Chapter 45 — The Social Register

March 29, 2012

Mayor Combs was rushed to KU Med Center on Tuesday, where doctors performed surgery to unblock three of his arteries. He is doing well, according to Marie, but he’s concerned that he won’t be able to do any more campaigning before the election next Tuesday. Don’t worry, Mr. Mayor, we’ve got this.

As part of their campaigns for Town Council,Billy Thornton and Ralph Thompson had a debate on Saturday in the Courthouse Square. It was attended by two people who were passing through Walnut Shade on their way to Topeka, and a stray dog, later taken to Dr. Cramer’s kennel. There is no indication how the dog will be voting.

H. Walker Lewis, president of the Kansas Historical Society, was in town on Monday to unveil the historical marker place near the site of Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop. Les Derby, as mayor pro-tem, accepted the marker on behalf of the town. Rodney Dane was recognized as Henry’s great-great grandson.

Glenda Singleton accompanied her sister-in-law, Jennifer Singleton, to Leawood on Monday to drop off a group of Jennifer’s photos at a gallery. She’ll have a show there beginning in May. Glenda also picked up a few copies of the 435 magazine that included one of her poems in a feature on Flint Hills artists and writers.

Phyllis Dane reports that the Miller County Master Gardeners have completed plans for their spring garden tour, which will feature gardens in Fremont, Longwood, and Parkersburg. The fall theme was “Contemplation” and the spring design concept will be “Anticipation.” The tour will be the weekend of May 4 and 5 and tickets will be available the Extension Center in Fremont and at garden shops around the county.

Jeff Cornett, Don’s brother who lives in Steamboat Springs, has recovered from his injuries suffered when his front porch collapsed from the weight of the snow they received in late January. Don says that Jeff won’t be skiing for a while yet, but hopes to get on the slopes one last time before the season closes in a couple of weeks.

Miss Cecelia Davenport had lunch with Hazel and Millie Bradford on Tuesday. Miss Cecelia hasn’t been out of the house much lately. She twisted her ankle shoveling snow a couple of weeks ago and Dr. Oswald advised her to stay off it while it healed.

Daphne Wolfe’s piano students will give their first recital on Sunday at the First Baptist Church. There will be a reception afterwards and everyone is welcome.

Ruth Stanford, Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Anna Brady played cribbage on Tuesday at Walnut Rest. The Mahjong tiles are still missing despite a facility-wide search, but the group is enjoying the change of pace with new games. Lori says that if the tiles are not located, they will be forced to play blackjack one of these weeks.

Eddy Barnett is still smarting from her Missouri Tigers’ loss to Norfolk State in the first round of March Madness. Jeff, on the other hand, has been celebrating, and trying not to gloat, about his Jayhawks progress through the tournament. He is particularly anticipating the championship game between KU and UK.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met on Monday and enjoyed a program on “The Four Rs of Public Speaking.” Members of the Club, over the years, have been very successful in that category at county and state contests.

Eric Weston was in town last week, taking a break from his work on Rizzoli and Isles. He has been casted in an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles that he things will air in November or December.

After a great deal of persuasion by the members of the Altar Society, Dorothy Westover has agreed to rejoin the committee, but not as chair for now.

Harry and Pamela Harris, Inez’s nephew, visited on Sunday from Marysville. After lunch, they took a walk around the park and enjoyed the unusually mild weather. The high on Sunday was 78 degrees.

Al and Carol Higgs’ son, Rusty, was in town for Sunday dinner. Besides the opening of his salt manufacturing plant in May, Rusty had some big news for his parents: he’s getting married! His long-time partner, Josh Graves, said “Yes” and a small June wedding in Carmel is planned.

I’d love to spend June in Carmel, but chances are this is where…

I’ll remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


If any more historic markers are placed in Walnut Shade, the whole town may have to be declared a historic site. In fact, there has been considerable talk since the Main Street designation that a large part of the town might be nominated. With the recognition of Henry Dane’s shop, there are now four markers in town or right outside.

The first marker was placed about a quarter mile north of the confluence of Walnut Creek and the Vermillion River, a site that was once called Donner Crossing, to commemorate the point at which that ill-fated band of pioneers commenced their journey west (the site was renamed Walnut Shade when the town was platted; when a town was formed four miles up the Vermillion, it was named Donner Crossing, though it had no connection to the wagon train).

A similar maker was placed just outside of Walnut Shade on the eastern edge of town to identify the site of the encampment of many other wagon trains who stopped here in the 1840s and ‘50s. Hundreds of wagons on the California, Oregon and Mormon trails passed through or close by Walnut Shade. In our park, you can still see some of the ruts the wagons wheels made.

The third plaque is located in Courthouse Square to recognize that it was part of the parkway designed by John Charles Olmsted and his firm; to remember that the Square was once the site of the Miller County seat of government; and, to point out that it is the only circular “Square” in the state, a distinction that baffles many geographers and geometers.

There was a minor bit of controversy when the idea of the latest historical marker was proposed: the Kansas Historical Society objected to the idea of placing a marker in front of a convenience store. I’ll explain that in a moment.

It seems that the site for the marker has been several businesses over the years, besides the blacksmith shop. When Henry gave up blacksmithing in 1861, the shop was added onto and served for many years as a stables for several townspeople who lived within a block or two. Visitors to town staying at the hotel left their horses and buggies there. It was called Walnut Shade Feed and Tackle until it was sold to Lucian Bradford who operated a cider press in the front and stored his apples in the back awaiting shipping to other locales. He also managed a farmers’ cooperative market for many years there. A fire in 1901 effectively put Bradford out of business and the building was mostly demolished, with only a couple of the original walls left standing. The Bradfords sold the lot and what was left of the building to Lyle Stanford who erected a new building that held another the farmers’ cooperative market until just before the First World War. Many local farmers withdrew from the cooperative during the recession of 1913-1914 and Stanford was left with a building that housed nothing.

Stanford was shrewd businessman in spite of his setbacks. He had seen that the future of transportation in eastern Kansas was no longer the horse and buggy but that newfangled invention: the automobile. Stanford first talked to Ransom Olds in 1904 about setting up an Oldsmobile dealership in Walnut Shade, but they weren’t able to come to terms, so he turned his attention to Henry Ford, who was building his automobile assembly plant in Detroit. The first Model Ts rolled off the assembly line in 1908 and by 1910, Stanford had opened his Ford sales and repair shop in the building that had once housed one of the first blacksmith shops in Kansas.

Lyle Stanford turned his dealership over to his son, Rans in March, 1929 (Rans had been born during Lyle’s negotiations with Ransom Olds; Lyle later said that he would have named him Edsel had he been born later or had Ford agreed to grant him a dealership earlier). In October of that year, of course, the stock market collapsed and by the following fall, automobile sales around the area had declined to the point that Rans was forced to close the business. Once again, there was an empty building on First Street, occupied intermittently by a tobacco warehouse; a store collecting and selling clothing, furniture, used appliances to people experiencing falling or no wages; a cooperative soup kitchen; and, a “revival” church.

In 1935, the Federal government established the Works Progress Administration and leased the building to be the local site of both projects being undertaken through the Civilian Conservation Corp and the WPA. The CCC had already been working in Miller County, having begun the flood  control project on Walnut Creek east of town, and the courthouse annex in Fremont. When the WPA began operating, several roads in Miller County were paved, the reservoir and park at Willow Springs was completed and the shelter in Walnut Shade park was built.

The WPA was also responsible, through its Federal Project Number One, for support of many artists, writers, actors and musicians in the area. The Opera House was renovated during this time and hosted many musical and theatrical performances. The Post Office mural was painted by Birger Sandzen and Johnson Arne created the sculpture of Hermes and Athena in the courthouse square.

With the advent of World War II, most of the Federal programs created to ease unemployment caused by the Depression came to an end.  Once again, Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop, or what remained of it, was empty. During the war it was used as a collection point for newspaper, tin, used rubber and tires, waste kitchen fats (used in making munitions), steel, lumber, and scrap metals of all kinds. After the war, Rans Stanford, who had maintained tenuous ownership of the building, opened a used car dealership on the vacant lot next door and operated a repair shop with his brother, Lyle, Jr. When Rans died in 1975, ownership passed to Lyle, Jr. and eventually to Lyle’s two sons. The used car dealership ceased operating in 1990 and the two lots at the corner of First and Fremont were sold to Fred Tucker, who had secured a Stop and Go franchise. In keeping with the times, Fred razed the building and erected a modern convenience store on the site. His decision to do so was met with a great deal of opposition in the community. There was much sentiment for keeping at least the portion of the building that had survived from Henry Dane’s time, but we all knew it wasn’t really practical to do that. Fred was getting pressure from the Stop and Go headquarters to move forward and as an accommodation to the historians in town, a wall of drawings and photos was added showing the evolution of the corner.

The fight over the site eventually died down, until the Main Street/Pride committee began working to  rejuvenate the downtown. As so often happens, new ideas collide with old norms but by then the Stop and Go’s “convenience store modern” architecture was considered settled style. After many, many, many discussions, the committee and Fred came to an understanding about how his store fit into the revitalization plans and that was when the notion of the placing a historical marker on the site was born. The application to the Kansas Historical Society for the marker was rejected twice and had it not been for the intervention of Rodney Dane, Hazel and Millie Bradford, and Ruth Stanford, all descendants of owners of the site across the years, a third application would have also been turned down. Inez Harris also got behind the effort, and in part because of her connections in Topeka, it finally succeeded.

So, the marker was placed this week and this is the text of another important addition to our community, standing proudly in front of the Stop and Go:

Henry Dane’s Blacksmith Shop

In 1847, Henry Dane was traveling with a wagon train heading to the west on the Oregon Trail. By the time the travelers reached their intended crossing of the Vermillion River, several of the wagons had suffered a variety of mechanical failures and were in need of repair. Dane had been a blacksmith in St. Louis and had brought many of his tools, and his considerable experience, with him, intending to open a business in California. Seeing a need and an opportunity, he decided to delay his journey, for a few months he thought, in order to assist his fellow pioneers on their trek. As it turned out, Dane liked the area so much, and had become so successful in his trade, that he decided to stay, and with a few other travelers, established the town of Walnut Shade.

By the start of the Civil War, Dane had sold his shop to another local businessman, Lucian Bradford who operated the Walnut Shade Feed and Tackle for many years. As horses and buggies gave way to the automobile, the building became the site of the first Ford sales and repair dealership in eastern Kansas. Through the Depression and the Second World War, the original building saw many changes and finally in 1990, it was demolished for the construction of a modern convenience store. While the original building is gone, this site still honors the frontier blacksmith shop that began life here.


Over a Bach’s Lunch of chicken salad salad (not to be confused with Jerry Hall’s chicken salad sandwich, not that anyone would ever confuse the two), Glenda Singleton and I talked about how what used to be called “society magazines” have become the big town versions of small town correspondents’ columns. Any town the size of say, Manhattan, has its own publication, purportedly created to give readers an in-depth look at some of the things going on in the community. Topeka’s, for example, bills itself as the  “Premier magazine on people, places and style” and the version in St. Joesph runs features on the local college, gardening, food, and new businesses. Nearly every suburb surrounding Kansas City has its own magazine, each city there trying desperately to set itself apart from its neighbors.

“I was a bit surprised that the one that runs stories about what’s happening south of I-435 in Leawood and Overland Park accepted my poem, but they were doing a piece about day-trips in eastern Kansas and it fit into their formula,” Glenda explained. “And they all do have a formula, it seems.”

There are a couple of the magazines in the Kansas City area that are strictly about goings on in the world of “high society,” such as The Independent, proudly published since 1899. As its says, if you read The Independent, you’ll be able to “stay informed and abreast of the myriad of balls, galas and non-profit events that happen in Our Town every year,” but you won’t find much discussion of politics or social issues in it unless one of the spouses of a local politician hosts a brunch or afternoon tea to raise money for a worthy cause.

The other glossy magazines (and they are very glossy) usually have a feature on a notable garden or landscaping project; a remodel of a house that has some local heritage; an event, such as an art show, race, ribbon-cutting, or gala that supports other local charities or organizations; some sort of piece about fashions of the current or upcoming season; tips on where to travel; and a celebration of the opening of a new, usually trendy, business. All of this is really just the framework for the same kind of things that I report on every week here in  Walnut Shade. Look closely and you’ll find who visited whom; who took a trip to where; who had morning coffee/lunch/afternoon coffee/dinner with whom; who is/was in the hospital/recovering from an illness/died; what big events took place and who attended those; what celebrities came back to visit; whose son/daughter/grandson/granddaughter just got accepted to college/made the dean’s list/graduated/got a job; whose story/poem/book/work of art just got published/shown; who moved into town/out of town; where people when on their vacation/holiday; who played bridge/bingo/Mahjong/Parcheesi/Dungeons and Dragons with whom (although I’ve never reported on that last one around here; I suppose I’m not really that in tune with the generation playing those sorts of games; something to work on, probably).

It’s really important to be included in those big-town magazine on a regular basis. It’s part of the sorting process of determining who is important and who isn’t in the community. For small towns, like Walnut Shade, being included is just a natural occurrence because everyone here knows their place already and doesn’t have to compete for a higher spot on the social register. In fact, there really is no social register here and the spots would all be pretty much the same if there were. That is not to say that folks don’t want to see themselves in the column. Oh, indeed they do.

“Jessica [Glenda’s daughter] was disappointed last week when you forgot to mentioned that she was chosen to represent the 4-H club at the state meeting in Manhattan,” Glenda reminded me.

Jessica is only eleven, but she already knows that there is some currency, as small as it might be around here, in being able to point to her name and say to her friends, “See, that’s me.”


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Chapter 43 — The Ides of March

March 15, 2012

Last week’s Town Council meeting was attended by almost everyone in town, it seems. Mayor Combs and Lois Thompson announced that the Post Office has been given a reprieve and will remain open indefinitely. In addition, in early April the cleaning and repair of Birger Sandzen’s mural will begin. An art conservator from Chicago, with whom the USPS has contracted to do that task, will be in town for up to six months. This is the great news we’ve been hoping for! The Post Office is, in many ways, the heart of the town.

Sally Oswald wants to thank everyone for the response so far to the “Ides of Merch” promotion. Downtown businesses are having terrific pre-season sales and that impromptu toga party that circulated between Book Ends and Jody Tyler’s shop was great fun. We are, however, glad that Billy Thornton is still in New York with Dorothy. Billy in a toga is not something anyone wants to see again.

Teresa Duffy reminds folks that samples of their new ice cream flavors will be available through the weekend. So far, “Walnut, Walnut, Walnut” has been the big hit.

Bison burgers have been on the menu at Shirley’s this week and she says that they’ve been selling better than her hotcakes.

Dr. Cramer has several new dogs in his kennels, brought in as strays. Two have expired microchips. Please stop in and see if you recognize any of them. Dr. Cramer says he will waive any adoption fees for the next couple of weeks.

The Singleton clan was in full-throated support in Kansas City on Thursday to cheer on the Wildcats against Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament. Unfortunately, the Cats fades down the stretch and lost 82 to 74. One treat for everyone, Wildcat or Bear, was seeing Eric Stonestreet in the stands. At the half, he played a couple of songs with the pep band. Hannah was thrilled to get Eric’s autograph.

The Singleton’s weren’t the only fans from Walnut Shade to make the trip to Kansas City. The Barnetts were there for Friday night’s match between KU and Baylor, and the Saturday championship game between Mizzou and Baylor. Eddy celebrated her Tiger’s win in their final basketball game in the Big 12.

Lucille and Sheila Miller drove to Topeka to have lunch and go to Marling’s Furniture. Lucille is looking for a new dining room set and Sheila wants to replace her refrigerator. The ice maker finally quit working and Sheila says that Tom just can’t get along without ice cubes. He’s been walking to the Stop and Go to get a bag of ice every couple of days, but Sheila thinks it’s more about spending time with some of the other retired guys who sit and drink coffee there when Shirley’s is closed in the afternoon.

Jerry Hall took a break from cooking at the Convent on Monday and he and Susan drove to St. Joe to visit his parents.

Barb and Bruce Wilson had lunch with Frank and Sarah Brown on Sunday.

Sue Brady went to Chillicothe, Missouri, last Friday to visit her mother, Doris Mays. Sue is helping her and her aunt, Allene Richards, plan the Mays family reunion. Sue says that her mother has located nearly a hundred relatives through emails and Facebook. “I had no idea my mom was on Facebook. She hasn’t friended me, for some reason. I guess she thinks our weekly phone calls are enough.”

Mike and Elaine Brown met Marshall and Marie Green at the AMC theater in Leawood on Saturday to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D. Mike and Marshall saw the movie while Elaine and Marie shopped at Town Center Plaza. It was the best of both worlds, according to Marie.

The Dixieland Stompers have been invited to play at the Roots Festival in August in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield in September. You can also hear them at most of the county fairs in this area, this summer.

Stuart Goddard’s company, Prairie Solutions, has begun marketing “Game of Sims,” an MMORPG, whatever that is. We are sure that he will explain it to us one of these days.

Alvin Begley reminds folks that the VFW will have a ham and bean supper on Friday night, March 23. Proceeds go to pay off the cost of the repairs of the electrical problems that happened back in January.

Harold Reece and a couple of his students were in town on Monday and Tuesday searching through some of the documents at the library. Dr. Reece teaches anthropology and archeology at Wichita State and he is going to be starting an excavation at the site of what was once the town of Scoville in southeast Miller County.

Daphne Wolfe says that all of the spots for new piano students have been taken. She’s very proud of her returning students who she can tell have been practicing over the winter break.

Lori Mendenhall spent a couple of days getting her garden shed ready for spring. Her sister, Lois, came on Tuesday and she filled in for Anna Brady for Mahjong. Anna had to take Frank to see Dr. Oswald that day. It seems Frank reached for a jar of olives on the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets and pulled a muscle in his back. Frank, we know exactly how that goes. We’ve pulled our back just tying our shoes.

And finally, I’m sure that no one will forget, but Saturday night is the big Erin Go Bragh dinner at the elementary school. Dorothy Westover will unveil the 100th Anniversary Cookbook. The food will be plentiful and the music will make us think we are back in Ireland once again. It will be a wonderfully memorable evening.

So, until next week, when I hope to have recovered from stuffing myself with all the great food at the dinner, I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


March 15 is known as the Ides of March, the date in the Roman calendar upon which one is supposed to settle his or her debts. The date has become notable for us because that is purported to be the day that Caesar was assassinated, perhaps the harshest example of debt-settling in history.

Besides what happened to Caesar in 44 BC, March, 1927, was a particularly unlucky month for the town of Scoville, which was once located in southeastern Miller County. The month started with largest snowfall ever recorded in northeast Kansas: twenty-eight inches in six hours, and when it ended fifteen hours later, it had dumped more than four feet of heavy, wet snow on the town; it took five days for anyone to get into or out of town, partly because a wild swing in the weather sent the temperature soaring to 82 degrees, causing the snow to melt and turn the roads in the town into muddy, impassible  tracks. The few cars and trucks in town were stranded and even horse-drawn wagons were not able to negotiate the streets. Food supplies ran low and people had to rely for a few days on the what they had canned or cured in the fall. Then on 15th, the Ides, the town was literally wiped from the face of the earth by an F-4 tornado. At the time, there were only seventy-three people living in Scoville and miraculously, no one was killed.

I mentioned earlier that the John Steuart Curry painted a lot of his most famous scenes based on his experiences here. The tornado that struck outside Walnut Shade, depicted in his painting, Tornado Over Kansas, was the one that moved on to strike Scoville. When people returned to the town, they found almost nothing there except a few stone foundations. It was as if a massive bulldozer had come through the town, pushed it into some gigantic hole and covered it with soil. People from as far away as Cameron, Missouri, found items that were identified as belonging to Scoville residents. A woman in St. Joseph found a letter that a man had written to his wife from France during World War I. A picture of a Scoville couple taken on their wedding day was found in a farmer’s field near Atchison. The license plate from a Scoville man’s truck was found embedded in a tree in Valley Falls, but there was no sign of the rest of the truck anywhere.

People took what had happened to Scoville in the space of just a few days as a sign that the town should be abandoned. The few residents of the town went to live with family and friends in other parts of Kansas; some left the state and made new lives for themselves in California or Oklahoma or back east. The land upon which Scoville had stood was sold to surrounding farmers and after a few years, you would not have known there had ever been a community there. Stones from the foundations were hauled off to be used in other buildings or fences, and whatever scrap metal that could be salvaged was used in ways that frugal rural folks have always used salvaged items.

Over the years, Scoville has nearly faded from memory. It shows up on maps of Kansas before 1927, but not afterwards. It is only mentioned as having been in the WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas. Some new histories of the state discuss the tornado that leveled the town, but don’t name Scoville as the place it happened.

But recently, two things have taken place that have brought Scoville back into the news: the descendants of some of the residents of Scoville have petitioned the Kansas Historical Society to erect a plaque to memorialize where the town once stood; and, a new translation of accounts of Coronado’s travels into what is now Kansas provides some evidence that the area around what was once Scoville might have been a settlement connected with the lost city of Etzanoa.

Scoville was named after Malcolm Scoville, who founded the town in 1845, a year after Walnut Shade. Malcolm had emigrated from Scotland in 1838 at the age of nineteen and settled in Philadelphia. As a Quaker, he was deeply religious and deeply committed to peace. He was troubled by what he read about the way the U.S. government was treating the indigenous populations as settlers moved west and he founded a newspaper in Philadelphia in order to bring news from the frontier to the east. He sent out reporters to discover what was taking place, but eventually he decided that he should see the events firsthand. Four five years, he traveled through the upper Midwest and what was then called Unorganized Territory, which included the current states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

After one of these trips, he determined that he could be of more use championing the cause of the native Indian population if he were closer to the source of the trouble and he moved to a small unnamed village just east of Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop. At the time, there were only nine inhabitants of the village, which was actually more of an encampment, since the people were planning to pull up stakes and head west in a few months. Scoville built a house and shop and had his printing press shipped west from Philadelphia. From 1848 to 1863, Scoville printed a newspaper called the Voice of the Plains, which not only recounted the interactions between the Indians and people moving west, but it also became a champion for emancipation causes in the territories. Scoville’s town grew, but his outspoken criticism of the pro-slavery factions in eastern Kansas and Missouri put it in the middle of one of the raids that Quantrill’s “bushwackers” made into Miller County. Quantrill and his Confederate guerrilla band had just sacked Lawrence, Kansas, killing 150 men and boys, when word reached Scoville that they were headed his way. He and and the other townspeople evacuated and hid in surrounding fields and woods until the raiders had left the area. When they returned to Scoville, they found most of the town destroyed and Malcolm’s newspaper office reduced to rubble. He was never able to successfully reestablish his newspaper, but stayed in the town he built for another twenty-seven years, writing articles, essays and books that his son James published in San Francisco.

Malcolm and his wife Sarah, had three sons: Peter, born in 1840; Thomas, in 1842; and, James, in 1845. Peter stayed in Miller County and became a successful farmer. He was elected to the state legislature three times and narrowly lost in an election for governor. He and his wife Anna had no children and when Peter died, Anna sold the farm and moved back to Illinois to be near her family.

James went west and settled in San Francisco. He married Elizabeth Nichols in 1863 and they had three daughter and two sons. Thomas moved to Philadelphia and became active in Quaker meetings there. He and his wife, Dorothy, had two sons. The extended families of Malcolm and Sarah were concentrated on the east and west coasts and it wasn’t until one of the great-great-great-granddaughters began compiling a family tree that the connection to Kansas and the lost town of Scoville became apparent. Sarah Scoville-Henserling contacted many of the far-flung cousins and they in turn contacted the Kansas Historical Society about the placement of a historical marker. Word has it that the marker will be erected sometime in 2013 and I’m sure there will be a big gathering of the Scoville clan as well as local folks who have heard the story of Malcolm Scoville and his town.


The second bit of news involving Scoville and much of this area is that new excavations are going to be starting in the fall at several sites in what has been called Quivira Norte, an area that extends from the confluence of the Vermillion River and Walnut Creek, just west of Walnut Shade, to just east of Scoville. It is a large area, but one that has yielded many artifacts over the years. The land known as the Scoville farm, once owned by James and Anna, has been the most productive. The current owner, Mark Wright, has a large collection of pottery, stone tools and arrowhead unearthed from his fields. Rusty Higgs, whose bison ranch is between Walnut Shade and the site of Scoville, has a room in his house devoted to artifacts that his grandfather and father collected over the years. People are always finding flints and arrowheads in their backyard gardens and occasionally, complete pots will be uncovered. A few people have donated their collections to museums in the area and the courthouse in Fremont has a couple of display cases filled with some of the most interesting items.

I had a fascinating talk with Dr. Harold Reece a few days ago about the possibility that Quivira Norte might be connected to the legendary city of Etzanoa that Coronado was searching for in the 1540s. He’s in town gathering information for his fall excavations.

“Just recently, scholars at Berkeley retranslated some documents that described the Spanish explorations in Kansas. What those accounts indicated was that there were several large settlements throughout the area, from what is now Wichita to perhaps as far north as Omaha,” Dr. Reece explained.

One of those settlements, called Etzanoa, was the home to as many as 20,000 people. The Spanish had come looking for gold and had instead found a complex society where the inhabitants grew corn, squash, and beans, and hunted the bison that were abundant on the plains. They were artisans that not only made pottery that was utilitarian, but also decorative, and they traded with surrounding tribes on what appears to be a routine basis. Three hundred years before the Europeans began to settle this area, these people had what might aptly be called an urban society.

“The data we are gathering from these digs is rewriting our history and giving us a greater understanding of what was happening on the continent before it was invaded by the white man. I know we don’t want to think of it that way, but that is exactly what took place. We didn’t settle this area; it was already settled.”

Dr. Reece is appropriately passionate about his work and about what he and his students are finding. Walnut Shade is connected to the past in so many ways, not the least of which is what was happening here before Henry Dane and Malcolm Scoville decided this would be a good place to be. These new discoveries make us even prouder to call this place our home.


News from the Past:

Blue Valley, March 20, 1937 – After one of the driest falls and winters anyone around here can remember, a rain started falling on Tuesday and didn’t let up until Friday morning. Mrs. Oliver West reports that she  had twenty-two chickens drown in the downpours. Her neighbor, Mrs. Norris lost twelve and Mrs. Edmonds lost fourteen, and she says she hasn’t seen one of her cats for several days.

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Chapter 42 — A Bicycle Trip

March 8, 2012

Jeff Beck wants to let people know that he’s nearly caught up with bicycle repairs, but he hopes that folks don’t wait until the last minute to bring their bikes in before the GWSBAS race on April 1, since he’ll be riding in it again this year and won’t be able to make adjustments to your wheels and gears on that day like he did last year.

Sally Oswald reminds everyone of the upcoming “Ides of Merch” sale in downtown Walnut Shade beginning on Monday. She suggests everyone “Caesar the opportunity” for great bargains. “Et tu” can find just what you want. Sally also apologizes for the bad puns.

Lorene Roberts reminds farmers in Miller County that the Ag Census will conducted later this year, but the ASCS office will begin information and training sessions in April to ensure that everyone knows the purpose of the Census and how to fill out the forms. Specific dates will be available later this month and she’ll keep you posted.

Dorothy Norman heard from her son, Larry Duncan, that he has secured a lease on a storefront in Hawthorne Plaza in Leawood, Kansas, where he will open his latest Cafe Bonheur. This will be number twelve, but the first in the midwest, the others being in Seattle, Portland, Berkeley, San Francisco and Carmel.

Andrea Evans at Prairie Possessions is getting ready for summer gardens and will be stocking lots of statuary this year. Ralph Thompson, who thinks of himself as a marketing guru, says she should rename her shop “A Prairie Gnome Companion.” No word from Andrea on a name change.

Billy Thornton called from New York to say that he and Dorothy are having a great time. So far, they’ve been to Central Park, the Empire State Building and Murray’s Cheese. Billy says it’s early yet; they still haven’t found Studio 54.

Curt and Amanda Jackson went to the Rio in Overland Park on Sunday to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Curt says it was a terrific film and Amanda didn’t make him have raw fish afterwards; they went to Winsteads.

Lee Rogers sold another story plot last week. He says to look for it on NCIS in about a year.

Nora Evans spent Sunday with her uncle Ray and aunt Andrea. Nora goes to school at K-State, completing her master’s degree in English.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham’s daughter, Rosemarie and her husband Ted, came to visit on Saturday on their way to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament. Ted is hoping to see his alma mater, Iowa State in the finals this year.

Jody Tyler’s blog, “Prairie Prayers,” now has over 1,250 subscribers in eighteen states and six countries. She is exploring ways to turn her essays and poems into a book. She’s gotten some suggestions from Miss Cecelia Davenport, whose book, Elements of MY Style, is ranked number 75 in the Amazon “memoirs” category.

Lorene Robertson’s niece, Ginger Davis, who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, called to let her know that she’s going to be a great aunt in September. Congratulations, Lorene! We all know you will, indeed, be a great aunt!

Lucille Miller’s sister, Grace, who lives in Boise, Idaho, will be moving to Manhattan at the start of the fall semester to teach chemical engineering at K-State. Grace’s husband, Howard, will stay behind until their oldest daughter graduates from high school in 2019. Howard owns an on-line dental supply company, so relocating to Manhattan will be easy for him.

Mahjong was derailed last week when Ruth Stanford says someone at Walnut Rest misplaced the tiles. Instead, she, Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Anna Brady played Parcheesi. Ruth says it felt a bit strange to play a different game, but they all agreed that it was a nice change of pace.

Every now and then, a change of pace is good. I’m waiting for mine, but until then…

I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


Folks in Walnut Shade have been avid cyclists for quite some time. It all dates back to the day that Thomas Stevens rode his penny-farthing into town. I’ll get to that story in a bit, but first I need to take you to Beck’s Bikes. This is the time of the year when Jeff Beck is hoping to finish getting bikes ready for the spring and summer activities.

As soon as the snow melts, the kids around here, like kids everywhere are ready to hit the streets (sometimes literally) on their two- and four-wheelers, the latter being the youngest cyclists still on training wheels. The two-wheelers include a very few of those new freestyle scooters that the kids ride. Skateboards have never caught on in Walnut Shade, given the unevenness of the sidewalks and the narrowness of the streets. There was a town meeting several years ago at which the question of allowing skateboards on the sidewalks and streets was addressed. Some people in town thought that the town should ban the “contraptions” (you can probably guess the age of those folks), but the majority said “let them ride.” There was a suggestion that perhaps we should try to improve the sidewalks to make them safer for the skateboarders and for the older residents who have been known to trip on the parts that are heaved by tree roots or broken from some other cause. Theoretically, the sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owners, but the town council has been good about allocating a bit of money each year to fixing the worst of the offending slabs of concrete. The sidewalks along the parkway are in excellent shape and throughout most of the town, but there still are spots that you know you have to be extra observant when you walk there.

Anyway, as I said, skateboards haven’t caught on, nor have the scooters you see kids on in bigger towns. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation for the younger people and a recreational choice for lots of others. As hard as it is to imagine, there are actually two bicycle clubs in Walnut Shade, one devoted to mountain biking and one to over-the-road cycling, a la Tour de France. Jeff services them both and it keeps him busy most of the year. He prefers the Tour-type riding, himself, being a veteran of the RAGBRI (the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) and BAK (Bike Across Kansas). He and the eighteen members of the touring club have ridden in many, many charity events and Jeff sponsors other riders. It not unusual to see his logo, “Beck’s Bikes,” on t-shirts and riding gear throughout northeast Kansas.

The mountain bike club has fifteen members who ride all over the midwest in events that can best be described as periods of self-inflicted torture. Now Kansas isn’t known for mountains, the highest “peak” in the state being a little hill in the western part of the state known as Mount Sunflower. Actually, “hill” doesn’t really describe the geographic feature; it’s just a slight rise in the surrounding elevation. There are, however, other parts of the state where the terrain makes mountain biking a real challenge. The Cottonwood 200, for example, is a three-day, 200 mile ride through the Flint Hills, some of which follows the same paths used by Native Americans, settlers, and cattle drives. Some of the club members enter the Psycowpath Racing Series in Nebraska that has events all summer over some of the worst places you’d ever want to race. But they love it! Good thing they have health insurance.

The bicycle clubs make sure that they are not scheduled for races the weekend immediately preceding or following April 1 each year. That time is set aside for the GWSBAS (Greater Walnut Shade Bike Around the Square), a fund-raiser for the Main Street/Pride Committee and an annual chosen local charity. Riders collect pledges for the number of times they can make the circuit from the Square to the Park and back over the period of twenty-four hours. Of course, in fine Walnut Shade tradition, there are multiple stops for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, bathroom breaks, rest stops, tire repairs, gear repairs, changes of jerseys, interviews with local media (me) and the TV crews that come out from Topeka and St. Joe. The “race” starts at midnight on Friday night and ends at midnight on Saturday night. After a shower and few hours of sleep, riders are treated to breakfast at St. Brendan’s, now sponsored by Jason Glenn and Harry Singleton and cooked by Jerry Hall. After breakfast, there is an ecumenical church service at St. Stephen’s and lunch at the 1st Baptist Church. It’s quite a weekend for the riders and for the town.

Now, what precipitated this enthusiasm, fanaticism, almost religious fervor for bicycles in Walnut Shade? Well, we have to go back to the early summer of 1884 and the appearance of one Thomas Stevens in town on a “high wheeler” bicycle. Stevens, it seems was in the midst of a cross-country bicycle trip and Walnut Shade just happened to be along his route which followed the old Oregon Trail through the Plains. Stevens was born in England in 1854, but emigrated to the U.S. 1871 and settled with his family in Denver. They moved to San Francisco and it was there that Tom became fascinated with the large-wheeled “Ordinary.” As many young men at that time, he held a variety of jobs in and around San Francisco and elsewhere. For a bit, he manage a railroad mill in Wyoming and later went to Colorado to work in a mine. While in Colorado, he came up with the idea of riding a bicycle across the country. One wonders how that could have possibly occurred to him, working in the mine, but on a visit to his family back in San Francisco, he purchased a Columbia 50-inch “penny-farthing” (so nick-named because they resembled an English penny and a farthing, the former being a large coin, the latter, a small one; the penny-farthing, interestingly, was the first device to be called a bicycle) and set off on April 8, 1884 to ride across the country. Four months later, on August 4th, he arrived in Boston, having walked nearly a third of the way since improved roads were mostly unheard of at the time.

Soon after he left San Francisco, his adventure began to be chronicled in papers along the way. Stevens was something of a self-promoter and he made sure that people at his next stop knew that he was coming. In many of the towns that he rode through, he was met by local bicycle clubs and other “sporting enthusiasts,” as one paper put it. Word reached Walnut Shade a few days before he arrived, in time to organize a greeting party made up of the mayor and town council and Miller County dignitaries. The high school band greeted him with a few English songs, befitting his heritage and he was given a key to the city, which he respectfully refused, saying that he had to travel light and he was getting weighed down by all the medals and trinkets he was collecting along the way. One thing he did not refuse: a repair of his bicycle by Henry Dane, who owned the local blacksmith shop. Just outside St. Mary’s, he hit a rock that bent one of the spokes on his front wheel. He, in fact, walked the ten miles into Walnut Shade, rather than ride. It was a bit of a disappointing sight seeing him pushing his high-wheeler into town, but the repair was successful and the next day, the town saw him circle the park and the square before riding off towards Leavenworth.

Stevens recognized that his trip across the U.S. was something special and decided to keep it going by riding around the world. He secured a job as a correspondent for a magazine which sponsored his trip and bought him passage to Liverpool in April, 1885. From there he set off on a bicycle ride that would not end until he reached Yokohama, Japan on December 17, 1886. He later wrote a book about his experiences called, fittingly, Around the World on a Bicycle. The Pope Manufacturing Company of Boston, which built his cycle, preserved it until the Second World War when it was turned into scrap for the war effort, a rather ignominious end for a machine that saw more of the world than any other of any kind.

As if riding around the globe on a bicycle weren’t enough, Stevens also travels extensively after that, writing for magazines and publishing other books. He returned to England where he died at the age of 80 in 1934.

There is small stone marker in the park commemorating his visit, erected by one of the bicycle clubs that sprang up after he stopped in Walnut Shade. Every year, during the GWSBAS, someone tries to ride a penny-farthing but manages to only make it a few times around the course, a testament to what a monumental feat Thomas Stevens accomplished in his ride across the country and around the globe.


For a town this size, Walnut Shade seems to have a lot of authors to its name. I’m sure every kid who went to school in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s in Kansas remembers Wallace Williams, the historian who wrote Kansas, Now and Then, the textbook every one of us studied in the eight grade. Well, lots of us opened it, but I’m not sure study is the precise word for what we did with it. Wallace was a fixture in town for sixty years, dying on his 92 birthday in 1973. Almost every day until then, he could be found at the Shady Cafe, the predecessor of Shirley’s, working on one of his historical novels or a sketch of some little-known aspect of Kansas lore.

Sydney Street lived in Walnut Shade for a decade, from 1952 to 1963, while she wrote her murder mystery series set on golf courses around the world. The hero of the book, Sylvester Atkins was the caddy for Missy Foster, a wealthy amateur golfer and a presumed sleuth, while it was really Sylvester who did the sleuthing. Missy hobnobbed with the members of the country clubs she visited, playing golf, drinking and picking up clues that Sylvester followed to expose the perpetrators of the crimes. After completing eighteen books, each one named after a famous golf hole, Sydney moved to New Orleans and invested her money in a restaurant that went bankrupt after Hurricane Betsy hit the city in 1965. She was several times rumored to be moving back to Walnut Shade, but stayed in New Orleans and could often be seen at a table in Cafe Du Monde, drinking chicory coffee and eating beignets.

Perhaps the most famous author to emerge from Walnut Shade was Hiram Carothers, contributor to the National Geographic from 1888 to 1932. Hi, as he was known around town, was an explorer, photographer, scientist, and well-known playboy. His contributions to the magazine were often censored and always heavily edited. He had a knack for making the most mundane assignment scandalous. While the Governors of the Geographic tried to fire him several times for what they considered incidents that brought embarrassment to the Society, Hi’s stories were beloved by the readers and drew some of the most abundant praise. Members threatened to not renew their memberships if he were fired and the Governors always relented. Hi planned to return to Walnut Shade after he retired from the magazine, but he was killed when his plane went down in Borneo while he was on his way to the south Pacific to investigate the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Current authors are abundant in Walnut Shade. Miss Cecelia Davenport just published her memoir, Elements of MY Style, which is climbing up the Amazon charts. Jody Tyler’s blog is gaining readers every day and she is in the process of compiling her blog posts for a book. Glenda Singleton has published three books of poetry and is represented in six anthology collections. Her latest book will be hitting the shelves in April. Dorothy Westover is the author of six books on food and cooking and the editor of the last three Erin Go Bragh cookbooks, published by the Alter Society of St. Brendan’s Catholic Church. Dorothy’s most popular book is Cooking Prairie Chickens the Pioneer Way. Mark Sappington and his cousin, Stephen Sappington, are the co-authors of two books on the life and art of George Caleb Bingham and are currently doing research for a book about Alfred Jacob Miller, an artist who accompanied an expedition to the Rockies in 1837 and who made sketches in this area which were later turned into painting in his Baltimore studio. Miller County is named after him. Jason Glenn and Harry Singleton have published a book on home and garden design that was named one of the twenty-five most influential books of 2010 by Architectural Digest. Jerry Hall wrote a textbook while at K-State on the management of student food service. Tom and Michelle Clemons contributed a chapter to Staying in a B&B: Your Home Away from Home. Hal Dane will have a book based on his dissertation on the Oregon Trail published this fall by Yale University Press. Jeff Beck is the author of Bicycle Touring in the Midwest and contributes to a number of cycling magazines. And finally, Inez Harris has just finished her history of Walnut Shade and hopes to publish it this fall, just in time for Christmas presents for everyone on your list!

I hope I haven’t missed any current authors. If I have, I apologize and I’m sure I’ll hear from them. No one is bashful in this town and as Mark Twain said, they “…buy ink by the barrel.”


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Chapter 41- Billy and Dorothy Visit New York

March 1, 2012

This is a Leap Year and yesterday was the big day. Folk lore says that on February 29, women may propose marriage to men. We won’t name any names, but there is a certain young lady in town whom we all hope took advantage of the custom!

Mayor Combs is back on the job and he invites everyone to come to the next Town Council meeting. There will be a special announcement about the Post Office and the restoration of the WPA mural.

The Excelsior Book Club will meeting next Wednesday at Flossie Wentworth’s house. This month’s book was The Help. Sherri Brown will also lead a discussion of plans for “Walnut Shade Reads” for this fall.

Lance Graves, director of the Aeolian Acting Company, reminds local thespians that auditions will begin April 2 for the 2012 season. This year, the Company will stage Romeo and Juliet and A Very Potter Musical.

Two big community dinners are coming up in the next few weeks: the Erin Go Bragh potluck on the 17th and the Wizard of Oz dinner on the 24th. Dorothy Westover reports that our old friends, Connie Dover and Kelly Wertz, will provide music for the EGB dinner.

Harry Morris was spotted at the Miller County landfill last week, looking for items for his big art show at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City in May.

Inez Harris had a meeting with Governor Brownback in regard to the arts funding he is trying to delete from the budget. Inez reports that he is rethinking his decision. He may be the Governor, but Inez is Inez.

Dr. Cramer gave a lecture at the Vet School at K-State on treating chronic urinary tract infections in rescue animals.

The Barnett household was the site of a rather large party on Saturday afternoon. The final regular season game between KU and Mizzou provided immense drama and entertainment and ended as these thing so often have with a one-point difference in score, in overtime, no less. Everyone agreed it was a great game.

Gretchen Watkins called her parents on Sunday to let them know that she has been offered a post-doctoral fellowship at KU to continue her research on Transcendentalism in eastern Kansas before the Civil War. She’ll be moving to Lawrence with the start of the fall semester.

Glenda Singleton is hard at work on a new book of essays that highlights the contributions women made in education during the years just after the Second World War.

Principal Shannon Jeffries reminds parents that the spring elementary band concert will be held on Sunday, March 11 and that students are asked to wear western-type clothes in keeping with the musical theme of “Rodeo.”

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met on Monday and enjoyed a visit from Rhonda Graves, K-State’s International Exchange Coordinator, who told them about the opportunities to host a student from abroad. Several families in Walnut Shade have expressed an interest in hosting, perhaps this fall.

Lori Mendenhall has recovered from her bout with the flu and was able to join Anna Brady and Ruth Stanford to play Mahjong on Tuesday at Walnut Rest. This week, however, Ilene Wick was not feeling well, but hopes to be back with the girls in a week or two.

Hazel Bradford has bounced back from her cold and is making cookies for the Erin Go Bragh dinner. “Eight dozen, so far,” according to Millie.

Hazel, if there is nothing but your cookies at the dinner, that will be enough for me, but until then…

I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


I was sitting in Shirley’s on Tuesday morning with Mike O’Rourke and Ralph Thompson chatting about the KU-Mizzou game this past Saturday and whether it is last one we’ll ever see, now that Mizzou has departed for the SEC, when Billy Thornton walked in wearing what we used to call a “Full Cleveland”: polyester faux-denim leisure suit, white belt and white patent shoes.

“Ah, it’s a wondrous thing, it is,” Mike said in his unselfconsciously-affected Irish brogue (despite the name O’Rourke, Mike’s family was actually Greek; it seems that when his grandfather reached Ellis Island in 1902, the immigration official misunderstood him when he said that his name was Oriakus and wrote O’Rourke on his documents, so the family has been O’Rourke ever since and Mike has enthusiastically embraced his bureaucratically assigned nationality).

“Billy, Halloween isn’t for six month. What in the world are you doing in that get-up?” Ralph asked, laughing, after he finished wiping the coffee from his chin that had come spewing out seconds before.

“Dorothy and I are headed to the airport. Going to New York for a few days.” Billy began. “We haven’t been there since 1978. We went to Studio 56, you know.”

“I think that was Studio 54,” Mike said, also wiping coffee from the front of his shirt. “You went to Studio 54? And I’ll bet you wore that same outfit.”

“As a matter of fact, I did. Nobody gave me a second glance, there.”

“I suspect you are going to get a few strange looks this time around. New York has changed a bit since disco days.” Mike and Joyce, before they moved back to Walnut Shade in October, had lived in Brooklyn for several years where Mike was a policeman and Joyce worked at The New Yorker in Manhattan. Mike had risen to the position of captain in the 75th Precinct when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After thirty-five years in the big city, he took his retirement and they decided to move back to the “Little Apple” where they had graduated high school, but then Joyce’s mother died and left them a house in Walnut Shade that belonged to Joyce’s grandmother.

“Joyce had no idea that her mom owned the house here or who her real grandmother was. She thought her grandmother had died when her mom, Grace, was born. Apparently, her grandmother and her grandfather split up right after the birth and Grace was raised by her stepmother. Joyce’s mom found out who her real mother was sometime in the late 1950s. At the time Margaret Hart had been living in Walnut Shade since 1949. Grace and her mother reestablished their relationship and when Margaret died in 1962, Grace began taking care of the house, eventually renting it to Bill and Sandy Boyd until they moved to Walnut Rest last year. That’s when we found out about it and decided to move over here to make sure the house is preserved.”

In a few weeks, I’ll fill in the details of this story, but for now, let’s just say, “Ah, it is a wondrous thing, it is.”

But back to Billy for a moment.

“Dorothy is going to that big beauty supply convention she won on Facebook and I’m going to explore the city. We hung out a lot in Greenwich Village when we were there. Saw Elvis Costello at CBGB. Patti Smith was sitting in the back with… what was his name?”

“Robert Mapplethorpe,” Mike volunteered.

“Yeah, that’s right. Weird guy. But they were all weird,” Billy said, with a little bit of a grimace on his face.

“So why are you going back, especially looking like that?” Ralph asked.

“Oh, those were good times. Dorothy was a wild chic back then.”

Ralph almost did another spit-take, and he and Mike looked at each other in amused amazement, if there is such a thing.

“Billy, as long as I’ve known you, I’ve never heard you talk like this. What’s gotten into you?” Ralph was seriously perplexed.

“Well, you know sometimes, you just need to pretend you’re twenty-five again. Walnut Shade’s a great place to be seventy, but not a great place to be seventy going on twenty-five. People look at you strange.” Billy had a wistful tone to his voice.

“I guess we can all identify with that,” Mike said.

“I wish you old geezers would stop talking like that and just drink your coffee. You’re making we feel old,” Shirley said, refilling our cups for about the sixth time. Refills are free so we take advantage.

“Why, Shirley, you don’t look a day over…” Ralph began.

“Watch it; I’ve got a pot of hot coffee in my hand.”

“I was going to say thirty,” Ralph said, grinning.

“I knew you were losing your memory, Ralph, but now I know you’re losing your eyesight, too. But I appreciate the compliment.”

Shirley returned to her spot behind the counter and we all just kind of looked at each other, sensing there wasn’t anything else to say. We got up silently and left, walking as carefully as we could because, you know, at our age, broken hips…


News from the past:

Fremont, May 18, 1928 — Harry Willard, a mechanic at the Ford dealer, was slightly injured when the car he was attempting to steer into the company’s garage hit a rock and broke an axel on the way down the hill to the garage, throwing Mr. Willard from the car. The car then veered off and crashed into Mrs. Edythe White’s living room. Mrs. White was not at home at the time, but one of her cats was slightly hurt by a Fiesta pitcher which fell from a shelf and broke. Chief of Police Chester Pollard classified the incident as a “routine calamity.”

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Chapter 40 — The Correspondents’ Lunch

February 23

It’s been a slow news week in Walnut Shade and in Miller County generally. The boy’s basketball teams at both high schools have been losing the last couple of weeks after getting off to a great start. On the other hand, the girls’ teams have been winning against everyone. Congratulations to the girls and we hope for a resurgence of the boys.

The correspondents from around the county met for lunch in Fremont on Monday and exchanged gossip.

Jim Fillmore and Melody Watkins had a visitor over the weekend. Pat Metheny dropped in on Sunday after his concert at K-State Saturday night. Jim briefly played with Pat’s band back in the late ‘70s and they have stayed in touch over the years.

Rachel Watkins called from Paris where she is studying architecture. Betty says that Rachel spent a week in Eze studying the church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which was built in 1764.

Michelle Clemons reports that Holly House is booked for most of the spring and summer. She and Tom will be very busy until Labor Day.

The Convent is booked for a week-long retreat beginning March 22. A startup technology company from Overland Park is coming up to do a “creative thought process,” whatever that means. Jerry Hall will probably make some creative meals for them.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham and Jessica’s mother, Lillian, were the guests of Stan and Lois Adams for dinner on Sunday. Lillian is enjoying meeting people in town.

Lillian got a note from “Bobby” on Tuesday saying how much she was missed in Park City, Utah.

Rev. Katherine and Les Derby had lunch with Sandy and John Cramer after church on Saturday. Les and John enjoyed seeing K-State beat Baylor. It’s been a frustrating year for the team, beating teams they were supposed to lose to and losing to team they were supposed to beat.

Speaking of which, Eddy Barnett is still smarting from Mizzou’s second loss to K-State this year.

Millie Bradford had lunch on Monday with Miss Cecilia Davenport. Hazel was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to stay home. Miss Cecilia reports that her cousin, Grace Estes, from New Haven, Connecticut, called while Millie was there and the three had a delightful conversation over Miss Cecilia’s speakerphone.

Craig Duffy spent Saturday afternoon with Bill and Pam Heath while Teresa was in Manhattan visiting a friend. Craig is looking forward to fishing in Bill’s “water retention structure” once it is full and stocked with fish. “Bill says it will be good to go next spring, but I don’t think there’ll be much meat on those minnows.” Craig is ever the pessimist. Knowing how impatient Bill can be, he’ll probably just buy full-size fish to put in there.

Everyone in town is excited for the St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and the delivery of the Erin Go Bragh cookbook, especially Dorothy Westover, who has put months into its preparation.

Dorothy, we salute you for your perseverance and I know that all of us who helped you by taste-testing the recipes will think of you every time we step on the bathroom scales and see how much weight we have gained over the last few month.

And adding another notch to my belt, I remain…

Your faithful correspondent


Several months ago, I described how I was recruited for this job. At the time, I thought it would be a nice way to spend a few hours a week chatting with people around town and writing a short piece for the Ledger for which I would be paid a handsome sum. For the most part, I was wrong about all of that. First of all, it takes an infinite amount of time to track down information about what is going on around here. Oh, don’t get me wrong; people are really good about calling to let me know what they’ve been up to. It’s a good thing I have an unlimited data plan on my phone because I probably use up a hundred gigabytes a week. No, what takes the time is figuring out what to use and what I can legitimately get away with not using. If Sally Fields (not her real name; well, it is her real name, but that Sally Fields doesn’t live in Walnut Shade) has had lunch with Cher (again, that Cher doesn’t live here, although I’m told she’s thought about it; probably just gossip) every Tuesday for the last two months, that isn’t really news. But if Sally Fields misses a week with Cher and has lunch with Meryl Streep instead, now that is news!

Second, about that handsome sum…

I have to admit, too, that I didn’t think I’d do this for more than a couple of months. I was pretty sure that Stan Hawkins would find someone more qualified (almost anyone in town) and that there would be a general community-wide groundswell to help him find someone more qualified. Now, Stan has never said anything about the first part, knowing how easily my feelings get hurt, but he has said that not a single person has complained about my being the correspondent for Walnut Shade. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t gotten comments about what I’ve written over the months I’ve been at this. That lunch Sally Fields had with Meryl Streep caused a minor tiff between her and Cher. Apparently, that part wasn’t for publication. Stan heard about that from Sally and from Cher. But Sally and Cher patched things up and now the three of them (Sally, Cher and Meryl, not Stan) have lunch every Tuesday, so that doesn’t get in the column.

Speaking of lunch, every two or three months, Stan has all his correspondents up to Fremont for lunch and a chat. Lunch is always good; the Pioneer is one of those county seat restaurants that has to cater to the local farmers and merchants at breakfast and lunchtime, and to the “big city” lawyers from places like Topeka and St. Joe and Marysville who are in town for court and who think they have refined palates. Jerry Waters, the owner, has been serving folks for forty years, so he knows his clientele and has his menus down pat: meatloaf on Monday; fried chicken on Tuesday; chicken pot pie on Wednesday (made with the leftover chicken from Tuesday, if there is any); smothered steak on Thursday; and, catfish on Friday. On the weekends, when mostly the locals eat there, you get whatever Jerry feels like cooking and those are usually the best, and sometimes most unusual, meals. I was there one Sunday when Jerry decided to do an English breakfast, for some strange reason, complete with eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, toast, marmalade and tea. Regular customers who come in every Sunday complained that there was no coffee that morning and there seemed to be a lot of beans left on plates when they finished, but the next Sunday, I’m told, everything was back to normal, with Jerry’s famous biscuits and gravy and all the coffee you could possibly want.

Stan has correspondents in all the towns in Miller County, which just about fills up the Ledger every week. Here’s the current lineup:

Sharon Miller — Blue Valley
Freida Miller — Donner Crossing
Lydia Marks — Guitar
Sarah Graves — Longwood
Ruth Harwood — McDougal
Joyce Hanks — Parkersburg
Sandy Miller — Spring River Crossing
Mabel White — Tillman
Patsy Buchanan — Willow Springs

Now you may have noticed a couple of things about this list. For one, it’s all women. I’m the only male correspondent in the bunch. The others treat me accordingly. In the beginning, they all kind of gave each other a look when I walked in for lunch, the kind that says “Well, he may be Stan’s friend, but he won’t last.” It took me about six month to prove to them that I could do the job and now they  think I’m just “one of the girls.”

The other thing you might have noticed is that there are three correspondents named Miller. Well, that’s only a little coincidence. You see, Sharon, Sandy and Freida are all sister-in-law, having married the three Miller boys from just outside Blue Valley. Sharon lives on a farm with Frank; Sandy’s husband, Gus, is a rural postal carrier; and, Marv Miller is the best auto mechanic in Miller County. Everyone always asks, but no, they have to connection to the person for whom Miller County was named.

Our occasional get togethers are supposedly to let Stan know if we are having any problems and to let him know if anything has changed in the way we are reporting the news from our respective towns. He lets us know if there are any issues at the Ledger and if he has heard from any of his readers about the job we are doing. But mostly, it’s just a chance to gossip about what’s going on in our little corners of the world.

Every now and then, Stan does hear from a reader about a column one of us has written. Usually, it’s to complain that we left out their names in the list of people attending the dance at the VFW or forgot to say that they had had lunch with Mr. and Mrs. X on Sunday. It’s easy to make those mistakes, but we usually only do it once.

“I once forgot to say that Muriel Sparks [not her real name] and her husband had played bridge with the Andersons [not their real names, either], and I heard about that for six months,” Sandy Miller said.

“Yes, and I heard about it for another six months,” sister-in-law Freida commented with a laugh.

“This is a really small county, so when something gets missed, several of us hear about it,” Joyce Hanks pointed out.

Sometimes, news travels from far away. I’m always amazed at how many subscribers Stan has that live in far-flung parts of the country. When people move away from here, they leave behind friends and sometimes family. Reading the Ledger keeps them up-to-date on what’s going on. Stan told me one time that he has subscribers in forty-nine of the fifty states (oddly, there are none in Nebraska; he has no explanation for that, but now that Hal Dane is living in Omaha and working at the Durham Museum, perhaps that will change and it will be a perfect fifty), and seven countries world wide.

Stan started giving free subscriptions to any college student from Miller County and he now sends papers to fifty-seven schools.

“I always wonder if those papers really get read, but every now and then, I get a note from a kid who has seen something about his or her hometown and it keeps them connected somehow.”

The Ledger has not yet gone to an on-line edition, so a written note is something special. The act of picking up the paper means that someone is paying attention.

One of the topics at every lunch is how to make sure that we get the news that’s really important to people.

“Most of the time, people call me to let me know what’s happening with them, but sometimes, I hear something second hand and it’s then that I pick up the phone and make a call. That’s usually when someone is sick or there has been a death. I hate to intrude, but I think most people appreciate knowing that someone is thinking of them.” Mabel White is one of the most senior correspondents, having reported the news from Tillman for forty-two years.

Self-reporting is usually about a birth in the family or extended family; weddings; trips; and lunches and dinners. The latter two get the most coverage in all our columns. I’m always amazed at how much people eat out, especially at someone else’s home. Some people, it seems never cook for themselves. That’s an exaggeration, I know, but only a little bit of one.

“There’s a woman in my town who once had lunch out every day in a month, with the exception of a couple of Saturdays when I suppose her husband insisted she fix something for him.” Now, I won’t identify which correspondent related this because then the culprit would know that she had been discussed. But maybe she wouldn’t mind. The only bad publicity is no publicity, right?

“What we do is keep a record of the history of our communities as that history is actually happening. People like sharing their everyday lives and stories with us. The headlines on the front page might seem to get most of the attention, but what do people turn to next? Our columns.”

Sarah graves, the second most senior correspondent, reminds Stan of this every time we get together, lest he get the funny idea to use our spaces for more ads. Stan always nods and says that he wouldn’t think of not including our contributions in his newspaper. And he wouldn’t. He’s been at this long enough to know what his readers want. Like Jerry, he’s got his menu down pat and he’s not going to change it. He’s not about to start giving people an English breakfast when what they really want is biscuits and gravy.


A little news from the past.

Donner Crossing, March 22, 1917 — Mr. Harmon reports that there was a big commotion out at his chicken coop Wednesday morning. It seems that a raccoon and a fox got into a fight over the chickens, none of which were harmed. Apparently the raccoon and fox were too tired from the fight and left hungry.

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Chapter 39 — Our Buddha in a Bathtub

February 16, 2012

Lorene Robertson decided to retire from the ASCS office after 33 years in that post (minus the three months she was “on leave” at the Farmers Bank in Fremont). During that time, she amassed 3,424 hours of unclaimed sick leave. She admits that after she had been on the job for a couple of months, she came down with a cold and took one day off. Ken Olin, the ASCS supervisor, said that he is trying to determine if that is a record for being on the job. At any rate, Lorene is going to get a nice little check for that unused leave. Congratulations, Lorene, but we will miss see in you in the office.

Hazel and Millie Bradford visited Ruth Stanford on Monday at Walnut Rest. Ruth had a minor fall on Saturday, but is doing fine. “Nothing broke, which at my age is saying a lot,” Ruth reports.

The St. Valentine’s Day Dance was great fun this year. We all celebrated the Dixieland Stompers’ addition of Melody Watkins to the group. The band played all the old standbys, but added several pieces that featured Melody on vocals and piano. We look forward to more concerts in the future.

Marie Combs reports that Grant was back at KU Med Center for some tests last Friday. He had a bad cold that he just couldn’t seem to shake and Marie was afraid that it would turn into pneumonia. We’re all hoping for a speedy return to city hall.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham took Jessica’s mother, Lillian, to Marysville on Saturday to play bingo at the VFW. It was the first time for Lillian and she won $6.

Susan Hall is trying out some new recipes at Bach’s Lunch. She invites the adventurous eaters in Walnut Shade to stop in and take a chance on something new. We know it will be good, Susan. You’ve never let us down.

Sally Oswald says that the Main Street/Pride committee decided to sponsor an all-town garage sale the weekend of April 6 and 7. “We thought that that being the weekend before taxes are due, we would help put a little money in peoples’ pockets.” We hope that’s true but we remember that Billy Thornton says that garage sales are just a way to move junk from one garage in town to another garage in town. Always the cynic, Billy.

Patsy Powers got a call on Sunday from her great aunt, Virginia O’Halloran, who moved with her husband, Pat, to Scottsdale, Arizona in November. Patsy reports that they are both doing great. Virginia’s arthritis is not causing her as much trouble, it seems, and Pat is playing golf every day in the Arizona sun.

Inez Harris had lunch with Cordelia Beck in Topeka on Monday. She then stopped by the Capitol to visit with Rep. Adams about funding for the arts in Kansas. It seems the Governor is determined to reduce that item in the budget and Inez is just as determined to not let that happen. My money is on Inez, so to speak

Glenda Singleton got the galleys of her book of poems last week and is busy proofing them. It should be on the shelves in April, if all goes well.

Jody Tyler flew to Minneapolis on Friday to be with her mother and father for a few days.

Tom Clemons received word that the documentary being done by the Australian film crew that was in town in October and again in December has been selected to have its first screening during the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Walnut Shade plays a prominent role in the film so perhaps we should all make plans to go to Toronto.

In the mean time, I’m just going to hang around town, but I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


Anyone who has driven through the eastern or midwestern United States has probably come across what is affectionately known as “Mary in a bathtub” or “Mary on the half-shell,” that curious grotto that holds the Virgin Mary in what may or may not be an actual bathtub. Apparently, the shrine was invented by devout Catholic immigrants from the Azores. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (yes, there still is such a thing and I’ve got the seventy-five pound set in my basement to prove it), they first showed up in New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts around 1950 but quickly spread to the upper Mississippi River valley as that part of the country had a large contingent of German, Polish and Irish Catholics. In the early ‘50s, people were beginning to remodel their homes and the clawfoot tubs were considered old-fashioned, so there were lots of used bathtubs around.

Until recently, Walnut Shade had its own bathtub Mary. It was in the yard of Doris and Ralph Wright. You might remember that the Wright’s house burned in 2007 and they moved to Colorado rather than stay in town and rebuild. It was not an unexpected decision as their daughter and son-in-law live in Boulder. Doris said at the time that she was hoping to be closer to grandchildren. For some reason, though, they hung onto the lot and it wasn’t until last August that it was sold to Norm and Jeannette Oh who were living in a rental next door. The Oh’s are in the midst of building a new house on the lot.

Well, about that bathtub Mary. When the house burned, the lot was cleared of everything except that shrine. No one really knows why. The Wrights weren’t Catholic, so it didn’t have religious significance or sentimental value for them. It had been installed by the people who had owned the house prior to the Wrights. The Hastings had moved to Walnut Shade in the 1940s from Kentucky, from an area where bathtub Marys were quite common. Now some of these shrines are not really bathtubs, but are commercially-produced versions with scalloped edges or other decorations. The one in the Wright’s yard, though, was a real, live bathtub sunk in the ground. Those old cast iron tubs weighted a ton, so maybe that’s why it was never removed, either by the Hastings or the Wrights.

So, for five years, Mary was alone in the yard, waiting for someone to either move her or for new owners to appreciate her. Then, one morning, she was gone. Jeannette Oh first noticed it when she walked next door to check on the progress of the construction of her house.

“It was a beautiful November morning, the 1st, as a matter of fact. I was stopping in to meet the electrician who was finishing up the installation of the service panel when I sensed something in the front yard was different,” Jeannette related. “I’m not sure what made me glance at Mary, but there it was, an empty bathtub. Since it was the night after Halloween, I just figured that some of the kids in town had decided to move Mary somewhere like they do Mr. Baker’s outhouse. But when she didn’t turn up a couple days later, we decided something else had happened to her. We asked around town, but no one had any clues. I hope whoever took her will be good to her.”

As I’ve mentioned, despite having three churches, Walnut Shade is a town of free thinkers and variously-spiritual people. At one time, there was a fairly large Theosophical Society in town, during the late 1800s. Before that, Richard David Owen began a Transcendental Society here, which lasted until the 1930s. At various times, we have had Unitarian churches, Eastern Orthodox Catholic groups, a brief spell of Mormons, Scientologists, Christian Scientists, Sufis and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were several Children of God living on a farm outside town in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but they moved to Japan to witness like the Hari Krishnas in airports. The Masons were an important part of the town until their temple burned in the downtown fire in 1920 and the chapter moved to Fremont. Most of the members that lived here are long since passed. The Quakers played a big role in the lead-up to the Civil War and chances are there are more atheists here per capita than in any town in Kansas. Besides Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Hindus, the one group that hasn’t been numbered among the burghers of Walnut Shades has been Buddhists. Until Norm and Jeannette Oh moved here last summer.

Norm teaches comparative religion and sociology at Washburn University in Topeka and Jeannette owns a holistic health center there. They moved to Walnut Shade from Boulder where they got to know Doris and Ralph Wright.

“It was a chance meeting,” Jeannette says. “Doris came into the shop I ran there looking for some herbs to ease a pain in her back. Her chiropractor had suggested she give some a try and we got to talking about where she was from. She mentioned that she and Ralph owned a piece of property in Walnut Shade that they were thinking about selling. Norm had just been offered a position at Washburn and we decided to give Walnut Shade a look. Being so close to Topeka made it a real possibility, so we rented the house from Frank and Anna Mae Bundy and bought the lot from the Wrights.”

Ok, but what about Mary in the bathtub? Or Mary that wasn’t in the bathtub?

“Norm and I are Zen Buddhists and when Mary disappeared, it seems like a good time to create our own shrine, so on December 8, which was Bodhi Day, or the day that the Buddha attained enlightenment, we installed a likeness of him in the place previously occupied by Mary. We didn’t think she would mind since she was an enlightened one, also.”

So that is how Walnut Shade got its own Buddha in a bathtub. We think he fits in very nicely in this free-thinking town that celebrates diversity and enlightenment, and so far, Buddha seems to agree.

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Chapter 38 — The No Bell Prize

February 9, 2012

The Ecumenical Handbell Choir returned from Kansas City on Wednesday, where they placed second in the “Under 100 Church Members” category of the North American Bell Choir Competition. Congratulations to conductor Arlene Cornett and all the members from St. Stephen’s, St. Brendan’s and the 1st Baptist Church for a job well-done.

Taking advantage of the mild February weather, Sherri Browne and Connie Thompson drove to Overland Park on Monday to visit Sherri’s sister, Violet Sparks. They had lunch Johnny Cascone’s and then went to Half Price Books. Connie was looking for another copy of “The Paris Wife” to replace the one she left the airplane when she and Ralph flew to Denver to attend Ralph’s niece’s wedding.

Pastor Paul Powers is about to complete his Master of Divinity degree from the Midwest Theological Seminary. His Master’s thesis is an exploration of the symbolism of Jesus turning water to wine.

Speaking of wine, George Finley says that a recent inspection of his vines show that they are coming through the winter just fine. He’s hoping for a good growing season. As are we all!

Dorothy Westover reports that the proofs of the 100th Anniversary Erin Go Bragh Cookbook have been returned to the publisher and everything is on schedule for the unveiling at the St.Patrick’s Day dinner.

Curt and Amanda Jackson went to Topeka Sunday afternoon to see We Bought a Zoo. Curt said it was definitely not research for a new business. “Deliveries have been a bit slow lately, but tax time is heating up, so Amanda is going to be bringing home most of the bacon for the next couple of months,” Curt said. Ah, yes, tax time.

Sandy Cramer says that she got an email from John, Jr., who is in Santa Cruz, California, attending the University of California. The semester started a month ago on January 9, and Sandy reports that John, Jr. is off to a fast start, with eight hours in astrophysics and four in robotics. “He’s also taking water polo and lacrosse, if you can imagine that. He’s into California culture.”

Alvin Begley spent Sunday doing some work at the VFW hall. Marj said he was trying to shake off KU’s loss to Mizzou on Saturday night.

Hal Dane, who defended his dissertation on the Oregon Trail and graduated in December from KU, has been hired by the Durham Museum in Omaha to increase its research related to overland travel, especially in the years 1840 to 1870.

Roxie, Pat and Alice McManus, puppy who is now a year old, worked very hard to become a therapy dog and she is now visiting Walnut Rest and Miller County General on a regular basis. I hear she likes to be there when Mahjong is being played. Somehow, extra treats are involved those days.

Rusty Higgs was in town over the weekend. He dropped off samples of his salt that changes colors after it’s added to food at Bach’s Lunch, Shirley’s and the Stop and Go.

Harry Singleton and Jason Glen had lunch with Tom and Michelle Clemons on Sunday after church. They are working with Sally Oswald on the new brochure for the Main Street/Pride committee.

Craig Duffy is testing ice cream flavors again. He admits that his Margaritaville flavor didn’t get the reception he thought it would, but Walnut, Walnut, Walnut was a big hit at Shirley’s. The patrons of Bach’s Lunch were partial to the Meyer Lemon Sorbet, but they have refined palates, as we all know.

For me, I’ll take plain old chocolate any day of the week and until my next bowl…

I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


Every year during the week of February 5, the North American Bell Choir Competition is held in Kansas City at St. Agatha’s Catholic Church. February 5th is the historical date of St. Agatha’s martyrdom. She’s the patron saint of bells (also other martyrs, wet nurses, breast cancer patients, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and the eruptions of Mount Etna; some years, she’s a lot busier than others, especially in California). The competition has been held every year since 1951, the 1700th anniversary of her death, though it’s only been in Kansas City since 2001. Before that it was located in Chicago, but there were several years that it had to be delayed because of weather issues. Chicago is a bit “iffier” than Kansas City at the beginning of February.

Walnut Shade has had a choir in the competition from the beginning. In the early years, it was made up of just members of St. Brendan’s, but as time went on, there were fewer members there and to supplement the choir, several people from St. Stephen’s UCC and the 1st Baptist Church were recruited. Eventually, it became known as the Ecumenical Handbell Choir of Walnut Shade and over the years, it has made quite a name for itself, no more so than in 1986 when it was awarded what has come to be known in the NABCC as the “No Bell Prize.” Here’s the story.

The winter of 1986 started out as a typical winter in the Midwest. There were periods of extremely cold, snowy weeks, followed by thaws and dry spells. Around Martin Luther King Day, a massive storm hit the upper Plains, closing down most everything for a couple of weeks. Walnut Shade received just over fourteen inches of wet, heavy snow during that time, making it very difficult for the choir to get together to practice, though they had been diligent about it beforehand, so no one was particularly concerned about missing a few days. Two weeks before the competition was scheduled to begin, another thaw arrived and the forecast was for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation until the middle of February. Organizers of the event in Chicago breathed a sigh of relief and Sarah Chapman, the conductor of the Walnut Shade choir, made sure that her charges were ready to perform.

The competition was scheduled to commence on Wednesday morning, February 5, with the various categories of choirs performing for judges in venues close to Holy Name Cathedral, where the final performances of category winners would be held on Friday evening. On Monday, February 3, the choir members boarded a chartered bus to head to Chicago. Normally, in addition to the luggage for  a week for twelve member, there would be three cases filled with music, handbells, and all the accouterments necessary for a special musical performance. Somehow, the cases with these essential components were never loaded on the bus. You know how it is: trying to make sure that everything is accounted for at the last minute inevitably leads to something not being accounted for.

It was not until Sarah Chapman was helping choir members check into their rooms in the Warwick Hotel that evening that she discovered that the bell cases were missing. A second check of the bus turned up nothing and so Sarah called her husband back in Walnut Shade. Harry, Sarah’s husband, drove over to St. Brendan’s, where the choir had assembled to leave for Chicago, and sure enough, there in the vestibule were the bell cases, along with a piece of luggage that one of the member had also left behind. Harry agreed to start out the next morning to deliver the precious cargo by car. The worst that would happen was a loss of a day of rehearsal, but Sarah was confident that that would not affect the choir’s performance. They were prepared!

Bright and early, Tuesday, February 4, Harry Chapman loaded his 1982 Ford Escort with the three cases of bells, music, etc. and started off for Chicago, not having listened to the weather forecast. By the time he got to Des Moines, it had begun to snow and when he reached Iowa City, the roads were beginning to be snow-covered. It seems that a freak winter storm had developed over southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska and then had moved with a vengeance into Iowa. Harry got as far as Davenport and could go no farther. He called Sarah to give her the news.

Now, anyone who knows handbell choirs knows that the instruments they play are very special pieces of metal, leather and wood. Whether you are a Schulmerich or a Malmark aficionado, you swear that your bells make the difference in a performance. The EHC happens to be players of Malmarks, having switched to them in 1975 when Sarah Chapman was invited to visit Jake Malta’s workshop in Bucks County, PA. Malta was just getting started in the “bell trade,” as it is known, and he was trying to market his new bells to choirs that had been winners in the NABCC, as the Walnut Shade group had been the year before. Sarah had seen his bells demonstrated at one of the workshops that occur as part of the competition/convention. She was intrigued by the concept of a “tangless” bell and the somewhat softer sound it made, but wasn’t convinced at that time. But Malta offered a free trip to Pennsylvania, so how could she decline?

Sarah and Harry decided to drive and they made a vacation of it, stopping in Indianapolis to see Sarah’s grandmother and in Dayton to visit the Air Force Museum. Ironically, though he was afraid to fly, Harry was an avid model airplane builder, having won prizes for this planes in shows across the Midwest. The Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has one of the major collections of scale model airplane, so Harry was excited to visit it again.

After a leisurely drive over the course of three days, the Chapmans arrived in Doylestown, PA and met Jake Malta as his workshop. At the time, he was still working out of a small storefront in town, but had a production system that could turn out two full sets of 25 bells a week. Sarah was so impressed with the sound and quality of Malta’s handbells that she was determined to convince the choir back home to make a switch, which necessitated a major fund-raising drive in Walnut Shade.

Now in addition to being an excellent director, Sarah was also a persistent salesperson when it came to making sure her choir had what it needed, so within a month of returning home, she had raised the $2,200 to buy the set. To say that the choir members were thrilled is an understatement. They had loved the handbells they had used for decades, but there is always something special about getting something new. You could see the joy on their faced at their first performance with the new bells.

Well, that’s a bit of digression from the main story…

So, Harry was stuck in Davenport and wouldn’t be able to make it to Chicago for the start of the competition on Wednesday. In fact, it was doubtful that he would be able to make it by then end of the week. Sarah was crestfallen. What would she tell the choir? While she was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, looking despondent, Grace Hartigan, the director of the Williamsburg UCC Church choir in Oak Park, stopped to chat and saw Sarah’s distress. Over the years, Sarah and Grace had become good friends and friendly, if fierce competitors in the NABCC competition.

“Sarah, if you want to borrow our bells when your are ready to perform, we’d be happy to loan them to you,” Grace offered. “I know it won’t be the same, but at least you won’t have to drop out. You just have to promise not to win, right?”

At first, Sarah was hesitant, but she said, “Grace, that is a wonderful offer. Let me talk it over with the choir and I’ll let you know. You are a true friend.”

One of the reasons Sarah was a bit reluctant to perform with Grace’s choir’s bells was that they were Schulmerichs, not EHC’s beloved old Malmarks. The difference in sound would, of course, affect the performance. When Sarah talked to the choir members, their reaction was unanimous.

“What do we  have to lose? We’ve come this far and we know the music forwards and backwards,” Andrea Evans said.

“Give us five minutes and we’ll have those bells down pat,” Olivia Jane Johnson chimed in.

“Let’s go for it,” Glenn Miller agreed.

So, that being settled, Sarah talked to Grace and the offer was accepted. The choir was able to get in one short practice before the performances began, but that was enough. And while they didn’t win, they did manage to get a special award. It seems that the news of their bells being delayed and the necessity of their performing with borrowed bells had spread through the other choirs. Not surprisingly, these groups are pretty close and when misfortune falls to one choir, the others commiserate and help however they can.

At the closing banquet, at which competition winners are announced and celebrated, the president of NABCC, Harriet Morrissey, asked Sarah Chapman to come to the stage.

“Sarah, we know that this has been a difficult week for you and your choir and I’m not sure how most of us would have risen to the occasion the way you have. In recognition of your perseverance in the face of the obstacles you encountered, we have created a new award in your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, to Sarah Chapman and the Ecumenical Handbell Choir of Walnut Shade, Kansas, we present the “No Bell Prize.”

At that moment, Harry appeared on the stage beside President Morrissey and hugged Sarah, to thunderous applause from the combined handbells choirs of the NABCC.

Sarah retired the next year, saying that the pinnacle of her career had been reached, winning the “No Bell Prize.”


Here’s a little tidbit from Ledger in times past:

May 21, 1938 — A Miller County Sheriff’s Deputy was called to the home of Horace Crockett of rural Parkersburg on Thursday. A neighbor reported seeing a body in a hammock in Mr. Crockett’s back yard. The body turned out to be a mannequin that had been stolen from the Parkersburg Mercantile sometime in the previous week. Agnes Reed, who called the authorities, said she hadn’t seen Mr. Crockett since the beginning of March. After a short investigation, Mr. Crockett was reached in Wichita where he had been visiting his sister. He was relieved to learn that his hammock was not damaged.

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