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Kansas Profile

Author: Mary Lou Peter

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.

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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.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Kelly Lenz, farm broadcaster

“The captain of the ship wants to see you.” That statement could sound a little ominous – like being called to the principal’s office. In this case, the summons was an indication of the remarkable listener connections which one particular farm broadcaster established through the years. This encounter demonstrated how this farm broadcaster was so important to his audience through his decades of service.

Kelly Lenz recently retired as farm director of WIBW radio in Topeka. His retirement marks almost 50 years of a radio career.

Kelly Lenz

Kelly grew up on a farm in Iowa, listening to the radio in the milking parlor. When he was 10 years old, Kelly got a transistor radio for Christmas. “I would climb under the covers, turn on the AM band, and tune in to different stations from all over. It opened a whole new world to me,” he said.

Kelly decided to pursue radio as a career, did his broadcast training in Minnesota, and got a job as news director at a station in Illinois. “The news department was me and a cat,” he said. Kelly filled in when the farm director was gone and found he liked the work.

Kelly became full-time farm director and was working his way up through the ranks of farm broadcasting when WIBW called and wanted him to apply for the job in Topeka.  He turned them down – twice. “The third time they didn’t call – they sent a plane ticket,” Kelly said.

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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Terri Anderson, SlideonInn Horse Hotel

“I’d like a non-smoking room for one night, please – with plenty of prairie hay in it.” That probably doesn’t sound like a typical request at your local lodging establishment. It demonstrates the unique needs of someone traveling with horses.

When going across country with a horse in a trailer, that equine can’t just check into the room next to you at the motel. Today we’ll meet a rural Kansas woman who has built a business by hosting equestrian travelers.

Terri Anderson is the founder and owner of the SlideonInn Horse Hotel near Goodland. Terri grew up at Oberlin. Her parents had been involved with horses, but her dad was killed in a tractor accident when she was little.

“I begged my mom for a horse every single day,” Terri said. “She finally gave in. I think she figured I would get tired of doing chores pretty quickly, but it didn’t work.”

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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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