Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 28, 2011

Wheat, wind and a little dust!

Kansas will officially be 150 years old tomorrow. But being the history buff that I am, I had to start celebrating early. So I paid a visit to the Kansas Historical Society website and bought "official" Kansas ornaments - like the one displayed on the White House Christmas tree - as presents for Mom, brother Dave, sister Gaila, Aunt Edith, friend Deb and me.

The ornament has our state seal on it, complete with the state's motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera - "To the Stars Through Difficulties." It has been suggested it is an appropriate one for the state that has been called the birthplace of the Civil War and is known for its violent weather.

In truth, Kansas might be considered a state of contradictions. While it is about 80 times the size of little Rhode Island, it has less than three times the population of "The Ocean State." Mother-in-law Donna once described Kansas as "that God-forsaken place," and I suppose to someone who grew up in Wisconsin, with its thousands of natural lakes and millions of acres of trees, my home state may seem plain. But she changed her mind some after visiting one spring. During that season, Wisconsin is cold, gray, wet and muddy; Kansas is balmy, bright and dry with undulating hills alive with bushes, trees and flowers covered in orange, yellow, purple and white blooms.

Husband Art said when he told a friend he was moving to Kansas, Walt commented he was sure Art would really like the people here, as they are gentle, quiet and hospitable. Still, our state was home to many who participated in a series of violent events involving anti-slavery Free Staters and pro-slavery elements. Kansas entered the Union as a free state and less than three months later, Fort Sumter fell and the Civil War began. Kansas was at that time a crazy-quilt of villages and settlers, some supporting the keeping of slaves, while their neighbors opposed the idea. So while I think of my fellow Kansans as Walt did, we also were home to folks such as abolitionist John Brown - the image of whom most likely to come to mind is the one where he's holding a rifle in one hand and the Bible in the other. His flowing beard is being blown by the wind, his mouth is open in angry rage and his eyes have a wild look. Nothing very quiet, gentle or hospitable about him!

We are also a people capable of being quite progressive at some times and fairly conservative at others. On Nov. 5, 1912, Kansas became only the eighth state to give women full voting rights - eight years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified and made the law of the land. That might cause some to believe we lean toward the Democratic agenda, when in fact, Kansas is one of the most Republican states in the country.

It's no secret that Kansas has long been associated with buffalo herds, Indian fighting, the cattle drive and notorious towns such as Dodge City. Legendary names that were earned in Kansas include Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody. Today, Kansas produces more grain than most other countries, and has been christened the "Wheat State" and "Breadbasket of the World." But the image of the tough guy of the Old West and the stoic farmer of today makes it hard to believe that Kansan Karl Menninger, the "dean of American psychiatry," is the one credited with revolutionizing the mental health system in this country.

This land of the horse is also the one that gave the world Walter P. Chrysler, who started the Chrysler automobile company. It is the birthplace of the helicopter and home to fixed-wing aircraft makers Cessna, Beechcraft and Learjet.

Musically, folks are more likely to associate country music with Kansas, but pianist, composer, and arranger Stan Kenton, saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker and opera singer Samuel Ramey are Sunflower Staters.

People might imagine that the hard farming life that many Kansans engage in would tilt our sports interests toward football. But while the citizens of the state are enthusiatic about their football teams, their interest is no less in basketball ... a sport invented by Dr. James Naismith at the University of Kansas.

Some could conclude that our agrarian history would channel our interests away from high technology. Such folks might be surprised to learn that Jack Kilby, the man credited with inventing the integrated circuit that makes everything from digital cameras to practical computers possible, called Garden City, Kansas home.

As you might imagine, I could go on and on, dropping names like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, Emmett Kelly and many other Kansas folks who became well known. Even the phrase, "You're not in Kansas any more," doesn't bother me, because when you are in Kansas today, it isn't much like the Dust-Bowl tornado-ravaged backward place depicted in "The Wizard of Oz."

Still, on this very night, along about 7:30 or so, I will actually be looking forward to a little dust in the wind. Not only will I be quite pleased to be in Kansas, but I will be watching Kansas as well. The progressive rock band that took our state's name will be performing their huge 1977 hit, "Dust in the Wind," at McCain Auditorium in concert with the Kansas State University Orchestra.

Oh, and their name? It is indeed appropriate. They began in the early '70s in no other place than Topeka, Kansas!

In 2002, daughter Katie's class visited the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church. Free-staters were
having trouble obtaining weapons as shipments were being intercepted by those favoring slavery.
Beecher church members received weapons by having them packed beneath a shipment of Bibles.

Daughter Katie admiring some of last fall's abundant supply of sunflowers.

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