Monday, August 31, 2009

Stone benches worth a stop

One block east of Mill and Section Line in Plainville you'll find these unusual rock benches that look like a huge lip resting on top of stone.

These benches were placed in the city park after World War II.

The idea originated from similar structures in a private pocket park just west of Mill and Broadway that were built during the 1930s to provide travelers a place to rest.

A close-up view shows the use of white stone to make the words stand out.

If you explore the back streets of most towns, you'll find something unusual, something that will help you "get" the town!

KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Goosebumps in Damar

On Saturday, August 29, the Kansas Sampler Foundation had a "Bring your own Lawn Chair" event in Damar, population 144. Damar, a French Canadian settlement, is in Rooks County and has to be the cleanest town I've ever been in.

If anyone is reading this that takes leadership groups around the state, this is the town to stop in to learn that small doesn't mean dying. In fact, if you could bundle it up, this town has as much gumption, desire to thrive, and ambition for the future -- and ability to make it happen -- as any in the state.

The lawn chair meetings are designed to give the public a chance to hear from locals about projects they undertake to keep their town viable and to explain how they do it. At this meeting, it was the "how they do it" part that produced an overwhelming amount of goosebumps and tears in the audience of 90 people.

Mayor Brian Newell gave a wonderful overview of the town and talked about the city infrastructure. Jana Sutton talked about moving here from Florida and taking the lead to build a park and playground. Lisa Gehering, the principal of the elementary school told about school enrollment that has increased for five years. Jeanie Roberts and Paula Desbien described how a group of ladies were the impetus behind all the French-motif buildings and opening Fleur de Lis. Sandy Benoit told about selling shares to keep the cafe open. Steve Hanson talked about writing grants to match local money to make possible numerous projects including restoring the church and building a community building. Kaylon Roberts told about moving back to Damar and how he got involved in numerous projects. He also gave his wish list for Damar.

Roger Hrabe, the invaluable Rooks County Economic Development director, summed it all up by saying that any town can recognize the clues to community survival but doing it is another story. He eloquently made the point that Damar is a city that doesn't just talk but makes things happen.

The audience was made up of Kansas Explorers from Colby, Ulysses, Wichita, Burlington, Inman, Salina, Morland, Osborne, Lawrence, Hutchinson, and more as well as folks from Damar and other cities in Rooks County.

After the meeting, the crowd took pictures of the many French-motif buildings, toured St. Joseph's Church, shopped at Fleur de Lis, and ate at the Damar Cafe.

Below are a few pictures of the buildings painted with a French motif. Some are not occupied but various families purchased the buildings and took charge of dressing them up in the theme.

To "get" why small towns have value, just stop in Damar and strike up a conversation with the locals.

Inspired, KE #2 Marci Penner

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some museums we need in Kansas

I don't know if museums is the right word. Maybe interpretive centers.

I was thinking ahead to the "8 Wonders of Kansas People" contest and was wishing we had a Hispanic museum. Then I thought that maybe we need a Kansas Immigration Museum even more. It would show that Swedes, Germans, Welsh, Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, French Canadians, and more share common threads. Maybe timing has been different but we're all part of some immigration movement.

We also need some kind of interpretation of our crops. We've all heard how city folks have come to Kansas in March or April and wondered where the wheat is. They don't understand that it doesn't just pop up golden. What is the evolution of a wheat, corn, or soybean crop? What use do all the different field implements offer? Why are certain crops grown in Kansas? Combines are run by computers and satellite? I might get to see the exhibit at the Smoky Hill Museum in Salina this weekend and hear that they do a good job interpreting the wheat story.

In working on the "customs" contest we've learned that we have some great stories in the state but they aren't interpreted in a way that would give a visitor a cause to go "see" something. If you have "hot and cold" water towers put a sign up to tell that story. If you park cars in the middle of your street, explain why. Burning the prairie and stubble fields is a Kansas custom but we don't interpret it anywhere? Or do we?

Are there other museums that we need to help people "Get Kansas"?

KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"You must be a Kansas Explorer..."

I received a great e-mail from an Explorer today. I'll leave out the names in case they don't want to be identified, though I bet they would.

We'll call the guy that wrote the note Roger and the woman Margaret.

As told by "Roger..."

I was in our little Wilson post office yesterday and the lady in front of me in line asked for stamps. She told the clerk she wasn't from around here but was enjoying seeing things in the area including Wilson Lake and that she was having fun making some purchases.

I piped up from behind and said, "You must be a Kansas Explorer."

Margaret turned, smiled, and said, "Why yes, how did you know?"

I smiled back and said, "You're buying stamps as you see the area, and that's what Kansas Explorers do!"

She laughed. The postmaster was completely surprised by our conversation.

Thanks to "Roger" for sending in the note. I love that Explorers are out there walking the walk. Explorers, I hear about your positive presence all the time from shopkeepers, museums, restaurants, and others. Keep up the great work!

To "Get Kansas" it sure helps to be an Explorer! Join today at

KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

You gotta love mud!

My nieces from California are visiting. Every morning we do some kind of mud pie challenge. I'm the food channel announcer. They are the contestants. Today it was a Dessert Challenge.

Sofi made a beautiful quadruple layer cake laced with evergreen berries, smashed stones, cucumbers, and topped off with a beautiful garden flower. (Their descriptions are more realistic but I can't remember the fancy names they use). The middle dessert was chocolate caramel cupcakes with candles on a bed of leaves. The lollipops were the third entry and were topped with rotten tree stump powder (also known as cinnamon), I think.

Here is Pauli with her three entries.

The bark held five different toppings for the chocolate ice cream seen on the left.

The multi-layer cake had rings of berries, flowers, some nice sawdust, and a feather on top. Again, they use real names but I can't remember their culinary descriptions.

This is Sofi's multi-layer cake up close.

I thought her candles were especially fun.

We have much fun going around the farm to collect all the "decorates." On Saturday, 40 Penners are going to make mud pies as part of our annual Crepe Paper Festival.

Why not do mud pie contests at your next community festival? It's loads of fun!

Mix it up with mud and you'll "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The things you'll see far from the interstate

St. John, population 1,188, is the county seat of Stafford County and is located in the Arkansas River Lowland region.

The Stafford County Courthouse has an unusual triangular shape, the trademark of this 1929 Modern Eclecticism structure.

And, this triple-decker Victorian fountain is the focal point of this beautiful park square. You'll also find old-fashioned street lamps and a Statue of Liberty replica here.

For a most intriguing time, visit the St. John Science Museum and let Jim Hood wow you by demonstrating how every day tools and appliances translate into applied science. An 1989 inductee into the Kansas Teachers' Hall of Fame, Jim can show how electricity can travel through the air, how the telegraph developed and how magnetic force fields work. Young and old will love this! (620.549.3818)

There's no science museum in the state that will compete with this one. Get off the interstate and let the magnetic forces pull you to St. John!

To "Get Kansas" it helps to know Jim Hood and things that come in three's in St. John.

KE #2 Marci Penner