Saturday, January 31, 2009

The little guys have it right

Located between Wamego and St. Marys on U.S. 24, the Cottage Inn opened in 1934 as the Belvue Truck Stop and kept extremely busy before the advent of I-70.

It is home to made-from-scratch food! Rick has owned it for 26 years (since 1983).

Owner Rick is the cook and Roberta is the long-time waitress.

Rick's Coconut Creme pie, made from scratch. Yum!

Rick's chicken fried steak is a winner because he gets the meat from the Rossville grocery and so it's fresh when he dips it in the handmade batter. He puts it in the deep fryer for a minute to keep the batter on and brown it but then finishes it off on the grill. No knife was needed to cut this. It cut like butter and tasted oh so good!

Rick makes almost everything from scratch to please his customers -- and because that's the only way he'll have it. Breakfast is served all day.

Open Monday 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5-8 p.m. 785.456.8332.

The fourth Wednesday of every month the Belvue senior citizens come for lunch and play cards all afternoon.

To realize how the Cottage Inn is more than just another restaurant is to "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Friday, January 30, 2009

Showering with Grover

You can't beat it. A shower in this 1914 Clevland shower is the best! Every time I stay with Bob and Jan Topping at the Prairie Queen Bed and Breakfast in Leavenworth I ask to stay in the roomwith Grover (as in Grover Cleveland, our 22nd and 24th President).
Four rings of chrome-plated copper surround you as you feel like you're in a human car wash. Water coming out at all levels from three sides. It's quite a ticklish situation! Have you ever had a hyro-massage? This is it!
Eleanors. Clevelands. What's next.
We have all sorts of little specials around the state and knowing about them helps you "Get Kansas!"
KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A BIG buffalo

This one grew to be 50-ton, 15-foot-high, 23-foot-long. It's rancher Ray O. Smith's baby. He and his brother Chester grew this behemoth from concrete, rocks and stones. It stands in a pasture and you can see it as you drive around the section.

The big guy shares the pasture with some living, breathing bison and...

...some zebra.

From Longford, the Stone Buffalo is located 1 mile south of the rodeo grounds, turn west at Cherokee and 3rd and go 4 miles, then 2 miles south. At the corner of Limestone and 280 Road you can see the stone buffalo. Don't try to walk up to the buffalo. It's one of those works of art to enjoy from you car.

Who would make something that took so much heavy lifting? It would be someone that wanted to honor the role the buffalo played in American history.

Ray has since past away but his buffalo will last for generations -- and it will always help us "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What DO Explorers do?

Explorers are always looking out the car window for the next treasure. And when they find it, they don't just point at it but they go to it, absorb it, sit on it, find out all they can.

In this case, Kansas Explorer #8 Von Rothenberger, KE #4214 Erika Nelson, #81 Connie Dougherty, and #3015 Laura McClure were driving through Marysville. They saw this tree stump at the city park and before they could emit the first "wow," their vehicles had stopped and they found themselves crawling all over the log seat carved by Glen Lojka.

Connie took this picture of Von and Erika discussing great matters -- like the most creative bathroom they had ever seen.

Earlier in the day they had all stopped at Mule Skinner Lodge in Denison (Jackson Co.). Designed as a tribute to son Tim Kern, MuleSkinner Lodge is a project from the heart of his mom, Caroline (Matthews) Kern. It engenders all the things Tim, a naturalist and outdoorsman, loved.

Von took a picture of the bathroom floor. He had not seen a floor quite like this before. A stone floor with water flowing among the stones.

More of the bathroom. Note the sink on the right.

A close-up of the hollow log sink! Isn't this the coolest thing?

A shower that makes you feel like you're in the forest. The shower comes at you like a waterfall.

A sink like no other.

(All pictures except the one by Von were taken by Connie Dougherty)

Please go to to find out more about this one-of-a-kind getaway in Jackson County. These pictures only touch the visual surface.

OK. Now you know. The job of an Explorer is to find the niftiest spaces in little known places and share the discovery with the world. The journey that happens within yourself when you come upon these treasures might be the best of all.

I can't wait to go to MuleSkinner Lodge myself and "Get Kansas!" through Caroline's eyes. I hope you do, too.

KE #2 Marci Penner

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mystery in a small town

I just love staring at this stone entrance at the Muscotah city park entrance at 6th and Kansas.

Muscotah, a Kickapoo or Potawatomi word meaning either "the beautiful prairie" or "prairie on fire," is a town of 200 in Atchison County.

Crossed bats, a baseball and baseball hat honor their hometown boy, Joe Tinker, that made good.

Joe Tinker was one part of the Chicago Cubs double-play combination of "Tinker to Evers to Chance." Shortstop Tinker played from 1902 to 1916 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Now, does anyone know the rest of the story? Who was A.B. Harvey or was the name Harvey Block? One reference says the town was founded in 1857. So what happened in 1895?

Have answers? Help us "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The greening of Hill City

Unique to the Hill City area is the green-gray rock, a tightly cemented sandstone from the Ogallala formation. It is not painted! This is the actual color as excavated from the earth.
One-and-a-quarter miles west of Penokee on U.S. 24 in Graham County, then 2 1/4 miles north you can see earth cuts that expose the "green rock." Look for the antique quarry equipment that marks the green-rock quarry.
In addition to the city hall, a couple of other buildings in Hill City with the green rock are the Longfellow Middle School at 203 N. 2nd and the home at 621 N. Pomeroy.
We have a great amount of geological diversity in Kansas and to know that is to "Get Kansas!"
KE #2 Marci Penner

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Exploring is about asking questions

The manure spreader seems like a perfect place for this sign but who put it there?

What were the early days like at this YMCA in Mankato?

Do you really have to go into the women's restroom in the Decatur Co. Courthouse to get your driver's license?

Who thought of putting heels on fence posts instead of boots?

Why did this town keep their old yield sign?

There was once a Whittle and Argue Club in Eureka? Tell me more!

The very best way to have the maximum Explorer experience in a small town is to ask questions. If you just keep your eyes open you'll always find a conversation-starter.

Talking to the locals is the key and if you do they'll help you "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Because of today

I watched the inaugural activities at The Barn Bed-and-Breakfast near Valley Falls, prior to facilitating a retreat for rural leaders.

One of the main story lines today is the crowd, the throngs of people hungry for hope and motivation.

My working sphere is rural Kansas and I think there is reason for limitless opportunity. But the hope and possibilities will depend on the will and spirit of all of those that live and work in rural Kansas and are connected.

I'm re-excited to do what I do as part of a dynamic grassroots network that will help the world "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Monday, January 19, 2009

Break out the cigars

Break out the cigars! A new American era will start tomorrow. Let's put party affiliations aside and take Obama's lead in just doing the right thing and work together.

As he says, we can rebuild America from the bottom up. In the same vein, the way to rejuvenate rural Kansas is from the grassroots up.

If it's clear to you how that can work then you "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Towering above

One of our lesser known groupings of interesting things is our water towers!

HARPER: It's not hard to spot the red fish on top of this unique 1886 stand-pipe water tower. When the 120-foot tower was erected, a nine-and-a-half foot red fish was placed at the top as a weather vane. An 1892 tornado bent it in half but the city replaced it and it's been a fixture ever since.

WEIR: The brick cylindrical water tower is no longer in use but is still an imposing figure on the landscape in this Cherokee County town.

NARKA: Looking for a water tower painted like a space ship ? Go to Narka in Republic County!

GAS: The world's largest Gas Kan is found in this Allen County town!

CANTON: It began as a teenage prank back in the early 1960s. Kids crawled to the top of one water tower and painted Hot. The city decided to embrace the idea so they painted Cold on top of the other one! The Hot and Cold water towers in Pratt also started as a joke in 1956.

A sampling of other interesting water towers in the state:

The only railroad wooden water tower (1885) left in Kansas is found in Beaumont and was restored a few years ago.

Glasco's water tower cap is painted in primary colors to recognize that they are one of the towns in Cloud County, the stained glass capital of Kansas.

The plaque on the tall cylindrical brick water tower in Cherokee (Crawford Co.) reads, "Cherokee Water Works, 1896." It's still working -- and it has windows. Now how does that work...

The cylindrical water tower in Paradise (Russell Co.) was a 1938 WPA project.

Many water tower tops in the state are painted red, others green. The color on the top is a calling card for two different companies that paint water towers. One is the red company, the other the green!

We pay lots of attention to our water towers. After all, they are used as a landmark when looking for a town.

To find a town using the water tower method is to "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fun at the cafe

It's been clear for awhile that turning 80 was not going to be on Dad's highlight list. Maybe we changed that a little.

As soon as Dad left for his Friday morning trip to the cafe in Inman, Mom called -- the signal to come pick her up. We weren't too worried about Dad figuring out that something was up. He hadn't even asked Mom why she didn't go on her early morning walk.

The entire five mile trip to Inman was taken up with WenDee and Mom having a lively discussion about whether we should walk in with the wax cupcake candle or the really cute miniature burnt sugar cake that Mom had made last night. When we rendezvoused with my brother and sis-in-law outside the cafe door Nadine had some sweet comment about the miniature burnt sugar cake so we were glad WenDee won the argument. After some last minute staging, our entourage boldly walked into the cafe singing Happy Birthday.

Dad was sitting at the men's table and had his back to the door. It took him a little bit to figure out what the ruckus was about but soon realized he was about to be the center of attention.

Action at the cafe! Everyone seemed pleased with the change of routine.

With everyone slapping him on the back and telling jokes that are told at every 80th birthday in the cafe, Dad left his mens' table and joined us at the round table. Only Shirley, Gerry, and granddaughter Ashia remained from the first wave of breakfast eaters.

Dad seemed to be warming up to the idea of celebrating his birthday in one of his favorite places, the local cafe. WenDee planted a big red lipstick kiss on his check and the long-time favorite-of-all-the-men waitress Polly came out with a big candle in the middle of a biscuits and gravy platter. (Dad usually has oatmeal on Friday but on his drive in to town he had already decided to splurge.)

The ladies table was thinking of coming over to sing and as soon as Ralph agreed to the plan they all came over. After that, Keith the banker, Steve the barber, Mary Lou the doctor office manager, Marianna the church organ player, Frances the neighbor and Lois the wife-of-the-guy-that-built-our-barn came over to wish Dad a good day.

Lyle, Helen, and Ralph quickly adjusted to not having "their" usual table available. Big Al was everywhere pouring coffee from either hand.

You could tell Murray and Nadine were mighty pleased with how their idea was going. It was also just the right place to present Dad with a John Deere picture book. Ol' John Neufeld came over to say the tractors in that book were the wrong color, otherwise it seemed like a nice present.

Murray couldn't finish his plate but said the reason he ordered pancakes topped with peaches was because it was only $2.95. WenDee, the pancake quest lady, gave the Harvest Cafe, one of her highest ratings ever.

You can only have these kind of scenes in small towns. And, even now, five hours later you know someone is telling the story about the action in the cafe this morning.

If you can see the charm in this story then you "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner, proud daughter of Milferd.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two good ones

Larry Hornbaker and Keith Stokes. Kansas Explorers #2013 and 4392. I don't even know if they know each other. But they have a lot in common.

Lots of people travel the state because it's their job. Larry and Keith travel the state because they love it and have an insatiable appetite to know it. They find it to be an endless source of fascination.

Taking pictures is second nature but so is getting to really know the people and the place. When they look at their pictures later they see a memory or remember a story.

And, they share these adventures with us!

You'll find Larry's reports by clicking here. And Keith's at

Larry and Keith are like the bonus package for the state of Kansas. They don't get paid to lend such wonderful attention to our wonderful state -- it's just in their blood.

Talk about two people that "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WONDERful people

This group assembled at the barn (Kansas Sampler Center) on January 5 for the announcement of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce.

The way it works is that each finalist has been notified ahead of time but they have no idea who the other 23 are until the announcement. After some preliminary talk we do the power point that WenDee puts together and start showing each finalist with a picture and statement about why they were chosen. There is suspense, cheering, applause, gasps, aah's.... It's a fun time.

Follow the prompts from to the Commerce page and you'll see thumbnails of the 24 finalists. I'd encourage everyone to click on those pictures and learn more. The credentials are outstanding.

Here's a hats off to all the people that drive our retail and manufacturing businesses forward. To learn about all of them is to "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The place for rural

Today we're having a meeting with the Dept. of Agriculture about the regulations for temporary food vendors at outdoor events. The outcome will affect many organizations. As I understand it, federal rules have not changed but under the Kansas Dept. of Health & Environment's guidance the inspectors just became more stringent. Ag will be taking over the inspections in 2009.

Representatives from every region will attend the meeting, designed to be pro-active. Two representatives are coming from Ag, including Steve Moris who is in charge of this issue. We're pleased at their willingness to meet with all of us and I'm hoping that we'll be able to insure safety but at the same time make it possible for local organizations to continue fundraising with their food booths.

Fives miles outside of Inman, the barn-like building is the Kansas Sampler Center (and home of the Kansas Sampler Foundation) here on the Penner Farm. Many rural issues have been discussed here over the years.

This will likely be a first step.

Understanding the importance of local organizations fundraising through food booths at local events is to "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Monday, January 12, 2009

Making a pitch for Kansas

We've had some pretty darn good baseball players from Kansas. One was Walter Johnson, born and raised in Humboldt but later lived in Coffeyville during his offseason.
Here's an interesting fact. George Sweatt, also from Humboldt, played baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. The Monarchs won the first World Series of the Negro League in 1924, the same year Walter Johnson won the World Series with the Washington Senators.
Above is a mural in Coffeyville done by artist Don Sprague. Coffeyville has done some nice things in tribute to Johnson. I've seen college players even take their pictures in front of the bronze plaque at Walter Johnson Park and baseball field. The museum has a display, too. Humboldt has also remembered the players in various ways.
Another tribute to a Hall of Famer is in Muscotah for Joe Tinker, one part of the famous Chicago Cubs triple-play combination "Tinker to Evers to Chance." Muscotah is a small town of 200 but at the entrance to the city park, 6th and Kansas, they have a bronze plaque within the big stone wall. Nothing fancy but it shows the pride the town had in him.
Smokey Joe Wood (Boston) and Chief Hogsett (Detroit) are remembered with displays in the Ness County Museum.
Allie Reynolds played for the Cleveland Indians for a few years but later became a star pitcher for the New York Yankees. Reynolds is one athlete recognized at the American Indian Athlete Hall of Fame at Haskell Indian National University.
There are many more excellent baseball players from Kansas and quite a few with Kansas connections playing in the major leagues today.
The important thing to know is that we produce some great baseball players here and to know that is to "Get Kansas!"
KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Speaking your mind

Thanks to one of our ace Explorers Keith Stokes, KE #4392, the rest of us can get a glimpse of Truckhenge. Located near Topeka, farm owner Ross Lessman has turned to grassroots art to show his displeasure with bureaucrats. But the result has entertainment value, too.
Go to Keith's web site to see more pictures but call 785.234.3486 if you want to tour Truckhenge.
Roadside America also shares their slant on Ross's sculptured mix of political messages.
M.T. in the west, Ross in the east. Is that balance?
Boring, dull? Hardly so. You'll only "Get Kansas!" by knowing our many personalities.
KE #2 Marci Penner

Saturday, January 10, 2009


It's not often that the Kansas Sampler Foundation brags about itself and the many projects that we work on. But this time, we're pretty proud of two awards bestowed on us by the Travel Industry Association of Kansas (TIAK).

We entered three foundation projects in the TIAK Marketing Awards Program. TIAK is membership based and composed of travel/tourism related organizations. A conference is held each year where marketing awards are given out for unique approaches to promoting tourism related projects.

The Kansas Sampler Foundation felt that due to the amount of new and unique projects we had implemented in the past year and a half that we wanted to see how we measured up. We entered projects for the following categories:

  • Promotional Campaign with a $15,000 project budget and below: The 8 Wonders of Kansas
  • Community Education Campaign with a $15,000 project budget and below: Bring Your Own Lawn Chair series (B.Y.O.L.C.)
  • Website - Outsourced Design: Designed by LogicMaze of Hutchinson
There are many talented and dedicated travel and tourism groups in Kansas who are constantly coming up with fun and interesting marketing campaigns to woo more visitors. After having a chance to look through some of the entries on display before the winners were announced it was evident that the judges had a hard time choosing a winner for each category.

The winners were announced at the Annual Banquet the last night of the conference, held in Wichita this past October. Were Marci and I ever surprised when the foundation won not one but two awards - the first for the 8 Wonders project and the other to the B.Y.O.L.C. series!

It's nice to have shiny trophies to display but the ultimate satisfaction is knowing that all our hard work was acknowledged and appreciated by our collegues.

Thanks must be given to Marci's sister, Liz King, who is a graphic designer now living in San Francisco. She is the designer of the 8 Wonder of Kansas logo and the fantastic B.Y.O.L.C. brochure.
Thanks Liz!