Your Faithful Correspondent

All the news from Walnut Shade

Chapter 1

June 2, 2011

Hello, everyone.  I hope you had a nice Memorial Day.  I thought the peonies out at the cemetery were particularly pretty this year and I was glad to see only a couple of graves with plastic flowers.  Everyone has been cooperating nicely with the City’s wish to decorate with only fresh flowers.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been appointed by the Ledger to be “Your Faithful Correspondent.”  We were all saddened by the passing of Arlene White, who had filled the post for sixty-eight years.  Arlene took over her duties in 1953 when Muriel Denton moved to Topeka to be Senator Patterson’s secretary.  Even though the Senator lost to Sam Craig in the 1954 election, Muriel found she liked the big city and decided to stay in Topeka.  Most of you know this history, but for some of our newer residents, I thought it might be of interest.

This week’s column will be kind of short since I wasn’t able to talk to a lot of people this week, my first on the job.  On Monday, I had to take my dog, Jerry, to the vet.  It seems that he (Jerry, not the vet) ate a whole loaf of bread that I carelessly left on the kitchen table and I was afraid that much fiber might be bad for him (to say nothing of the plastic wrapper he also ate in the process).  Dr. Cramer examined Jerry thoroughly and said that he didn’t think there would be any problems, but he advised me to keep Jerry outside for a couple of days while he digested everything.  By Wednesday, he seemed to be back to his old self (Jerry, not Dr. Cramer), but he was pretty grumpy from staying outside.

Well, here are a couple of items that you might be interested in; I’ll have more next week:

Mrs. Lorene Robertson was appointed bookkeeper for the Farmers Bank in Fremont, the first female employee the bank has had in over 100 years.  Lorene resigned as office manager at the ASCS office after serving in that capacity since 1957.  She said that she appreciated the cooperation she had received over the years from the farmers in the county and it was a hard decision to leave the ASCS, but she thought the bank would open up new career opportunities for her and she doesn’t mind the commute.

Jeff and Eddy Barnett’s daughter, Stephanie, left for the summer semester at the University of Missouri.  She’s majoring in journalism.  Jeff, being a loyal Jayhawk, has been heartbroken that his only daughter would choose MU over KU.  Eddy has been gloating, though, since she graduated from “Mizzou.”

Glenn and Lucille Miller had lunch on Saturday before Memorial Day with Glenn’s brother Tom and wife Sheila and then went in to Fremont to the movies.  Lucille wanted to see “Midnight in Paris” but it was sold out, so they saw “Pirates of the Caribbean” instead.

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

Well, I’ve gotten my first column under my belt.  What a relief.  I was worried that I wouldn’t get it done on time, but fortunately, Stan “held the presses” for me this time.  However, he told me that if I was late again, he’d dock my pay for the week.  Horrors!  That $5 comes in pretty handy when I have breakfast at Shirley’s.

Stan has been encouraging me to take over the column for weeks, but I’ve been reluctant to give up the little free time I’ve had since I retired in March.  Everyone told me that I’d be even busier when I retired, but I didn’t believe them.  Now, I’m convinced.  I thought I’d have plenty of time to paint and read and walk Jerry, but besides fixing some of the things around the house that I’ve been putting off, I’ve only read one pretty short book and Jerry looks like he’s gained weight without the daily walks I took him on while I was still working.

Judy says that things will slow down one of these days, but until I get the garage door repaired and those viburnums trimmed, I’m not seeing any “light at the end of the tunnel.”  And now the column.  Stan was pretty persuasive, I’ll have to admit.

“There really isn’t anyone else I can ask, Ron.  There just aren’t many people in Walnut Shade that are around enough to keep up with what’s going on.  Most of the old people are snow birds now, and the young ones are working two or three jobs each.  And you are about the only one who has Internet, so you can send me your column on-line.”

I hate to see a grown man cry, and the begging was getting annoying, so I said yes, not really knowing what I was getting into.  Sure I had read Arlene’s column every week, but it didn’t look like that big a deal.  I knew for a fact that she hardly ever left her house, so I just assumed that most people called her with their “news.”  Little did I realize that she spent most of her days on the phone, calling folks to find out what was going on around town.  Stan gave me her phone number list, saying that it would be more efficient than looking in the phone book.  Now, Walnut Shade has a population of only 287 and the whole county only counts 4,889 residents, but Arlene’s list was over 400 people.  She was a meticulous record-keeper and most weeks, she called around fifty people for news.  Over an eight week period, she’d work through her list, so you could be pretty sure that your name would show up in her column at least three or four times a year.

Stan gave me a little primer on how the column was to be submitted.  The deadline is 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, since the paper comes out Thursday afternoon.  These days, all the writing, editing, and set-up is done by computer, so as long as the process goes pretty smoothly, the printing gets done overnight on Wednesday and the papers are delivered around the county on Thursday morning.  The Ledger has correspondents in four of the other communities in the county and he said that they are rarely, if ever, late with their columns.  A lot to live up to.

I think I’ll take the afternoon off and go for a walk with Jerry.  Then, if there’s still time, I might trim one of those viburnums.  Or, start reading “Moby Dick” again.  My high school English teacher, Miss Davenport, would be proud, particularly since I got a C- on my report on it in her class.  I suppose I should have read it then instead of all those “Mad Magazines.”

Chapter 2

June 9, 2011
Ron and Jody Tyler had lunch after church with Pam and Bill Heath.  The Heath’s had a letter from Pam’s sister, Rachel, who is studying architecture in Paris.  She will graduate next year and hopes to find a job in France or Italy.

Lori Mendenhall, Ilene Wick, and Anna Brady played Mahjong on Tuesday at the retirement home with Ruth Stanford.  Ruth’s brother came to visit on Monday from Harrisonville, Missouri.

The Baptist Church began a revival on Sunday, with over 100 people in attendance.  It will continue through the 17th.  Reverend William Halls from the 2nd Baptist Church of Topeka is preaching.  Special music was given by the Jubilaires.

Anna Mae Bundy hosted a luncheon on Wednesday for the Excelsior Book Club.  The club is reading “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.   Their next book, which they hope to start by the end of the month, is “The Leftovers”, by Tom Perrotta; it was suggested by Dorothy Westover, who said that she’s heard it has some very good recipes.

Carol Higgs and Ilene Wick visited with Marie Green on Monday.  Marie just returned from a week in California where she stayed with her friend, Monica Reece and her husband Tom.  Marshall wasn’t able to make the trip this time; he was preparing for a big trial that is set to start in a couple of weeks.

Retirement seems to be agreeing with Bill Heath.  He’s been fishing at least twice a week since the end of April.  He says that he’s thinking about having a fishing pond dug on the farm, if he can get some help from the SCS office.  He’s talked to Ron Worth and he thinks that he can get it qualified.

Dr. Oswald removed a bean from Jason Brady’s nose on Monday.  Jason says that he has no idea how it got there.  I know how he feels; sometimes I don’t know how I got here.

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

With  Memorial Day over, the next big event in Walnut Shade is Flag Day, June 14.  As holidays go, it doesn’t seem to get much attention across the country, but here it’s gotten to be a big deal over the years.  The celebrations started during the Vietnam War when the VFW decided they needed to do some thing to combat all the flag burning that was going on then.  Now, there was never a flag burned in Walnut Shade, nor in Fremont, Topeka or Lawrence, as far as anybody can confirm, but the couple of times it was shown happening in Berkley or Washington, DC was enough to convince the veterans here that it was just a matter of time.  The first year, according to the newspaper account, they held a flag-raising in the park at sunrise and put flags on the telephone poles downtown.  The second year, 1966, they got the City to agree to put up flags on all the poles along Main and they got the high school band (at least those who weren’t working or off at 4-H camp) to play patriotic songs in the bandstand on the square at noon.  Now, the celebration includes a parade (getting shorter every year), flags on all the telephone poles in town, the sunrise flag-raising and, in election years, speeches by those running for office.  In 2008, John McCain even showed up, but no Sarah Palin, to the great disappointment of the members of the VFW who were told that she was coming also.  Even though the election is a year away, there is talk that a couple of the Republican candidates might stop by, especially Ron Paul and Michelle Bachman.

I was asked by Mary McCready over at Fremont if I would be interested in having a booth in the Miller County Art Fair, the first weekend in October.  She said that she had heard that my paintings were pretty good and she thought that I might be able to sell a few that weekend.  I’m not sure where she would have heard that I was painting again unless Judy  let it slip at the office.  For better or worse, the Extension office is the source of most news in the county.  I keep telling Judy that I’m just doing this for myself, but she thinks that I should “share my art” (meaning sell it) with the world.  She even got Frank, the business specialist, to call me to tell me he’d be happy to help me get set up.  Thanks, Frank, but it’s just a hobby right now.  Call me back in a year.

On our walk this morning, Jerry found a golf ball in a yard on Main Street.  The house that used to be on that lot burned in 2007 and the owners, the Wrights, decided not to rebuild.  They cleaned up the debris and then moved to Colorado.  As far as I know, they still own the lot.  You’d think they would try to sell it, but perhaps it has sentimental value.  Or maybe they have forgotten that they still own it.  I read in the paper the other day that a woman in Missouri got a call from the State Treasurer’s office saying that they had unclaimed property that belonged to her.  Apparently, there was over $1 million in bonds in a safe deposit box that she had forgotten about.  Now, I’ve got a pretty bad memory and I know a lot of people who forget a lot of things, but forgetting you have a million dollars in a safe deposit box?  Hmm…

Judy says that the Extension office is in full swing getting ready for the county fair.  The fair isn’t until August, but it takes several weeks of preparation to pull everything together.  The 4-H kids, now that they are out of school for the summer, are diligently working on their entries.  One of the things that is worrying everyone in the office, though, is the rumor that the county commissioners may not make the full $5,000 contribution toward the expenses of the fair this year.  Revenues have been way down, but expenses have stayed about the same and they are already saying that they are looking for ways to economize.  I imagine when it gets to the time to write the check they will do it anyway.  The fair constituency is still pretty big, and vocal.  The commissioners know which side their bread is buttered on, as the saying goes.

Chapter 3

June 16, 2011
The Flag Day Celebration was mostly rained out.  The VFW and American Legion folks were able to do the flag-raising ceremony at sunrise, but the parade and band concert had to be cancelled.  The rain let up for about an hour and Al Higgs, Clarke Wick and Jim Filmore brought their instruments down to the bandstand at noon and played a few marches.

Dorothy Westover discovered that the book she had recommended to the Excelsior Book Club is not a cookbook.  It’s about the Rapture and what happens to the people left behind, the “Leftovers.”  Some of the club members thought it might be interesting, but they decided to read another book instead, “The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine,” by Alina Bronsky.

Craig and Delores Gilbert went to Topeka to tour the Capitol.  Craig hadn’t been back since he was an intern there when he was in high school.
Ruth Stanford has had a bad cold and wasn’t able to host the Mahjong game this week.  Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Anna Brady opened the Museum and did a little cleaning instead.

Jody Tyler has been busy “blogging” this week.  She writes a column called “Prairie Prayers” that has over 250 subscribers.

The St. Stephens UCC will host an ice cream social this coming Sunday to raise funds for new choir robes.

Sarah Brown and Barb Wilson had lunch with Marie Green last Saturday and saw her photos of Santa Barbara, where her friend Monica Reece lives.

Ethel Watson is doing better, her daughter reports.

Arlene and Don Cornet returned from their week in Colorado.  They ran into the Wrights, who used to live in Walnut Shade.  Doris Wright said they’ve contacted a realtor and their lot on Main will be for sale shortly.

Mayor Combs was admitted to KU Med Center in KCK on Tuesday.  He and Marie were in Overland Park attending a Northeast Kansas Elected Officials Conference when he started feeling ill.  Marie said the doctors think he has a touch of food poisoning, but want to keep him under observation for a couple of days.  He should be home for next Monday’s council meeting.

Eddie Singleton’s cousin Charles and his wife Jennifer were in town over the weekend.  Glenda and Jennifer left on Monday to drive to St.Louis to see the Lee Friedlander photography exhibit.  Jennifer teaches art and photography at K-State and Friedlander is one of her favorites.  They also plan to go up in the Arch.

Hazel and Millie Bradford spent the week baking cookies for the ice cream social on Sunday.  Be sure to get there early; their cookies sell out fast.


Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

The Flag Day rainout was quite a surprise, since we have had no appreciable rain since the second week in May, but a little storm brewed up over night and just sat over us for most of the day.  Everyone was really disappointed about the day, mainly because the band concert is always fun, even though there usually aren’t many players.  Dr. Reinholdt has been conducting the concert since 1969, but he is getting more feeble every year.  Well, he is 96, after all.  Fredrick Reinholdt graduated from the State University of Music and the Performing Arts of Stuttgart in 1935 and had a promising teaching career cut short when he was conscripted into the German army in 1937. Captured at the Battle of the Bulge by the allies, he was shipped to the U.S. and Camp Concordia here in Kansas.  When the war ended, he chose to stay in the States and marry a girl he had met on the farm where he was assigned to work.  He and his new wife Marie moved to Fremont where he had found a job as custodian at the high school.  One day after school, the music teacher found Fred, as he was then called, playing one of the trumpets in the music room.  Fred thought that he would be in trouble, but instead, the music teacher was so impressed with his playing that he arranged for Fred to have an audition with the symphony conductor at the University of Kansas.  When the conductor heard Fred play, he offered him a scholarship on the spot and in the fall of 1948, Fredrick Reinholdt picked up where he left off before the war, studying and eventually teaching music.  When he received his PhD in Music Education in 1953, he was offered a job as the music teacher at Fremont High School where he had once been the janitor.  When he retired at the age of seventy in 1985, he was not only given the key to the city, but the county commissioners declared the month of May as Dr. Fredrick Reinholdt Month.  Since his retirement, Fred has spent his time conducting the four community bands still playing in Miller County and shows up at our Flag Day ceremony every year.  We missed his conducting this year.

After a week of “encouragement” by Judy, I’ve decided to go ahead and enter the Miller County Art Fair.  Since my inventory is not very big, I’m going to have to get really busy and do some painting.  I still haven’t decided whether to devote my time to studio painting or en plein air.  I know Jerry would be happy if I were painting outside; it would give him the chance to chase squirrels and rabbits, two things that he dearly loves to do.  And it would probably be good for me to be out in the fresh air and sunshine.  I’ve been spending way too much time in front of the computer, writing this column.  Stan has been happy about that, but I’m sure it would do me good to get out.  On the other hand, I did spend two months getting the chicken coop set up as my studio, so it would be a shame to have that work go to waste.  I can always take my camera out and snap photos of scenes I want to paint.  Well, I’m going to do neither in the next couple of days, so I’ll put off that decision for a while.

I’ve started developing a spread sheet to keep track of who I call for the column, and who has called me.  After just three weeks, I’m already getting confused about whom I’ve talked to and when I’ve written about them.  How in the world did Arlene keep all this straight?  I drove over to Fremont on Monday to chat with Stan and collect my first two weeks pay.  Let’s see, it’s eight miles from Walnut Shade to Fremont, sixteen round trip.  My Volvo gets twenty-one on the road, so that’s roughly a gallon of gas, at $3.73.  Add in the lunch at the Pioneer restaurant and I ended up spending almost $15 to collect $10 for the first two columns.  At this rate, this column will end up costing me $125 a year.  Maybe I’d better have Stan mail me my checks.

Judy will be working at the ice cream social Sunday after church.  I’ll show up just in time to get a bowl of “strawberries and cream” which is the featured flavor this year.  Ron Tyler and John Davis are the current kings of the ice cream cranks.  Everything is made by hand for the social, although a couple of times in the past, the help has been a little sparse and they’ve had to resort to electric ice cream makers to supplement the kids that get the job of turning the cranks.  Ron and John almost always seem to be able to recruit just enough from the Sunday school classes to make things work.  It’s always funny to see how enthusiastic those fourth and fifth graders are for about the first ten minutes, but then the turning begins to get harder and their zeal begins to wane.  Of course, none of them will drop out; it’s a competition and test of endurance, you know?  As far as I can determine, this event has been going on almost since St. Stephen’s was founded in 1868, although in the beginning, it was just lunch on the grounds.  It didn’t become an ice cream social until 1898 when Louis Hawkins’ great grandfather, Arlen Hawkins, purchased a White Mountain Ice Cream Freezer.  That first freezer was used for many socials over the years; Louis found it in his barn a while back and donated it to the Museum.  I wonder if the lawnmower he borrowed from me three years ago is still in his barn?

Chapter 4

June 23, 2011
Members of the American Legion have been busy preparing for the annual 4th of July celebration.  Ray Evans is chairing the event this year and he promises it will be bigger and better than anything that has been seen in Walnut Shade.  He is especially enthusiastic about the car show and parade; to date, there have been twenty-two entries, including two from Manhattan, three from St.Joseph and two from Omaha.

The Excelsior Book Club met at Elaine Hunt’s house and enjoyed a delicious lunch of pesto chicken salad on mixed greens, butterfly rolls, strawberry shortcake, ice tea and coffee.  Dorothy Westover reported that she will no longer be suggesting books for the club to read since she has been so wrong about the last two she has recommended.  “The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine,”  by Alina Bronsky is not a cook book, after all.  Phyllis Dane says that she bought the book and started reading it and thinks the club would like it.  After some discussion, the group decided to read “The Hottest Dishes” when they finish “Eat, Love, Pray.”

Helen Baker hosted the Prairie View Extension Club.  Judy Saunders, Family and Consumer Sciences agent for Kansas State Extension gave a program on florescent lighting.  The club’s July meeting will be held in Fremont at the Extension office to begin knitting slippers for the Christmas Bazaar at Miller County General Hospital.

The ice cream social at St. Stephen’s church was a great success, according to Rev. Derby.  The church is almost halfway to their goal of replacing the choir robes.

Rev. Powers reports that the revival at 1st Baptist Church had an average attendance of 92 for the two weeks.  Eighteen youth and adults were saved and the Church welcomed five new members.

The town council met without Mayor Combs on Monday.  He is still recovering from his bought with the flu.  Bill Morton presided in his absence.  Sally Oswald made a motion to delay the vote on raising the membership fees for the volunteer fire department until Mayor Combs returns.

St. Brendan’s Catholic Church will be getting a new priest at the end of July.  Father Randolph will be retiring effective July 1 and the parish council is making plans to welcome the new pastor.

Dr. Oswald removed a bean from Jason Brady’s ear.  Like the bean in his nose, Jason has no idea how it got there.  Dr. Oswald says that according to his Hippocratic oath, he is obligated to remove  the first two beans free of charge, but the sky is the limit for the third.  Jason’s mother has resolved to keep Jason away from beans.

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

I was having breakfast at Shirley’s on Monday when, to my surprise, in walked Marshall Green.  Now what was surprising was that it was 9:30 and Marshall is never in town at 9:30 on a Monday morning.  As senior partner in Branson Brothers and Shaffer in Fremont, he’s probably always at work by 7:30.  Marshall and I have known each other since Mrs. Norman’s first grade Sunday school class.  Marshall is the only kid who has ever been kicked out of Sunday school in Walnut Shade, as far as I know.  To be honest, it should have been me instead of him; I was the one who dropped the Bible on the table and knocked over Jill Hanson’s juice, but Marshall took the fall.  As he says, he has been in my debt ever since, Sunday school not being one of his favorite things.  We have been friends for sixty years.  Marshall was the golden boy of Walnut Shade:  perfect student, quarterback, homecoming king, “Most Likely to Succeed,” multiple scholarship offers, law degree from Princeton, married the prettiest, smartest girl, etc, etc.  I was more brass than gold.

“What are you doing here?  Did you finally get fired?”

“They can’t fire me; I am they,” he said.

Marshall was, indeed, “they.”  The law firm of Branson Brothers and Shaffer consisted of precisely one attorney, Marshall; the brothers and Shaffer being long dead (There are probably few law firms with a name like Branson Brothers and Shaffer; you’d be more likely to encounter one that was something along the lines of “Branson, Branson and Shaffer.”  But the story goes that the original firm consisted of two Bransons and Shaffer.  When the youngest brother graduated from law school and asked to join the firm, the two older brothers thought that the name Branson, Branson, Branson and Shaffer would cost too much to paint on the front of the building, so it became Branson Brothers and Shaffer.  At least that’s the story that gets told whenever anyone asks.)  Marshall took over the firm soon after moving back to Walnut Shade from law school.  Like Dr. Oswald and Father Rick, the town has been a magnet for many professionals who grew up here.  None of us is quite sure why; we all tried desperately to escape, but something drew us back.  Father Rick says, only slightly joking, that we are cursed; that a spell was cast when we were babies that won’t let us leave.  I tend to think he’s right.

“Well, why are you here?  You never eat breakfast, and certainly not on Monday.”

“Oh, I got a call from my secretary saying that the Winslow trial has been postpone, so I decided to do something completely out of character and take the morning off.  I’m even meeting Marie for lunch, later,” Marshall declared.

Marshall’s wife Marie, is the chair of the Miller County Commission.  A golden girl herself, she graduated first in her Princeton law class, one spot above Marshall.  She says that she married him to help ease the pain he felt at being “only” salutatorian.  Marie saw law as a way of facilitating what she really wanted to do:  go into politics, but not as an office-holder; she wanted to be the “fixer,” the “brains,” the “power” behind whatever throne she could find.  She didn’t reckon on the curse, however.  When she married Marshall, she imagined they would spend their years in Washington, DC, essentially running the country.  Instead, the curse pulled him back and Marie has had to content herself with running the country from Walnut Shade and Fremont, Kansas, which she has done very successfully, having been the top political consultant in the country for thirty years and responsible for electoral wins by a dozen Senators, a third of the sitting Congress, eight governors and two Presidents.  Her only loss was her first campaign:  Jimmie Carter in 1980.  The only elective office she has ever held is County Commissioner and she only decided to run for that because she thought  it was high time for a Democrat to be elected and that a woman hold office in Miller County (to be completely accurate, the position of county clerk has been held by a woman, Connie Thompson, for twenty-two years, but the commissioners and the other office-holders treated her like a glorified secretary).  Marie thought that it was time to change that and to most everyone’s surprise, she won the election in 2010 at a time that Democrats across Kansas were being sent back to their burrows.
“I hear the Commissioners are thinking about withdrawing their support for the county fair.”

“Marie is fighting Hugh and Tom on that,” Marshall said.  “You’d think that they would know better.  I would never buck the Fair Board or the 4-H kids.  Marie has already lined up her support and I’m sure the vote next week will go the right way.”

There are certain institutions that shape the life of the community, in various ways and to varying degrees.  In Miller County, the Fair Board is one of the central players, as well as the Extension 4-H program.  When budget time comes around, those two are sacrosanct; woe unto anyone who tries to do anything that would threaten them.  Hugh Anderson and Tom Craig will do the right thing, as they always do.

Chapter 5

June 30, 2011
The Excelsior Book Club members have decided to begin meeting once a month over the summer.  They have started reading “The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine” and first reports are that it is an excellent story.

Ray Evans reports that everything is set for the 4th of July celebration.  In addition to the car show, which will be held on Main Street between 2nd and 6th, there will be a parade starting at 1:30 with community bands from Longwood, Blue Valley, Donner Crossing and McDougal.  The massed bands will perform at 2:00 in the park under the direction of Dr. Reinholdt and children’s games will start around 4:00.  The Walnut Shade Prairie Museum will be open at 10:00 a.m. for tours and the fireworks display will begin at dusk.  The VFW will be serving their barbecued chicken in the park starting at 11:00.  They assure us that they will not sell out before 3:00 like they did last year; they will have enough chicken, slaw and potato salad for anyone who wants a tasty dinner before the fireworks.

Dr. Cramer reports that he has five puppies that he’d like to find homes for.  They are terrier mixes, about five months old; three females and two males.  They were brought in by Jane Combs who found them in a crate along the road.

Jim Fillmore, Carl Cunningham and Alvin Begley spent Sunday afternoon cleaning and sorting flags to be put up on light standards for the 4th of July celebration.  The VFW erects fifty U.S. flags along the main streets and Jim says they have to replace about two or three a year.  Congressman Wynn has been very helpful in getting them at least one that has flown over the Capitol every year.

Millie and Hazel Bradford spent Tuesday afternoon with Ruth Stanford at Walnut Rest.  Ruth showed them the Baby Steps quilt she has been working on for her great granddaughter Elizabeth, who was born in December.

Glenda Singleton had a poem entitled “Where Prairie Flowers Bloom” published in the K-State alumni magazine.

Betty and Harold Watkins report that their daughter Gretchen has finished her dissertation and will be graduating from Rutgers with a PhD in Philosophy at the end of the summer semester.  She has been offered a job at Northwestern and will be moving to Chicago.

Barb Wilson, Jeanne Riley, and Connie Thompson were the guests of Frank and Sally Oswald for Sunday lunch.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club helped clean up the park for the 4th of July celebration.  Afterwards, they were treated to a barbecue at the home of Fred and Sandra Tucker.  Club members have been busy preparing for the Miller County Fair at the end of August.

Jim Brady bought a new Toyota Highlander Hybrid in St. Joseph and his friends have been saying that he’s become an “environmentalist.”  Jim said the price was right and Sue liked the heated seats, not they will be using them much until winter, since the high yesterday was 92.

Well, from hot and humid Walnut Shade…

Until next week, I remain

Your Faithful Correspondent

In Walnut Shade, the primary institutions are the three churches (St. Brendan’s Catholic, St. Stephen’s UCC, and 1st Baptist); the two veterans organizations (American Legion and VFW); the Excelsior Book Club; the Prairie View Extension Club; and the town government (primarily the volunteer fire department, but the town council plays a leading role, also).  Most of these have been around for more years than anyone cares to remember.  St. Stephen’s, for example, predates the actual incorporation of the town by more than a decade, having been established in 1843 at the time the Oregon Trail was active.  St. Brendan’s and the 1st Baptist church came along shortly afterward.  What would eventually become the town of Walnut Shade was just an overnight stop along the Trail, but those overnight stoppers needed spiritual guidance and churches sprang up pretty quickly to minister to their needs.

The town council is the next oldest institution, created when Walnut Shade was incorporated in 1855, the year that Miller County was organized.  At that time, Walnut Shade was the largest town in the county and the seat of county government.  A bustling community of nearly 800 people, it was no “Wild West” backwater; indeed, the third oldest institution in the community is the Excelsior Book Club, established that same year “to bring culture and refinement to the citizens of the town,” according to the club’s bylaws.  The club established the town library and sponsored most of the cultural events through the years.  Appearances by notables such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and Lilly Langtry were common in the late 1800s, with Walnut Shade being a regular stop on the Chautauqua circuit.

Now, I present this little bit of history as a lead-in to understanding the preparations for the 4th of July celebration taking place.  For the past forty years, it has been the American Legion’s show, but at one time, the Legion and the VFW worked together to present a patriotic gala the likes of which no town of even 2,500 people could hope to match.  There was a falling out in the late ‘60s when the commander of the local Legion post and the post commander of the VFW got into an argument (apparently after a few drinks on each side having been consumed at the Legion bar) about which organization was older.  Now, it’s clear from the history books that the VFW nationally predates the Legion by twenty years, but the Legion representative contended that since the Legion was chartered by Congress, it was the oldest official veterans’ organization, “official” seemingly in the eye of the beholder.  While no punches were thrown, it is clear that colorful language was used and an agreement was reached to end the patriotic partnership of the two groups.  In the years since, cooler heads have prevailed and everyone gets along pretty well now, but the official sponsorship of 4th of July is considered to reside in the American Legion here.  The VFW participates by unfurling flags and sponsoring a chicken barbecue in the park that draws people from as far away as St. Joseph and Manhattan.  The team of guys that organizes the barbecue also competes in the American Royal Barbecue contest down in Kansas City every year and has won honorable mention twice.  They are about as close as we have to local celebrities.  At least living ones.  And the 4th of July event is always memorable and the community ends the day with spirits renewed.

As for other matters, on my morning walks with Jerry over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that there are some newly vacant houses around town.  The economy has not been kind to Walnut Shade residents.  When the hat box factory shut down in 1986 after the main Stetson factory in St. Joseph closed, a lot of folks around here lost jobs they had held all their lives.  While some of them managed to hold on by finding employment in Fremont or down in Manhattan or St. Joe, there was a definite out-migration.  The population dropped from 488 in the 1980 Census to 351 in 1990, 306 in 2000, and the figures from 2010 showed just 287 hearty Walnut Shadian.  Those vacant houses probably means that the population sign out on the edge of town is perhaps optimistic in 2011.  On the other hand, I do know that four new families have moved to town in the last year, so maybe we are just holding our own.

The other day, I dropped in on Tom and Michelle Clemons’ shop to get their take on the community and get a cup of their excellent coffee.  They own Prairie Antiques, which opened in 2007, the year Walnut Shade was chosen to participate in the Kansas Main Street Program.  Like any small business, the first couple of years were rough for the Clemons, even though Walnut Shade already had a reputation as a good town for antiquers.  The annual spring flea market out on Lou Hawkins’ farm has been drawing dealers from six states for twenty years.  While it is called the Walnut Shade Flea Market, it is really a high-quality antique show and sale.  When it first started, Lou roped off a couple of acres for booths and parking and hoped that he’d have five or six participants (his real motivation was to sell all the stuff he had accumulated in his barn over the years).  To his surprise, he had twenty dealers show up and a couple hundred people came to pick through the wardrobes, ladder-back chairs, quilts, and Fiesta pitchers on display.  It caused such a traffic jam on his road that one of his neighbors, as a joke, called the Sheriff to complain.  The Sheriff was not amused that one of his deputies had to take the time to do traffic control.  In the years since, Lou has consented to paying overtime for a couple of off-duty deputies to come out and direct the hundreds of cars now showing up.  The flea market, including the area for parking, now covers over fifteen acres and it has become so successful that Lou built a pole-barn for his best, year-after-year dealers.  While there have been very few years when the weather has been uncooperative, the covered area is highly coveted for the shade it provides on hot late-spring days and for the perception that those who are in that location have perhaps higher-quality items for sale.  Being the entrepreneur he is, Lou also hosts a farmers market in the pole-barn on weekends from late April to early November, operates a corn maze in the fall and holds a free Halloween party/hayride for the community.

Well, back to Prairie Antiques…  Tom says that he has seen a slight increase in traffic since the first of the year.  He thinks that Main Street program is finally beginning to show some results.  He and Michelle were skeptically when the program was proposed by Jeff Mayes, the area Community Economic Development Agent, but they decided, along with some other downtown merchants and civic-minded residents, that they needed to try something to help rejuvenate Walnut Shade.  At the time, in 2005, Tom was working in St. Joe, driving forty-five miles each way to make $20 an hour as an adjunct professor in the sociology department at Missouri Western State University.  Michelle was operating their bed and breakfast, Holly House, and working part-time at Gwen Burton’s antique shop downtown.

“If it weren’t for Main Street, my Corolla would have 250,000 miles on it instead of 200,000,” Tom says, laughing.  “But, I’d probably be making $25 an hour at Missouri Western, instead of $7.50 here in the shop.”

“I think you are being generous,” Michelle chimed in, with a half-smile on her face.  “I think together, we made $7.25 an hour last month.  And if we hadn’t had those six couples for Mother’s Day and the eight the weekend of Memorial Day at the house, we might not have paid the rent on the store.”

“Ah, yes.  It’s a good life,” Tom declares, his voice trailing off.

Yes, life in small town America is good.  Or it will be on the 4th of July, for sure.

Chapter 6

July 7, 2011
The 4th of July celebration was a great success and the weather cooperated wonderfully.  The high temperature was only 85, with not a cloud to be seen in the sky.  Al Higgs reported that the VFW sold 372 chicken dinners.

The car show attracted thirty two automobiles, seven trucks, and this year, five antique tractors.  Craig Gilbert’s ’63 Ford Fairlane took first place  and Don Norman’s ’52 International won the truck competition.  For the first time, an import, a ’65 MGB, placed in the show, winning second.

Jimmy Gilbert and Andrea Duffy won the three-legged race and Mark Derby came in first in the sack race despite being quite embarrassed that his parents made him enter.  Les says that Mark’s friends have been unrelenting in their ribbing of him, but the $25 prize for being overall leader in  points in the games assuaged his feelings somewhat.  When asked what he intended to do with the $25, Mark said that he would either add it to his college fund or spend it on iTunes.  His grin seemed to indicate that new music was perhaps more in his future.

Dr. Reinholdt was not able to conduct the band concert this year.  Marie said that he has been feeling tired for a couple of weeks.  We all hope to see him again next year.  Jim Filmore filled in for Dr. Reinholdt and did an admirable job.

The fireworks show was more spectacular than ever, just as promised by Ray Evans.  Particularly  inspiring was the light banner at the end spelling out “America the Beautiful,” a fitting end to a beautiful day.

The long weekend was spent with family and friends, kids home from school, and former residents of Walnut Shade returning to renew old acquaintances.  Next week, I’ll try to catch up with all the news…

…from patriotically renewed and chicken-fed Walnut Shade…

But for now, I remain

Your Faithful Correspondent

Holidays are milestones in the lives of residents of small-town America.  How would we make it through the summer without the 4th of July celebration, or prepare ourselves for the long winter without Thanksgiving.  April isn’t the cruelest month, as T. S. Eliot said because of the unpredictable weather (now my literary friends will probably say that Eliot wasn’t talking about the weather, though I’ll argue that my lilacs get zapped on a regular basis by an early spring frost; maybe T. S. was luckier with his in England), but because there are no holidays in April, except for the years when Easter falls then.  Well, okay, Easter is in April 85% of the time, but since it is always on Sunday, it just doesn’t seem like a holiday; I suppose if you add in the activities on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and new dresses for the women and new shoes for the kids, there’s some holiday-like feel to it; but give me a good old day off as the real measure of a holiday.  Of course, since I’m retired, I never have a day off.

When I agreed to take on this column, Stan Hawkins gave me a banker’s box full of things that Arlene White, the previous correspondent,  had collected over the years.  Arlene was a meticulous record-keeper and the box contained the notebooks she had kept with the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone she had talked to from the day she began the column.  In addition to the contact information she kept, she also made notes about the people she interviewed.  J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI agents were slackers in their intelligence-gathering compared to the dossiers Arlene accumulated on Walnut Shaders.  I’ve tried to be mindful of peoples’ privacy, but it is almost impossible not to look at Arlene’s speculation on why Mrs. X wouldn’t share her recipe for shortbread with the Prairie View Extension Club members, or why Mr. Y declined to teach 4-H woodworking.  Why didn’t Mr. and Mrs. Z have Sunday lunch with the Q’s for three years and then agree to be the Z’s daughter’s godparents?  Why did Miss K go away for the summer and come back three dress-sizes smaller?  Why was Mr. P’s phone number the same exchange as Leavenworth?  Ah, small-town life…

During the last six months of her life, Arlene knew that she was dying and she spent much of her time organizing her last notebook for the new correspondent, whoever that might have turned out to be.  About once a year, in addition to washing and stretching her lace curtains and sorting through the canned fruit in her root cellar to make sure it was still good, she would update her contact list with new addresses and phone numbers.  But for her last list, she took the extra step of alphabetizing the entries and numbering them, 1 to 413.  When I took over the column, I was shocked that she could have a list of 413 people she contacted, in a town of 287.  One day, I found  part of the secret:  she had numbered wrong!   Arlene used common three-hole punched notebook paper for her contact lists, twenty-five lines to a page.  For a list with 413 entries, she should have used seventeen pages, but there were only thirteen pages of numbers in her notebook.  At first, I thought that some of the pages were missing, but after double-checking the alphabetization, it seems that Arlene had inadvertently skipped from entry number 200 to entry number 301 (the same mistake I make in my checkbook every now and then, the one that irritates Judy to no end).

OK, so that solved the mystery of how she could have 413 contacts, but it still meant that she had 313 at the end of her tenure as correspondent, twenty-six more than the population of the town!  In searching the Census data for Walnut Shade, I determined that  of the 287 residents, 210 were over 25 years of age; I imagine that Arlene didn’t talk to many children or very young adults (all of those under 25) and that she probably only called three-fourths of the remaining 210, or about 150 people.  So who were the other 163?  In looking over the list, I recognized a couple dozen who lived on farms or rural acreages around Walnut Shade, another couple dozen or so from Fremont and other towns in Miller County and perhaps fifteen to twenty who had moved from the county and state, leaving 75 unaccounted for.  One day as I was taking Jerry for a walk, I passed the cemetery and a light bulb went off:  many of Arlene’s “contacts” were right here in the Walnut Shade cemetery!  For whatever reason, whether out of a reluctance to admit that they were gone, or perhaps because Arlene did consult them on a regular basis, a quarter of the people on Arlene’s list were people that she is still corresponding with wherever she, and they, are now.

Chapter 7

July 14, 2011
The 4th of July weekend was a busy one in town, not just for the parade, fireworks display, chicken barbecue and car show, but because many family members and friends from out of town came to visit.  I didn’t have a chance to report on the comings and goings last week, so here’s a partial list of the reunions around Walnut Shade over the 4th:

Rachel and Gretchen Watkins surprised their parents, Betty and Harold, who didn’t know that Rachel was coming home from Paris, where she is studying architecture, nor that Gretchen would be taking some time from wrapping up her studies at Rutgers to visit.  It was the first time in over a year that the girls had seen each other.

George Wilson spent the day with Bruce and Barbara and Barbara’s brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from St. Joseph.
Eddie and Glenda Singleton hosted a get together with Charles and Jennifer Singleton from Manhattan.  Hannah, Lauren and Emily, had a great time with their cousins Rachel and Jessica.  Lauren and Jessica came in second in the three-legged race.

Jody Tyler’s mother and father spent the weekend with her and Ron.  Jacob enjoyed the car show with his grandfather.  Mr. And Mrs. Phillips live in Minneapolis.

Inez Harris’ nephew, Harry and his wife Pamela, visited on Saturday from Marysville.

Michelle Clemons said that Holly House was full for the weekend,  with visitors from Kansas City, Little Rock, Davenport, and Perth, Australia.  Her Australian guests were documentary film makers visiting sites on the Oregon Trail for a film for Australian TV.

Arlene and Don Cornett hosted Don’s brother and sister-in-law from Colorado.  Don’s brother, Jeff, manages a ski resort near Steamboat Springs and Jan owns an art gallery in Steamboat.

Marie and Marshall Green hosted the other county commissioners and their wives at a picnic in Harris Park.  They enjoyed the VFW’s chicken barbecue and cheered the participants in the children’s games.

Glenn and Lucille and Tom and Sheila Miller had lunch on Saturday and then watched the fireworks on the 4th from Tom and Sheila’s back deck.

Matthew and Andrew Oswald, Frank and Sally’s sons, invited the Singleton cousins over for ice cream Sunday afternoon.  They all played badminton and several games on Wii.

Jerry and Susan Hall and their son David went to St. Joseph on Saturday to spend the day with Jerry’s parents.  David’s cousins Jacob and Matt returned with them on Sunday.  Jacob and Matt will be spending a couple of weeks with David.

Ruth Stanford’s son Michael and daughter-in-law Sheila went to church with her on Sunday and then took her to Fremont for lunch.  In the afternoon, they visited with Ruth’s friend, Marjorie Frank.  Michael and Sheila returned to Kansas City in the evening.

On Sunday, Lori Mendenhall had a visit from her sister and brother-in-law, the Marks from McDougal.

Things are back to normal in Walnut Shade and this week has been pretty quiet, so…

Until next week, I remain

Your Faithful Correspondent

After the excitement of the holiday weekend, I think most of us were looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet.  There’s nothing more peaceful than biscuits and gravy or scrambled eggs at Shirley’s.  Most Monday mornings, I have breakfast there with the Walnut Shade “Ministerial Alliance.”  Now I am certainly not a minister and not, on the whole, religious (though I do consider George Harrison’s guitar solo on “And Your Bird Can Sing” as something close to angelic), but when I retired, Father Rick, Rev. Derby and Pastor Paul invited me to join their weekly get together, which they use to decompress from their weekend duties.  One would think that they would sleep in Monday mornings after non-stop shepherding of their flocks from Wednesday night choir practice (Rev. Derby) to Saturday night mass (Father Rick) to Sunday morning worship (all of them) to Sunday night prayer service (Pastor Paul).  But apparently, the Monday morning breakfast meeting is critical to their spiritual renewal each week.  I take full credit for that.  Well, maybe not, but I do occasionally take the opportunity to pose some theological question that seems to recharge their batteries.

Recently, I asked if they believed that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  Father Rick said the real question is whether there is intelligent life here on Earth.  Big laugh all around.  Given that there are a billion suns in our galaxy and a billion galaxies in the universe, I said that it seemed the odds would favor at least a few of those suns having planets that could support life.   Pastor Paul said that since there was no mention in the Bible of life anywhere but here, he tended to think that we are the only ones.  “God would have let us know by now if there are other humans out there someplace,” he ventured.

“But would life have to be in human form?” Father Rick asked.  “Maybe it’s like those rocks on Star Trek that moved around and nearly ate Captain Kirk.”

“Well, it stands to reason that God wouldn’t have created just one place in a universe as big as ours that could support life.  Why go to all the trouble to create a billion billion suns and only one Earth? I think there must be life out there that is at least as advances as we are; probably more so.” Rev. Derby suggested.

“Wouldn’t take much,” laughed Father Rick.

“Well, I ask the question because I’ve been wondering:  if there is advanced life out there somewhere, did they also have some sort of original sin?  And did Jesus spend his time going from planet to planet being crucified to save them from that sin?”  I dropped this query into the conversation to see where they would go with it.

At the next table, a couple of Shirley’s regulars, seeing the puzzled looks on the ministers’ faces, started chuckling.
“In three weeks, I give my final homily at St. Brendan’s and chances are, I’m not going to raise that question.  But I will think about it and have an answer for you on the Monday after I officially retire,” Father Rick said, smiling at the prospect of giving up his duties but not his engagement with his faith.

“Well, I’m obviously not retiring, but I’m going to have to think about that one, too.”  Rev. Katherine Derby, the minister at St. Stephen’s UCC was far from retirement, being in her middle thirties, but she too was one who thought long and deeply about the meaning of her faith and her relationship with a higher power, if there was one.

Pastor Paul was still mulling the question when, Billy Thornton, one of the regulars at the next table leaned over and said, “How do you know there are a billion stars?  Maybe the sky’s just a painting, like they did for all those fake moon landings.”
At that point, the theological portion of the program ended and it was on to government conspiracies, a discussion that anyone could participate in fact free.

After a stimulating hour of hearing a recap of the latest “news” from Fox 5, the cable channel out of St. Joseph, I decided to say my goodbyes to Billy and Ralph and Pastor Paul (Father Rick and Rev. Derby having taken their leave when the talk turned once again to the provenance of President Obama) and walked home with the intention of finally starting “Moby Dick,” which I had been putting off for a month.  On the way, I popped into the Post Office to pick up the mail and found a letter waiting for me from the IRS, saying that they had discovered an error on our 2010 tax return and that we were due an additional refund of $22.  Judy will be thrilled; we can finally take that Mediterranean cruise we’ve been talking about!  Or have boiled shrimp dinners at Shirley’s on Friday night.

Chapter 8

July 21, 2011

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met on Tuesday night to review progress on entries for the county fair.  Jody Webster, the county 4-H agent, said she was very pleased that there will be entries in public speaking, photography, technology, fashion, dog, cat and rabbit shows, and small livestock.  The fair will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, August 25 to 27, at the fairgrounds in Fremont.

Pam and Bill Heath went to Fremont on Sunday afternoon with Ron and Jody Tyler.  After lunch at the Pioneer, they saw “Larry Crowne” at the Empire Theater.  Jody reports that it is a “sweet movie”; Bill and Ron’s review was less than favorable since they thought the couples were going to see “Horrible Bosses.”

Bill Heath met with Ron Worth about constructing a “water retention structure” (aka fishing pond) on his farm.  Preliminary plans were approved and they will be submitted to the SCS board at its August meeting.

Phyllis Dane reports that the Miller County Master Gardeners are planning to hold their fall garden tour at various sites in Tahoma Township this year, though most of the gardens will be in Walnut Shade.  This year’s theme is “Contemplation” and gardeners have been creating spaces that encourage quiet meditation.  St. Brendan’s Parish House garden and the Reflection garden at St. Stephen’s will be featured on the tour.  Tickets will be available from Master Gardeners and at Ryan’s Garden shop in late August.  The tour will be Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October 1.

Ruth Stanford finished piecing the quilt for her great-granddaughter Elizabeth.  The Women’s Guild at St. Stephen’s will do the final quilting for Ruth, who will be starting another project soon.  She just received news that her grandson Richard and wife Elizabeth are expecting a baby in January.  Congratulations to Ruth.

St. Brendan’s will hold a pie auction on Sunday, August 7th.  Pies will be made by the youth of the parish and the maker of the pie that goes for the highest amount will win an iPod, donated by the Stop and Go.

The Prairie View Extension Club met at the Extension office in Fremont on Monday along with other clubs in the county for their annual lunch and business meeting.  Inez Harris presided at the meeting and new officers for 2012-2013 were elected.  Inez will continue as president, with Bernice Warren from the Evening Star club as vice president; Barbara Turner from the McDougal Home Arts club was elected secretary; Judy Brown, representing Spring River Homemakers, was selected to be treasurer; and, Millie Warren from the Longwood Leaders club was elected historian and parliamentarian.  After the business meeting, members worked on slippers for the hospital.

Mayor Combs is back at work after his bout with the flu.  He encourages everyone to come to the Town Council meeting on August 1st to discuss the proposed increase in membership fees for the Walnut Shade Volunteer Fire Department.

Arlene Cornet and Sandy Cramer had lunch with Rev. Derby on Monday to talk about plans for the fall festival at St. Stephen’s.  Glenda Singleton will also serve on the planning committee with Arlene and Sandy.

Alice Amory, Dorothy Westover, and Anna Mae Bundy spent Saturday helping Phyllis Dane re-shelve books at the Library.  Last week, a group of genealogists from the Community of Christ Church in Independence were in town doing research in the archives at the Library and Museum.

Helen Baker and Lorene Hanson visited with Dorothy Norman after the Extension Club meeting in Fremont.  Dorothy sprained her ankle at Mass Saturday evening and was not able to attend.  Dorothy has knitted twenty pairs of slippers for the hospital.

Barb Wilson, Marie Green and Sarah Brown went to St. Joseph on Tuesday to do some “shopping” but they were not very lucky in their “purchases.”

Well, here’s wishing you good luck, and…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

“Shopping” has become a euphemism in Walnut Shade for going to St. Joseph or Kansas City to visit the casinos.  Everyone in town knows what “shopping” means and gives a sly little grin when someone uses the word, but folks are still just a bit shy about admitting that they are going to go gamble.  Perhaps it’s because no one is very successful at it, or maybe they feel guilty about the way they treated the Ryans when they had a run of good fortune and won $400,000 at Blackjack.   At first, everyone seemed happy for them, congratulating them on their skill at cards.  But after a while, some people began to resent the fact that the Ryans were able to pay off their mortgage, buy a new pickup, and settle their bill at Tractor Sales and Service.  According to a few of their neighbors, the Ryans started to get “uppity” and after a while, the gossip about Sherry having a gambling problem got to them and they moved to Atchison, which just seemed to reinforce the “gambling problem” notion (closer to St. Joe, you know).  At any rate, “shopping” trips are now limited among Walnut Shadites and the results, whatever they might be, are greatly downplayed.

All of this is rather curious, given the fact that Walnut Shade was essentially founded by “gamblers” in the sense that the folks who passed through here on the Oregon and Mormon Trails were taking a big gamble on their futures.  On the other hand, perhaps the ones who decided to stay rather than head on west were not, at heart, the gamblers in the bunch; they were the ones who decided to play it relatively safe and stay close to edge of the frontier.  The ancestors of the Bradfords, Danes, Greens and Ruth Stanford probably wouldn’t say that what they were doing in 1847 was playing it safe, given that life on the edge of the frontier was more a matter of surviving than of thriving.  Francis Parkman, in “The Oregon Trail:  Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life” gave a good description of the day-to-day challenges faced not only  by those on the journey but those who supported the travel.  For example, his sketch of the town of Westport, now part of Kansas City, is particularly enlightening and hilarious: “Whiskey, by the way, circulated more freely in Westport than is altogether safe in a place where every man carries a loaded pistol in his pocket.”

Walnut Shade emerged from the spot along the trail, in what would become Miller County, where the wagon trains stopped for the night, to rest, eat, pray, feed oxen, mules and horses and decided whether they would proceed any further.  Most did, but a few decided that where they were at that particular place in time was where they should be.  Thus, the first permanent residents of the future Walnut Shade were Henry and Violet Dane, Rev. Jeremiah and Rebecca Stanford, and Franklin Bradford.  Henry Dane had been a blacksmith in St. Louis and he quickly found his skills in demand by the emigrants whose wagons, though sturdily built, always needed a variety of repairs during the long trip west.  The blacksmith shop he opened thrived and he eventually became a wealthy man, a cornerstone of the town.

Franklin Bradford was only seventeen when he made the decision to stay behind when the rest of his family left with the wagon train.  Franklin had not been happy when he learned that his family was pulling up stakes in Arrow Rock, Missouri to head to Oregon.  A budding artist, he had been apprenticed in Arrow Rock to George Caleb Bingham and was planning to travel with the Bingham family to St. Louis in 1848 to continue his work and studies there.  Franklin’s father insisted that he join the family on their journey west instead, but by the time they reached Kansas, he had made himself so unliked among the other travelers that his father relented and left Franklin in the care of Jeremiah and Rebecca Stanford, who had already decided that they were not going farther than what was becoming a settlement on the banks of the Little Blue River.

The Stanfords were neighbors of the Bradfords in Arrow Rock and Franklin grew up with the Stanford children.  Jeremiah was the minister of the Arrow Rock Disciples Church and believed that he had been called to be a missionary in the west.  Soon after the family join the other emigrants from Boone, Cooper, Howard and Saline Counties in central Missouri, Rebecca became ill and they thought that they were going to have to return to Arrow Rock.  But by the time they reached Independence, she had regained her strength and they continued on with the other travelers.  Her health deteriorated again shortly after they left Independence and when they reached the future Walnut Shade, Rev. Stanford concluded that they should stay and build a church there to minister to the people heading west.  So the town was created by a blacksmith and a preacher.  And a teenaged painter.

Over the years, the site of Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop was occupied by a stable (used unofficially by Pony Express riders from St. Joseph), then a Ford dealership, a used car lot, and finally by the Stop and Go, a convenience store where you can buy gas, auto parts, pizza, sub sandwiches and milk, rent DVDs and purchase a lottery ticket.  Of course, the lottery is not considered gambling by residents of Walnut Shade, since the money the state collects supposedly goes into education.  It’s a good thing the schools aren’t teaching the odds on winning the lottery or there wouldn’t be as many tickets sold each week.  So far, there haven’t been any winners at the Stop and Go.  Probably just as well; they’d have to move to Atchison.

Chapter 9

July 28, 2011

Rachel and Jessica Singleton went to Manhattan on Saturday to help celebrate the birthday of their twin cousins, Hannah and Emily, who turned thirteen.  Mom Jennifer, who teaches photography at K-State, set up a photo booth for the girls’ guests and everyone had a great time having their pictures taken.  Jennifer said she didn’t realize that the booth would hold ten girls at a time.

Rev. Derby and her family were luncheon guests of Hazel and Millie Bradford on Sunday.

Dr. Cramer reports that all the puppies brought to his office by Jane Combs have been adopted.  Jane ended up taking two of them, herself.

Stephanie Barnett is home from school for the summer and has a job working for Stan Hawkins at the Miller County Ledger.

Dorothy Westover reminds members of the Excelsior Book Club that the club’s next meeting will be on August 3rd at the Library.  Dorothy says that she’s been getting calls from members who thought that the August meeting had been cancelled.

Pastor Paul Powers was in Kansas City Monday and Tuesday attending classes at Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary.  He has been taking correspondence classes to complete his Master’s degree, but every other month, he spends two days on campus.

Anna Mae Bundy, Sherri Brown and Connie Thompson went to Kansas City on Monday.  In the morning, they attended a lecture at the Kansas City Public Library, had lunch at the Phillips House and spent the afternoon at Rainy Day Books.

Dale Hunt has been hired by Miller County as their IT manager.

Sarah Heath was elected president of the Willing Workers 4-H Club at their meeting Monday night.  Andrea Duffy will serve as vice-president and Hannah Tucker will be secretary-treasurer.

The Main Street PRIDE committee met last Thursday.  Jeff Corning from the Kansas Pride program and Sally Henning from the Kansas Main Street program attended the meeting.  The committee is making good progress on its entry for the PRIDE competition, according to Jeff and Sally commended the group on completing design guidelines for downtown renovations.  Promotions for the fall were discussed, including the Prairie View Festival in September and Halloween Howl in October.

It seems like there is a lot of activity in town for this time of year.  I think I need a nap, but…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

From July 4th to the end of August, Walnut Shade is pretty quiet.  Oh, the tourists come through if the weather isn’t too hot, which it usually is (average daily high in July:  94 degrees), and the Tasty Freeze buzzes at night with the kids hanging out and making a nuisance of themselves, but for the most part, the town slows down.  The gardeners do all their watering before 7:00 a.m., and around 8:00, the farmers who have gotten their chores done come into town for breakfast at Shirley’s.  The downtown shops usually open around 10:00, or 11:00, or 2:00, which has been a real point of contention in the Main Street/PRIDE Committee.  Right now, there are five antique/accessory stores, Ryan’s Garden Center, Sally Oswald’s gallery, the Book Ends bookstore, the museum, Singleton’s Rare Books and Antiques, the coffee shop (Bach’s Lunch), Tyler’s Fine Art, and Dorothy Thornton’s salon (the Beauty Spot), each with an owner who has a different agenda.  Most of the shops are full-time, serious enterprises, owned by folks who know that consistency is a key component of making money.  A couple of the businesses, however, were opened as a hobby or as a way of asserting influence in the town.  Jody Tyler, for example, really sees herself as a writer (she has a blog!) and the gallery is a way to earn some money until she can turn her work into a book or a subscription service.  While she does some of her writing at the gallery, she says that the tourists interrupt her train of thought, so the gallery is open only when it really suits her.  She thinks the sign on the window, which invites people to give her a call and she’ll come down and open the shop, is sufficient.

Lou and Lois Hawkins opened their antique shop as a way of storing the overflow from the collection they’ve accumulated over the years from their annual flea market.  While Lou wouldn’t admit it, they purchased the building they are in, as well as four others downtown, (admittedly at a time when no one wanted the property) as a way of reminding people that his grandfather had been the biggest property-owner in Walnut Shade until the Depression.  Hawkins Mercantile was one of the largest dry-goods stores between Manhattan and Marysville, spanning the entire block between 2nd and 3rd Street.  Like Jody Tyler’s gallery, Hawkins’ Antiques usually has a sign on the door telling people to give Lou a call if they see something they want, if they can see anything through the always-dirty windows.

Sally Oswald, the chair of the Main Street/PRIDE committee, has tried to convince Jody and Lou that the success of downtown depends on everyone having consistent hours and days of business.  The committee, of which Jody and Lou are an essential, contributing part, agreed that the minimum time to be open would be Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00, with Sunday being optional.   But, agreement doesn’t always result in action and most weeks, Jody and Lou will be in their shops when the mood strikes them.  Sally, of course, is ambivalent about this because while not exactly competing with Jody for the art buyers who come to Walnut Shade, she does benefit when customers can see the works she has for sale without jumping through any hoops.  So, she pushes, but not too hard.

I got a call from Mary McCready confirming my participation in the Miller County Art Fair.  The Fair is the second weekend of October and this is the second year for the event.  I suppose it could be argued that this is really the first year, since a freak storm blew threw last year, dropping the temperature to 32 degrees early Saturday morning and then settling in with a cold rain/snow mixture.  A few artists had set up their tents the night before, but when the weather forecast indicated that it was going to be a really nasty couple of days, the Fair was cancelled, much to the relief/disappointment/angst of the artists, some of whom had come from as far away as Kansas City.

I’m not at all sure why I let myself be talked into being a part of the Fair, since I haven’t done anything like this before.  And in talking to some of the artists around here, it doesn’t really seem like something I’m going to enjoy all that much.  Since I don’t have a big inventory of paintings, I’m going to have to hustle to get some work done.  Then, I have to find a tent and way of displaying my art.  That might not be too hard after all; Lou Hawkins has several that he sets up for the flea market.  The thought of sitting there for two days, having people evaluate my work seems a little masochistic.  I’ve had other artist tell me that when someone says they like your work, it means that they aren’t interested in buying it and they’ve seen something they like better at another booth.  Well, I guess I’ve made the commitment and all I can do is paint like mad between now and then and hope for another freak storm.

Chapter 10

August 4, 2011

Father Miguel (Mike) Garza was installed as the new pastor of St. Brendan’s on Sunday.  Bishop Timothy Malone from Kansas City, Kansas, presided at the ceremony.  After the service, a potluck was held in the Parish Hall.  Father Mike and retiring Father Rick Randolph were surprised with a cake with their pictures on it.  Father Rick was also presented with a certificate for a five-day Caribbean cruise, which he will be taking next spring, “well before hurricane season,” he says.

The Excelsior Book Club met yesterday at the Library.  Lunch was provided by Jerry and Susan Hall.  Jerry is the new chef at the K-State Faculty Club and Susan, of course, owns Bach’s Lunch.  Dorothy Westover led a discussion of  “The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.”  The next book the club members will read is “The Greater Journey,” by David McCullough.  Their next meeting will be September 7.

Jeff and Pat Beck and Amanda and Curt Jackson saw “Cowboys and Aliens” at the Empire on Saturday.  Curt, whom Amanda says thinks of himself as another Roger Ebert, says it is “a metaphor for our continuing struggle to contend with the unknown in ourselves.”  Jeff says that it’s “a good action flick.”  Choose your critic.

Alice and Pat McManus adopted one of the puppies from Dr. Cramer and they are taking “Roxie” to training classes in Fremont, sponsored by K-State Extension.  When they complete the basic training, they plan to enroll her in classes to become a therapy dog at Miller County General.

Shirley’s was closed on Monday and Tuesday so Shirley could visit her sister, who was briefly  hospitalized in St. Louis.  Shirley said that her sister was hit on the head by a ball fouled off by Albert Pujols during a Cardinals’ baseball game.  The doctors have said that there was no concussion and she is recovering at home.  The Cardinals beat the Cubs 13 to 5.

Craig Duffy reports that he will be giving away samples of his milk, butter and ice cream at the Miller County Fair.  His  ice cream has been in taste-tests at Shirley’s and Bach’s Lunch.

Barb Wilson and Sarah Brown organized a surprise birthday party for Marie Green on Monday at the courthouse in Fremont.  A giant card was signed by all the courthouse staff.  Jerry Hall baked a cake for her and Craig Duffy contributed ice cream.

Don Norman was admitted to Miller County General on Saturday for observation.   Dorothy says that he hasn’t been eating much lately, but she thinks that’s because of the new vegan diet she has  been trying out.  You’d think that at 90 he could have a little meat if he wanted it…

Well, until next week, with cheeseburger in hand, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

Nearly the whole town turned out for the installation of Father Mike as St. Brendan’s new priest.  The cynic in me thinks that it was mostly for the potluck after the service (there are some amazing cooks at that church, including  a couple who attend a cooking school in San Francisco every year), but in reality it was as much to say “thank you” to Father Rick as anything.  In every community, there are people who seem to be the glue that holds everything together.  On more than one occasion, Father Rick has been that glue.  When the tornado hit the north side of town, he was the person who took charge of the situation before the fire department and sheriff could get there.  In the ‘80s, when the bank closed and several farmers were facing bankruptcy, Father Rick organized a countywide committee to provide assistance and counseling to everyone affected.  When the Baptist Church burned to the ground, Father Rick offered St. Brendan’s Parish Hall for services for a couple of weeks until they found a temporary home in the old box factory. No matter what faith we are, we all realize how important Father Rick has been to the life of this town, not just to his parishioners.

Father Mike has been in town for about a month now, and everyone is quite taken with him.  Young and enthusiastic, it’s a safe bet that he is going to carry on Father Rick’s tradition and do great things for the church and town.  I hesitate to compare the situation with “Going My Way,” because Father Mike admits that he looks nothing like Bing Crosby and Father Rick would be highly amused to be thought of as Barry Fitzgerald (and besides, of the two, Father Rick is the one who plays serious golf), but I think many people in town were reminded of that movie, seeing the two together:  youth and maturity.  Father Rick knew that might be the case, so when he gave his last homily at Sunday Mass the week before the installation, he surprised everyone by taking his text, he said, from the fourth book of the Byrds, chapter nine (“My Back Pages”):  “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”  I understand it brought down the house, so to speak (as well as lots of tears to the congregated eyes).

I understand the sentiment of feeling like you are younger now than you were when you were in your twenties, for example.  When you are that age, you want people to think you are older than you are, that you know more than you do.  When you are in your sixties, if a clerk forgets to give you your Senior Citizen discount, you are flattered (though you don’t hesitate to point out that you should get one) and a sense of history is perhaps more salient than knowing everything.  The facts of the changes in a community, for example, are important, but the awareness of the  differences those changes are creating is critical, too.

In addition to the empty houses I see, I’ve been noticing new enterprises around town.  Who would have thought that a town the size of Walnut Shade would have a software company?  Admittedly, it only has two employees:  Stuart Goddard and his eleven year old son, Miles, but Prairie Solutions is growing (I should have said that it only has two employees in Walnut Shade; Stuart contracts out quite a lot of the work to several people scattered across the globe).  Amanda Jackson’s tax service has been doing reasonably well (even though for the last few years, most people in Walnut Shade have had pretty simple tax returns; the 1040EZ fits the kind of economy we have been experiencing).   And Curt Jackson has been very successful with his packaging and delivery business.  If you buy a painting from Sally Oswald, a piece of 19th century furniture or a knick-knack at one of the antique stores downtown, Curt will either wrap it up securely for you and take it to the UPS station in Fremont, or deliver it himself within a one hundred mile radius.  As long as the antique stores continue to do well, Curt will, too.

One of the most interesting and fastest-growing enterprises in town is Duffy’s Dairy.  For the last few weeks, I have been participating in taste-testing Craig’s ice cream at Shirley’s (not, of course, as an unwilling participant since I’ll admit that ice cream is my main vice).  The Duffys’ story is nearly as inspirational in its own way as the work that Father Rick has done in the community.  Consider:  in 1940, there were nearly 2700 farms in Miller County and a few more than 2000 of those farms kept dairy cows and made a part of their living from the milk products they sold.  Today, there is exactly one such farm: Duffy’s Dairy, owned and operated by Craig and Teresa Duffy of the long line of Miller County Duffys.  I include this last piece of information because five years ago, that long line of Miller County Duffys nearly became the short line of Wichita Duffys.  At the time, Craig was farming the land that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had tended, but he says that he was within a few months of signing a contract to sell the farm and taking a job at Boeing.  The late 1990s and early 2000s were not kind to Kansas farmers and Craig had not made a profit in several years.  Farming costs had risen faster than prices for products and the number of farmers that sold out every year might have been considered a natural disaster had they been wiped out by a drought, flood or tornado.

On the brink of this change in the family’s life, Craig’s neighbor asked him if he would be interested in buying his dairy cows.  Doing so would increase Craig’s herd by 200%, since he only had two, which he kept mainly for the family’s own supply of milk and because his daughter Andrea has raised Cecilia and Annette as her 4-H project.  In what Craig describes as a moment of sheer lunacy, he agreed, knowing that the Browns were in worse financial shape than his family.  Coincidentally, a couple of weeks earlier, he had attended a farm sale in a nearby county and among the equipment for sale was an old, but nearly-complete milk bottling operation, covered with dust, along with a thousand bottles in unopened boxes.  At the time, buying that equipment didn’t enter Craig’s head and apparently it didn’t occur to anyone else, because the equipment went unsold.  When Fred Brown offered to sell him his cows, a somewhat dim lightbulb went off over Craig’s head and despite the debts and doubts, he was pretty sure he saw an opportunity.  He called the owner of the milk bottling equipment, made an offer and went into the dairy business.

Fred and most of Craig’s other neighbors thought he had slipped a cog.  But with five years of hard work, more than a little help from K-State Extension and a small grant from Farm Aid, Duffy’s Dairy now supplies stores as far away as Manhattan and St. Joseph with milk, butter and soon, ice cream. Craig’s operation is what might be called a boutique dairy, so the production is limited and his fans buy everything available.  When he looks back on his decision to begin the dairy, he realizes that if he had sold the farm, he’d be working forty hours a week building airplanes and getting three weeks paid vacation; now, he and the rest of the family and three employees are working sixty to seventy hours a week and vacation is usually a thing of the past.  But he wouldn’t change that for anything.  “We are doing what we love and Cecilia and Annette are happy now that they can spend the day chatting with their new sisters.  They were getting pretty tired just talking to each other.”

Stories like Craig and Teresa’s make living in a place like Walnut Shade so interesting.  There are no straight, simple paths to contentment at the end of the day.  Speaking of paths, it’s time for Jerry’s walk.  I think he wants to head downtown.  I forgot to mention that he has been participating in the ice cream taste-testing, too.  So far his favorite is Neapolitan; he never has been good at making decisions.

Chapter 11

August 11, 2011

The last couple of weeks have seen the return of summer to Walnut Shade.  We had an unusually cool June and July, but the thermometer hit a high of 99 on Monday and it looks like we will stay in the upper nineties for a couple of weeks at least.  The humidity has been high as well, perhaps because of the continued flooding along the Missouri River.

Marie Green reports that the County Commission approved their annual contribution to the Miller County Fair.  The fair, beginning in two weeks, looks to be bigger and better than ever.  Thursday night is the livestock parade and dance (the dance is for the kids, not the livestock).  Exhibits and contests are scheduled all day on Friday, with the fish fry that night, and Saturday will see the awarding of ribbons at the closing ceremony.

Sherri Brown, town librarian, is working with the Excelsior Book Club to promote “Walnut Shade Reads” this fall.  The idea is to get as many people as possible to read the same book.  She got the idea when she and Anna Mae Bundy and Connie Thompson visited the Kansas City Public Library a few weeks ago.  Sherri’s asking for nominations for the book to be read.  You can make your suggestion by filling out a form and dropping it at the library or at Bach’s Lunch.  Forms are available at those two locations and at City Hall, St.Brendan’s, St.Stephen’s, First Baptist Church, the VFW and American Legion.

John Cramer, Jr., son of Dr. John and Sandy Cramer, received word that he has been awarded a full four-year scholarship to the University of California at Santa Cruz where he will study robotics engineering and astrophysics.  He will graduate in December from Miller County High School and will enter UC-Santa Cruz as a second semester sophomore.

Inez Harris reminds members of the Prairie View Extension Club that the regular meeting will be held at Shirley’s next Monday afternoon.  Rosemary Wilson from the K-State Extension office in Manhattan will give an update on the state budget and present a program on hypertension.

Alvin Begley and Mike Brown spent Saturday afternoon painting a couple of rooms at the VFW hall.  Marj Begley and Elaine Brown supervised.

Tom and Michelle Clemons received word from the documentary film makers who stayed at Holly House over the 4th of July that they will be coming back in October to shoot some additional footage for their film on the Oregon Trail.  They have been traveling through the western states since their time here.

May Finley, Gwen Burton and Andrea Evans and attended the antique show and sale in St.Joseph  over the weekend.  May reports that “steam punk” seems to be the hot style right now.  Whatever that is will probably begin showing up in the shops downtown.

Miss Cecilia Davenport, who retired in 1980 after teaching high school English here for forty years, has just published her memoir, “The Elements of My Style.”  She’ll be signing copies at the library on Saturday.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met at the First Baptist Church on Monday to finalize preparations for their entries in the Miller County Fair.  John Cramer, Jr. is entered in Public Speaking, Technology and Photography.  Lauri and Andrea Duffy have entries for the Dog and Rabbit shows and Andrea is entering Public Speaking.  Jennifer Hall will compete in the Fashion Review and Tyler, Sarah, and Taylor Heath have entries in Small Livestock.  Hannah Tucker is entered in Public Speaking, the Fashion Review, Photography and the Cat Show.  Good luck to all the kids; we know they’ll come home with a mound of blue ribbons.

The Miller County SCS board gave its OK to build a water retention structure on Bill Heath’s farm.  Construction should start in October, Bill reports.  If everything goes as planned, he’ll be pulling fish out of that pond in a couple of years.  Oh, wait, he wants to remind everyone that it’s entirely for erosion control; if some fish happen to get into it, well, there’s just no fighting Mother Nature.

You know, I think I’ll go over to Bach’s Lunch and have one of Susan Hall’s delicious fish sandwiches, but…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

I always know when the dog days of summer have arrived because Jerry doesn’t want to leave the house between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.  He has the most amazing bladder, but I insist that he go out a least a couple of times during the day.  He gives me a soft growl and irritated look when I push him out the door; probably the same response Judy got when I was still employed and she made me go to work.  While my job at NEKEDC was almost always interesting and certainly paid well (at least as well as a public sector job ever does), for the last few years I felt that I was just putting in my time.  When the opportunity to retire came around, I had no hesitation and I know that I made the right choice.  Jerry is particularly happy I retired, except on days like this when it’s nearly a hundred degrees in the shade and he’s standing in the back yard looking morosely at the back door.

These days, it seems like there’s even less shade than there used to be.  While the prairie grasses in this part of Kansas were early replaced by shocks of corn, the area immediately around Walnut Shade was known for many years as the “Garden of Eden” because of the numerous apple orchards that were planted in the early1870s.  At the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, apples from Miller County were awarded the gold medal at the horticultural exhibit.  Over the next few decades, however, the orchards were ravaged by weather, insects and poor cultivation practices and by the early 1920s, most of the trees had died off and were pulled up in favor of planting corn and wheat.  Lou Hawkins still has a few apples on his farm and Phyllis and Rodney Dane own ten acres of the original Walnut Creek Orchard that once belonged to Phyllis’ great grandfather.  Their trees produce enough apples in good years to sell at Lou’s farmer’s market and to turn into cider for the Halloween Howl in October.

But to be honest, apple trees don’t provide much shade, not like the trees that gave the town its name.  Walnut Shade, of course, got its name from the groves of trees along Walnut Creek and the Big Blue River.  Those stands originally extended away from the creek and river banks nearly a quarter mile, but slowly, they were cut closer to the streams to provide more and more land for cultivation.  The trees that were within the expanding city boundaries were protected, however, and over the years, residents of the town have taken pains to make sure that the trees that do die out are quickly replaced so we don’t become “The town formerly known as Walnut Shade.”

The other day, I ran into Phyllis Dane at the Stop and Go asked her how plans were coming for the fall Master Gardener’s Tour.

“All of the gardens were identified a couple of months ago and it seems like everyone is pretty confident it’s going to be a good tour this year.  Last year was a disaster, but pushing the date back a couple of weeks will help,” Phyllis pointed out.

She’s right:  last year was a real disappointment.  The summer was unusually hot and dry and many of the fall-blooming plants were dying by the end of August.  The tour was scheduled for the second week in September and that was a mistake, one that Phyllis pointed out many times leading up to the event.

“We all should have known better.  We are Master Gardeners, after all,” she said with a laugh.

We all hope that this year’s tour will be better.  Despite the heat right now, we’ve had good periods of rain and the meteorological forecast is for a cooler than usual September and October, so that bodes well.  Since the gardens at both St.Brendan’s and St.Stephen’s are on the tour, I suspect there have been extra prayers offered for good weather and a sizable turnout.

Last summer and early fall are shaping up to be a busy time, as they almost always are.  In addition to the Miller County Fair and Master Gardener’s Tour, schools begins the last week in August.  The 4-Hers will be taking their winning projects to the Kansas State Fair the first two weeks of September and the Prairie View Festival will be the third weekend of that month.  October is always filled with football games and other school activities and then it’s time for the holidays.

The weather has kept me from doing much painting outside, but I absolutely must get out if I’m going to keep my commitment to being in the Art Fair in Fremont.  I’ve completed about a dozen pieces in my studio so far, all of them from sketches or photographs, but I think I do my best work alla prima, en plein air.  Perhaps tomorrow morning, I wake up Jerry early and we’ll get out before the heat settles in, but I know we’ll have to be back home before 7:00 a.m.  Any later than that and I’ll get that growl and irritated look from him.  Got to keep the dog happy at all costs.

Chapter 12

August 18, 2011

The heat wave continues, with the average high reaching 97 degrees this last week.  The forecast is for a cool front coming in next week, with a chance of rain or thunderstorms.  A break in the weather would be appreciated by everyone, I know (and everyone I know).

Miss Cecilia Davenport was surprised with a birthday party as part of her book signing on Saturday.  She quoted Eubie Blake: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”  Miss Davenport, we all hope we are in as good health as you are when we are 95.

Marie and Grant Combs spent Saturday with Grant’s brother Allen and sister-in-law Jane planning their trip to Santa Fe in October.  They usually attend the Indian Market in August, but Grant has been busy this month with Walnut Shade business.

The Town Council held a public hearing on Monday to discuss the increase in fees for the Volunteer Fire Department.  The current fee, which has not been raised since 1997, is $25 per year; the proposed new fee is $35 per year.  A show of hands from those attending indicated that the fee increase was acceptable.  The Town Council will hold a final vote on the measure at its September meeting and the new fee will go into effect on October 1.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham played bingo with Jessica’s sister and brother-in-law on Saturday night at the VFW hall in Marysville.

Al Higgs, Jim Filmore and Clarke Wick had a “gig” at the American Legion Saturday night.  Al says that they are looking for a bass player to add to the group, which plays Dixieland jazz.

Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Sheila Miller played Mahjong on Tuesday with Ruth Stanford.  Anna Brady usually is the fourth in the group, but she was in Lincoln, Nebraska visiting her nephew and his wife, who are students at the University of Nebraska.  Anna graduated from NU in 1959 and is a loyal Cornhusker even though she wasn’t happy with the team’s move to the Big 10.

Don Norman is feeling much better, according to Dorothy.  She says that she and Don have decided to go back to their regular diet since Dr. Oswald thought Don might be getting too much protein on the vegan diet they have been on.  Don says that brown rice and beans at every meal might, indeed, be too much.

Stuart Goddard says that his company, Prairie Solutions, is getting ready to roll out a new product.  It’s an on-line game in which players create “Sims-type” games that compete against each other for domination of the overall Sim simulation.

Barb and Bruce Wilson, Frank and Sarah Brown, and Mike and Elaine Brown met Marshall and Marie Green at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City for brunch on Sunday.  Marie was in Overland Park attending the Kansas County Commissioners conference Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Lorene Robertson resigned as bookkeeper at the Farmers Bank in Fremont and went back to her job as office manager at the ASCS office.  She said that she missed seeing her old friends every day.

The building that served as St.Brendan’s Convent until 1972 has been sold to Harry Singleton and his partner Jason Glenn.  They plan to open a bed and breakfast and restaurant once renovations are complete, sometime before Christmas.  The Convent has been used by the Catholic diocese as a retreat facility for the last thirty years, but recent financial considerations made its sale desirable.

Sue, Jim and Jason Brady went to Chillicothe, Missouri, on Sunday to visit Sue’s mother, Doris Mays, and aunt, Allene Richards.  Sue’s mom is planning a reunion for the Mays family for sometime in the spring.

Sherri Brown says that she has been getting some interesting books suggestions for “Walnut Shade Reads,” including Moby Dick (Melville), PrairyErth (William Least Heat Moon), Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays (Steve Martin), At Home in the Phog (Bill Self), Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Godwin), The Hidden Reality:  Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Brian Greene) and The Bible.  The final selection will be made in about a week.

Staying inside where it’s cool…

Until next week, I remain

Your Faithful Correspondent

I ran into Stuart, Leslie and Miles Goddard at Shirley’s on Tuesday and when I asked how the software business was going, Miles started explaining their newest product, Sim-Sim.  After about fifteen solid minutes of computer-geek speak, he took a breath and dug into his lemon meringue pie.  Miles is eleven and knows more about computers and digital technology than anyone of any age ought to know.  Even though he has a degree in software engineering, Stuart is the business manager and Miles is the techno-brains of the operation.  While not involved in the business, Leslie is no computer slouch either; she has a PhD in Philosophy and teaches two courses at Purdue and one at Rice entirely on-line.  When I think that I ran the statistical analysis for my Master’s thesis on a computer that used punch-cards and wrote the whole thing on a manual typewriter, I wonder how I survived.  I suppose each generation marvels at the progress the succeeding generation is the beneficiary of (and I’m especially glad that Miss Davenport isn’t critiquing this sentence!).

Speaking of Miss Davenport (as far as I can tell, no one in town has ever called her anything else, even though she was married for forty-seven years to Harry Marks, who died on his 99th birthday, four years ago; Harry and Miss Davenport got married when he was 52 and she was 48 after a whirlwind courtship that apparently started at the high school graduation ceremony when he and she were given the task of handing out the diplomas; after teaching together for fifteen years, it was a case of love at sort-of first sight), her surprise party was quite an event.  Somehow, it was all kept from her right up to the time she walked into the library and about fifty people yelled “Happy Birthday.”  In addition to the cake in the shape of a bust of John Donne, Mayor Combs gave her a key to the city and resolution from the town council declaring Saturday as “Miss Cecilia Davenport Day.”  Ever the composed and practical person, she “shed not a tear” and said that she hoped that most people had come to buy a copy of her book and not just for the cake.  Whether they had so intended or not, most everyone left with a copy signed in her elegant long-hand.

We were all surprised to hear that St. Brendan’s Convent had been sold, especially for another B&B and restaurant.  Sally Oswald, the chair of the Main Street/PRIDE committee, said that she had had a discussion with Harry Singleton about six months ago about the prospects for a new business in Walnut Shade, but at the time, she thought that he might be thinking about opening a home decor shop next door to his sister Glenda’s antique store.   Sally said she thought that he had also talked to Michelle and Tom Clemons, but that that was more to find out about the market for decorator items since they display a few things for sale at Holly House.

On my late evening walk with Jerry, I wandered by Holly House and saw Tom sitting on the front porch with his dog, Sabetha.  Jerry and Sabetha are good friends, having been in dog training class a few years before, so I decided to stop and see if I could find out what Tom knew about the new B&B.

“Michelle and I visited with Harry over a year ago about the potential for another bed and breakfast in town.  Since we only have four rooms, which are full most of the time, we told him we thought there was an opportunity here.  We had no idea that he would think about the Convent,” Tom declared.

The Convent is not a huge facility, but it should at least double the number of rooms Holly House has.

“You aren’t afraid that Harry might take away some of your business, are you?”  I asked.

“Not a bit.  In fact, we’d like to lower our occupancy a bit.  We’ve been working pretty much none stop for the last year and a break every now and then would be great.”

The next morning, I stopped at Bach’s Lunch to see what Susan Hall thought about any potential competition from the proposed restaurant.

“Harry and Jason came in last week and chatted about what they have in mind.  From what I understand, they only plan to serve breakfast to their guests and dinner by reservation, so that won’t affect my business much.  It will be good to have a nice restaurant in town again.”  Susan remembers Mozart’s, which closed about five years ago.  A family-owned restaurant that specialized in Eastern European cuisine and had regular customers from St. Joe, Manhattan, and Atchison, it closed when Theresa Wolfe and her husband Karl decided to retire.  Their daughter, Daphne, thought about taking it over, but decided that her health was not up to the challenge.  It was a real blow to the town then, but the prospect, now, of a new evening dining venue is exciting and it should increase the tourist trade.

For the twentieth year in a row, Judy has tried to get me to be a judge of the exhibits at the Miller County Fair and for the nineteenth year in a row, I’ve resisted.  The first time she asked, I agreed and I count it as one of the major mistakes of my life.  For one thing, I had no understanding of the rules of the game and for another, I was not prepared for the consequences of not knowing the rules of the game.  Here’s how it goes:  kids enter a variety of categories for which they are either required to produce something, raise something or perform something.  For example, one exhibitor might take a photograph.  Another exhibitor might raise a rabbit or a heifer; another might give a speech.  In recognition of their work and depending upon the quality of the work, the exhibitor may earn a ribbon, blue being the highest honor, red the next highest, and white the last, but still honorific.  Seems like a pretty sensible system to me.

So, in approaching my judging duties in the home baked goods category (why I was chosen to judge this I’ll never know, but I suspect it was some sort of challenge devised by the gods to test my honesty and character), I was told to considered things like appearance and presentation for the breads and rolls that were place on the table before me.  I wasn’t allowed to taste the items, so I don’t know if they were edible, but some were visually more appealing than other.

One inviolable criterion for the awarding of a ribbon of any color is that the item must be produced by the person who presents it as his or her own.  In most instances, it was easy to tell that a loaf of bread or a pan of cloverleaf rolls was the work of the young lady or gentleman who approached my judging realm; the smiles on their faces and obvious pride in their workmanship was a dead give-away.  The only question was whether they should get a blue or red ribbon.  Blues were the norm and I generally complied with that.  But there were a few kids who came in with loaves of bread that had to have been purchased at the grocery store and then wrapped in plastic wrap at home.  When I questioned them about this, at first they were evasive and then they admitted that they had been too busy to bake the bread themselves.

“But I bought the nicest one I could find,” one miscreant said.

“No ribbon,” I said.

Had I slapped the kid, I wouldn’t have had quite the wrath called down on my head as the simple act of not awarding even a white ribbon.  Susie (not here real name, obviously) walked over to her mother, whispered something and then turned around and pointed at me.  The next thing I knew, Susie’s mother was headed in my direction at what I judged to be just under the speed of sound.

“Why didn’t my daughter get a blue ribbon?” she asked, only a couple of shades away from that color herself.

“Blue?” I asked incredulously.  “She didn’t even bake the bread herself.  Why should she get any ribbon at all?”

“You don’t understand.  Everyone gets a blue ribbon.  That’s the way it has always been.  She made an effort, didn’t she?”

Ah, yes, an award for effort.  That’s what we all aspire to and believe we deserve.  Excellence in execution is secondary.  The critical question is:  did we try?  From now on, all the teams in baseball will be co-World Series Champions because they tried; all teams in the NFL will be co-Super Bowl Champs because they tried; everyone, anywhere, who plays tennis will be declared co-Wimbledon winners and greeted by the Queen because they tried.

I later found out that Susie’s mother was one of a very small handful of parents who made everyone’s life miserable at the Fair, not just mine that day.  Fortunately, over the years, the attitude that just showing up earns the highest honors has been, little by little, eradicated, replaced by the understanding that excellence is rewarded and effort alone is given its due, but no blue ribbon.  One major outcome of the controversy is that, even though repeatedly asked, I have not, in the end, had to be a judge again, since every year I threaten to give everyone a white ribbon, whether they’ve earned it or not.

In case you are wondering, there is no Chapter 13

Chapter 14

August 25 , 2011

Destiny of the Republic has been chosen as the first book for “Walnut Shade Reads.”  This is a unique opportunity for the town because of the connections we have with both the author, Candice Millard, and President James A. Garfield.  Sherri Brown says that copies of the book will be available at the library in a couple of weeks.

The Miller County Fair begins this evening in Fremont with the livestock parade.  There will be a teen dance at the Fair building beginning at 8:00 p.m.  The band, “Ultimate Noise” from Omaha, will provide the music.  For the adults, the Dixieland Stompers will play in the bandstand.

Dorothy Thornton is taking a correspondence course from the Regency Beauty Institute in Independence, Missouri, focusing on salon management and retailing.

The Labor Day Parade will be held in Willow Springs this year.  Mayor Wright says that the marching band from Washburn University will join five floats and an as yet undetermined number of classic cars in the parade.

Mark Sappington had a visit from his cousin Stephen Sappington who lives in Blackwater, Missouri.

Kathleen and Olive Jane Johnson joined Jeanne Riley and Lorene Robertson for lunch on Saturday at the Cedar Ridge Restaurant in Atchison.  Afterwards, they looked in at the antique shops and at Nell Hill’s, where Olive Jane bought a set of linen napkins.

Greg Ryan was interviewed by the K-State Ag News Service about the impact of the hot weather on small garden centers.

I’m not sure what impact the weather is having on small garden centers, but I know what it’s doing to me, so I’m hoping that…

Until next week, I can remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

This run of hot weather has everybody in town talking about “global warming,” even the guys that populate Shirley’s most mornings and get all their news from Rush, Sean and Fox.  Billy Thornton, in addition to firmly believing that the moon landings were all filmed on a Hollywood studio lot, is certain that the debate about climate change is just a smoke screen to divert our attention from what’s going on at Area 51.  Ralph Thompson thinks that North Korea has figured out a way to manipulate the weather, pointing to the unusually cold and snowy winters we’ve had the last couple of years.

“They are just playing with us.  Extreme cold and extreme hot.  It makes sense,” he says.

“I don’t think it’s the North Koreans; I’d say that Ahmadinejad guy is behind this.  He’s the real brains of the operation.”

Billy never elaborates on what “the operation” is, but is sure there is one, somewhere.

The selection of a book for “Walnut Shade Reads” turned out to be quite an interesting process.  From an initial list of about sixty titles suggested, the top ten books were chosen.  PrairyErth by William Least Heat Moon was a strong contender, as was To Kill a Mockingbird.  A lot of people wanted to go with the “native son” and read William Allen White, and there seems to be quite a contingent of science fiction fans in town, because Fahrenheit 451 came in second in the voting.  But in the end, the Garfield/Harris, Millard/Singleton connections won out.

Sherri Brown says that Candice Millard’s first book,  The River of Doubt, has been checked out of the library almost continuously since it was published; Candice has visited her cousin, Glenda Singleton, several times so she’s no stranger in town, and Inez Harris is the great granddaughter of President James A. Garfield.

Soon-to-be President Garfield and his son, Harry, actually visited Miller County (though not Walnut Shade, as far as can be determined) in 1879 while he was still a Congressman from Ohio.  Garfield had attended the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where he had seen the display of Kansas farm produce, including the apples from Miller County that won the gold medal.  Local lore has it that he was so impressed that during a trip west to conduct hearings on the status of land grants along the Kansas Pacific Railroad line, he stopped in Fremont and inquired about purchasing land with the intention of moving here after this term in Congress was up.  That plan was interrupted by his election as President in 1880 and his assassination a year later.

Harry, however, never forgot his trip to Kansas and in 1897, he purchased an orchard between Walnut Shade and Parkersburg, which he and his family often visited during the fall picking season.  Harry’s daughter, Lucretia, loved the family trips to the orchard and, much to her father’s displeasure,  enrolled in the department of horticulture at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland where her father was professor in the law school.  Harry dreamed of a career for his daughter in the law or academia, as he had, but recognized that she had an affinity towards the soil and plants, so tempered his disappointment with resolve to support her in her chosen pursuit.

After her graduation with the highest marks ever achieved at Case, “Lucy” moved to Topeka where she had been appointed the superintendent of grounds at the state capitol (there was some controversy, as would be expected over hiring a female as superintendent, but she soon proved that she was more than a match for the job and the skeptical men who worked for her).  On the weekends, she often stayed at the orchard and visited friends in Walnut Shade.  On one of those weekends, she met the son of Grant Harris, Edward, and within a year, they were married.  Their first child Inez, was born in 1920, great granddaughter of the President.

The other book connection comes through Glenda Singleton, who says that growing up, she and Candice Millard used to write plays that they would coerce their brothers, sisters and other cousins into performing for any adult who would sit still for them.

“We all knew that Candy had an immense talent for making any scene real.  Her books just bring those historical characters alive again.  When she began writing for the National Geographic, we thought we’d be getting postcards from her from all over the globe, but we are so glad that she’s just down the road in Overland Park.”

Glenda revealed that Candice will be coming to Walnut Shade later in the fall to lead a discussion of her book, if she can work it into the book tour that is being scheduled by her publisher.

Mark Sappington’s cousin Stephen was in town to talk to Main Street/PRIDE committee about historic preservation.  He is a member of the board of directors of the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation and is active in the Friends of Arrow Rock.  Mark and Stephen are the great great grandnephews of Francis Sappington, the brother of Dr. John Sappington, who was an early resident of Arrow Rock.  Mark has been trying to convince the committee to develop a set of design guidelines for renovations/improvements to buildings in downtown.  A couple of the committee members have been reluctant to do so, convinced that regulations will keep businesses from opening.  But, as Mark has pointed out, when Walnut Shade was selected for Kansas Main Street, it agreed to implement the program fully and design is one of the major components.  Stephen pointed out that Arrow Rock has been designated a National Historic Landmark, which carries more stringent requirements than local ordinances and yet it has not suffered any decline in its economy.  Indeed, at every meeting, the town council turns down permits for businesses that want to come to Arrow Rock.

Sally Oswald, chair of Main Street/PRIDE, appointed Mark, Michelle Clemons and Jody Tyler to a “Design Committee” to begin developing a set of working guidelines for downtown rehab/renovations.  Jody, being one of the vocal dissenters, initially declined, but decided that being on the committee where she would have an opportunity to influence the final product was better than being on the outside looking in.  She’ll have her hands full with Mark and Michelle who are both staunch advocates of strict regulations.  Sally suggested the committee should try to have something to look at for the next Main Street/PRIDE meeting in September.

Jerry has been unusually energetic the last few days.  Perhaps he senses a chance in the weather.  Let’s hope so; our air conditioning bill from Kaw Valley Rural Electric is going to be gigantic.  Good thing we put in that heat pump last year.

Chapter 15

September 1, 2011

The Miller County Fair was a great success, despite the heat.  Lauri Duffy’s Jersey Wooly and Andrea Duffy’s Holland Lob received blue ribbons in the rabbit show.  John Cramer, Jr. won first place in public speaking and Hannah Tucker was the winner of the fashion review.  Hannah also received a blue ribbon for her photography entry and her cat, Rudy, won the cat agility contest.  Congratulations to all the Willing Workers 4-H members who participated in the Fair.  We are proud of you.

Marie Green says that the Dixieland Stompers were a hit at the Fair Friday night.  The band is made up of Jim Fillmore on drums, Al Higgs on clarinet, Clarke Wick on trumpet and Randy Humphreys on bass.  Randy, who lives in Tillman, is a new addition to the band; he’s also principal bassist with the St. Joseph Symphony and plays with a jazz combo in Kansas City.

Miller County schools are back in session.  Walnut Shade Elementary has eighty-two students this year, and Miller County USD 345 has seventy-five middle school and sixty-three high school students.

Harry Singleton reports that work on the Convent B&B is under way.  An architectural firm from Kansas City completed drawings a few weeks ago and the Strauss Company from St. Joseph was been chosen to do the restoration/renovation.  Harry estimates that the work will take about two months and he and Jason plan to have a Christmas open house.

Jeff Barnett says that he has an extra ticket for the KU football game against McNeese State on Saturday.  Eddy, being the staunch Mizzou fan she is, has decided not to attend, even though she says that it is always fun to see Kansas lose.

The Excelsior Book Club will be reading Destiny of the Republic along with the rest of the town.   They will resume their regular weekly meetings next Wednesday after having taken the summer off.  Sherri Brown will host the meeting.

Dr. Cramer attended a continuing education course at K-State last week on feline gastrointestinal and liver disorders.

Sandy and John Cramer, Glenda and Eddie Singleton, and Arlene and Don Cornet had lunch with Rev. Katherine and Les Derby on Sunday.  After lunch, Sandy, Glenda, Arlene and Rev. Katherine discussed plans for the fall festival at St. Stephen’s in October.  John, Eddie, Don and Les watched the Royals beat the Cleveland Indians, 2 to 1, on Les’ new 56” flat panel TV.

Dorothy Westover and Betty Watkins met with Father Mike to discuss publishing a cookbook for St. Brendan’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 2012.

The Miller County Master Gardeners were in town to look at the gardens that will be on their fall  tour.  While the summer heat has been baking everything in the county, Phyllis Dane is encouraged by the persistence shown by the local gardeners in making sure that they will be ready for the tour.

Hazel and Millie Bradford had a delightful lunch on Monday with Miss Cecilia Davenport and her cousin, Grace Estes, from New Haven, Connecticut.  Miss Estes retired from Yale University in May after teaching international law for fifty-three years.  Her latest book, The Erosion of Human Rights in Age of Terrorism, has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Recuperating from the Fair and hoping for cooler weather…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

The Miller County Fair closed on Sunday with the awarding of ribbons and premiums, and abundant praise for the 187 youth and adults who put themselves and their creations on display.  The Fair has been part of the connective tissue of our larger community for nearly 150 years, in addition to being one of the last events of the summer and a signal that fall is about to begin, in essence if not in fact.  Few people understand the amount of work that goes into the two and one-half day event, but Judy reminds me every year and I make sure that I tell her what a great job she and the Fair Board have done.  I suspect that the effort they put into it sometimes makes them lose sight of the importance the Fair has played in the history of the county.  It’s hard to think about the past when you are trying to make sure that the demolition derby starts on time or the kids in the stick rodeo are all under eight years old.

But in a way, the past is what the Fair is all about:  tradition, continuity, and connection to those beliefs and practices that may only be understood down deep in our DNA.  For most of us, the Fair has just always been there, taking place year after year, but it did have a beginning, after all.  In 1872, to be precise, when sixteen members of the Agricultural and Mechanical Association put up $500 each to purchase twenty acres of land southeast of Fremont (at the staggeringly high price of $80 an acre) and construct a limestone Fair building (which stands to this day).  After the final bill for the building was paid, the Association had $500 left over for premiums for the first Fair entrants.  In addition to the variety of livestock shown, fruits and vegetables were entered and many were judged worthy to be displayed at the Grand Exposition in Leavenworth on the subsequent October 6th, where apples, potatoes, and corn from Miller County took the top prizes.

The Fair was operated by the Association until 1878 when the county commission voted to purchase the land and buildings that had been erected.  Until that time, the Fair had been operated as a quasi money-making enterprise, with entry fees for the exhibitors and a small admission fee at the gate.  The national recession in 1873 reduced the income of most people in Miller County and the 10 cent admission price kept many people away.  After five years of small profits and intense discussions among the Association members, the decision to sell the Fair was made and subsequently it has been supported as part of the property tax collected by the county.  The county commissioners appoint a Fair Board which oversees the operation and maintenance of the Fairgrounds, and manages the many events that take place over the run of the Fair each year.

One of the most popular traditions of the Fair is the annual baseball game between the non-athletic alumni of the University of Kansas and the alumni of Kansas State University.  The first game was held in 1907 and so far the teams are tied at 50 wins each (no games were held in 1918, 1942 or 1943).  Another tradition is the Lady’s Equestrian competition which has been going on since 1877.  It’s always quite a contrast to watch the rodeo in the afternoon with calf roping, bull riding and barrel jumping and at night see elegant riders and their horses dancing in the arena.

While the Fair in September is the major use of the Fairgrounds, it is made available for other activities, such as the Scottish Highland Games in May and the 4th of July celebration.  One of the most notable and well-publicized events occurred in June, 1874, when the Fair Board agreed to allow Old John Robinson’s Circus to be set up on the Fairgrounds.  The circus had just played an engagement at Topeka and was on its way to Omaha when one of the train cars carrying its animals broke an axel just south of Fremont.  Since it was going to be at least a day before repairs could be undertaken, Robinson decided he could make a few extra dollars by presenting his “moral circus” for the enjoyment of Miller County residents.  Until the early 1870s, circuses were anything but moral, mainly consisting of performers who doubled as pickpockets and hucksters separating the locals from their cash.  John Robinson, on the other hand, work hard to create entertainment that was suitable for the whole family.  His elephants, Tillie and Emperor,  were particular favorites and Dan Rice, the  leader of the clowns, made even the hard-scrabble farmers and their families forget their problems for a day.

These days, the Fair doesn’t have a circus as part of its offerings, but the lawnmower races and Apple Peel Open golf tournament are extremely popular, as is the Sunday morning non-denominational church service and the announcement in the afternoon of the Farm Family of the Year, selected by the Miller County Extension Council.  FFY, as it’s known, is considered a high honor and some years the competition, always friendly and behind the scenes of course, is quite intense.  This year, the Jerry Wilkins family from Longwood, was selected, for the success they have had in converting their 120 acre farm to a CSA (community supported agriculture) operation.  Four years ago, they put one hundred acres in the Conservation Reserve program and began growing vegetables and fruit on the remaining twenty.  They also raise free-range chickens which they supply to restaurants in St. Joseph and Manhattan.  Jenny Wilkins’ Belgian d’Everberg bantams received a blue ribbon and won first place in the poultry division; she’ll be showing them at the State Fair this week.  Jenny and her brother Seth are quite active in the Longwood 4-H Club.  The Wilkins farm was also named a Kansas Century Farm, since it has been in the same family for one hundred years.  Currently, there are only twenty-six Century Farms in the county, a number that dwindles every year.

Now that the Fair is over, Judy can get back to her regular hectic schedule at the Extension office.  Next up is the annual “discussion” with the county commissioners about the budget.  Always a fun time.

At the Fair, I ran into Dorothy Westover who wanted to make sure that I would include a mention   of the upcoming search for recipes for St. Brendan’s cookbook, to be published in time for St. Patrick’s Day next year.  It seems that every ten years, a new cookbook is published and Dorothy, the food preparation maven of St. Brendan’s, is once again in charge.  This will be her forth edition, having taken over the task from her mother when she, Dorothy, was in her late twenties.   Dorothy probably rescued the cookbook from imminent demise or at least a sort of perpetual limbo.  At the time in 1972, Dorothy’s mother, Gladys, had just been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness and she knew that she had to give up her work on the project.  No one else in the church wanted to take on the task, and reluctantly, Dorothy agreed.  Thus began her fascination with that noble creation known as the cookbook.  Now, it must be admitted that some people regard her love for cookbooks as an obsession rather than simply a hobby or even avocation (Dorothy has published six cookbooks on her own, in addition to the four St. Brendan’s editions); she has, after all, a collection of over eight thousand cookbooks from all over the world, stuffed into every nook and cranny of her house.

I assured Dorothy that I would remind readers that the hunt was on for new and delectable formulations for her work.  However, Dorothy and I both knew that the eventual publication would be little more than a rehash (a little cookbook pun, right?) of the previous one hundred years of St. Brendan’s cookbooks, the first having been produced in 1912 as part of the church’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration.  Now beyond the name, the church was not then, nor is it now, home to a lot of folks of Irish descent, so holding a St. Patrick’s Day celebration was a rather unusual choice for an event, but somehow it caught on and in anticipation of the corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes that were served at that first gathering came the cookbook, filled with recipes that had only the faintest connection to Ireland or Irish culture.  In fact, if you categorized the entries by national or ethnic origin, you’d probably conclude that most of the offerings were from people of German heritage, but you’d be wrong.  While there were German settlements in northeastern Miller County, this part of the territory was an enclave of people of mostly Scots and English descent, folks, however, not known for their cuisine.  So, once again, just in time for the March 17th congregation, St. Brendan’s will have the 100th anniversary edition of the Erin Go Bragh Cookbook.  Ah, the tradition, incongruous as it is, continues.

No shrinking violet she, Mary McCready called to see how I am doing with my painting for the Miller County Art Fair, coming up in a month or so.  Mary says that there are thirty-two artists signed up for the event and she has pledges in the amount of $2000 for purchase awards and prizes.  She is also excited because the assistant curator of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum in St. Joseph has agreed to judge the art this year.  Next year, Mary hopes to make the Art Fair a juried event since it has grown so quickly.  I hope the prospect of having their work scrutinized and culled doesn’t scare off our local creative class, especially the ones who consider themselves “outsider artists.”  Well, of course, that includes me, since I’ve only had one art class in my life and that was way back in high school, as did Harry Morris, who creates what everyone agrees is “interesting” yard art out of objects he rescues from the illegal dumps that pop up around the county every spring after people have had their first unsuccessful garage sale of the season.  Harry’s art is the very extreme definition of “outsider art.”  I wonder what the curator from St. Joseph will think of it?  She’ll probably “discover” Harry and in a month, he’ll have a solo show at Larry Gagosian’s gallery in New York and then be whisked off to Art Basel.  I can just see Harry in his new pair of overalls cashing his $50,000 checks at the Farmers Bank in Fremont.  In the mean time, he, and I, will have to be content with our aging Carhartts.

Chapter 16

September 8, 2011

There was a big crowd on hand for the Labor Day parade in Willow Springs.  Mayor Wright reported that there were four floats and seven classic cars, as well as the marching band from Washburn University.  Ironically, the United Transportation Union’s entry in the parade broke down on the way from Topeka and they had to have it towed back to their hall.

Stephanie Barnett was back in town from college for the Labor Day weekend.  Unlike her mother, she accepted her father’s invitation to go to the KU football game with him.  Jeff and Eddy are going to Columbia in a couple of weeks to visit Stephanie and see Missouri play Western Illinois.

Anna Brady, Ilene Wick, and Sheila Miller played Mahjong on Tuesday with Ruth Stanford.   Sheila is getting to be the regular stand-in for one of the absent “girls,” as Ruth calls them.

Lori Mendenhall’s sister was in town on Tuesday (which was why she couldn’t play Mahjong) and they spent the day cleaning out Lori’s garden shed in preparation for her garage sale on Saturday.

Speaking of garage sales, Glenda Singleton found a first edition copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and a copy of East of Eden, signed by John Steinbeck, at a garage sale in Marysville.

Cornelius Chase, an art historian and conservator from the University of Delaware, was in town last week to evaluate the mural in the post office.  Some restoration is needed and if the post office closes next year, as seems likely, the Town Council has committed to turning the building into a new museum show-casing Walnut Shade’s connection to the pioneer trails, Pony Express and other historical events.

Susan Hall reports that the Prairie View Festival is set to begin next weekend.  The Town Council met on Tuesday and gave formal approval for closing Main Street between 2nd and 4th Streets and for Harris Park to be reserved for the Festival. There will be an encampment at the Vermillion Creek Crossing with re-enactors demonstrating skills that the pioneers would have used on their trek across the country; a Prairie Band Potawatomi Pow Wow; food booths on Main Street; music in Harris Park; discussions of historical events at the library; an antique auction at the elementary school auditorium; and, tours of historic houses and buildings in the community.  It will be a busy weekend in Walnut Shade.

Sally Oswald, chair of the Main Street/PRIDE committee is seeking suggestions for a new advertising slogan for Walnut Shade.  The old motto, “Walnut Shade is Cool,” was adopted in 1962 and Sally and the committee think it’s time for a change.

Sherri Brown called to say that the delivery of Destiny of the Republic has been delayed.  The dealer she usually buys from misplaced her order and he won’t get the books from the publisher until the end of the month.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham played bingo at the VFW in Marysville Saturday night.  Jessica’s sister Kris and brother-in-law Sid had planned to join them, but Kris decided to stay home and watch the season premier of “Cops.”

Pastor Paul and Patsy had visitors from Chicago over Labor Day.  Patsy’s great aunt, Virginia O’Halloran and her husband, Pat, stopped on their way to Scottsdale, Arizona, where they will be moving in November.  Patsy says that her aunt can’t take the Chicago winters anymore and Pat wants to be able to play golf year ‘round.

Well, even though I don’t play golf, I’ll admit I occasionally think about living some place that I could not do it year ‘round.  But, short of that…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

Most rural communities like Walnut Shade revolve around a few institutions:  churches, the local school, social clubs, the “down home” restaurant, and the post office.  In some ways, the post office may be the most important because it’s the place you see your neighbors every day, exchange news and gossip, and connect to the outside world.

When the rumor spread that the post office was on the list to be closed next year, you could almost hear the collective gasp.  Of course, Lois Thompson, the manager of the local branch could “neither confirm or deny” the talk around town, but it was pretty clear from the look on her face what the truth likely is.  Lois has been at the post office since 1970 when she took over from Art Sears, the previous postmaster, so she’s been through downsizing before, but this seems to be more serious.

“We have 106 boxes, so I see just about everyone in town nearly every day.  This is the stop on the way to Shirley’s for a dozen of the regulars over there and you know how busy it gets at five o’clock when people stop on their way home from work.”

Lois said that there was a moratorium on closing rural post offices until sometime next spring because so many members of Congress had heard from their constituents about the devastating impact it would have on small towns across the country if their facility closed.

“We’ve been losing money for the last few years because of email and the private delivery companies, but there are some services that people just shouldn’t lose, no matter what the cost.  When the high school closed in 1967, we were sure that Walnut Shade was going to die, but we survived.  I guess we’ll survive this, but it will be hard.”  Lois is one of those glass-half full types who is slightly more optimistic than pessimistic.

If there is any good news in this it is that at least the building will be saved if the mail service is curtailed there.  When Art Sears retired in 1970, the newly reorganized United States Postal Service decided that it owned too many aging buildings around the country that needed substantial repairs.  Many of these were offered for sale and the Town Council at the time decided to purchase Walnut Shade’s post office and lease it back to USPS.  The impetus for the purchase came from Miss Cecilia Davenport, Francis Sappington (Mark’s father) George Bradford (father of Hazel and Millie), and Art Sears.  Francis was the unofficial town historian and George was on the Town Council.  Miss Cecilia was… well, she was Miss Cecilia, the one person in town that everyone listened to and respected, and Art had been the postmaster in Walnut Shade since 1935.  When this group said that the building should be purchased, it was purchased.

Most people in town have walked into the post office every day and if they’ve noticed the mural on the back wall surrounding the Postmaster’s office, they probably have thought little of it.  Francis Sappington, however, knew just what an important piece of art it was.  “Crossing the Vermillion” was painted by Birger Sandzen in 1938, when he worked for the Section of Fine Arts of the Treasury Department.  Often thought of incorrectly as a part of the WPA program from the Depression years, the Section, in fact, hired artists on commission to decorate government buildings across the country.  The “new” post office in Walnut Shade was built in 1936 and the mural was an important part of the interior design.  The mural depicts a group of pioneers on the Oregon Trail fording Vermillion Creek just outside of town.  The exhilaration, danger and struggle involved in the task is skillfully shown by Sandzen on the faces of the men, women and animals in the painting.

Sandzen did three other post office murals, in Lindsborg, Belleville, and Halstead.  The Postal Service says that of the 1400 murals commissioned in the ‘30s and ‘40s by the arts program there are still about 1200 surviving.  When the Town Council bought the post office building, it did not buy the mural, but has a contract with the USPS that says that the mural will stay in the building as long as it stands.  I had a chance to talk to Dr. Chase while he was in town examining the mural.  He said that it’s in remarkably good shape, needing only a thorough cleaning and small repair to the slight water damage in upper right corner (the roof had a small leak as a result of the wind damage when the tornado skipped across town in 1995).  He said that he will be recommending that the Postal Service contract with an art conservation firm in Chicago to do the work, which will probably start sometime in the spring.  We are all hoping that the restoration work is done to “the mural in the post office,” not to “the mural in the museum.”

It seems that no sooner has one event concluded in Walnut Shade, or someplace close by in the county, than another one is either beginning or getting close to beginning.  We just finished with the County Fair and the Labor Day parade and now we are getting ready for the Prairie View Festival.  While it is now officially a project of the Main Street/PRIDE committee, it seems that there isn’t a person in town who isn’t involved.  The Festival was started by the seniors at the high school in 1955 as a way of learning (and teaching) about the role that Walnut Shade played in the exploration and settlement of the west and it has grown to a three-day event that attracts over 2500 visitors each year.

The Vermillion Creek Crossing re-enactment and encampment is always exciting, especially in years when there has been normal or above-normal rains.  This year, most of us could walk across the Creek without getting our feet wet, so there won’t be any of the mishaps that have taken place in the past.  Three years ago, two wagons were swept down the creek because of the heavy rains that came during the week before the Festival.  Fortunately, the re-enactors were able to unhitch the ox teams before they were lost also.  The wagons were recovered down stream from where they were stuck under the 78th Street bridge, but most of the contents of the wagons ended up in the Kansas River.

The historic homes tour should be very interesting this year because it will include not only some of Walnut Shade’s most beautifully restored houses, but because Harry Singleton and Jason Glenn have agreed to open the Convent to give people a sneak peak at the renovations taking place that will result in their bed and breakfast and restaurant.  Tom and Michelle Clemons will have their carriage house open, and Inez Harris will be showing her 1910 American Four Square.  This is the first time on the tour for Inez, who just recently had the entire house painted, inside and out.  Mark Sappington’s 1884 Carpenter Gothic and Bill and Grace Morton’s 1891 Richardsonian Romanesque home will be quite popular again this year.  Judy agreed, reluctantly, to open our house, an Arts and Crafts bungalow built in 1916 for Harvey and Louise Bradford.  For a community the size of Walnut Shade, the variety of house styles is quite remarkable, which makes it a very popular destination for people who love old houses.

True to our sometimes (often?) myopic, Euro-American, ethnocentric view of such things, it wasn’t until three years ago that the Festival planners sat down with representatives of the Tribal Council of the Prairie Band Potawatomi to talk about how to incorporate Native American history and experience into the Festival, since the land upon which Walnut Shade sits was once their land.  The result of those discussions is the now-annual fall Pow Wow on Saturday and educational programs about the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and other Native American tribes throughout the three days of the event.  I think we all come away with a greater appreciation of the multiple histories of this part of the country and once again, come Sunday evening, we will all be exhausted, but enlightened.

Chapter 17

September 15, 2011

Charley Wick, grandson of Clarke and Ilene, was married to Harriet Randolph on Saturday at St. Stephen’s.  A reception followed in the Fellowship Hall.  Charley and Harriet met at the University of Colorado, where Harriet is an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.  Charley is manager of the campus T-Mobile store.

Donna Brock-Hilton and Doris Brock-Simmons attended the Brock Family Reunion in Yates Center on Friday and Saturday.  Stan and Marge Brock met their daughters there on Friday on their way from Seaside, Florida.  Stan and Marge retired to Seaside in 2002.

Jeffrey Branson will be visiting friends in Fremont for a couple of weeks, according to Marshall Green.

The Prairie View Festival begins tomorrow.  We are expecting about five thousand visitors over the three days of the event.

Sally Ryan completed a summer course at K-State on the management of horticulture businesses.

Olive Jane Johnson hosted a summer tea at her home on Sunday afternoon.  Guests included Sherri Brown, Lucille Miller, Harry Singleton, Jason Glenn, Michelle Clemons, Daphne Wolf, and Flossie Wentworth.

Victoria Cramer, daughter of Dr. John and Sandy, was elected president of the eight grade class at Miller Middle School.

Gwen Burton’s antique store will be closed for a week.  She recently sold over half of her inventory to a collector in Vermont and will be busy packing and shipping everything.

Ann Davis was surprised on Saturday with a birthday party to celebrate her 50th.  Her parents and brother drove in from Garden City and spent the night at Holly House B&B.

Craig Duffy was on a panel at the Northeast Kansas Extension Agents district meeting in Hiawatha last Friday.  The theme of the panel discussion was agri-tourism.

Michelle and Gene Boone returned from a trip to Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, where they visited the birthplace of Daniel Boone, a distant relative of Gene.  Michelle and Gene have spent the last five summers touring sites associated with Daniel Boone and his descendants.  Gene is researching and writing a book about his ancestor.

Don Cornett says that he was contacted by the Miller County Democratic Party chairman about running for state representative next year.  Apparently, the words “Hell” and “freezes over” were part of the conversation.

Well, even though the weather has taken a turn, I don’t think Hell is in any danger right now, but one never knows, so…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

Ilene and Clarke Wick were surprised and elated that their grandson decided to celebrate his wedding in Walnut Shade.  Charley and his fiancé had visited them over spring break, but were talking at that time about a wedding in the Bahamas.  Charley used to visit his grandparents during the summer and attended St. Stephen’s with them, but never gave much indication that he had any attachment to the church.  Perhaps the fact that St. Stephen’s hosts a lot of weddings and  jokingly bills itself as the “Church of the Immaculate Reception” made an impression on the couple.  Perhaps the cost of flying all the relatives to Nassau also had some bearing on the decision.  The newly-weds spent the night at Holly House and then drove to KCI the next day to catch a plane back to Boulder.  Harriet had classes on Monday and Charley is training a new assistant manager at his store.  They plan to honeymoon over Christmas break, probably in the Bahamas.

Over the years, there have been a lot of wedding receptions in Walnut Shade, but recently not many baby showers.  You’d think the two would go together, but it seems like most of the weddings around here are second marriages, given that the median age of the population is now over fifty.  While there have been a fair number of divorces, most of those second marriages seem to happen after the death of a spouse.  Now, Walnut Shade is no Love Canal or Cabot Cove; the passing of our people is usually due to the normal reasons.  Like the walnut trees that die and are replanted, when someone goes to their reward, the surviving spouse seems to have no trouble finding a replacement.  For example, talk around town is that Jim Fillmore has been seeing a woman from Parkersburg whom he met at the Miller County Fair… a Dixieland music groupie, no doubt.  Jim’s wife, Helen, died in 2007 and he’s been unsuccessfully pursued by members of the local “widowry” since then.  For the first few years, Jim said that he was OK being on his own, but for the last couple of months or so he’s been eating all his meals at Shirley’s, so it seems obvious that he’s tired of his own cooking.  Perhaps another wedding reception is on the horizon.

Psychologists say that twins are a special, unique subset of human beings, more one than two people, and with a closer bond than typical siblings.  When I was in elementary school, there were three sets of twins in my class.  It drove the teachers crazy and gave the rest of us unending joy to see them, the teachers, try to figure out which twin was which, particularly when the twins made it a point of trying to confuse them.  In the first few grades, the sets of twins (boy-boy, girl-girl, and boy-girl) mostly dressed alike (causing not inconsiderable consternation to Francis Evans, though his sister Frances was rather oblivious to the problem), which compounded the teachers’ bewilderment.  By the fifth grade, subtle differences started showing up in the twins’ personalities and in their clothing, like the madras shirts that the Gilbert twins wore; Gary’s shirt was primarily green and Greg’s was based on blue.  Sally Cornett might wear a white blouse and black skirt to school and Susie would reverse the colors and wear a black blouse and white skirt (though that combination probably only happened a couple of times given that our playground was either dust in the fall and spring and mud in the winter, or mud all year round; a white skirt, even with a poodle on it, wouldn’t be white for long).

I bring up the subject of twins because twins have provided some interesting entertainment the last week.  I’ll begin with the Branson brothers.  Jeffrey and Jason Branson are the twenty-two year-old sons of Fred and Gladys Branson.  Fred works in Fremont at the limestone plant and Gladys is a substitute teacher in the USD 345 school system.  Fine, upstanding parents that they are, they managed to raise two of the most obnoxious, ill-tempered sons that ever walked the streets of Walnut Shade.  From the time they made it to high school until they graduated at the absolute bottom of their class, Jeffrey and Jason succeeded in spending the better part of their time in the principal’s office.  High school was one long practical joke to the Branson brothers and they joyfully shared in every bit of anguish they caused their classmates and teachers.  Something happened when they graduated, however; they became each other’s target of what started as harmless pranks, but some where along the line, the jokes got out of hand.  When Jeffrey filled Jason’s car with packing peanuts, everyone in town laughed.  When Jason, anonymously, sent Jeffrey a telegram saying that his girlfriend had been seen at the VFW in Marysville with a Marine just home from Iraq, no one laughed at the fight Jeffrey got into with an unsuspecting Marine who just happened to be visiting the VFW in Marysville.

In the last year, the jokes have turned into an intense animosity between the two brothers, with the result that Jeffrey was sentenced  on Monday to two weeks in jail in Fremont for flattening the tires on Jason’s car with an ice pick (“visiting friends in Fremont” is a euphemism around here for being in the pokey there, which is what the item in this week’s column is referring to).  Fred Branson has hired Marshall Green to be a mediator for the brothers and we’ll see what he can work out between the two of them.  Perhaps this is just a passing phase, but I’ve seen lots of relatives spend years and years in senseless fights.

Most of the time, twins have the same level of disagreements that any brothers and sisters have, but with the added layer of difficulty that being nearly the same person brings.  This is especially true the closer in time the twins were born.  Take Donna Brock-Hilton and Doris Brock-Simmons, born just six minutes apart, which has been the source of decades-long arguments, quarrels, squabbles and falling-outs.  When the sisters were young, Doris, who was born first, wanted everyone to know that she was the “oldest,” age-as-proxy-for-maturity being a badge of honor for those under thirty-five (which seems to be about time that most people realize that they are no long actually “young”).  Donna, at that time, usually either ignored Doris’ professions of inherent grown-upness or made sure that the listener knew that it was “only by six minutes.”

This past weekend, an interesting twist to the on-going conversation about age occurred.  The sisters, as reported, attended their family reunion at which a cousin, Lance Brock, presented his research on the history of the Brocks in the New World.  Using a sophisticated on-line software program, he had been able to trace the family back to Joseph Brock, who immigrated to the United States in 1689 from Lesser Notley, England.  Everyone was fascinated and thrilled with the details uncovered by Lance, everyone except Doris.

“Lance, your chart has Donna listed first under the children of James and Martha Brock, but I was born first, you know,” Doris pointed out helpfully, but with a note of the old irritation in her voice.

At this, Donna reverted to her teenage interpretation of the time-line of their birth and said, “Yes, but only by six minutes.”

“So I should be listed first,” Doris reiterated.

“Doris, the way the program works,” explained Lance, “is that children are listed alphabetically, so Donna shows up first that way.  We all know that you are older.”

After a silent beat, everyone laughed, except Doris.

“Well, I still think I should be first,” Doris said, putting on the pout she had been famous for in the family since her teenage years.

As the gathering progressed through the weekend, the family members quietly rallied around one or the other of the sisters, some supporting Doris’ claim of the first spot on the genealogy chart because of age and some telling Donna that “the software does the logical thing” listing children alphabetically.  By the time the sisters headed home to Walnut Shade, they had all but forgotten their disagreement about age and had substituted an intense debate about whether oil or shortening produced the flakiest pie crust, an argument that has been a central feature of the Brock family reunions for at least three generations.  Thankfully, no one ended up “visiting friends in Fremont” over that dialogue.

I’ve completed about a dozen paintings for the Miller County Art Fair, so I thought I’d let you get a sneak-peak.  Here are a three of my landscapes.

Logan County
Those of you who have traveled across Kansas know that from Logan County you can just begin to see the Rocky Mountains as a shadow on the horizon

Mountain View
The Rockies outside of Boulder just after dusk

Water moving over limestone
A view of Little Bear Branch north of Fremont

Chapter 18

September 22, 2011

Like Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day, the weekend of the Prairie View Festival functions as an unofficial reunion for current and former residents of Walnut Shade.  Here’s a list of some of the families and friends with visitors this last weekend:

Lorene Robertson’s niece and nephew were in town from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Glenn and Lucille Miller hosted Lucille’s sister and brother-in-law from Boise, Idaho.

Mayor Combs’ college roommate and his wife visited from Indianapolis.

Rodney and Phyllis Dane welcomed their son James and his wife Vicky, traveling from Garden City on their way to Chicago for job interviews.  James has been a reporter for the Garden City Telegram and Vicky is a chiropractor and holistic health professional.  James and Vicky’s son, Hal, was in town, presenting a paper on the history of wagon repair along the Oregon Trail.

Nora Evans spent the weekend with her uncle Ray and aunt Andrea.  Nora goes to school in Manhattan, but her mother and father live in Colorado Springs.  Jesse, Ray’s brother, owns a company that maintains the dry cleaning equipment for the Air Force Academy.

Rachel Heath was in town visiting her parents, Bill and Pam.  She spent the week here before flying out to Paris to begin her fall term at the Ecole d’Architecture Paris Belleville.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham were happy to have their daughter Rosemarie, her husband Ted and their grandson Chase visiting for the weekend.

Rev. Katherine and Les Derby were hosts for Rev. Carl Wilkins and his wife Penelope.  Rev. Wilkins is the minister at the Countryside Congregational United Church of Christ in Wichita.  He has just completed a sabbatical at Union Theological Seminary in New York and will be resuming his duties at Countryside on October 2nd.

Harry Singleton reports that over 500 people (most from Walnut Shade, truth be told) took a tour of the Convent and learned about the work that is being done to turn it into an inn and upscale restaurant.  The restaurant will be called the White Marigold and Harry says that he will be making an announcement about the chef in the next couple of weeks.  He also plans to have the largest selection of wines and cordials between Omaha and Kansas City.

Speaking of wine, George Finley says that he hopes to have the first tasting of his Finley Ridge Cabernet Franc around Columbus Day.  Last year’s tasting of his First Friday Traminette was a great success.  We are all happy to see George’s success with his vineyard, particularly when most of us thought he had gone completely batty fifteen years ago when he announced that he was going to start a winery.  George, we’ll all be there for the tasting, but…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

This year’s Prairie View Festival coincided with the 50th anniversary of the dedication of “Sisyphus of the Prairie” in Harris Park.  The sculpture, by Peter “Fritz” Felten, depicts an early farmer pushing a plow up a “Kansas mountain” (meaning, around here, any incline of more than 15 degrees).  He has a slight smile on his face and you can sense that he has done this many times before, like the Sisyphus of mythology.  Unlike that harrowed soul, our farmer seems to almost be enjoying his work, not regarding it as punishment, though by all accounts (and an application of even a grain of common sense), it was as close to punishment as one was likely to get.  Those early settlers faced daily hardships that we can only begin to imagine.  Felten captured the agony and reward that that enterprise brought; our Sisyphus is at once as thin as the proverbial rail and improbably muscular.  While he strains to move the plow even an inch, he delights in the accomplishment of that task.

The sculptor was in town for the re-dedication.  In his remarks, he said that he doesn’t travel far from his gallery in Hays these days, but wanted to see if his work was holding up any better than he is.  The irony was lost on many people in the crowd; originally carved in local limestone, “Sisyphus” is the only Felten sculpture cast in bronze, so it is holding up pretty well, indeed.  And so, it must be said, is he; sculptors tend to look older than their years because of the hard work involved, but Felten could pass for fifty any day of the week.  While not initially in favor of the conversion of his sculpture from stone to metal, he relented when Inez Harris offered to cover the  full cost of the casting.  Inez believed that a bronze sculpture by Felten could become a major tourist attraction for Walnut Shade and since it was early in his career, he was eventually persuaded by the argument (and Inez is not known for losing an argument).  Over the years, the sculpture has appeared on the cover of regional and national arts magazines, agriculture publications and as the background for innumerable family photographs.  I imagine grandfathers standing in front of “Sisyphus” and saying to their gathered clan, “This is what it was like when I was farming around here.”  In truth, any grandfather who said that would have had to have been at least a hundred and seventy-five years old, since the plow depicted hasn’t been used since the 1850s.  But it makes a good story and never fails to impress the on-lookers.

Besides the dedication, Walnut Shade was abuzz with activities over the weekend.  Perhaps because of the perfect weather, the Festival attracted close to seven thousand visitors, a new record (I’ve never completely understood how the attendance figure is arrived at, but Tom Clemons says that the Main Street/PRIDE committee makes its estimate using a complicated algorithm that combines the Pythagorean theorem, Newton’s “Second Law of Motion,” and a deck of Tarot cards with Temperance and The Fool missing; Michelle Clemons, on the other hand, says they just count the number of cars in the parking lots over the weekend and multiply by three, presuming that an average of three people arrive in the automobiles parked there; I’m leaning toward the Pythagorean/Newtonian/Tarotian explanation as being more accurate; I know how poorly some people in this town multiply).  

The Pow Wow hosted by the Prairie Band Potawatomi was a great addition to the event and we are all hoping that it can be scheduled again next year; our visitors appreciated the significant cultural opportunity it provided and new friends were made all around.  As always, the homes tour brought to town many people who are interested in period architecture (and an equal number who just like to snoop around other people’s houses).  KU professor of social work Richard Holcomb led a panel on the effects of the Great Depression on Kansas farm families and Missouri Western State University associate professor of history Lucinda Woolery discussed the German prisoner of war camp at Camp Concordia and the contributions made by the POWs who stayed in the state after World War I.  Phyllis and Rodney Dane’s grandson, Hal, who is a doctoral candidate at KU, presented a summary of his dissertation on the types of wagons used by the settlers who traveled the Oregon and Mormon trails.  Hal’s great-great-great grandfather was one of the first permanent residents of what became Walnut Shade and made his fortune repairing those wagons.  Hal hopes to defend his dissertation in October and graduate in December.

The Festival has always been something of a mini-Chautauqua, with the wide variety of music, the discussions of literature and history, and the plays that are presented.  The Festival is the unofficial beginning of the theatrical season in Walnut Shade.  The Opera House is busy from the end of September to just before Thanksgiving with productions by the Aeolian Acting Company, a group of semi-professional and amateur thespians who roll into town on Friday nights to prepare for two performances on Saturday and a Sunday matinee.  The actors come from Lawrence, Atchison, St. Joseph, Manhattan and Kansas City where they are either in school, teaching at a college or university, or have day jobs at places like MGP, Wire Rope or Hallmark.  Over the years, several people in town have become regular hosts for the actors since most can’t afford to stay at Holly House or the Wayside Inn in Fremont on the meager stipend they receive for the three performances they give each weekend.  In return, the hosts get season tickets to the productions.  This year, the troupe will do two plays and a musical:  As You Like It; The Doctor’s Dilemma by Shaw; and, Of Thee I Sing by the Gershwins.  An ambitious season, without doubt.

Jerry has been enjoying the cooler weather, cooler being a relative term.  The high yesterday was only 84 degrees, compared to the persistent upper 90s we were experiencing the last couple of week of August and first week in September.  He and I have been getting out every morning, me to paint and he to chase squirrels and chipmunks in the fields just outside of town.  We usually go to the wooded areas along Walnut Creek which provide daily-changing views to capture on canvas and daily-changing critters for Jerry to attempt to catch.  His old bones won’t let him stalk the vermin as determinedly as he once did, but he puts up a good front for about fifteen minutes and then comes over to where I’ve set up my easel and takes a nap.  That lasts about the time that it takes me to sketch out a scene and then some sound that only sleeping dogs can hear rouses him from his dreams and he’s off, sniffing and chasing and barking as if he were the lead hound in a 1920s English fox hunt.  At times like that, I sometimes I imagine I’ll see a red-coated Duke or Earl (or even the Duke of Earl) come jumping over the fence line: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible,” as Oscar Wilde said.

Here are a couple more landscapes I’ll be showing at the Miller County Art Fair.  Hope you like them.

Careful looking is the only way to understand
A view of Vermillion Creek near Spring River Crossing

Lake View
This is the northeastern tip of Perry Lake, with storm clouds gathering on the horizon

Chapter 19

September 29, 2011

Sherri Brown wants to let everyone know that fifteen copies of Destiny of the Republic have arrived at the library and can be checked out for a week by people signing up for “Walnut Shade Reads.”  Candice Millard will be in town on Saturday, October 22 to discuss the book and do a book signing.

Because Destiny of the Republic was delayed in getting to the library, the Excelsior Book Club read Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias as its September selection.  Alice Amory says she was so inspired by the book that she’s going to see if she can find her old golf clubs and start going to the Country Club for more than just lunch and bridge.

Phyllis Dane reports that everything looks good for the Miller County Garden Tour tomorrow and Saturday.  The cooler weather has really helped the gardens revive.  Phyllis says that the wildflower gardens at St. Brendan’s are spectacular and the sunflowers, asters, mums and hydrangeas in gardens throughout town are beautiful right now.  Tickets are available at Ryan’s Garden Center and the Extension office in Fremont.

Jeff Barnett has two tickets for the KU-Texas Tech game on Saturday, if anyone wants them.  Jeff was very optimistic about the season after the games against McNeese State and Northern Illinois, but last week’s drubbing by Georgia Tech brought him back to earth, he says.

Ruth Stanford hosted Ilene Wick, Anna Brady, Lori Mendenhall for Mahjong on Tuesday at Walnut Rest.  Afterwards, they all went to Bach’s Lunch for Panzanella.  The tomato harvest has been “bumpers,” according to Susan Hall and she’s been using heirloom varieties and Jeff’s Tuscan bread for her salads.

Alice and Pat McManus report that Roxie, the puppy they adopted from Dr. Cramer, passed her Canine Good Citizen test at the Extension office and she is enrolled in the therapy dog program through the Delta Society.  The program runs for six weeks and the McManus’s hope that Roxie can begin visiting Miller County General by Thanksgiving.

Don Norman has gained five pounds on his new “I’ll eat anything I want to, thank you” diet.  Dorothy said she had to let his pants back out (she had taken them in a couple of inches while they were on the vegan diet).

Mary McCready reports that here are now fifty artists registered for the Miller County Art Fair.  She has exhibitors from Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, Dallas, Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence, and St. Joseph.  Keep your fingers crossed for good weather; last year, the Fair was cancelled because of the cold and rain.

Sally Oswald is looking for volunteers to help with “Halloween Howl.”  She says that she needs people to help decorate the school gym for the dance and be parade marshals.  The Main Street/PRIDE committee is working on bringing in a top-flight band this year that will reflect the Halloween theme.  Anyone have any connections with Alice Cooper?

Me, I have connections with no one, but…
Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

I met Stan Hawkins at his office last Wednesday to deliver my latest column and to catch up on his summer.  He’s been busy fending off a buyout offer from the group that owns the St. Joseph News-Press & Gazette and the Atchison, Hiawatha and Warrensburg papers.  When we went to lunch, he gave me the scoop (that’s a newspaper term; it also works in an ice cream parlor).

“I could have become a gazillionaire by selling, but I’ve kind of gotten used to paying my bills a couple of weeks late.  And I can’t imagine Lois would ever get used to the idea of having two new dresses in the same year.”  Stan has never been one to let an opportunity for sarcasm pass him by.  “Besides, I’d probably just spend the money on my arthritis medicine.”

“Is this something new?  The last time I saw you, you were running the bases pretty well at the ballgame at the Fair.”

“Yeah, it’s just been diagnosed.  RA, the doctor calls it.  Kind of snuck up on me, but so far it hasn’t been too bad.  I probably won’t be hitting clean-up next year, though.”

“What are you taking for it?”

“Right now, just aspirin, but one of these days I’ll probably go on one of those drugs that causes you to have night-sweats, pain in your earlobes, dreams about giant crabs, and cravings for peanut butter and jelly on roofing shingles.”

Stan and I have joked a lot about the drug ads you see on TV late at night, the ones whose side-effects usually seem more severe than the disease for which you take them.  And those ads are usually followed by ads for attorneys who will happily sue the drug companies for the pain, suffering and/or death you experience because you took the drugs in the first place.  I wonder if the pharmaceutical companies and the big law firms are working together somehow?  Maybe the big settlements are tax deductible and everybody wins in the end?  Except the guy who actually does eat the peanut butter and jelly on roofing shingles.

“Well, enough about me.  How’s the painting coming?”

“I guess since you aren’t selling the newspaper you won’t be buying any of my art at the Fair in a couple of weeks.”  Truthfully, even if Stan had become a gazillionaire, it’s unlikely that he would buy anything; his taste in art is best symbolized by the out-of-date bank calendars on the walls of his office, most of which have a winter scene by Currier and Ives, or one of the lesser illustrations Norman Rockwell did for Look.  His “appreciation” for art is probably hereditary.  I remember going over to his house when we were growing up and being struck by the lack of anything, except wallpaper, on the walls (not even a picture of JFK, and good Catholics, at that time, always had a picture of JFK).  Once, when we were in high school and about all I was doing was drawing and painting, I asked his mother if she would like to have her portrait painted.  She thanked me profusely, but said that she didn’t want to put any nail-holes in the walls because they would let in the cold air.  At the time, that almost seemed like a reasonable explanation, but I later found out that it was really because their landlord was very strict about any “damage” to the house, though a few nail-holes might have actually improved the place.

Stan and I grew up in very different parts of town; I lived in a small bungalow that was extremely modest, but still more than my parents could comfortably afford.  Stan lived in a three-room, run-down building that had once been a garage, located “across the tracks,” though there actually were no tracks that separated the two sides of town; everyone just knew that when you lived north of 10th, you lived in the very, very poor part of the community.  Ironically, that area is now a subdivision that borders the Miller County Country Club, with homes owned by the Walnut Shade and Fremont golfing and tennis-playing elite.  Stan and I became friends in the first grade when we started walking to school together.  I’d walk a couple of blocks north and meet him at the Baptist Church and then we’d walk back south to school, which was a block from my house.  After school, Stan would stop at my house and we’d talk or play board games and have a snack of peanut butter and crackers prepared by my mother.  Until I was in junior high school, I was never once in Stan’s house.  It simply didn’t occur to either of us to walk those four or five blocks north and I think I instinctively understood that there wouldn’t be any after-school snacks at his house, since his mother was probably working her second or third job of the day.

For my tenth birthday, my parents gave me a game set that included checkers, chess, backgammon and Parcheesi.  I’d take the wooden box filled with playing pieces and game boards to school and while the other kids were out on the playground, engaged in epic battles of dodge ball or baseball, Stan and I would sit in the school library and play checkers, and eventually, chess (as far as I can remember, we never attempted backgammon, and Parcheesi seemed too “foreign” at a time when Cold War Americans were playing Monopoly, Clue or Truth or Consequences).  By the weeks just before Thanksgiving, when it was freezing cold and none of the other kids wanted to go outside at recess, Stan and I had become pretty proficient at chess and a group would gather around us to watch.  We didn’t have a game timer, but as soon as one of us would make a move, the other kids would start chanting “move, move, move.”  Ah, the pressure, but that usually forced us to complete a game during that thirty-minute recess period.  The matches were not what a chess aficionado would call “elegant”; they could  more rightly be called “annihilations,” with one of us ending up with his king and queen or rook and the other with just his king being chased all over the board.

Rightly (in Stan’s case) or wrongly (in mine), we got the reputation, because of our chess matches, for being “brains,” one of the worst things a kid of ten can be called.  The ridicule (and occasional pummeling) we endured from the kids who lived to bash each other with dodge balls was almost made up for by the increasingly good grades, deserved or undeserved, we began to get.  I’ve often wondered why our teachers were so influenced by our playing a game that we learned not because we were drawn to the intellectual rigor and necessary analytical capacity associated with it, but because we liked the shape of the pieces and because, eventually, it got us noticed by the rest of the student body (sociologists say that poverty is a disease that makes its targets invisible and Stan and I were fairly invisible for the first few years of our academic careers).  By the end of the school year, we had mostly given up our daily chess matches, but we had solidified our standing as the “eggheads” of Walnut Shade Elementary, a status that we wore proudly (and fearfully, especially when forced to go outside for recess) for a couple of grades and then managed to shed by the time we were in junior high (well, owing to an increasing indifference to mathematics, science and the compulsory physical education classes, my grades became merely average while Stan maintained the mystique of intellectual prowess that, in fact, he actually possessed).

When we finished talking about Stan’s medical condition and my painting, we walked over to the Pioneer for lunch.  On the way, Stan ventured, “After lunch, how about a nice game of chess?”

“You know, every time you say that, I expect to see Matthew Broderick looking over your shoulder.  Let’s play Parcheesi, for a change.”

Chapter 20

October 6, 2011

The Master Gardeners’ fall tour was a great success.  The weather was perfect and the crowds were well-mannered for the most part.

The Excelsior Book Club met at Flossie Wentworth’s house on Wednesday and enjoyed a light brunch provided by Susan Hall, who is trying out some new recipes for Bach’s Lunch.  Elaine Hunt says that she’s willing to be a guinea pig any time Susan wants to experiment.

Jim Fillmore has been spending a lot of time in Parkersburg.  He says that he’s rented a place where the Dixieland Stompers can practice without disturbing the neighbors.  Word around town seems to be that there may be another reason for his frequent trips, since Clarke Wick and Al Higgs haven’t seen the rehearsal space yet.  Carol Higgs thinks the “reason’s” name is Melody.

Stan Adams was installed last week as Commander of the Walnut Shade American Legion post.  Stan says that he worked his way up from janitor, but Lois says he never swept a floor in his life.

The American Legion is sponsoring a coloring contest in the elementary school and the winners in each grade will be announced on Veterans Day.  The theme this year is “It’s a Grand Old Flag.”

Miss Davenport’s niece, Anne Porter from Marysville, visited on Friday.

Mark Derby was selected to be second chair trombone in the All Miller County Jazz Band.  Mark explained that being chosen for second is really an honor since that’s the chair that plays the solo parts and improvises.  Les says that his son’s life is just one long improvisation, so he’ll be great.

Mayor Combs reports that the planning and zoning committee will hold a meeting next week to  review the proposed design guidelines for downtown businesses.  Sally Oswald will discuss the work the Main Street/PRIDE committee has been doing to improve the look of the downtown.

The first performances of As You Like It were Saturday and Sunday.  The acting was superb and the sets were first-rate.  Jeremy Walls is a graduate student at KU studying scenic design and he has created an interesting modern twist on the pastoral setting usually associated with the play.  You might call it Shakespeare meets the Desperate Housewives.

The Finley’s have sold Mayflower Antiques to Jason Glenn.  George and May have been splitting their time between Walnut Shade and Tucson for the last four or five years and have decided that it might be time to spend more of the year there.

Meanwhile, I’m spending as much time here as ever and….

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

The garden at St. Stephen’s suffered a bit of damage on the Master Gardeners’ tour on Saturday afternoon when it was invaded by three two-year-olds who appeared to have no responsible adult supervision.  Sally Ryan was able to corral them and take them to the nursery in the Fellowship Hall where they stayed until their seemingly unconcerned mothers finally found them.  No apologies were offered and Sally made sure that the women knew they were probably not going to be “invited” back next year.  The advertisements for the tour plainly state that children and pets cannot be accommodated in the gardens, but every year, that information seems to slip by a few people.

Two gardens seemed to be the crowd favorites:  Marie Green’s blue wildflower garden and the White Garden at St. Brendan’s.  Marie has been “cultivating” Kansas wildflowers for the last ten years and has some spectacular specimens.  She has especially been collecting varieties of asters and shows Smooth, Souther Prairie, Spreading, Willowleaf, Azrur, Saltmarsh, Fendler’s, Drummond’s, Aromatic, and New England asters.  She intersperses these with Leavenworth’s eryngo, Mist flower, Elephant’s Foot, and Downy gentian.

The White Garden at St. Brendan’s has been featured in the Kansas City Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living and Urban Plains (an online magazine published at Drake University).  The garden was started by Sister Mary Frances White and Father Porter in the 1950s and has been an on-going project of the Alter Society since the passing of Sister Mary Frances in 1978.  Father Rick, who succeeded Father Porter in 1980, professed to have no gardening abilities and was happy to let Grace Morton and Anna Brady shoulder the maintenance responsibilities.  Over the years, they have recruited a core group of gardeners, most of whom have taken the Master Gardener course through K-State Extension.  The garden now includes specimens of Boltonia, Arrowhead, Cutleaf teasel, Daisy fleabane, Dotted smartweed, Lamb’s quarters, Prickly poppy, Sand lily, Western yarrow, Narrowleaf four o’clock, Moth mullein, Tall joe-pye weed, Ten-petal mentzelia.  The rose garden has varieties that are predominantly white, including Pope John Paul, JFK, Polar Star, Lady Liberty, Simplicity and Moondance.

Information about the flowers in both Marie’s wildflower garden and the White Garden can be found on the Miller County Master Gardener site and at

It’s always fascinating to see what the productions by the Acting Company will be like from year to year.  Lance Graves has been the director since the first season in 1994 and he consistently manages to astound and gratify his audiences.  In addition to his affinity for Shakespeare, he loves Gilbert and Sullivan, Shaw and Sondheim.  He stretches his actors to their limits and beyond, and makes the audience stretch just as far.  His first season was notable for having six actors quit after the third performance of The Life and Death of King John, a play that is rarely performed and with good reason: its five acts make it a long, long play and it requires a rather large cast of actors.  Lance was able to recruit several people from Walnut Shade for some of the non-speaking parts, but most of the actors drove in from Kansas City, Manhattan, Lawrence, and St. Joseph.  That began the tradition of having actors stay with Walnut Shade residents for the weekends of the performances.  Realizing that he had made a mistake trying to stage such an ambitious play, Lance quickly pivoted, cancelled the three remaining performances of King John and moved on to Westside Story.  Both the actors and the audiences embraced the change and sold-out shows were the result all the way to end of the season.  

In subsequent seasons, Lance has mixed Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies, but has not staged another of the historical plays.

“I realize that I tend to exhaust the actors with Shakespeare, but I try to revive them with a musical,” he said the other day, when we met at Shirley’s for breakfast.  Unlike the rest of the members of the Acting Company, Lance now lives in Walnut Shade full time.  “I’m really excited about doing the Gershwins this year.  We haven’t done their music before — I’m not sure why, really — but this one is so much fun and rather timely, don’t you think, although perhaps we should have done it in 1999.”

He was referring to the plot involving political (and other) promises made and promises (political and other), sometimes kept.

“It’s a bit daunting to do a play written and originally directed by George S. Kaufman, but Susan Hall has promised me that the corn muffins from Bach’s Lunch will be every bit as good as the ones Mary Turner baked for Wintergreen.”

I have no doubt.

Coincidentally, while Lance and I were talking, Inez Harris walked into Shirley’s and sat down at our table.  Inez is hosting Stephane Crain who plays Mary Turner.

“I must say that Stephane is just the nicest young lady.  She goes to bed singing and wakes up singing,” Inez said with a somewhat curious look on her face.

“Does her singing bother you, Inez?” Lance asked.

“Oh, no.  It just reminds me of my sister, Clara.  She used to do the same thing.  She loved to sing and the house was always filled with her lovely voice.”  Inez had just the slightest shimmer in her eyes and Lance and I thought she might cry, but she composed herself and motioned for Shirley to bring a menu.

Clara was Inez’s younger sister by three years.  She was, by all accounts, immensely talented and  was thought to have a promising career in the opera.  After high school, she was accepted in the voice program at Juilliard and was beginning to make a name for herself among the faculty and students.  During the summer between her sophomore and junior years, she came back to Walnut Shade and it was here that she contracted polio in 1953 at the age of twenty.  She died two years later from pneumonia, a common cause of death among those afflicted with polio at the time.  In her memory, her parents donated the funds to save the Opera House, which was scheduled for demolition, and to renovate the building.  Since then, it has been used as a movie theater, site for weddings and anniversary celebrations, high school graduations, lectures, church services, and finally the home of the Aeolian Acting Company.  I’m sure that Clara would be proud and I know that Inez is.

After breakfast, Lance went home to tweak the blocking for a couple of the scenes in As You Like It and Inez said she was off to Topeka to talk to the Governor.  She and he have had a running disagreement about his cutting off funding for the arts in Kansas.  

“I’m not going to let him get away with it,” Inez declared.  I’d hate to be in his shoes; Inez rarely loses an argument.

Well, the Art Fair is this weekend and I have twenty-two pieces for sale.  I borrowed a tent from Lou Hawkins and constructed frames on which I will display the paintings.  I’m looking forward to seeing the other artists and their work.  Mary McCready is quite pleased with the number of exhibitors, especially the two dozen from Kansas City, which is becoming nationally recognized for the quality of its art and artists.  Judy and I went down to the Nelson a couple of weeks ago to see the Monet exhibit.  I can’t say that I’m a big Monet fan, but it is always inspiring to wander around the galleries and see the Rothko, the Bentons, the Manets, the Pissarros, the Sargent, the Binghams, the Hartley, and the Degas, as well as the wonderful Henry Moore and Noguchi sculptures.  After a nice lunch in the Rozzelle Court restaurant, we wandered over to the Kansas City Art Institute and on to the Kemper Museum where an exhibit called The Big Reveal had just opened.  It included new acquisitions for the permanent collection and a major new work by Petah Coyne, Untitled #1336 (Scalapino Nu Shu), 2009–10, an installation centered around an apple tree with peacocks and pheasants mounted in it.  For some reason, it reminded me of some of the pieces Harry Morris creates, though if he ever used a bird in his it would probably be a wild turkey.  Come to think of it, Harry has used Wild Turkey in one of his sculptures, but not the bird variety.

Chapter 21

October 13, 2011

Larry Duncan and his family were in town over the weekend, visiting his mother and stepfather.  Larry owns Cafe Bonheur, a coffee house/bakery chain with locations in Seattle, Portland, and throughout California.  Rumor has it that he is about to open a new cafe in Leawood or on the Plaza in Kansas City.

The Prairie View Extension Club met on Monday at the home of Dorothy Norman.  The Club met a week early because several members will be in Manhattan next week for a the K-State Extension Annual Conference.  A lesson on ways to use pumpkins was given by Lorene Hanson.  Area gardeners have indicated that they are going to have a good crop this year, so the Club members are getting ready for pie season.

George Finley will hold a wine tasting at Finley Ridge on Saturday.  Everyone is invited, but reservations are requested.

Gwen Burton has re-opened her antique store after being closed for a month.  She reports that the water-damage from the broken pipe in the apartment upstairs was less severe than she first feared.  The Main Street/PRIDE committee will host a ribbon-cutting for a “Grand Re-Opening” next Monday.

Lori Mendenhall was contacted by Gerhardt Ricks from Santa Fe who was in town the week-end of her garage sale.  He purchased a small painting that Lori picked up at a flea-market in White Cloud a few years before; she put it in the garage sale because she didn’t have a place for it anymore.  The painting has turned out to be a minor work by Marvin Cone, a contemporary of Grant Wood, worth about $2,000.  Mr. Ricks said that he felt obliged to let Lori know and that he would be sending her check for half the value of the painting.  Lori says she is going to be going to White Cloud more often.

Sally Ryan wants everyone to know that she has all of her fall flowers and decorations on sale at the Garden Center.  The mums and asters are particularly hardy this year.

The Planning and Zoning committee met on Tuesday and reviewed the design guidelines for downtown businesses.  Sally Oswald and Sally Henning, from the Kansas Main Street Program, discussed the guidelines and answered questions.  There will be a public hearing on the guidelines at the November Town Council meeting.  The Planning and Zoning committee is recommending that the guidelines be adopted, so it is expected that the Council will accept their recommendation.

Walnut Shade is still buzzing about the production of As You Like It put on by the Aeolian Acting Company.  Instead of the Forest of Arden, we got Wisteria Lane as the setting and Susan, Lynette, Bree, and Gabrielle as Rosalind, Celia, Phebe and Audrey.  Shakespeare must be laughing hysterically somewhere.

Well, after taking the summer off, Jason Brady is at it again.  Dr. Oswald removed beans from each of Jason’s ears after his teacher said he wasn’t paying attention in class (Jason, not Dr. Oswald; as far as we know, Dr. Oswald always pays attention in class).

And if you have been paying attention, you know that…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent


If business acumen is one measure of genius, Larry Duncan ranks right up there with Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, George Soros, and Jeff Bezos.  Those who knew him when he was growing up in Walnut Shade probably wouldn’t have guessed that he would one day be called the “Baron of Baguettes” by the Seattle Times, but Larry recognized early on that an upscale bakery and coffee house had a future in the United States.  Becoming the “Baron” took more time.  

A little history:

Every morning on our way to school, Ron and I would stop by Larry’s house and pick him up.  I say “pick him up” even though this was during grade school and we only “picked him up” on our bikes (or in our galoshes during those fabled snowy winters when the temperature was 40 below zero, the drifts were at least six feet high and we walked five miles to school, up hill both ways).  I should also clarify that Larry’s house was actually an apartment over his parent’s donut shop.  In the early 1950’s, Larry’s dad, Gary started making donuts and other pastries and called his business Duncan’s Donuts.  Gary learned his trade at the end of the Second World War.  He had been drafted in early 1945, trained as a U.S. Army cook and sent to the European front.  When the war ended and his enlistment was up, he decided to stay in Paris, having fallen in love with a French girl whose father was a baker.  Gary learned all about making baguette moulee, couronne, ficelle, pain de compagne and pain aux noix.  Unfortunately, his love affair didn’t last but he returned to America with extraordinary baking skills and dreams of opening his own bakery.

With a small loan from his grandmother, Gary started his business in Walnut Shade and soon people were driving from as far away a Topeka to get his hot, fresh bread every morning.  People loved his bread, but it turned out that Gary’s donuts seemed to really bring in the customers.  As word of his pastry-prowess spread, someone in the Dunkin’ Donuts milieu got word of it and decided that “Duncan’s Donuts” was a little too similar to “Dunkin’ Donuts” and sent Gary a cease and desist order.  Now at this time in the history of the Republic, Dunkin’ Donuts was little more than a fledgling operation itself, with fewer than fifty stores scattered throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic region.  But it already had a corporate presence, meaning attorneys who were hired to defend its trademark, and Gary had… well, Gary had Gary.  After a brief chat with Frank Green, the local attorney (and Marshall Green’s father, Marshall being, of course, Ron’s, Larry’s and my best friend), Gary decided that changing the name of his enterprise would be the prudent thing to do.  Thus was born “Sunrise Donuts,” which to Frank’s best guess was not already a corporation somewhere with suits looking after it.

While Ron and Marshall and I liked Larry just for Larry, there was a perk being his friend:  just about every morning, he would sneak a bag of donut holes out of the shop, which we would devour on the way to school.  These days, if we were doing that, we’d all weigh five hundred pounds, but boys in the fifth grade are generally perpetual-motion machines and a bag of donut holes has little effect on their constitutions.  The only down side of being friends with Larry was that he always smelled like donuts.  Now, one might think that would be a nice odor to have, but as people in Hershey, Pennsylvania can attest, after a while the smell of chocolate just gets to be too much.  And so it is with the smell of twists and long johns and apple fritters.  The only time it was really a problem was when we were all in our classroom at school.  For some reason, the smell of donuts can permeate a room like nothing else; even the normal body odors of twelve-year olds can’t compete with cooking oil and sugar.  Fortunately, our class seating was always arranged alphabetically, so Ron, Marshall and I were a couple of rows behind Larry, and we didn’t get the full effect.  I always felt sorry for Sarah Davis and Randy Duffy who had to sit on either side of Larry throughout the school year and experience the pungent joys of his father’s profession.

Larry’s dad passed away during our senior year in high school.  Many people assumed that Larry would take over the business, which he had been helping run since he was thirteen, but the day after graduation, he drove to Topeka to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station and joined the Navy.  Having no interest at that time in going to college, he knew that he would be drafted in short order and decided to embrace the inevitable.  He was shipped to the naval base on Whidbey Island, Washington and, ironically, spent his entire enlistment on dry land as a supply clerk.  When his duty was up, he decided to stay in the area and soon became friends with Jerry Baldwin, an English teacher who had opened a small shop in the Pike Place Market in Seattle selling coffee beans and brewing equipment.  Larry eventually went to work for Jerry and his partners, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegel and helped them expand the company they called Starbucks to four stores in 1980.  When Bowker and Siegel left the company, Larry was able to purchase a small share which he subsequently sold to Howard Schultz in 1987 for enough to open his own combination coffee house and bakery, putting to use all he had learned in his father’s shop back here in Walnut Shade.  By 1995, he had three locations in Seattle and was looking at expanding to Portland when he received a call, incredibly, from Clint Eastwood who had been visiting family in Seattle and stopped by Cafe Bonheur one morning for a pastry and latte.  Eastwood, always one to recognize a good thing when he saw (or tasted) it suggested that Larry consider opening a store in Carmel, California, where he, Clint, had been mayor and was still on the local planning board.  Eastwood became a silent partner in the Carmel location and helped to open doors for Larry in Palm  Springs and Sausalito, where Cafe Bonheurs are now popular early morning spots for the locals.

In addition to the cafes, Larry also own a coffee roaster in San Francisco, a coffee plantation in Costa Rica and farms in Colorado and western Kansas that supply a good portion of the wheat used in his pastries.  Not bad for a kid that smelled like crullers for the first eighteen years of his life.

“What’s your next big venture?” I asked Larry over a cinnamon roll at Shirley’s.

“I’ve been talking to Michael Jordan about investing in string of bakeries in Illinois that will be called the Chicago Boules.  What do you think?”

If he’s serious, I think it would be a slam dunk.

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