Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde concealed themselves in a Great Bend, Kansas tourist court from June 29, 1933 until July 18, 1933 in the midst of one of their biggest crime sprees.  Bonnie and Clyde rarely stayed in one location this long, but the extended stay was necessary as Bonnie was recovering from severe burns to her leg suffered in a June 10 car accident in Texas.
   On June 10 Clyde was seven miles north of Wellington, Texas driving at night at his usual speed of 70 mph.  The road seemed to suddenly disappear because a bridge was out.  The car was airborne and crashed in the bed of the Salt Fork River. Fire engulfed the car and Bonnie’s right leg was engulfed in flames.  After staying in Texas for a few days, Clyde steered the car north.
   The Barrow gang rented two tourist cabins in Great Bend.  The party included Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, Buck Barrow (Clyde’s brother), Blanche Barrow (Buck’s wife), and W.D. Jones.  Although Clyde stayed with Bonnie most of the time, Buck and W.D.  Jones committed numerous robberies in Kansas to support Bonnie’s medical needs and other financial needs of the gang.
    The tourist court in question was on the south side of the 2900 block of 10th St. in Great Bend.  Below is a 2003 photo of the KFC in Great Bend showing the south side of the street where the tourist court was located.
 A second 2003 photo below shows some abandoned cabins at 3200 10th which may have originally sat in the tourist court a few blocks away where the Barrow gang stayed.

  While in Great Bend Clyde travelled to Oklahoma and robbed a National Guard Armory of weapons at Enid.  They drove to the home of Pretty Boy Floyd in Salisaw, Oklahoma to see if a safehouse could be provided for Bonnie’s convalescence.  However, they never made contact with Pretty Boy Floyd, and decided to continue Bonnie’s convalesence in Great Bend.
  While in Great Bend  Clyde took one of his Browning automatic rifles and sawed the barrel and stock so that he could drive with the gun in his lap while driving.  He hired a Great Bend construction worker to weld together three twenty-shot clips, creating a 60 shot “banana clip.”  Clyde referred to his new contraption as his “scattergun”, and it was a key part of his arsenel in later criminal exploits.
   On July 18 the five fugitives relocated to Platte City, Missouri—but not before robbing a gas station—-and several other businesses—in Kansas on their way out of state.


  Sources:

  “The Family Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” by Pillip W. Steele with Marie Barrow Scoma,  Pelican Publishing Company, 2000.

  “Running with Bonnie and Clyde: The Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults,” by John Neal Phillips,  University of Oklahoma Press,  1996.

                                                                      
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John Keller

John Keller, Olympic Gold Medalist; member of KU’s 1952 NCAA Championship team

 

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This collage is on display at Great Bend High School.  John Keller was inducted into the Great Bend High School Hall of Fame on February 20, 2009.
John Keller’s Gold Medal

 

John Keller was one of seven KU players from the NCAA Championship team to be selected to play in the Olympic games.
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Who murdered Arthur Banta?

 

Four miles west of Great Bend, Kansas two Barton County farmers, Robert Essmiller and Will Weber, were harvesting wheat on the Thursday morning of July 7, 1921. At 7:00 a.m., they noticed an empty car sitting on a lonely county road and went over to investigate. The car was empty, but the dash and tail lights were still on. Next to the car, in the ditch, the farmers were stunned to find a dead man lying on his back, wearing a suit and tie, his spectacles in place, and a cigar butt lying across his face. The man had been shot six times with a .32 caliber,double action revolver. The entire contents of the revolver had been discharged at close range. Four bullets entered the arm, and two entered the man’s body, one in the neck and one in the chest. The dead man was 5 foot 9 inches, weighing 119 pounds.

                                                                                                                                                                      
       Police identified the dead man as Arthur C. Banta, a 31 year old Great Bend criminal attorney. The abandoned vehicle was also registered to Mr. Banta. The murder had apparently occurred inside the car, as stray bullets had broken the windshield. The body was laid meticulously beside the car, with Banta’s tan colored summer suit neatly in place. Banta’s trouser pockets were turned inside out, and some loose change, keys, and Elks Club tickets were lying on the ground. Banta’s pocket watch was undisturbed.
    Banta was born in 1889 in Great Bend and graduated from Great Bend High School in 1908. After reading the law for two years under his father, he entered the law department at Washburn College, graduating in 1911. He was married in 1913, and was survived by a wife and three young children. Arthur Banta’s father, Dan A. Banta, was a Barton County District Judge at the time of the murder, and Arthur Banta’s maternal grandfather, Samuel J. Day, also had been a Great Bend lawyer.

      Banta had been at the Elks Club in Great Bend the night before the body was found, playing a game of Hearts with friends. A Mysterious Phone Call While at the Elks Club the night before, at approximately 9:00 p.m., Banta received a phone call, and he spoke to the caller in low tones. He then finished his game of Hearts and left the Elks Club. His car was seen parked in front of the Lyric Theatre,near the Elks Club,and he was last seen alive as he drove his car leaving Great Bend, going west, with an unidentified man in the passenger seat.

    For weeks, the murder went unsolved. The Great Bend Tribune called the case “one of the most baffling in the history of the state.” The murder mystery was the only thing people talked about in Great Bend for weeks. Fellow members of the Great Bend Elks Club raised $500 as a reward. Many Great Bend residents were afraid to go out at night with a vicious killer on the loose.These were Prohibition days, and the police “rounded up the usual suspects” by interviewing three Rush County boozers–Gene “The Indian” Baird, Sylvester “Big Boy” Carmak, and Joe Fiella. The investigation eventually led to Curly Wallace, a Great Bend restaurant owner with a long rap sheet. Wallace’s wife was no angel either, as she operated a house of prostitution. Curly Wallace was a client of Arthur Banta. Banta had recently defended Wallace in the Great Bend Municipal Court on the charge of illegally selling cigarettes, and they lost the case and appealed it to the Barton County District Court. (Selling cigarettes was illegal in Kansas at the time.) Was Wallace a disgruntled client because Banta lost the cigarette case in Municipal Court? Did he want revenge against his own attorney? Police soon learned that Wallace tried to pay a man from Chanute, Kansas, to make a false affidavit pinning the murder on a local hotel owner, Mr. C. V. Shepler.   Wallace was arrested, and he eventually sang like a nightingale, unraveling the murder mystery of the century in Barton County. He implicated two other men–including a prominent citizen. 

   On August 18, 1921, the readers of the Great Bend Tribune found out the identity of that prominent citizen. Dr. W. A. Nixon, a respected local physician, was arrested for the murder of Banta, along with Roy Hayes, a local trouble maker. Dr. Nixon had a good reputation in the community, and his patients were stunned at the news. Just who was Dr. Nixon? He was born in 1867 in Canada. He was raised in Canada, and he studied veterinary medicine there, and then moved to the U.S. to practice veterinary medicine in Missouri. He then decided to attend medical school in Kansas City. After becoming a physician, he did some mission work overseas, and then practiced medicine in Oklahoma before moving to Great Bend.

                                                                          

 Nixon was divorced four times, with Arthur Banta serving as his attorney in his fourth divorce. At the time of the murder, Nixon was married to his fifth wife,and they had four small children. Nixon had practiced medicine for eleven years in Great Bend before the murder. As the evidence unraveled, the public was stunned to learn that Dr. Nixon was possibly a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Apparently, Dr. Nixon engaged in a secret life of crime with Wallace and Hayes. They had committed three arsons, a highway robbery, and they even had plans to blow up the Shepler Hotel. Also, they wanted to kill the Barton County Sheriff and other public officials. On one memorable occasion, the threesome engaged in highway robbery by confronting some bootleggers and taking their cash. Dr. Nixon posed as the county sheriff, and Hayes posed as a revenue agent, as they “shook down” some bootleggers for their cash.

     Also, it appears that Dr. Nixon was probably involved in Wallace’s illegal cigarette business, and he was angry at Banta for losing the case. Nixon had financed Wallace’s restaurant, and he had a mortgage on the restaurant building. The Wallace restaurant is where threesome would meet to plan their dastardly deeds.

    On the night of Banta’s murder, the threesome were all supposed to participate in the murder, but Curly Wallace got “cold feet” and backed out at the last minute, leaving Hayes and Dr. Nixon to do the dirty deed. Nixon asked Hayes to meet him west of Great Bend on a lonely country road at a particular time and place. He planned to bring Banta to that location. On the night of the murder, the phone call to Banta at the Elks Club was from Dr. Nixon. The person who answered the phone testified that the voice sounded like Dr. Nixon’s. Nixon asked Banta to drop by his medical office. Banta drove to Dr. Nixon’s office, near the Lyric Theatre. Dr. Nixon then convinced Banta to drive west of town in Banta’s vehicle, apparently voluntarily. Nixon was Banta’s family doctor, and he rode with Banta to the country location. They were met on the road by Hayes.

   Dr. Nixon fired the shots that killed Banta, with Hayes participating in the murder. The original plan was for Nixon and Hayes to bury Banta’s body in the Arkansas River near Hutchinson, and to abandon his car in Hutchinson. However, a vehicle approached Nixon and Hayes shortly after the murder, and they fled the scene, leaving the body and vehicle behind.

   A possible motive was greed–an unpaid debt. Dr. Nixon knew that Banta was preparing for a trip with his family, and he thought Banta might have a wad of cash on his person in preparation for his trip. Nixon thought Banta would have $300-$400 on his person that night. Nixon apparently took Banta out to the country in hopes of voluntarily resolving the financial dispute. He wanted the cash or wanted to force Banta to sign a promissory note. However, apparently no money changed hands, no promissory note was signed, and Banta was shot six times by Dr. Nixon, with Hayes assisting in the crime. After the murder, Dr. Nixon said, “He (Banta) will not owe anybody else money.” The debt possibly regarded a personal loan from Dr. Nixon to Banta. Also, there was talk of an unpaid medical bill in the amount of $175.00. But why didn’t Dr. Nixon simply sue Banta in court to get his money? Could it be because the money was owed regarding an illegal activity—-bootlegging, abortion, etc.—-and that the only way to enforce the debt was at the barrel of a gun?

      Another motivation was revenge. Dr. Nixon believed that Banta had double-crossed him and was trying to run Nixon’s crime ring out of town. A few days before the murder, Nixon told a local attorney, Coe Russell: “This man Banta is double crossing everybody. I didn’t think he would double cross me, but I am thoroughly satisfied that he is, and he is a double crossing _______ and is trying to do it again…” Nixon had also told others besides Russell that Banta had double crossed him, and that he was angry at Banta. Indeed, Banta had told a friend a few days before the murder: “I am going to double cross Curly Wallace, Shepler and Doc Nixon. I intend to run them out of town, but if they get next to how I’m double crossing, my life won’t be worth a cent.”

     Banta was apparently planning to “blow the whistle” on the crime ring. Did Banta intentionally provide half- hearted legal representation to Curly Wallace in the cigarette case in the Great Bend Municipal Court in hopes of slowing down the crime ring? Dr. Nixon performed abortions, and many suggest that this was the key issue in the murder. Some say that Banta was blackmailing Nixon regarding the abortions and/or bootlegging, and that Nixon put a stop to the blackmailing with the murder. Was Banta a hero trying to rid Great Bend of a crime ring—-or a blackmailer out to cash in? Many old-timers in Great Bend describe Banta as an opportunist who was collecting “hush money” from Dr. Nixon, and Dr. Nixon decided that the situation was intolerable. Regarding Dr. Nixon, there are several schools of thought. Some believe he was guilty of murdering a heroic young lawyer out to rid the community of a crime ring. Others believe he was guilty of murder, but that Banta “had it coming” for blackmailing him and demanding “hush money.” Still others believe Dr. Nixon had nothing whatsovever to do with the murders and was framed. 

     The murder trial was sensational, with newspaper reporters from Hutchinson, Wichita, Kansas City, and the Associated Press. Crowds packed into the courtroom to hear the sensational testimony. Wallace and Hayes testified against Dr. Nixon in exchange for immunity. Dr. Nixon took the stand in his own defense, claiming that he was framed by Wallace and Hayes. Nixon had an alibi. He testified that he was treating patients at his medical office at the time the murder occurred. Two of those patients testified and indicated they were indeed in Nixon’s office on night in question. Nixon testified that Arthur Banta stopped by his office uninvited that night, and said that he was going to a party that night and asked for a prescription of alcohol.

    Nixon testified that he had no animosity toward Banta, and that he had even saved Banta’s life during the flu epidemic. After dramatic closing arguments, the jury deliberated for five hours. The first vote was 10-2 for conviction. The second was 11-1 for conviction. Finally, the jury came to a unanimous decision. Dr. Nixon was convicted of first-degree murder. Nixon’s wife wept uncontrollably when the verdict was read.

   Nixon was sent to the penitentiary, and his appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court was unsuccessful. The Controversial Pardon On January 8, 1925, Democrat lame-duck Governor Jonathan M. Davis gave an absolute pardon to Dr. W. A. Nixon, who had served only three years of his life sentence for First Degree Murder. The pardon created howls of protest by the Banta family and the trial judge, but the pardon was welcome news for Dr. Nixon’s family and his loyal supporters.

   How did Nixon obtain an absolute pardon? The Lansing Prison warden, A. V. Anderson, had written a letter to the governor indicating that Nixon had maintained “a splendid conduct record as well as work record” in prison. Nixon had worked in the prison hospital for a time, but later served as an outside trustee, in charge of Lansing Prison’s hog ranch. (Nixon had been a veterinarian before he became a physician.) The warden indicated that “he has been very loyal to the officials of this institution and has always been ready and willing to do anything regardless of the nature of the work he is called upon to do.”

      Numerous Kansans petitioned for Dr. Nixon’s release, including 27 doctors, the most prominent of whom was Dr. Arthur E. Hertzler, founder of the Hertzler Clinic in Halstead. Strangely, no Barton County physicians supported Dr. Nixon. In fact, the Barton County Medical Society adopted a resolution opposing the “liberation of red-handed murderer who has not yet served more than two and a half years of his life sentence.” The trial judge of the Banta murder case, Judge William C. Harris, also opposed Nixon’s release, calling the crime “one of the most cold-blooded, deliberate and diabolical acts that has ever come before me as judge.” Judge Harris argued that “his parole at this time would be an outrage against society and an outrage on justice.”

   A group of Barton County citizens supported Nixon’s release, including C. R. Aldrich, a prominent banker, who stated: “I have never believed, and never shall believe, that he (Nixon) was guilty of the crime of which he was convicted.” (Camp Aldrich in Barton County is named after C.R. Aldrich, who left substantial property to charity in his will.) In making his plea to the Governor, Nixon stated he had been the family physician for Arthur Banta for many years and the he considered Banta “among his best friends.” He stated that the jury was made up of members of the Non-Partisan League and that in the past he had fought the party, and that “they were anxious to get a lick at him.” The Non-Partisan League was a populist socialism organization, mostly comprised of farmers. The Non-Partsan League opposed America’s involvement in WWI, and favored socialistic ideas to help America’s farmers, such as state-owned banks to make interest-free loans to farmers.

     Also, Nixon indicated that all the lawyers in Barton County took a pledge not to take his case, so he had to rely on out-of-town legal talent, which handicapped him in picking a jury and in other ways. Nixon stated that the “witnesses against him were crooks and had been in trouble several times before.” The Barton County attorney had argued against a pardon, telling the story of Banta’s life in crime, including the allegations that Nixon had performed illegal abortions, committed arsons, highway robbery, and other crimes, which eventually led to murder. Nixon’s wife made a personal plea to the Governor, and she was represented by Col. Sam Amidon, a prominent Wichita Democrat. In pardoning Nixon, Governor Davis stated “there is a decisive doubt in my mind as to Dr. Nixon being guilty of murder in the first degree.” Also, the Governor noted that Nixon’s four minor children needed him at home. The Governor also made note of the many physicians who supported Banta. With the stroke of a pen, Nixon was a free man. Arthur Banta’s father, retired Barton County Judge Dan Banta, was livid. Judge Banta suggested that the Governor should make “the penitentiary wide open and turn all of the convicts loose.”

    Many felt the pardon was largely the result of political influence by Stafford County State Senator R. C. Gates, a Democrat, and Col. Amidon, also a “heavy hitter” in Democrat circles. Governor Davis came under fire for the liberal pardons he handed out only a few days before leaving office. In fact, Governor Davis and his son stood trial for a bribe to obtain a pardon for another prisoner, Fred Pollman.

   There are many arguments in favor of Dr. Nixon’s innocence. The two witnesses against him were known criminals with bad reputations. Nixon had an alibi, but the jury chose not to believe it. Nixon did not have the benefit of a Great Bend lawyer to help with jury selection. Nixon was a member of the wildly unpopular Non-Partisan League, and he felt the all-male jury wanted to punish him for his views.

    Although Dr. Nixon was freed from prison in 1925, he died shortly thereafter, on November 5, 1927. He is buried in the Great Bend Municipal Cemetery, as is Arthur C. Banta, the murder victim.

                                    

 Sources: Great Bend Tribune archives Kansas State Historical Society Barton County Courthouse records. Dr. W.A. Nixon was convicted of the murder, and later pardoned by Governor Davis.

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Gibson’s Discount Center

 

The Wal-Mart Supercenter that opened in Great Bend in 2004 is a monstrosity.  Biggest building I’ve ever seen in Great Bend.  But the first, the original, discount house in Great Bend was Gibson’s Discount Center.
   The original Gibson’s store in Great Bend was located on Washington St.  But in 1965 Gibsons built a huge building on W. Tenth and reopened Gibson’s there.  Although the building was dinky compared to our current Walmart Supercenter, the Gibson’s store opening was a big deal, a veritable circus atmosphere.  The sign in front of the building was called “The Biggest Outdoor Sign in Kansas.”  To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain in describing the Mississippi River, “it was a monstrous big sign.” Gibson’s Discount Center…The Best For Less.”
    At the grand opening, they sold big tubes of Crest toothpaste for a nickel apiece.   My Dad was crazy about Gibsons. He even had a nickname for the store: “Gibbies”.  He would say, “Anybody wanna go to Gibbies?”  We would jump at the chance.  Dad explained to me once that a federal law at one time required retailers to sell items for the price dictated by the manufacturers. But the repeal of that law made Gibsons possible.  I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years, and I still don’t know what law he was talking about.  All I knew was I liked Gibsons.
    I wasn’t just a customer.  I got to work there.  I worked there three summers, 1977, 1978 and 1979.   The store was owned by a “Mr. Stockton.”  We referred to him behind his back  as “Old Man Stockton.”  He was like the Loch Ness Monster—-everybody talked about him but he never seemed to appear.  When he did appear, the word spread like wildfire: “OLD MAN STOCKTON IS COMING!”  We would act really busy.  His son in law was the manager at one point—Bob Clement, a pilot and Vietnam war hero.  When Old Man Stockton came around, I prayed: “Dear Jesus, please let him not notice me and ask me questions.”
     Gibson’s had an elaborate anti-shoplifting tool: fake cameras. These video cameras were mounted at the end of each aisle. I found one in the back room, hollow as a tin can.
Gibsons was very concerned about the environment: we burned all the empty merchandise boxes in an incinerator, sending plumes of stinky smoke into the prairie sky.  I liked putting stuff in the incinerator. It was like an indoor camp fire.
  My first year at Gibsons was 1977. I started in the Springtime.   Cindy Lloyd was my boss in charge of toys and garden supply. She was a great boss.   I got to stock the latest toys, and I worked outside at the Garden Center.  “All rosebushes guaranteed alive at the time of sale,” I was told to say.   The next year people brought back the rose bushes in droves and got replacements for free.  I guess alot of the rosebushes were dead at the time of sale.  Who knew?
     The next summer I worked in the Camera and Record (Music) Department.  My boss was Wendy Karst, later known as Wendy Thomas.  She was good looking and very nice.  One afternoon I was getting ready to go to work at Gibsons and I turned on NBC Nightly News.  David Brinkley started the broadcast with these memorable words: “Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, is dead.”  That night when I got to Gibsons, customers were buying Elvis Presley albums like crazy.  We could hardly give them away before that.  People acted like they were not going to make any more of them.
   I remember when the album “Grease” was so popular that the only copy we had left was  in the record player.  A lady lifted the lid to our record player and  wanted to buy the demo that was spinning round and round in the record player.  I turned her down.  I wanted to listen to Olivia Newton John belting out “Grease” tunes. To heck with the customer!
    Once, Miss Kansas (Jill Dirks) came to the camera department for two hours for a scheduled appearance.  She posed for pictures with dozens of people.  With only 5 minutes left, I sheepishly asked her if I could have my picture taken with her.  She knew I had wanted one the whole time.   Maybe she noticed me staring at her for two hours.
     In the summer of ’79, I finished my final exams at KU and went in to see the boss at Gibsons, just assuming they would have a job for me.  I had prayed that God would provide a good summer job for me.  I was stunned to be told that they had no openings.  You could have knocked me over with a feather. 
   I went home with a hangdog expression on my face, and told my mom that Gibson’s didn’t need me.  God had let me down, I thought. (Back then I thought God was a celestial vending machine, and I was genuinely surprised that there wasn’t a job for me.)  Mom had me go to the Unemployment office in Great Bend immediately.  I had barely sat down with the unemployment  representative when the phone rang. “Are you Marty Keenan?” said the worker.  “Yes,” I said.  “Your mom is on the phone.”  I picked up the phone, and my mom said: “Marty, Gibsons just called and they have a job for you.”   It was a sign, a miracle.  I raced straight back to Gibsons, and the same guy who turned me down 45 minutes earlier said: “Marty, I have created an opening.”
  He fired a guy.  I still don’t know who got fired or why.   All I knew was that God was good, and that I had snared a job in the best department of all—-Sporting Goods.
      Ron Tournear was my immediate boss in Sporting Goods.  He did little to put me at ease when he grabbed a .357 magnum from the gun case, pointed the weapon at my feet and shouted: “DANCE, BITCH!”  Of course, the gun wasn’t loaded.  Tournear was hilarious.  His trademark phrase that summer: “WHAT IT IS!”  I never knew if it was a question or a statement.   One of my old chums from St. Pats Grade School, Eddie Bianchino worked in hardware, which was near Sporting Goods.  Eddie was one of the only Italians in town, but he was half German, too.  His mom was a Bieker. (Eddie’s first cousin is radio personality Scott Donovan, and their laughs are identical.)
       When Eddie Bianchino was gone, I would sometimes work in the hardware department, and I’m not very mechanical.    A customer  asked me to spool out 10 feet of wire, the flat kind of wire.  He said: “I’m getting HBO.”  I naively said, “Wow, Home Box Office.  How much is that gonna cost you?”  The man gave me a did-you-just-fall-off-a-turnip-truck look and said: “Son, you’re missing the point.  With this wire I’m going to get HBO FOR FREE!”  He grinned like a possum with a sweet potato.  In a low, conspiratorial voice, he explained to me how to hook the flat wire to the back of your TV set, and to get some tin foil and slide the tin foil up and down the wire until—VOILA—-free HBO.
    There were so many great people working at Gibsons: Ron Tournear, Eddie Bianchino, Vicki Sheets, Vicki’s mom, known as “Granny,” Carrie Bodine, Gayla Gore, Jerry Ming, Steve Thier and so many others.  Paul Berscheidt, Marilyn Rivers. There was a girl who worked there named Eckert whose Dad was the custodian at St. Pats.  There was a dude, an older man—-BILL BIDWELL!—who worked in shipping and was very funny.  He didn’t say much, but when he said something it was funny.  There was a Santa Claus/Berle Ives-looking character named Barraclaugh.  Cindy Lloyd told me in a respectful voice:: “Mr. Barraclaugh,  WWII.”  I said, “What’s that, a form?“, cluelessly thinking of the W-2 form I got from Gibsons at tax time.  In fact, he was a war hero.
    Today the Gibson’s building sits empty. K-Mart built a store next door. K-Mart ate Gibsons, and then Wal-Mart ate K-Mart.  All a part of the natural food chain in commerce, I suppose.   But “Old Man Stockton” was a pioneer.  Like Neil Armstrong, he was there first.

 

 

 

Left: One of my pay stubs from Gibsons.  We got paid in cash, with all the proper withholding done.  Payday was fun, because you would get an envelope full of cash.    I made $2.65 per hour in 1978.
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One Small Town

  Growing up in a small town is a unique experience.  Great Bend, Kansas, which marks the “great bend” of the Arkansas River southward, has it’s own story.  I was born in Great Bend, I’ve lived in Great Bend, and I’ll be buried in Great Bend. This blog is about Great Bend: it’s history, it’s characteristics, and what it meant to grow up there.

     I grew up in a magical time, not just for Great Bend, but for America.  Anything seemed possible.  I was born in 1960, when Kansas small towner Dwight D. Eisenhower was President.  Eisenhower, who hailed from Abilene, Kansas, understood the value of a small town childhood.  As president, he told a group of small town newspaper writers at the National Editorial Association Dinner:

                Now, first of all, there is no need to sell me the small town of America.  I think for any American who had the great and priceless privilege of being raised in a small town, there remains always with him nostalgic memories of those days.  And the older he grows the more he senses what he owed to the simple honesty, the neighborliness, the integrity that he saw all around him, in those days, and took for granted, and that he learns to appreciate only as he grows older and dwells more in other places of the earth. (June 22, 1954)

JFK was elected in 1960 upon Eisenhower’s retirement.  As a member of a large Irish Catholic family, JFK’s election was like a miracle, and his assassination, unspeakable.

     My childhood saw the high water mark of my hometown, and also the high water mark of America.  In the New Testament, the Apostles speak of what “they had seen and heard.” As a child growing up on the Great Plains, I saw and heard many things, and I hope this blog helps recapture that unique time and place in some small way.  As John Cougar Mellancamp sang, “I’ve seen it all in a small town.”

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