Monday, August 3, 2015

Food tastes better in a clean place

I've been wanting to write this blog post for awhile. 

We're about 78 counties into our statewide journey for guidebook research.  One thing we have really come to appreciate is cleanliness, in restaurants especially.  You still need to have good food, preferably made-from-scratch, but a disgusting bathroom and a dirty kitchen that extends out to the dining area is something that will trump good food and likely eliminate a restaurant from guidebook consideration. 

Whether you're a customer, owner, or employee, it's easy to become accustomed to what you see regularly.  It's even harder to see the grunginess if the owner is likeable. 

I know that it's REALLY hard to find time to clean a kitchen and dining room because food service is such a tough business.  Still, while a customer is waiting for food they are noticing the environment around them.  My bet is that being closed for a week to do a thorough cleaning will garner more business over the long term than letting the layers of dirt grow.

It's not our place to judge a business but it currently is our job to decide what places are guidebook worthy.  To gain the trust of our audience we need to consider many factors about what to include.

I want Kansas restaurants to be the best they can be.  My hope is that some of the hard-working owners will see this and give an extra thought to how a little bit of scrubbing will add some shine to what they present on a plate.

This is one time that I don't want to "dare to do dirt."

Thoughts from the road, KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Flash mob presentation

Dena Patte of Ellis Alliance won a We Kan! Award -- but she didn't know it.  The awards are first presented at the Kansas Sampler Festival, held in May.  Those who aren't present are awarded in a variety of other ways in the following weeks and months.
WenDee and I were on our way to Sherman County to do our guidebook research.  We intentionally went through Ellis to present Dena her We Kan! award plate.  About 15 minutes before we got to Ellis we had the idea to call the city office and see who they could round up to be at Dena's award presentation.
We drove into town and parked several doors down from Dena's office.  At the same time people started coming out from the shadows, or so it seemed.  They came from the alley, down the street, out of vehicles.  Within a few minutes, 14 people had assembled. 
We all filed in to Dena's office and everyone just sort of stood around with smiles on their faces.  Dena didn't know what was going on.  WenDee and I walked in last.  
On this Monday morning, Dena had been doing some wrap up of the weekend's event in Ellis and was a little tired.  You see, Dena does everything, all out for Ellis.  She's the kind of person that makes a town click.  People like Dena are the reason why people will volunteer because they want to support her and they know everything will be done well.  The Dena Patee's of the world don't expect or really care about recognition but they are the reason why a small community works. 

It was only fitting that 14 people from her world were willing to drop what they were doing and show up for an impromptu presentation. Dena's award was appropriately titled - Doing Everything, All out.

We all went back to our planned agendas after that with a kick in our step and a light in our heart.  It was pretty neat to have the mayor, the former mayor, the banker, the newspaper, the city workers, and others all show up in a matter of minutes to show appreciation for one of their own.

Thanks for all you do, Dena. 

From the road by Marci Penner

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Is it you?

Is your organization, event, or council thriving?  If not, it may be time to ask yourself the hard question.  
Is it me?
Can you find volunteers for your event?
Do you have enthusiastic, or frustrated workers?
Do you have turnover and don’t know why?
Do you have a growing membership?
Are things really clicking in your daily operations?
Are your meetings productive and end with action items?
When we are the problem, it’s really hard to see, even harder to admit.  And, it’s hard for someone to tell you that it’s you.
If things aren’t working, you probably aren’t happy either.
If you’re on the edge, can you do these things?
  •  Admit to yourself that you might be holding back progress and be more aware of dynamics around you.
  •  Become a good listener.  Ask questions.  
  • Be open to ideas.  If you’ve been insisting that things be done as they have always been done, this may be discouraging those who want to inject some new ideas.
  • Stop micro-managing those who are fully capable of doing their job their way.
  •  Are you crediting people who have good ideas?
  • Are you asking how you can help?
  •  Are you recognizing extra effort?
  •  Are you staying out of the way when you aren’t needed?
Sometime change is needed, and sometimes it starts with us.   Don’t stay too long on a board, as the boss, as the chair of meetings, or in charge of an organization.  Ask yourself the hard question. You’ll be admired for it.

Thoughts by Marci Penner and Sarah Green

Monday, November 18, 2013


It seems so cut and dry.  A grocery store opening.  

In a small town, a grocery store opening is everything, it's about sustainability.  It's about a future.

A grocery store makes a town functional.

Morland is a town of about 150 people.

For a wholesale truck to stop, a store has to buy $10,000 worth of inventory a week.

This fact, plus utility costs, has made it almost impossible for small towns to have a store.  Morland found a way.

Due to a very determined Morland Community Foundation board and a supportive citizenry, a store that provides groceries in Morland is once again open after a eight year hiatus.  The Foundation purchased the building and refurbished it.
The corner brick building comes complete with awning, benches, good sidewalks, and a new furnace.
Buffed wooden floors and a restored tin-pressed metal ceiling promote the original look.   The counter is from the old store.  The new shelves weren't quite filled at the time of this picture but before the ribbon-cutting a truck came in and volunteers came to unload the truck and stock the shelves. 
A sunny sky and warm temperatures made for a perfect ribbon cutting day on November 16.  It seemed there were more than 100 people present to help celebrate, the majority of which were Morland citizens.  People came from throughout the county but also from Oakley, Scott City, Manhattan, and Topeka. This was definitely something to cheer about.  Rhonda Goddard did a great job as em cee.
Governor Sam Brownback took time from pheasant hunting to say a few words, to acknowledge the value of rural communities, and to cut the ribbon.
Skip Yowell, one of the founders of JanSport, moved back to an unincorporated burg in the county, St. Peter.  Just the fact that he is Graham County by Choice, when he could've lived anywhere, is quite a statement.  Here he talks about moving back.  

In the background, as she prefers to be, is Faye Minium.  Faye, Citizens State Bank president, is the indefatigable force behind this effort.

It was pretty cool that local business owners got to say a few words. Mike Frakes of PAC Leader Technology talked about the software his company sells that provides guidance and steering for ag equpiment, field computers, and more.

Mac Carpeli talked about the Morland MakerSpace Institute.  It's a rural community lab and incubator.
Dave Procter, director of the Rural Grocery Store Initiative, and his wife Sandy, came from Manhattan to help celebrate and to shop!
WenDee LaPlant, Kansas Sampler Foundation, Inman bought enough groceries to earn a spin on the wheel!  Diana Crouch, the wheel was lots of fun!

Larry Crouch from St. Peter handed out Morland Mercantile mugs.  Customers were made to feel pretty special.

Tessa and Sharon are glad to fill two of three new jobs the grocery store added  to Morland. 

And, a volunteer job, too.  Don is the bag boy and carried groceries out with a smile.

Mark Joslyn (on right), owner of Joslyn's Food Center in Hoxie, is ordering for Morland, thus making it possible to get around the volume minimum, which means making it possible for Morland to have a working store.  Store manager Ron Radcliffe (left) is up for the challenge to get this store off to a great start.

If as much effort is made to keep the store open as was to get it ready to open, Morland will have a successful store for years to come.   

If you're driving down U.S. 24, make it a point to stop and shop.  It'll help you "Get Kansas!" 

Hours are: Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
From a spot on the road, Kansas Explorer #2, Marci Penner

Monday, November 11, 2013

Community tributes to veterans

It seems that almost every town in Kansas has some kind of memorial to veterans, whether it be recently made or dates back to the Civil War.  Here are a few that we have found on our ERV trip.

Courthouse square, Iola

Courthouse square, Great Bend

Sac and Fox tribal offices, Reserve, Brown County

Avenue E and 26th, Wilson

Old parade ground, Fort Dodge

Fort Riley Cemetery

Ulysses Cemetery, E. 160

Tribune, N. K-27

Hoisington Cemetery (northeast corner of town, bordering K-4), 
African American folk art gravestone

Courthouse square, Holton

Prairie People's Park, Prairie Band of the 
Potawatomi Indian Reservation, Jackson County

Artwork memorial at Prairie People's Park Veteran's Memorial

Courthouse square, Mankato

Courthouse grounds, McPherson

City park, Parkerville, Morris County

City park, White City, Morris County

Woodland Cemetery, a National Cemetery for 
Civil War soldiers, Mound City, Linn County

Highland Cemetery (E. K-106), Minneapolis.  
GAR memorial in background.

Larned Cemetery, 1 mile west of Larned on K-156, 
then 1/2 mile south.

Larned Cemetery

Pocket park, 1st and Walnut, Hutchinson

Veterans Memorial Park, E. U.S. 40, Russell

Courthouse square, Scott City

Veterans Memorial, U.S. 54

Veterans display, Museum of the Great Plains, Leoti

Courthouse square, Yates Center

Civil War Memorial Arch leading in to 
Heritage Park, Junction City

When you see how communities honor their veterans it should help you "get Kansas."  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Why did the Kansas Sampler Foundation spend so much time with Muscotah?

Several people have asked why we have spent so much time supporting and promoting Muscotah.  I have been remiss in explaining this part!

Two towns were chosen to help us learn some things so we could create a successful program called Kanstarter (formerly known as the We Kan! Bank), that will be of benefit to all Kansas communities.

The plan is for Kanstarter to operate somewhat like Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing funding mechanism for the global creative arts world. Kanstarter will be used to connect community projects with those who want to help through volunteerism or donations.  The bottom line is to develop and support projects that will help sustain communities. 


In 2009, we chose to "practice" in Whiting (Jackson County, population 200) with a project commonly known as the Whiting Cafe Makeover.  Through a statewide and global network, we raised over $6,000 and had dozens of volunteers show up for a work weekend. 

Our next effort was to support Muscotah (Atchison County, population 200) with their dream of capitalizing on native son and major league baseball Hall of Famer, Joe Tinker, in creating a spark for the town.

STATISTIC:  Of the 626 incorporated cities in Kansas, more than half have less than a 400 population.  What are we, as a state, doing to support these volunteer-led towns?

Every year the Kansas Sampler Foundation does a Retreat for Rural Leaders at the Barn Bed-and-Breakfast in Valley Falls. The retreat includes an annual field trip in order to have a first-hand experience with  the theme of the year.

Whiting and Muscotah are within close proximity to Valley Falls.

Jeff and C.J. Hanson of Muscotah came to Whiting to help with the Whiting Cafe project.  Jeff caught the "fever" and came up with a dream for his town.  This led to several Muscotah visits from our retreat attendees over the last four years.

The first year we visited Muscotah, we met in the city building.  We all sat in a circle.  The Muscotah folks went first to introduce themselves.  Without being prompted, each one said how many years they had lived in the town and why they loved it.  In the dead of a wet winter the town was looking dreary with its unpaved roads and abandoned business buildings.   By the time the last Muscotah person spoke, our hearts were warmed and we were ready to run through a brick wall for them.

We came back a year or two later to check on them and to see how their dream was progressing.  That's when the idea was hatched to convert the old round water tower tank into the World's Largest Baseball.  From there, the room was buzzing with ideas and promises -- and hope.

Our group committed to being there for them, to use our individual and group networks and resources to help them be the best they could be at being Muscotah.  They would have to do the bulk of the work.  We would be like back-up singers to the main act.

Could the simple use of a network help raise the funds, produce volunteers and experts, find technical know how, promote events like the Work Weekend and Joe Tinker Day, and attend and celebrate with Muscotah in a manner that would make a difference?

Clearly, the answer is yes. 

Muscotah citizens did all the heavy lifting.  The "outside world" rallied around them.

Muscotah was a winner because of the exposure and many tangible results for their community.

Those who took part as volunteers, technical resource experts, or financial contributors were winners because of the satisfaction they received being part of a group that literally helped boost a town forward.

Local and area businesses were winners, too, because supplies were purchased from them.

It probably seemed like this was just a gift for Muscotah.  The truth is that they worked harder than any of us.  It's not easy to be in the trenches and be the last line of responsibility.  With a very strong core group, they took advantage of all the support and made it happen.
As the clearinghouse, the Kansas Sampler Foundation observed this "experiment" through the eyes of Muscotah, the volunteers, the donors, the media, and all of the parties involved.  With what we learned, we have a better chance of making Kanstarter a better product as we work with Reflective Group in developing this online mechanism of support for all Kansas communities.


1)  Buy in.  Community projects work best if everyone has had a chance to offer ideas, comments, or questions.

2)  All age groups.  Don't just count on the usual players.  Enlist input from all age groups.  Really listen.

3)  Communicate.  Keep everyone informed.  Find the best communication method whether it be a posted message or social media.

4)  Strong leadership.  Calm, focused, respected leaders are needed to take a town through the tough times.

5)  Do what is right.  The popular plan might not always be what is right.  Stick with what is right.

6)  Community foundation.  A trusted mechanism for receiving donations is a necessity.

7)  Network.  The most interested people in supporting your community are those who have graduated or once lived in your town.  Developing a list of these people and staying in touch is priceless.

8)  Set your ego aside.  This is not about you.  It's about community, it's about being a team.  Make it so.

9)  Make it worthwhile.   In this day of busy people and crowded calendars, each meeting and each event needs to be worthy of everyone's time.

10)  Help others, they'll help you.

11.  Coffee shop talk.  Be the supportive and positive voice.

12.  Celebrate.  Have fun with your community!

Each experience helps KSF "get" Kansas!  KE #2 Marci Penner