect wheel, they had it.  A friend said that the wheels were so beautiful that they could sell them. Mark and Julie decided to give it a try. Meanwhile, they wanted to move to a location that was situated somewhere between grandkids in Wyoming and Chicago, but not too far north. They settled in Chanute, Kansas.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Mark and Julie Lambert, Athena Spinning”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Dick and Mary Beth Boyd, Norton Telegram

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.


In Kansas, the Boyd family name is synonymous with newspapers. Today we’ll meet a Boyd family member and fourth-generation Kansas newspaperman who’s won numerous honors for his lifetime of dedication to his community.

Dick Boyd and his wife Mary Beth were owners and publishers of the Norton Daily Telegram for 32 years. He continues to write sports for the weekly Norton Telegram.

Dick’s great-grandfather, George Boyd, was the owner of the Kensington Mirror newspaper in the rural community of Kensington, population 473. Now, that’s rural. George’s son Frank learned the newspaper trade as a boy and then went to Kansas State University, where he met and married Mamie Alexander.

In 1907, Frank and Mamie Boyd bought the Phillips County Review in Phillipsburg. They had two sons: McDill, who was nicknamed Huck, and Frank Jr., who was nicknamed Bus. Both followed in their parents’ footsteps, attending K-State and then launching their own newspaper careers. Huck married Marie Kreikenbaum and joined the Phillips County Review. Bus married Mary Folwell Dexter and they published the Jewell County Record in Mankato, where Dick and his siblings were born and grew up.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Dick and Mary Beth Boyd, Norton Telegram”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Norm Conard, Part 2 – Unsung Heroes

Unsung heroes. They can take many forms, from a hard-working single parent to an inspirational teacher to your local firefighter or police officer. Today we’ll learn about a Kansas-based educational center which is seeking to share examples of unsung heroes so as to improve our communities and our world.

Last week we met Norm Conard, a long-time social studies teacher at Uniontown High School. His students did many award-winning history projects through the years, one of which was a play about Irena Sendler. Sendler was a Polish social worker who rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II.  After the communists overtook Poland, they suppressed her story for another 45 years before Mr. Conard’s students became aware of it.

Norm Conard

Three of Mr. Conard’s high school students did a play for National History Day about Irena Sendler. Eventually her story gained national recognition. The unsung heroism of this woman became known to a grateful world.

Having seen the transformative power of this work, Norm Conard thought about how to create more impact. During his teaching career, he was a USA Today All-American Teacher, Kansan of the Year, member of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, and recipient of many other honors.

As he sought to enhance education using these stories of unsung heroes, he developed a grant proposal to the Milken Family Foundation to create an educational center based on this idea. Not only was the grant ultimately approved, Norm retired from teaching to become the center’s executive director.

Today the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes is located in Fort Scott, Kansas. Its mission is to “transform classrooms and communities through student-driven projects that discover unsung heroes from history and teach the power of one to create positive change.”

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Norm Conard, Part 2 – Unsung Heroes”

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: Billy Fogo, DVSport

Let’s go to Super Bowl 50. Here on the sideline we find a man from rural Kansas. He’s not blocking or tackling, but instead he’s working on an innovative software system used by NFL football teams and others. Such high-tech systems are enabling these teams to perform at the highest levels.

Billy Fogo is the young man who found himself on the field of Super Bowl 50. Billy has rural Kansas roots. His father, Glenn Fogo, was a Methodist minister who served in western Kansas before Glenn and Carol retired to Manhattan where they live today.

Young Billy first lived in the rural community of Moscow, population 310 people. Now, that’s rural. The Fogos later moved to Leoti where Billy played football and graduated from Wichita County High School.

Billy went on to K-State and got a job as a student assistant on the K-State football staff.  His role was to shoot video of the games and practices. The video was then edited for viewing by the coaches. These compilations of clips were called cut-ups.

After graduation from K-State, he joined the football program’s video services department full time under award-winning director Scott Eilert. They worked closely with then-head football coach Bill Snyder, editing and providing him cut-ups of video clips which could be analyzed to study an opponent’s tendencies in play-calling. “(Coach Snyder) was such an amazing person to work for,” Billy said.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Billy Fogo, DVSport”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Kay Haffner, Grainfield PRIDE

“That shows a lot of pride.” This statement applies when we see a community that is clean and neat, with active businesses and busy downtown buildings. Today, we will visit a group of community volunteers who are utilizing their pride – and the Kansas PRIDE program – to benefit their rural town.

Kay Haffner is the co-chair of the Grainfield Community Development Committee, active members of the Kansas PRIDE program. In 2020, Kansas PRIDE is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding, so we will be highlighting Kansas PRIDE communities during the year ahead.

Kansas PRIDE is a partnership of K-State Research and Extension, the Kansas Department of Commerce, Kansas Masons, and Kansas PRIDE, Inc. Through the program, local volunteers identify their community’s priorities and then work with the resources of these partners to create their ideal community future.

The Grainfield Community Development Committee or GCDC formed and joined the PRIDE program in 2009. Kay Haffner and her husband own a trucking company here.  She volunteers with the GCDC.

“We were a town that was dying,” Kay said. “Nothing was being done.” GCDC members decided to refurbish the community’s old, faded Christmas decorations. They got tinsel and lights and redid the decorations. It went so well that they decided to take on more projects.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Kay Haffner, Grainfield PRIDE”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Byron Githens, Old Iron Club

“Old iron.” That’s an affectionate term that farmers have for the old tractors and farm equipment of yesteryear. Those durable old pieces of equipment can serve as reminders of our agricultural heritage and how agriculture still serves our food supply. Today we’ll meet a group of volunteers who are working to share this agricultural heritage with others.

Byron Githens is a founder of the Wilson County Old Iron Club in Fredonia. He grew up in Fredonia, hauling hay and working with farmers. One of the farmers for whom he worked was Rollin Vandever, known as “Red.” Byron appreciated working on the farm, especially with old John Deere tractors.

Charlie Lewis, Old Iron Club member, on his tractor

Byron became a rural mail carrier. He met and married Leanne and bought some used farm equipment of his own.

In 1994, a vacant lot became available next to the city hall in downtown Fredonia. Byron and some friends decided to put on a tractor show so kids could see the old time equipment. It went so well that they decided to do it again the next year. In the following year, they added a threshing machine and a rock crushing demonstration. The annual event continued to grow.

Recognizing the need for more volunteers, Byron and others decided to form a club. In 1999, the Wilson County Old Iron Club formally organized with 25 charter members.  Through the years, the annual equipment show was held in several locations around Fredonia.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Byron Githens, Old Iron Club”