Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Autumn Wonderland

Autumn....ahhh, the sound of leaves crunching under your feet, geese squawking overhead , crisp clear cold air, and pumpkins everywhere. Instead of a winter wonderland, I think you could consider this time of year in Kansas an "Autumn Wonderland!"

To add to this natural entertainment a group of hardworking and industrious souls have taken tourism to new heights with their investments in creating corn mazes and pumpkin patches for us to enjoy. It seems a new one crops up every year somewhere in the state. One of my favorites is located in southwest Kansas near Sublette at the Steve Weidner farm. At one time he grew over 60 variety of pumpkins and squash! The highlight though is the trebuchet he built to catapult pumpkins and other squash over the priaire where they splatter everywhere much to the delight of onlookers.

Shannon and Grady Martin are an energetic couple who, besides raising four incredible kids, running the Stone Barn Mercantile, opening up four new lodging cabins called Stone Creek Cabins have also started operating a Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch! Oh, and Grady works on jet engines for his day job and runs a herd of cattle on the side and Shannon is a grant writer extraordinaire!

Thank goodness for people like them, the Weidner's and many others who enjoy the autumn season so much they want to enhance it even further for us to enjoy!

Come and Get Kansas-Now!

KE#36, WenDee Rowe LaPlant

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Doing It Her Way

Judy McGill has a fabric, quilt, button, and notions shop in the middle of a residential area in the town of Dexter, pop. 350. Creek Water Wool Works is in a gray metal building set at an angle. It's what's inside that counts.

When you first walk in you see the rows of colorful bolts of fabric. It almost makes me wish I knew how to sew! Judy doesn't have a lot of fabric quantity but she sure has quality. She also has a big basket full of colorful buttons!

You'll see a section of one wall dedicated to books. Creek Water also serves as the town library. Judy sees a problem and believes in doing something about it. Customers and townspeople bring in books they no longer need. Dexter only has school four days a week so for awhile Dexter high school girls would come in on Friday and learn to quilt.

Judy loves living rural and does things like give discounts to people that live in the country. She and some friends have put a quilt together out of scraps to give the Dexter fire department. When the volunteer fire department next fights a house fire they can give the family something made with love to warm them. She's always thinking of how she can contribute to the community.

Rural life works well for Judy. Thanks to all the Judy's around the state. You make our small towns great places to live. You are the definition of community.

Hope this helps you "Get Kansas". Yours, KE #2 Marci Penner

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gathering is Good

There is a restaurant in Dexter called The Gathering Place. Dexter, located in Cowley County, has a population of about 350. It's open Friday & Saturday 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday noon-2 p.m. It's located downtown
at 105 S. Main.

Every community needs a gathering place. This one is really homey and inviting. The women that work there are very friendly, they love to cook from scratch, and they give their customers wonderful attention. I'm not sure if there are multiple owners or if they just have a great working arrangement but because there is a main core, if one needs to attend a game or go to an appointment, the others take up the slack. It works really well. That might be a secret to success.

When you think about it, a place to eat has always been the gathering place dating back to when the west was being settled. It's really hard on a community when the restaurant closes because they lose that place to find "community." The restaurant is where you hear the news, where you make plans, where you get nourished, where you see friends or check out the strangers in town.

There is nothing that can replace a small town restaurant. Some are in historic buildings, some have the classic waitress, and many have good old-fashioned made-from-scratch food. But all of them struggle to make it, especially in towns of 2,000 or less. Some buy processed food when they'd like to bake and cook from scratch but revenue prohibits that. That's where we can help! When you're out and around the state if you have a choice please eat at a local cafe!

We should appreciate and support these local cafes. Hats off to all the people who keep them going. It's hard work but what a value a cafe is to a community.

Here's a special thanks to the women at The Gathering Place in Dexter: Vickie Drake, Lynn Killingsworth, Kelly Killingsworth, and Janice Reeves.

Get Kansas! Kansas Explorer #2 Marci Penner

Friday, October 24, 2008

Some Neat Results of the 8 Wonders

Yesterday we announced the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art winners. To some cities, this becomes more than just a contest. It's an affirmation. I'd like to send you to two newspaper web sites, the Hays Daily and the Fort Scott Tribune to read about Oakley and Fort Scott.

In our quest to simply educate the public, some other really terrific things have happened like self-esteem building for an entire town and helping them realize that they do have something great to offer.

The 8 Wonders help you "Get Kansas", Thanks for checking in, KE #2 Marci Penner

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Okay, who stole this week? Fess up! Good grief, today is Friday and I didn't get done half of what was on my "to do" list.

It's been a whirlwhind since last Saturday in Dexter at the B.Y.O.L.C. I know Moss the Boss already yakked about that fabulous event so I'll just tell you about the pancakes!

Just in case you haven't heard, I am now on an official "Explorer Quest!" Yes, that's right. Add another one to the list. I'll be spending the next few years trying out pancakes at a local eaterie in each of the 105 counties of Kansas. I think I have this love for pancakes because of my mother and grandmother, each of whom made the best pancakes I've yet to eat. Now Mom made hers with buttermilk and cooked them on the griddle of the old Chamber stove. You know the one that Rachel Ray uses on her cooking show! That stove is just the best! (You can see one in Morland at the community center too!) Grandma Bare made Buckwheat Pancakes every day of her married life and served them with honey or blackstrap molasses. She sometimes added soybean grits to the batter! She'll turn 94 in November so maybe there's something to that!

I can now add Cowley County where I discovered one of my top five pancake breakfasts so far at The Gathering Place. One of my criteria for fantastic pancakes is that they are served with piping hot maple syrup. Three adorable ladies who share ownership and cooking duties Friday-Sunday also made the experience a wonderful one. Stop in sometime not only for the pancakes but for their delicious home made meals inlcuding chicken fried steak made the Explorer Way and Sunday fried chicken! We loved the eclectic collection of vintage dishes used to serve the meals at The Gathering Place. It made for a very special experience!

Behind the scenes with the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art

This morning at 7:30 a.m. I started sending out congratulations to the following finalists that were the top 8 vote getters for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art contest.

  • Birger Sandzen, Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery, Lindsborg
  • Blue Sky Sculpture, Newton
  • Buffalo Bill Bronze Sculpture, Oakley
  • Garden of Eden/Lucas, Grassroots Arts Mecca
  • Gordon Parks, Fort Scott
  • John Steuart Curry Murals, state capitol, Topeka
  • Keeper of the Plains, Wichita
  • St. Mary's Catholic Church, St. Benedict

It's fun to notify these folks. I got the word to Fort Scott just in time for them to announce it at a chamber coffee. St. Mary's Church didn't make it in the overall 8 Wonders of Kansas round so they were elated -- and should be. They have such a beautiful and artful interior! Everyone was excited. Of course, there are the 16 finalists that didn't make it but most have really good attitudes about having had the opportunity to be in the contest and to benefit from the exposure.

We've been busy sending out news releases to media. Lawrence Journal World already has it online. TV stations and many newspapers are asking for pictures. WenDee handles all the picture requests. Thank goodness. I've done several interviews already. Our web designer friends at LogicMaze (Hutchinson) have been there to help with all sorts of details. Somehow it all comes together!

In the weeks leading up to this announcement, Mom has been counting and counting paper ballots --1,524 of them! What would we do without her? It was very nice that 7,625 came in through the online voting mechanism. Schools have been telling us how they've used the contest with their students. Students have voted, nursing homes, too. Votes came from 46 states and nine foreign countries. It's all good.

Especially for the more rural towns, being a finalist in any of these contests is really an affirmation for them and provides an impetus to capitalize on this asset that they have in their town.

The whole state has a lot to offer when it comes to art and we hope that the contest helps make that point!

Get Kansas! KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

See First Barn Logo near Dexter!

On Saturday, October 18 more than 100 people gathered at the base of the Stone Barn Mercantile 1/2 mile north of Dexter on K-15 to watch Augusta artist Kerry Unrein put the finishing touches on the first mural completed for the Kansas Barn Alliance's sesquicentennial project.
The Kansas Barn Alliance requires that a sunflower (of any design), the word Kansas, and the years 1861-2011 be included in the painting. Barn owners Grady and Shannon Martin and artist Unrein decided to add a Kansas-version of Mount Rushmore to this barn. The faces belong to Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, Bob Dole, and former Governor Robert Docking. Docking lived and worked in nearby Arkansas City for many years.
It was a nice, sunny day and our lawn chair discussion included ideas for barn logos in other counties. One county is thinking of adding a silhouette of their courthouse. Another is considering using one symbol for each of the five towns in the county. The barn alliance is doing this to honor barns and the 150th birthday of Kansas. The plan is to have the logos completed by 2011 so the public can drive around the state in the sesquicentennial year and see the variety of drawings. What a great idea!
After the drawing, people meandered around the Martin's farm to pick pumpkins, walk through the corn maze, shop in the Stone Barn Mercantile, and look at the newly-opened log cabins. The Gathering Place, Henry's Candy, and Creek Water Wool Works were popular stops in Dexter.
This was the last 2008 destination for the Kansas Sampler Foundation's "Bring Your Own Lawn Chair" series. I think we made a dent in the public's awareness of issues and opportunities in towns of less than 500 population and we look forward to doing it again next year. A big thanks to the many Kansas Explorers Club members who formed the core of the lawn chair sitters!
Get Kansas! KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Good Way to Unwind

We had a good day at the "Bring Your Own Lawn Chair" event at a barn near Dexter but those pictures aren't processed yet so I'd like to tell you about a wonderful place to unwind in South Central Kansas.

Luciano's is an authentic Italian restaurant in Mulvane at 216 W. Main. It's always a pleasure to find a classy place with linen table clothes, excellent wine and food presentation, and a professional and friendly wait staff. Located at the end of Main, it's positioned beside a little park and the depot museum.

This picture shows Brook on her second day at work doing an excellent job of pronouncing the Italian entrees and providing service. The seafood special and Mottola Sugo di Carne were delicious.

Luciano's is open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday is a popular lunch day as Luciano makes his homemade Gonicchi that day.

Luciano was born in Italy and grew up in Viareggio but moved to the U.S. in 2003 for love. They settled in Mulvane because the Kansas wheat fields and sunflowers reminded him of Tuscany.

We're so glad to have the food and class of Luciano in Kansas!

Reservations are appreciated. Call 316.777.0045. See the menu at

Friday, October 17, 2008

Architecture and Art are often one in the same

Isn't this building beautiful? It's even better close up. Part of what I call the explorer mindset is being observant so one sees these intricate and beautiful details and appreciates them enough to stop and get a closer view. These are two not-as-clear-as-I'd-like shots of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall at 600 N. 7th in Kansas City, Kansas. Doesn't this terra cotta ornamentation put the exclamation point on the building? It's a style of the 1920 era.
The building was erected in 1924 to commemorate the sacrifice of the men of Wyandotte County during World War I, this hall is dedicated to the more than 6,480 who served.
Above the six Doric columns and flanked by bald eagles sculptures are the words, "Dedicated to the heroes who fought and died for their country."
The Scottish Rite Temple is close by at 7th and Ann as is the Wyandotte County Courthouse (700 N. 7th). Both the temple and courthouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Also in that area is the historic Huron Indian Cemetery that was established in 1843. Ten brass plaques on 7th at the bus stop tell the history of the Wyandot Indian Nation. A marker of the Ten Commandments stands in front of the St. Mary's-St. Anthony's Catholic Church at 615 N. 7th. These places are all within walking distance of each other. A great Explorer area.
Explorer places are everywhere -- just train your eyes to see detail. It's fun.
For more information on how to be an Explorer go to

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great Ideas for Kansas

We had a board meeting yesterday. Board members are John and Debbie Divine, Salina; Lynda Fort, Ulysses; Gene Merry, Burlington; Ellen Morgan, Salina; and Shelia Lampe, Piqua.

We've been trying to figure out if the Kansas Sampler Foundation should stay small or go big. In the end, we realized that all that matters is that we continue to educate the public about Kansas and support rural communities the best we can. We think we've come up with some unique ways to do this in the most economical way possible. More on the details as time happens. Martha Slater, First Generation Video of Wichita and former board member, made a presentation of some exceptional ideas that include DVD and CD and some other online technology that further our mission in a very exciting manner. The board (I call them boardies because I just love them!) talked all over each other in responding to Martha's plan. President John had to work hard to contain all the instant brainstorming so that Martha could finish her presentation.

I look forward to sharing the plan as we go forward. Kansas has so much to offer and we need to let the world know how to experience rural Kansas. Also, there are so many opportunities for rural communities if we think with a fresh perspective and see rural with new eyes. We've got some ideas!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fun Names and Fun Ideas are Good for Community!

Meet Jay Yoder, Kansas Explorer #108. This guy has one of the most creative minds I know. He built the bicycle you see in the picture -- and I can't really describe why it's impossible to ride but it might be because the shaft with the handle bars swiggles around.

Anyway, Jay had this great idea for the Partridge Family Fest--Partridge being his community of 250. He came up with the Partridge Pedal Party and has devised all sorts of clever events around the bicycle theme. Soon others got caught up in clever thinking and before you could put a clothespin and card on your bicycle spoke they had a great day planned! It will feature a parade of these impossible to ride kind of custom-designed bicycles. But have you ever seen a Low Gear Bicycle Race or a Slow Race (winner is the one that comes across the line last -- and that's not easy!). Bicycle Poetry. Bicycle Photography. Custom and Vintage Bicycle Show. He gave bicycles to each of the grades at Partridge Elementary for the kids to decorate so that will be part of the Art Bikes. Oh, I think they are having an inner tube toss over bike handles that will be set in the ground a certain distance from the tossing line. Probably more ideas will be invented that day... It's all good.

This Partridge Family Fest and Partridge Pedal Party will take place Saturday, October 18.

There is something about small towns... You don't have to do anything regular and there aren't a lot of regulations to adhere to. Small towns lend lend themselves to creative thought. You have an idea? Make it happen! Just like Lucas, the Mecca of Grassroots Arts. This weekend will be their Toilet Seat Live Auction to help pay for the grassroots art public restrooms they are designing. Elk Falls (pop. 120) will soon host their Outhouse Festival. Their best fundraiser is selling pieces of gravel that you can sign and then deposit in the pothole of your choice on Elk Falls unpaved streets! Meg Perry of Oak Hill, population 36, started the Middle of Nowhere Festival.

Be clever, small towns! Fun brings a community together and brings people to your community!

Get Kansas! Kansas Explorer #2 Marci Penner

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kansas Diversity - visit the Red Hills!

Our state has great physio-geographic diversity with eleven different regions ranging from the Glacial Hills in the northeast to the High Plains of western Kansas. One of the most eye-popping of those regions is the Red Hills. The pictures above reflect a springtime trip so don't be fooled. The colors in the Red Hills will be different this time of year -- but they are always stunning!

There are a couple of recommended ways to see the Red (Gypsum) Hills. One is to travel the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, U.S. 160 west of Medicine Lodge and to Coldwater. The other is to take the rustic Gyp Hills Scenic Drive into the heart of the Red Hills. Directions for these backroads are to start about 3 miles west of Medicine Lodge on U.S. 160, then 7 miles south on Gypsum Hill Road, then west. Watch for small green signs, and follow them. This trip is approximately 22 miles round trip and takes you on unpaved roads through rolling hills and red mesas past Flower Pot Mound and other landmarks. Lake City Road will take you north again to U.S. 160.

Of course it's always fun to stop at Buster's in Sun City when you're in this area. Sun City is in northwest Barber County. Pictures above show WenDee, KE #36, going in to Buster's for her very first time and to celebrate she's imbibing in one of their specialties. I'm eating a very juicy hamburger (and was the designated driver).

Buster's hours are Monday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. or longer. 620.248.3256.

By the way, the Gyp Hills Scenic Drive was a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas!

Visit Medicine Lodge, Sharon, Hardtner when you're in Barber County!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bring lawn chairs; watch barn logo being painted; explore Dexter area!

The place to be on October 18 at 1 p.m. is Shannon and Grady Martin's barn located 1/2 mile north of Dexter on K-15.

But there will be much going on in Dexter and area that whole day. It's a bit complicated to explain so I'll tell about different aspects below but know they will all mesh seamlessly together for a great day!

"BRING YOUR OWN LAWN CHAIR" (B.Y.O.L.C.) is a rural awareness series of the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Dexter is the fourth and last of our 2008 communities to feature. Our purpose is to invite the public to bring their lawn chairs and hear directly from community members about their issues and opportunities. This official conversation of the B.Y.O.L.C. will start at 1 p.m. beside the stone barn that you see above.

SESQUICENTENNIAL BARN LOGO is a project of the Kansas Barn Alliance. To bring attention to barns and to honor Kansas's 150th birthday in 2011, the plan is to encourage each county in the state to choose one barn on which to paint the official logo (sunflower and dates 1861-2011). Shannon and Grady Martin and Augusta artist Kerry Unrein have decided to add a Kansas version of Mt. Rushmore and include portraits of four famous Kansans (as you see above in a drawing). The four are Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, Bob Dole, and Governor Robert Docking who lived and worked in nearby Arkansas City. On October 18, Kerry will finish this painting on the barn. The Kansas Barn Alliance folks will also be on hand to explain the project. The picture you see above is artist Unrein prepping the barn roof for painting.

Dexter is in Cowley County and has much to offer Kansas Explorers Club members and explorer types on October 18. At the Stone Barn Mercantile is shopping, corn maze and pumpkins starting on Friday night and all day Saturday. There are agri-tourism open houses throughout eastern Cowley County that day. The Gathering Place restaurant is open in Dexter as are Creek Water Wool Works and Henry's Candies. Make sure you see Helium Park off Main Street, too.

RECOMMENDATION: Just get to Dexter as soon as you can on Saturday morning and maybe start at The Gathering Place. They'll have all the information you need for the day. Be at the stone barn north of Dexter on K-15 at 1 p.m. with your lawn chair so you can join in on the official Explorer B.Y.O.L.C. discussion! It'll be great!

Get Kansas! Kansas Explorer #2 Marci Penner

Friday, October 10, 2008


You can really hear an echo when you throw your voice against Echo Cliff! It's so still and quiet here that you can hear the echo well.

Where are these sandstone cliffs that are probably at least 70 feet high? They are 2 miles west of Dover, then 1 mile south on Echo Cliff Road. Just before the old iron bridge you'll see the cliffs and a truly odd assortment of picnic tables.
Mission Creek is the shallow stream that flows at the base of the cliffs. Right now the fall colors should be great here!
Dover is an unincorporated town on the west border of Shawnee County on K-4.
You'd think the village of Dover had been named for the white cliffs of Dover England when it was formed in 1863. Maybe it was but the book 1001 Kansas Place Names says that early settlers may have chosen the name Dover from Dover, New Hampshire or from Dover, England. There were several English immigrants living in the township of Dover, which preceded the village.
See if the general store/cafe at the main intersection in Dover is open. If so, order sandwiches to go and have a picnic at Echo Cliff. It's one of those great Explorer places!
Get Kansas! Marci Penner, Kansas Explorer #2

Thursday, October 9, 2008

It's the Real Buffalo Bill!

The legend of Buffalo Bill is as real as this double-life sized statue located at U.S. 83 and 2nd Street at Oakley. Leoti's Charlie Norton and wife Pat were the sculptors of this massive work of art.

Here is the story in brief. In 1868 and about 10 miles from the location of the sculpture a contest was held to determine whether buffalo hunter Bill Comstock or Bill Cody should get to use the monicker "Buffalo Bill."

Both Bills were paid to provide a specific amount of buffalo meat for the railroad work crews each day. Bill Cody was becoming well known for his abilities as a buffalo hunter and his friends began referring to him as "Buffalo Bill." Well, Fort Wallace, further west, had their own "Bill" hunting buffalo for them and felt that if anyone deserved the title of "Buffalo Bill" that he did. Their hunter was Bill Comstock.

The only logical thing to do was have a buffalo hunting contest to see who would forever be known as THE Buffalo Bill. The contest was designed to determine who could bring down the most buffalo in a single day (the buffalo meat was then used as food for the workers). A wager was set and the contest was held. At the end of the day, Bill Cody had brought down 69 buffalo and Bill Comstock 46. From that day forward Bill Cody has been THE Buffalo Bill.
(story source Wild West Historical Foundation, Inc.)

You can find more information about the contest at a fine display located at the sculpture site.

The Buffalo Bill sculpture is one of the finalists for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art. Go to to see all 24 finalists and to vote. To learn more about this sculpture and all other finalists just click on their picture. The last day to vote is October 15!

Take advantage of this beautiful fall weather and go see some of the wonders of Kansas!

Get Kansas! Kansas Explorer #2 Marci Penner

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Have you voted for Kansas Art yet?

Only 8 more days to have your say in the top 8 Wonders of Kansas Art! There are 24 diverse choices. Learn more about them and vote at This Kansas Sampler Foundation is designed to help educate the WORLD about Kansas and to inspire travel in the state.

Have you seen the beautiful art work on Wichita North High School? It's so impressive! Kansan Bruce Moore's colorful bas-relief sculptures and decorative panels are found in several places on the exterior of the building. The high school is at 13th and Rochester. Construction was started in 1928.

This neat Red Barn Studio in Lindsborg was the working studio of professional artist/craftsman Lester Raymer (1907-1991). It's filled with his diverse art and craftwork, most of which are made from recycled materials. My favorite piece is the hand-stitched "sun" quilt! Open Tuesday-Sunday 1-4 p.m. at 212 S. Main.

Wow! That's the first word you'll say when you enter this church in the unincorporated city of St. Benedict. The town is located 1 mile west of Seneca on U.S. 36, 3 miles north on K-127, 1/2 west.

The restoration of this lavish ornamentation earned this G.F. Satory-painted church a Kansas Preservation Alliance interior restoration award.

As I researched for all 24 finalists my awe for Kansas grew. Hopefully this sampling will take you to the website at to see all 24. But the best is to go out and see these places in person!

What a great state we live in! Kansas Explorer #2, Marci Penner