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.”