“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Down the main street of town comes the Christmas parade, including a combine covered in Christmas lights. That’s a sure sign that this is happening in rural Kansas. Along the parade route, shops are open late – including a gift shop owned by an innovative young Kansas couple. In small town Kansas, wouldn’t it be nice if we could do our holiday shopping in a local business? For example, right next door? Today we’ll learn about this couple in rural Kansas who has opened a convenient gift shop – and it is literally named Next Door. This is a special holiday edition of Kansas Profile.
Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University writes Kansas Profile. The weekly posts highlight individuals or companies in rural Kansas who are making a difference to their community and state.
The Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is a public / private partnership between Kansas State University and the Huck Boyd Foundation. The mission of the institute is to help rural people help themselves. Learn more at www.huckboydinstitute.org.