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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: LeAnn Clark/Laurie Curtis, Ethiopia Reads

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

“I cannot see, but I have a vision.” That statement from a blind educator in Ethiopia might introduce a visionary program through which rural Kansans are helping encourage literacy halfway around the globe.

Mobile Ethiopian library supported by Ethiopia Reads
Mobile Ethiopian library supported by Ethiopia Reads

LeAnn and Stan Clark and Laurie Curtis shared the story of this innovative nonprofit organization known as Ethiopia Reads. They told about Jane Kurtz, the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, who had grown up in Ethiopia where her father was a missionary pilot.  Jane moved back to the United States, married a Presbyterian minister, and became a children’s book writer. Several of her books drew on her years growing up in Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian refugee in the U.S. came across her books and was touched. He contacted Jane and encouraged her to develop literacy in Ethiopia and send children’s books there. That was the beginning of Ethiopia Reads.

Jane Kurtz received a grant from North Dakota Presbyterian churches to gather books and send them to Ethiopia. She and her husband later moved to be near his parents at Moundridge, where they met LeAnn Clark. Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: LeAnn Clark/Laurie Curtis, Ethiopia Reads”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Lyndsi Oestman, Loma Vista Nursery

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

From pitches to plants. From hardballs to hibiscus. From the strike zone to the root zone. Those phrases are a way of describing the transition made by a Major League Baseball player who, with his daughter, has developed one of the leading plant nurseries in the nation.

Lyndsi Oestman is vice president of Loma Vista Nursery in Ottawa, Kansas. She shared this remarkable story.

Lyndsi’s dad, Mark Clear, grew up in California where he worked at his best friend’s family’s avocado ranch. Mark enjoyed tree pruning and avocado picking. He also enjoyed baseball. In fact, he was such a good player that he was drafted into Major League Baseball as a pitcher.

While being developed in the minor leagues, he was playing in Des Moines when he met the young woman who would become his wife. He went on to a 17-year major-league career, serving as a two-time all-star relief pitcher for the California Angels, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.

Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Lyndsi Oestman, Loma Vista Nursery”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Lea Ann Seiler, Hodgeman County makerspace

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

Here comes a package of nasal swabs, important tools in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. These aren’t from some government stockpile or overseas supplier. They were manufactured on a 3D printer, as part of a project inspired by an economic development specialist in rural, southwest Kansas.

Lea Ann Seiler
Lea Ann Seiler

Lea Ann Seiler is the economic development director in Hodgeman County. She grew up near Manhattan, attended Riley County High School and then K-State, where she met and married her husband Gary. They moved to Hodgeman County where Gary became the ag teacher and they started their family. In 2008, Lea Ann became economic development director.

Among many other projects, Hodgeman County participated in the NetWork Kansas Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. “I saw that our kids, and even our local businesses, needed access to tools and supplies which they could use for projects,” Lea Ann said. Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Lea Ann Seiler, Hodgeman County makerspace”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Alicia Boor, Great Bend virtual farm show

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

Let’s go to a farm show. We’ll see lots of vendors, hear speakers with the latest information, and learn about various products. But wait, we can’t do that. There’s a pandemic and a stay-at-home order in place.

What if we could participate in a farm show and do so virtually and safely, from the comfort of our homes? Today we’ll learn about a community which accomplished exactly that.

Great Bend virtual farm show exhibit
Great Bend virtual farm show exhibit

Alicia Boor is one of the agriculture and natural resources agents for the K-State Research and Extension Cottonwood District, serving Barton and Ellis counties. She grew up in Dodge City, earned an animal science degree, and got a job as a zookeeper for rare breeds of livestock at the Sedgwick County Zoo before joining extension. Her extension position enabled Alicia and her husband to move to her husband’s hometown of Hoisington in Barton County. Hoisington is a rural community of 2,706 people. Now, that’s rural. Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Alicia Boor, Great Bend virtual farm show”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Haley Stratmeier, Tonja’s Toffee

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

“That tastes so good, you should sell it!” Perhaps you’ve heard that phrase when someone shares a delicious treat. Today we’ll learn about a family which took that statement seriously, and their product became the basis of a remarkable business. Last week we met Phyllis Cheney, whose flower shop in Chapman sells various products including Tonja’s Toffee. The toffee is delicious, but the backstory is bittersweet. It involves a remarkable product made by a remarkable woman who battled cancer for many years. Now her family is continuing her legacy.

Tonja’s Toffee
Tonja’s Toffee

Tonja, the founder of this business, grew up in Scott County. She met Alan Williams at a church barbecue and the two married. She became a farm wife and teacher, raising four children.

As a little girl, Tonja had enjoyed making toffee with her mother Carrie Marion. Tonja continued making toffee as she grew older and tweaked the family recipe to make it her own.

After Tonja married and became a teacher, she would bring her homemade toffee in to school during the holidays. Her friends raved about it. “That tastes so good, you should sell it,” they would say. Tonja would modestly decline. Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Haley Stratmeier, Tonja’s Toffee”

Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Hayes Kelman, Boot Hill Distillery

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

“If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade. If life gives you coronavirus, then make hand cleanser.” Of those two statements, you may have heard the first, but you probably have not heard the second. But that is a way of describing the strategic change that has been made by an entrepreneurial company in rural Kansas, in response to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Boot Hill Distillery hand cleansers
Boot Hill Distillery hand cleansers

Hayes Kelman is the founder and CEO of this company which is now producing hand cleanser for free distribution to the public. The company is Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City.

Hayes is a fifth-generation farmer in western Kansas. According to the distillery website, he “has always looked for … new uses for the grain he grows.” Hayes was seeking innovative alternative uses for his corn, other than cattle feeding or ethanol fuel. His solution might be considered coming full circle, given Dodge City’s history as a Wild West town with saloons dispensing whiskey. Continue reading “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Hayes Kelman, Boot Hill Distillery”

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: 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”