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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Melinda Williamson, Morning Light Kombucha

Let’s go to the 2019 National Restaurant Association Expo in Chicago. Food suppliers are displaying products from across the nation. Only one of these suppliers is a producer of a healthy, fermented drink called kombucha that promotes health in a person’s gut. This remarkable business is owned by a Native American woman who lives in rural Kansas.

Melinda Williamson

Melinda Williamson is the founder and owner of the business called Morning Light Kombucha, the only such business at this 2019 national foods show. Melinda was born and raised in Topeka. She is of Native American descent, specifically from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

“I always dreamed of having my own business,” Melinda said. “I think I started a little cleaning business when I was in the fourth grade.” As she grew older, she became very interested in science. She got a B.S. in natural history biology at K-State and then worked as a senior research specialist in a laboratory at Oklahoma State where she got a master’s in rangeland ecology and management, all while raising her daughter.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: James Kenyon, Golden Rule Days book

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days.” That nostalgic song describes good memories which many people have from their school times of yesteryear. One author has captured the history of many schools from the past across the state of Kansas. It’s today’s Kansas Profile.

James Kenyon is the author of a recently published book which describes the history of 109 closed Kansas schools, including one in each county. James is himself a product of rural schools. He grew up on a farm in Graham County and graduated from Bogue Rural High School in 1966, one of a class of six people. James went on to Kansas State and became a veterinarian, eventually practicing in the state of Iowa. He was named state veterinarian of the year and served as president of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association before retiring.

James came back to Kansas for a 50-year reunion of his graduating class at Bogue. As he traveled through western Kansas, he thought about the various other schools where he had played ball. He looked into it and found that, of the 32 communities where he had played ball, all but one had lost its high school. That led him on a quest to capture the history of these rural schools. His goal was to cover the entire state.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Harry Trotter

Come back to Kansas. That phrase might sound like a state tourism advertisement, but it would also describe the journey of college football players who grew up in the Sunflower State, moved away, and found an opportunity to come back home. Today we’ll learn about one such player.

Harry Trotter is one of those in-state talents who went away and took the opportunity to come back. He grew up at Atchison, Kansas and played high school ball at Maur Hill – Mount Academy. He had an outstanding prep career, rushing for 2,940 yards and 36 touchdowns, plus 87 yards and a touchdown catching the ball. During his senior season in 2015, he ran for 1,657 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Harry Trotter

Harry Trotter’s performance on the field earned him all-state honors from the Kansas Football Coaches Association, plus all-state honorable mention accolades from the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Wichita Eagle. However, it did not earn him scholarship offers from the major Division I colleges. Instead, he accepted a community college offer in hopes of going to a higher level in another year.

Harry chose to go to Fort Scott Community College. In his first year there, he rushed 146 times for 503 yards and eight touchdowns, while he caught 14 passes for 86 yards. His best rushing game of the year was against Central Methodist when he had 159 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, a game that featured a season-long run of 52 yards.

After that season, his journey took him to the Division I level and the Atlantic Coast Conference. Harry attended the University of Louisville, where he played in nine games.  After that, his journey brought him back home to Kansas. He chose to transfer to Kansas State where he had to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer rules.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Dave Gaeddert, Dropseed

Drop seed. That’s what I do to plant my garden, right? When we put those words together, that is also the name of a beautiful grassy plant called prairie dropseed. Now it is the name of an innovative Kansas business. Today we’ll learn about a Kansas technology company which is designing software to help organizations work more effectively.

During the last two weeks we’ve learned about two entrepreneurial brothers, Joel and Aaron Gaeddert. There is one more brother – the youngest brother, Dave. This is the third and final profile in our series about the Gaeddert family.

Dave Gaeddert

Like his brothers, Dave came to Bethel College in North Newton. He worked part-time with his older brothers at Flint Hills Design while in college. After graduation, he joined the business full-time and now works as lead developer for websites and apps.

Dave was always interested in computers. He built computers of his own in middle school. By the time he got to Flint Hills Design, Dave was crafting the code which kept that company’s websites and apps operating effectively.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Aaron Gaeddert, Prairy

Here we are at a winery in Massachusetts. Between the samples of wine, we are offered some wine-tasting crackers which help cleanse the palate between wine tastings.  Where did they come from? They came from halfway across the country in rural Kansas.  It’s one of the healthy products offered by this innovative store in the heartland of the nation.

Last week we met Joel Gaeddert who founded Flint Hills Design in North Newton. His younger brother Aaron also operates a small business.

Aaron Gaeddert

Aaron came to Newton to attend Bethel College, as had his parents and his older brother Joel. When Joel founded Flint Hills Design, Aaron worked for him during college and after graduation. In 2014, he had the opportunity to pursue a business of his own.

Newton had a local food cooperative that closed in 2000. After it closed, a couple of women bought some of the supplies and equipment and opened a bulk health food store of their own. It was called Prairie Harvest. They later relocated into a historic 1892 building in downtown Newton.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Joel Gaeddert, Flint Hills Design

Let’s go to Boston, where an exhibit is being installed at the Museum of Russian Icons.  Where do you suppose that this exhibit was created? Would you believe, halfway across the continent in rural Kansas? Today we’ll meet an innovative Kansas company which is designing exhibits that are going across the nation.

Joel Gaeddert is founder and CEO of Flint Hills Design, the company which is installing this exhibit. Joel grew up in Kansas and went to Bethel College in North Newton, as had his parents. As a tech-savvy college student, Joel worked on a couple of websites while attending college.

Joel Gaeddert

His roommate’s father was the curator of the nearby Kauffman Museum and was needing help to finish a museum exhibit. Joel pitched in to help and found that he enjoyed the work. Soon people from other museums were asking for his help on their exhibits as well. Joel continued to work on websites also.

After graduation, Joel founded his own business based in North Newton. He called it Flint Hills Design.

“We like the understated beauty of the Flint Hills,” Joel said. “All of us like living in small Kansas towns.”

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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.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Linda Clover, World’s Largest Ball of Twine

“The belle of the ball.” That phrase may call to mind a pretty girl dancing in a fancy ballroom, but in this case, it refers to a different kind of ball. This belle is the woman who serves as the volunteer caretaker of the world’s largest ball of twine. She’s helping people from around the world enjoy this unique rural attraction.

Linda Clover explained that Frank Stoeber was farming near Cawker City in Mitchell County in 1953. As he fed small bales of hay to his cows, he began to accumulate the loose balestrings made of sisal twine.

World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas

“He was a child of the Depression, so he didn’t throw anything away,” Linda said.  Rather than burning or discarding the twine, he started winding it into a ball. By the time he was done cleaning up his barn, he had a ball as big as his barn door.

Over time, he continued to add to the ball. Friends and neighbors started donating their twine to the project and the ball became massive. In 1956, when the Salina Journal wrote an article about it, the ball measured seven feet five inches and weighed 4,035 pounds.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Lucille Heller, Leadership Mitchell County

“What if?” That can be a powerful question. Today we’ll meet a group of Kansans who essentially asked “what if” a version of a statewide leadership development program could be implemented in their home county. That led to the creation of a county leadership development program which is still going strong after 20 years.

Curt Frasier is an attorney at Beloit. In the 1990s, he was serving on the board of directors of the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership or KARL program, a highly successful statewide development initiative for farm, agribusiness, and rural citizens. Several Mitchell countians had participated in the KARL program.

Leadership Mitchell County class with Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh

One KARL graduate was Lucille Heller, then a teacher in Mitchell County. “Curt came back from the KARL board and thought we should have a program like KARL at the county level,” Lucille said. “He brought together some recent KARL graduates like Doug Palen, Fred Severance and I to see if we could put together a program.”

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Lana McPherson, President, International Institute of Municipal Clerks

Let’s go to London, England. It’s a meeting of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, led by the president of this international organization. This year’s international president comes from a small town in Kansas.

Lana McPherson is president of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks and the long-time city clerk of De Soto, Kansas.

Lana grew up at De Soto, attended Johnson County Community College and Rockhurst University. She worked as a paralegal in several law offices and then for a multi-state insurance company.

She also met and married Ian McPherson, a soldier who had served at Fort Riley and then moved to Olathe to be close to family. They made their home in De Soto.

In 1998, the town council was looking for a new city clerk. Lana accepted the position in June. “I reached out to several experienced city clerks in surrounding communities and they took me under their wing,” Lana said.

In November of that year, she attended a week-long training program developed by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, or IIMC. The training institute is conducted annually by the Hugo Wall Center for Public Affairs at Wichita State.

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