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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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: 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: 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: 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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