Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Fun at the Kansas Book Festival

 The only bad thing about the Kansas Book Festival is that you can't be everywhere!  While books are the main reason for the festival, music and activities are also part of the fun.  Last year I was honored to be one of the recipients of a Kansas Notable Book award at the Festival.  This year I was invited back to the Festival as a speaker.

Our panel was moderated by well-known author and journalist, Max McCoy, who selected wonderful questions that allowed us to share important topics from our books.

My co-speaker was Steve Cox, from Pittsburg State University.  His book, When Sunflowers Bloomed Red, deals with socialism in Kansas during the late 1800s and early 1900s, so while Prairie Bachelor deals with populism, there were issues that overlapped to discuss.  A special surprise was the arrival of Steve's co-author, R. Alton Lee, although he preferred not to participate on our panel.  

What a wonderful audience we had.  There are at least four different program choices for each hour-long session, and attendees are free to go to whichever programs they wish, so you do not know until people begin arriving how many will be in attendance.  We had a full house, as you can see...about seventy people in the audience, which was exciting.  They were attentive, laughed at my jokes, and even asking a few questions.

Most were strangers to me, but I had a few special guests...people from FHSU, special life-long friends from Kansas City, a relative of Isaac Werner, and my wonderful husband.  (I never give the same talk twice, so at least he does not have to sit through the same thing over and over!)  

I also had one very special surprise.  It is the tradition at the Festival for the spouse of the Kansas Governor to present the Notable Book Awards, and last year First Gentleman of Kansas, Dr. Ted Daughety, presented me with my award.  I was very pleased that this year he made the effort to attend our session and even to drop by after the session ended to say "Hello."

Releasing a new book during Covid has been rather challenging, but I have so many people to thank for hosting and attending virtual talks, book club signings, and book talks.  At least two people have attended 3 or 4 talks, telling me that since I never repeat a talk they have enjoyed attending more than one.

My next book signing is at Watermark Books in Wichita, a wonderful independent book store.  It is located at 4701 E. Douglas in Wichita and my talk will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 13th.  The public is welcome, so if you live in Wichita or are nearby, I hope you might come.

Thank you for so many of you who have supported my talks, have bought my book, or have enjoyed reading it from your local library.  Now, people from coast to coast know who Isaac Werner is and what a significant role Kansas played in the late 1800s, championing things that our two primary political parties implemented, things we take for granted today that were ideas from the People's Party.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Dressing up

One recent winter, we were in town on a chilly, windy day.  As we turned into a parking space, we noticed a young woman, hunched over against the cold wind from the north.  I don't recall the rest of her attire, but one garment stuck in my memory.  She was wearing flannel pajama bottoms.  That was the first, but not the last time, I saw someone wearing pajama bottoms as public attire.  Since then, I have become accustomed to seeing young people wearing light-weight athletic shorts in chilly weather, bundled up in a warm jacket but practically blue-legged from the cold on their bare legs.  I'm pretty sure that in these cases, the people I have seen didn't dress in the dark and overlooked that they had forgotten to put on their jeans!

I'll admit, when I look back at some of the fashion choices in my past, they look pretty stupid.  Probably the most ridiculous fashion trend for women in my lifetime was the extreme padded shoulders that were popular for a while.  I had a few of those in my closet, nicely tailored suits and dresses made of beautiful fabrics that made the wearer look like she had borrowed the shoulder pads of a professional linebacker.

Beck Family Picnic in Macksville Park in Early 1900s

 As for the generation before me, this photograph of my father's siblings having a picnic in the Macksville Park is charming in an overdressed way.  The men had shed their jackets and my father had even removed his tie, but the women still had on their hats, from church I am guessing.  Sunday picnics were common in the pre-home air conditioner years, but if that really was a picnic, they were a little overdressed.

But, getting back to the streetwear of younger people today, I did a little research.  Apparently, the influence of T-shirts has played a huge role in the fashion trend called 'streetwear,' which also included jeans, baseball caps and sneakers, and the influence of skateboarding.  In other words, the casual sportswear being worn because it was appropriate to some activity was adopted by others, even if they had never played baseball or tried skateboarding.

Manufacturers caught on to the trends and in the 2000s companies began to develop streetwear styles.  That was not always appreciated.  "Influencers" often objected to manufacturers horning in on the trend, quoting Eric Brunetti, "Big business corporations have infiltrated streetwear and are currently in the process of rewriting its history to fit their financial narrative."  

One observer wrote, "Streetwear is a culture, not just Product."  As author Bobby Hundreds described it, "Design-wise, streetwear boils down to baseball caps, sneakers, hoodies, and most of all, tees."  Adding, "a culture, not just product." 

However, as I type this, the definition of Streetwear is almost certainly changing.  It differs from region to region and from city to city, changes as quickly as whatever is happening at that time.  Today,  "Streetwear is an art movement."

Lyn at the 2021Kansas Book Festival University Press of Kansas tent
So, as my closet begins to drift toward grays and blacks and neutrals and white, with lower heels on my shoes, it begins to dawn on me that "what's happening" in my life is also trending toward "casual comfortable pieces" that reflect "my culture."  I had no idea I was so trendy!

P.S.  This coming Saturday, September 24, 2022, I will be in Topeka for the Kansas Book Festival on the campus of  Washburn University in Topeka. It is a wonderful celebration of books and art, with authors, poets, and artists present, and outdoor music performances throughout the day.  Admission is free and open to the general public, with children's activities, entertainments, and food trucks.

Last year I attended to receive recognition as the author of Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, a Kansas Notable Book for 2021.  This year I was invited back as a speaker with Moderator, Max McCoy and fellow author Steve Cox.  We will be discussing "Politics on the Prairie" in the Kansas Room of the Memorial Union, starting off the day at 10 a.m.  

Books will be available for purchase and authors will be signing.  If you already own Prairie Bachelor but would like to have it signed, bring your book and I will be glad to sign it.  There are wonderful speakers throughout the day, but our program is at 10 a.m. in the Memorial Union. 

To learn more you can visit   I hope to see at Washburn University in Topeka this coming Saturday, September 24, 2022! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

In the Days of Seamstresses

 When I posted about 'homemade dresses' in the past, several people commented that they too had mothers who made their dresses.  My mother was the 4-H sewing leader who taught many local girls how to sew.  One of those local girls stopped Mother on the street in Pratt years later to thank her for her training.  She thrilled Mother by describing the beautiful things she had made, remembering the lessons she had learned in those 4H classes.

This blog shares a particular gown mother made for me.  It began with a picture in Life Magazine, although I did not know that at the time.  The picture below, or one similar, was what inspired my mother.

Jackie Kennedy's Wedding dress

Look very closely at the details of the dress, particularly the circles on the skirt.  That is what Mother saw that inspired her. 

Jackie was young and glamorous, and John Kennedy's brother-in-law was a movie star.  Both Jack and Jackie fit in well with the glamorous movie stars of that era.  

A  Jackie Kennedy doll dressed in her wedding gown.

Jackie appeared on magazine covers, and when she traveled the photographers followed her.  Her fashion choices were admired and copied.  John Kennedy followed President Truman (1845-1953) and President Eisenhower (1953-1961), both older men with older wives during their Presidencies, and having a handsome, younger couple in the White House brought publicity unlike the press coverage of their predecessors.   
The author in her first prom dress.

All of which brings me to the explanation for this blog--how my first prom dress, designed and made by my mother, was inspired by the First Lady's wedding dress.  If you look very closely, you may see that my mother ruffled yards and yards of net, cut into narrow strips, stitched on one side to be ruffled, and then sewn round and round to imitate the circles on the skirt of Jackie's wedding dress. The dress was strapless, unlike Jackie's and there were no rows around the bottom of the dress, nor was the fabric of my dress expensive silk, but when I left for the prom I wore a Pauline Beck Original, inspired by the First Lady's wedding gown.  I think perhaps mother may have added her own designer's touch by putting a tiny silk flower in the center of each circle.  I don't recall that detail, but in the black & white photograph there seems to be some ornament in the center of the circles. 

Bravo! to all the seamstresses in the past.  Today the wonderful fabric shops and the abundant fabric choices in the big department stores have disappeared, (along with many of the old department stores themselves).  The very idea of making your own clothing has nearly disappeared.  But once, every creative seamstress could be a designer.   

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Is College Worth it?

[This blog was written before President Biden announced his plan to address oppressive debt from student loans.  I have chosen to post the blog I had prepared and add an addendum at the end of the blog to comment on the program announced by the President. ] 

 At the time I did the research for Prairie Bachelor, I knew that Isaac Werner was still attending school at the age of seventeen, similar to young people living in town at that time, but not necessarily what farm kids attending classes in one-room schools on the prairie received.  Even when they were quite young, farm students attending the country schools were generally in classes only about 4 months during the winter when they were not needed to help at the farm.  After Prairie Bachelor was published, I  learned that Isaac did attend college, although I am not aware of his receiving any degree.  What is obvious from Isaac's journal is that he never stopped reading and learning, and that his interests included a large range of topics. 

Many traditional things are being challenged in America today, and one of those things is the value of higher education after the completion of high school.  Part of that is the incredible expense of a college education today.  Certain degrees, such as Medicine and the Law, among others, require an investment in further education, but recently more people are challenging the necessity of a college degree for other career paths, often suggesting that a 2-year Community College degree is adequate.  Other critics point to the extravagant and  unnecessary expense of things having no connection with education that colleges now provide to attract students, like climbing walls and waterparks, which are driving up tuition unnecessarily.  

These critics suggest that trade schools and employers who offer assistance to employees to attend college part time are better choices.  In my own community, I know of examples of businesses started by young men fresh out of high school that have become highly successful.  Of course, virtual classes are also attracting students.  

When I first read the heading of an article, "College Is A Scam," I was startled; however, I decided to investigate.  The debt many students leave college owing is in many, perhaps most, cases ominous, but since that varies with scholarships, grants, awards, and parental assistance, I have chosen not to put a number on the particular amount other than to say for many graduates paying off their student loans will take years.  From 1989 to 2016, according to one survey, the cost of college increased almost eight times faster that wages.

Here are some things to consider:

1.  35% of all jobs require at least a Bachelor's Degree.  (Of course, that means that 65% do not.)

2.  Graduates have higher salary rates and lower unemployment rates, $1,305 to $781 weekly salary rates on average, and 3.2% to 6.8% unemployment rates, or in another study 2% to 5%.  

3.  Jobs requiring a Bachelor's Degree are more likely to provide health insurance of some type; and interestingly, those with a Bachelor's are more likely to have better health habits, in particular, 20% of High School Graduates smoke, 12% of those with Associate Degrees, and only 5% of those with a Bachelor's Degree.

Those counseling students regarding the benefits of college offered several reasons, although true, that seemed to me something most young high school graduates could achieve on their own, outside of college:  "A safe place to explore interests, test career paths, or take classes 'just for fun,' A place to "make connections," A way to acquire personal growth and practice responsibilities, and an opportunity to increase knowledge and expand world views.  While those things could be pursued without being in college, it would require self discipline without a professor's or counselor's guidance, but to do well, college itself requires self discipline.

I thought an interesting way to close would be with the names of some well known people who stopped with a Community College Degree:  Eileen Collins, NASA astronaut; Calvin Klein, fashion designer; and Tom Hanks, Oscar wining actor.

I do not agree with the title, "College Is A Scam," that first attracted my attention.  However, I do understand why other options might be worth considering.

[As I noted at the top of this blog, at the time I drafted the blog, President Biden had not declared the aid to students struggling with collage debt.  Certainly I was aware of that burdensome debt, and I knew several politicians had plans they were advocating to assist students with such debt.  I certainly understand the objections from students who paid their obligations with no government help.  I also understand those who may not have pursued their first career choice, finding instead an alternative career to avoid such debt.  After all, those who chose the expense of college did so fully aware of the debt they could incur.  College is very expensive, and universities have made it more so by competing with each other to make their school more enticing.  I think most of us agree with the problem.  It is the appropriate solution that remains in dispute.  President Biden's plan seems more concerned with helping graduates escape the debt than with addressing the obviously cost of higher education.  Without addressing that part of the problem, it does not seem to be an effective solution.  I do not typically express my opinion in my blogs, but rather than avoid commenting in this case and deleting the blog, I felt an addendum was appropriate.  I respect that readers of this blog may have a different perspective.]   


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Apology accepted vs. Apology Ignored

How many of us remember some variation in the voice of your mother saying, "Now, you be nice and apologize to Susie...or Johnny...or the family dog?  Which would be, hopefully, followed by your friend accepting the apology, or the dog wagging its tail, and all the hurt feelings mended.

Refusing to share!  Sincere apology needed!

A recent news item caught my attention and prompted this blog, which is not intended to take sides in the particular situation but rather just to be a comment on the issue of apologizing. In fact, --I am not even going to bring attention to the particular apology that caught my eye.  In the days since I started drafting this blog I have seen several examples of all kinds of apologies--good ones and bad ones, as well as gracious acceptances and hateful refusals, so I am sure you can find your own examples to consider!

When we were five years old and our mothers told us to apologize, we knew what we were expected to do.  "I'm sorry," we would say, doing our best to look contrite.  The recipient, as I recall, had a few possible responses.  Among them, the simple "OK," or the extremely gracious "That's all right.  You didn't mean it."

Times have changed.  Most of us are familiar with the non-apologetic apology: "I'm sorry you took it that way," casting the infraction on the person who was offended or hurt rather than acknowledging their own bad behavior.  Going even further is the denial:  "That's not what I said."  Or, the sharing of responsibility apology avoidance:  "I guess we both got a little carried away."

Has the very idea of an apology become obsolete?  I certainly hope not, but perhaps too many apologies are more interested in justifications and excuses.  For example, here are some pitfalls that defeat true apologies, if an apology is to be sincere.  

1. Don't get caught up in arguing 'who started it."  Even if you are tempted to point out the other person's contributions to the problem, settle instead on saying simply "I'm sorry for my part in this situation."

2.  A true apology does not include the word "but."

3.  An apology isn't going to accomplish much if the behavior for which you are trying to apologize is repeated time and again.

4.  Sometimes "I'm sorry" isn't enough and takes time to restore trust, but pouting and absolutely refusing to accept a sincere effort to repair the wrong can also be unfair.

Sharing the toys.  No apology needed!

I fear that the art of a sincere apology is dying. Admitting a mistake or poor judgement seems to become harder and harder for people today, and if we don't sincerely regret whatever it is we are apologizing for, nor intend to avoid the behavior in the future, maybe there really is no point in an apology.  When you were a child, did a simple "I'm sorry" make a real difference that allowed you to go back to playing happily together?

In more sophisticated language, didn't those simple words often repair the relationship?  Didn't they often work a reconciliation?  Didn't they help to restore some dignity and sense of justice to the child whose feelings were hurt and successfully mend the harm of whatever had happened?  But, didn't it really all come down to the sincerity of the apology? 

Maybe the advice our mothers taught us, to say we were sorry when we messed up, was pretty good advice.  .  


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Loss of a Hero


As I explained at the opening of my book, Prairie Bachelor, I wrote "for readers not terribly different from Isaac and his neighbors, ordinary Americans who care about our history."  The author who has greatly inspired me, David McCullough, passed away August 7, 2022.  His quote appears on page xxvi of my book:  "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read." Academics do not own history, although one critic who reviewed my book seemed to think so, basing his primary criticism not on what I had written but rather on how he wished I had written in a more academic style.  There is nothing wrong with writing books for other academics, but if history is told only to scholars, how will other readers learn about our past?  David McCullough was my hero because he wrote history in a way that ordinary people wanted to read.

I am far from being unique as a fan.  His book Truman won the Pulitzer in 1992, and John Adams won the Pulitzer in 2001, both also familiar because they were made into television movies.  I won't even begin to list all of the other awards his books have won.  Probably many of you would recognize his voice as a narrator.  In 2006 President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

"To me," McCullough wrote, "history ought to be a source of pleasure.  It isn't just part of our civic responsibility.  To me its an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is."  One of his books holds the record for selling the most nonfiction books on the day of his book's release.   Fans couldn't wait to read it!  What a tribute to an author that is.

I own most of his books, although not all of them...yet.  One of the things I did this morning before I began writing this blog was to make a list of McCullough's books that I do not own, (only three, I believe), but I intend to remedy  that quickly. 


David McCullough quote

He entered Yale University in 1951, and one of his professors was Thornton Wilder, who apparently had a significant influence on him.  After McCullough had graduated with honor, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in English, he had various jobs related to his education, but he did not publish his first book, The Johnstown Flood, until 1968.  When his first book did well enough for him to consider a career as an author, he remembered the advice Professor Wilder had given him:  Find something you want to learn about, see if anyone has already done that, and if they haven't, write it yourself.   What wonderful advice.  

McCullough already knew that he loved the "endless fascination of doing the research and doing the writing," and I believe that shows in what he has written.  I too love discovering information, perhaps information that other writers have not found or did not choose to include it in their writing, and I too love sharing what I found.  I have written in other blogs about the delight of utilizing overlooked research sources and finding new information to include in my writing.  Perhaps I sense that fascination in McCullough and that is why I love his books.

I am grateful that there are still a few of McCullough's books I have not read.  It makes my sadness of his passing slightly less to know I still have books left to read.  Somehow, it also comforts me to learn that his wife Rosalee, whom he met when they were teenagers, shared nearly all of his life with him.  Rosalee died June 9, 2022, and David McCullough followed her in death on August 7, 2022.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Love Affairs with Automobiles

 Isaac Werner lived before the automobile, so his equivalent love affairs were with his horses, particularly with Dolly Vardin, the little gray mare he bought for $115 and named after a Charles Dickens character.  In order to pay for her and borrow enough to buy other things he would need, now having a horse, he recorded in his journal:  "I took loan at $350 at 10 percent and straight on my homestead for 5 years, interest due every six months."

Recently my husband Larry saw an article about a young woman, Gail Wise, who bought the first Mustang automobile sold in America.  She was fresh out of college, and from the picture, a cute young lady, and apparently the dealer was charmed by her, since he was not supposed to even show the car, let alone sell this car being introduced with a big publicity build-up that required keeping the design secret until the unveiling on the same day across the nation.  Ignoring the prohibition about showing or selling the car, the dealer sold Gail Wise her Skylight Blue Mustang Convertible on April 15, 1964 for $3,447.50.

She was not the only one to fall in love with the new Mustang.  Larry and I had taken his high school car off to college, and he had decided it was time to trade.  We were only a few months from college graduation, and the 'Man' of the house at 19...still a few weeks from 20...had decided we didn't need to wait until graduation for a new Mustang.  Debt free until then, Mrs. Fenwick was not pleased with her husband's decision, but when they traded his high school 1956 2-door Chevy, that they took to college for a brand new Tahoe Turquoise V-8 3-speed manual transmission Mustang, she loved it!  

Larry had negotiated the purchase  through our hometown businessmen, buying it from George Asher Ford in St. John and financing it from a Macksville Bank.  With Officer Training School ahead of him, and four years in the Airforce, he and the banker were confident that the loan would be repaid.

When we drove from Hays to St. John to get the car, we invited our close friends from college, Verlin and Betha, to ride down with us and return in our new car.  Larry recently  shared his memory of that day with Betha, which she remembered clearly, and she replied with her own family's love affairs with a series of Volkswagens through 2 generations.  Most of this blog is borrowed from Larry's memories and Betha's reply.  Thank you to both of them! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Career Advice in this Changing World

Where are we going?  Photo credit: Larry Fenwick

Last week's blog included advice for young people planning their future career in 1936, and I could not help thinking of that blog as I watched CBS Sunday Morning's program describing the technology that allows the face of an individual to be mapped in such a way that it can be superimposed on another person's image so seamlessly that it appears to be the original person.  The young man being interviewed was very excited about the potential uses for the technology, such as saving a businessman's time by allowing someone else to deliver his speech with the image of the businessman making it appear that he was speaking, or using the image of a dead actor to appear in a new film.  The newsman interviewing the technician allowed his own face to be mapped, and he was shocked to see himself delivering a message he had not delivered.  Think how 'handy' that would be for politicians too busy to deliver speeches themselves!  I understood the positive uses the young man being interviewed described, but I found the potential misuse of the technology terrifying!

Goblin State Park, Nature's Power

I also thought about the blog I had just posted.  It is hard enough to advise young people just entering college today about jobs that exist, but in our rapidly changing world how can advisors predict jobs that don't exist but probably will evolve even faster than we can imagine.  How quickly computers became essential, and smart phones have also changed our world.  Perhaps Covid hastened the acceptance of virtual communication once many of us were required to work at home.  I have given many in-person book talks since "Prairie Bachelor" was released, but I have also had my talks shared virtually, and many of my book talks can be watched on the internet.

Think about the advances in medicine allowing remote examinations and machines quickly integrated into common use.  Airlines are being challenged to find qualified plots, but perhaps business travel is becoming less necessary. Perhaps sooner than we can imagine, pilots may control planes from the ground, with on ground backup pilots to take over in an emergency.  Today people still prefer to play tennis on actual courts and golf on real, out-of-doors golf courses, but perhaps future generations will prefer to strap some kind of headset on and play tennis and golf virtually.  Maybe as the water rises in Venice, tourists will virtually sit in their living rooms to tour the canals, the experience custom designed for the stay-at-home tourist by a Virtual Reality Designer.

Ice storms, fires & floods--What is our future?

Only a few years ago, who would have predicted jobs for 3D-printing Technicians or Solar Energy and Wind Energy Technicians, yet those occupations are already here.  Will the time arrive when Genetic Engineering will allow us to custom-make our babies?  Will home schooling become more desirable with Personal Education Guides?

It is predicted that between 2020 and 2050 people living over the age of sixty will nearly double, and  the overall world's population of about 7.8 billion people in 2020 will increase to over 9.7 billion people by 2050.  This is the predicted world our current college freshmen are entering.  Good Luck to those High School Counselors and College Professors helping students choose careers for the future that awaits them.   

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Value of Advice

 It is obvious by now to those of you who follow my blog that I enjoy history.  Recently I was looking at a textbook titled "The Business of Life," published in 1936 for business students.  I thought it would be interesting to share some of the advice the authors' included.  They begin:  "Life is no round-trip ticket.  This journey, according to present-day reckoning, lasts about fifty-nine years for the average person."  I did a quick check for today's life expectancy in America and found that it is about 81-years for women and 77 for men.  Obviously, life expectancy has changed significantly.  I was curious to see how much the advice of the authors has changed, and I hope you enjoy what I found. 

The authors believed that the lack of a real purpose is the cause of many peoples' failures on the journey of life.  As an example, the authors' wrote, "At a railroad or bus station we do not ask for a ticket to 'somewhere,' but rather we should ask for a specific destination."  The authors explained that just as you should know where you want to go when you buy a ticket, you should also want to know your purpose when you begin your journey into adulthood. Today's kids are unlikely to be going off to college by railroad or bus, but, more importantly, how many of today's students actually know how to answer 'Exactly what career have you chosen for the rest of your life?' when they leave for college?  The authors' 1936 advice:  "The great secret of making the journey of life successfully lies in discovering at the start the main highway and then in staying on it," would sound ridiculous to most students leaving high school today, and even if they did adhere to a chosen career path, how many would adhere to that path for their entire lives?

Today there are professors with the specific purpose of advising students about the selection of a career path, and correspondingly, the classes  they should take for that career.  In 1936, apparently students were assumed to arrive at college knowing what they wanted to do with their lives, or otherwise, they   would be unlikely to enroll without a specific goal.  That is not the case today. 

Although some of the advice included in the book is relevant, much of it is obsolete.  The authors' recognized that time changes the appropriate advice for students, and we certainly recognize that  technology has created many unimagined options.  Years ago I thought a great high school graduation gift was a nice leather bound dictionary with the recipient's name stamped in gold on the lower corner of the dictionary.  Today I'm sure kids use the dictionary on their smart phones.  Once I realized that the dictionary idea was probably not appreciated, I came up with another idea--a really nice photo album with their name on it.  But, today photographs are probably on their smart phones, not displayed in an album.  Year by year things change, and many things become obsolete.  Sometimes it seems hard to keep up!

One suggestion in the 1936 book was looking to men (notice women were not included in their advice) you admire as potential role models, with their suggested examples being Lincoln, Lindberg, and Edison.  Lincoln remains a popular president, and respect for Edison's inventions continues, but the reputation of Lindbergh was sullied by his isolationist outspokenness during the lead-up to W.W. II.  Perhaps the biggest difference between the 1936 choices and current surveys for most admired is that women are now included.  Politics, entertainment, and sports tend to dominate polls today.  Are these men and women truly appropriate role models for this young generation?  Yes and no, probably.

During my search through the 1936 The Business of Life textbook, I was surprised to come across  the illustration above.  Expanding on the caption beneath the illustration the authors wrote, "No real sportsman would think of shooting a covey of birds without first flushing them, nor would he think of firing at a rabbit except when it was on the run."  The authors admitted that even in 1936 the common ethics of sportsmanship had deteriorated, until "today there is little sport left in this country."  What would the authors of their textbook think of the weapons used by hunters today, as well as access to ownership and other issues?

Reading the 1936 book was interesting, but I cannot imagine that the advice would hold the attention of today's students.  I did find one section titled "Qualities That Make For Character" interesting, and I thought it worth quoting.  "Perhaps the best trait of character that everyone may acquire is to do the very best he can at all times, regardless of the handicap under which he may have to labor.  This is all that we should expect of anyone.  Most of the following qualities are considered necessary, and all of them are important to good character:  courage, honesty, reliability, perseverance, industry, accuracy, self-control, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and cooperation.  Other qualities, such as leadership, judgement, and thinking ability may be necessary for great success but not necessary for a good character ."

The young man who first owned this book, perhaps a nephew of my husband's grandmother, was a  teenager in 1936.  I don't know how the book made its way from Iowa to Kansas.  All I know is that it was among the things we sorted at the time of my mother-in-law's death.  How I would love to know what young Lloyd Clapp, whose name is written neatly in the front of the book, thought of his textbook and whether the faint underlining under "Qualities That Make for Character" were made by Lloyd.   

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Legacy of the Neeland's Family


Neelands Cemetery has frequently been referenced in my blogs, so most readers are familiar with the story of how a worker at the Neelands Ranch was buried in a pasture, and the Neelands family donated the surrounding three acres to be used as a cemetery.  Those of you who have read "Prairie Bachelor" are familiar with the description of the cemetery that appeared not only in the opening pages related to Isaac's funeral, but also as the location of other funerals mentioned in the book.

In a time when air conditioning was unimagined, Neelands Grove was the closest thing to a cool place for gatherings.  Near the end of the book, I describe the Grove for two reunions, held on consecutive days--first a reunion of early settlers to the area, and the following a reunion of old soldiers.  As I have shared before, there were many Civil War soldiers who took advantage of applying their years of service during the War toward the years required to prove up a homestead claim.  I have used my great-grandfather, Aaron Beck, who served the Union for three years, as one of those settlers who applied those three years toward the five years required to prove up his homestead claim, reducing his time before applying for his land title to only two years.  In "Prairie Bachelor" I describe the "nearly eighty veterans attending the reunion" including Will Campbell, George Henn, and several other men who wore the Union Blue.

Recently, however, a friend shared a copy of a newspaper article describing the founding of Neelands Chapel located in Neeland's Grove on land donated by James Neeland.  The article was filled with names of many early settlers, including the Charles N. Waters family, who had been friends of the Neelands family in Missouri and had come to Kansas in the fall of 1877 after an invitation from James Neeland to join him in Kansas.  They had a mutual interest in building a church, and the first location considered was near the Livingston School, with a second option of Neeland's grove, which was offered without cost.  The Neeland's grove location was accepted and fundraising for the structure began.

Neeland's grove was an old timber claim, and as the trees grew, so did the popularity of the grove for gatherings, including revivals before the church had been built.  The fast-growing cottonwoods made a welcome shady location for large gatherings, recorded as being from 2,000 to 6,000 people.  Revivals, picnics, reunions, and political rallies are some of the events eager for gathering places during that time.

On November 18, 1904, the speaker was chosen to dedicate the church, upon its completion, and the choice was "Elder Beck."  None of my research reflects membership of my grandfather Royal D. Beck in that church, although he was a Methodist and in later years the family was active in the Byers Methodist Church, which was originally the Naron Church.  The actual dedication of the church in Neeland's Grove took place on December 13, 1904.

The church prospered until 1950, and it was first given to the Methodist Conference, after which the church was torn down for its lumber used in building the Iuka Methodist Church when their new brick building was framed.

Some of the ancient cotton wood trees survive, and Neelands Cemetery continues in use today.

Neeland's Stone surrounded by many of his friends
Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Memories & Discoveries

When I was a little girl, there was a particular couple that became a part of my childhood memories.  They lived just across the section from my home, our house being on the Southeast Quarter of the Section, and their home being in the Southwest Quarter.  The land they farmed belonged to a family named Kennedy, and my father and Lester Kennedy had been best buddies growing up, but the Kennedys had moved to Western Kansas, leaving the farming of their old home to a tenant farmer named Glen DeGarmo and his wife Oma.  The couple were significantly older than my parents, but our families were very close.  In fact, they are the only "babysitters" I remember from my childhood.

Looking West toward Glen & Oma's home, Credit Lyn Fenwick

I have many memories of Glen and Oma--the Thanksgiving our families spent together when a snowstorm blocked the roads and their guests could not reach their farm as planned and my family could not go to my aunt's house for the holiday as intended.  My father used the tractor and feed wagon to get us across the fields to the DeGarmo's house where we pooled what we had to make a Thanksgiving feast.  I also remember the evening Glen scooped up sand from the driveway into a box that he brought into the house so I could continue playing with my toy cars and trucks inside when it became dark outside.  There was also their upstairs mirrored wardrobe that actually held a bed.  Once, when their grandkids visited and the hinged bed had been lowered like a Murphy bed for their guests, we kids discovered that by crawling under the bed we could make faces in the mirror above us.   Another special memory is that my childhood playhouse was a repurposed henhouse moved from the Kennedy place after my father bought that land.  The only bad memory I have of visiting Glen and Oma is of the outhouse.  They had water into the kitchen, but they had no indoor bathroom, and I hatted having to use the outdoor "John."

One Sunday morning when I was ten years old, my father and I went to church alone, my brother being away at college for his first year and my mother staying home for some reason I have forgotten.  As we turned on the county line road, which Glen and Oma would also have driven to go to church, my father commented:  "Glen and Oma are late getting off to church this morning too."  There had been a light sprinkle during the night, and my father had seen that there were no tire tracks which Glen's vehicle should have made by now.  I was sitting in Bible class later that morning  when someone came in to get me, saying,  "Your father asked me to take you home today," and although it was confusing to me, I did as I was told.  In fact, news had reached the church that Glen had died, and my father had left immediately to see how he could help.    

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Isaac's stone in foreground; DeGarmo stone far right edge of picture

My father ended up buying that land from the Kennedys and he farmed it for the rest of his life.  My last memory of Oma was a visit in Western Kansas, where she had lived after Glen's death.  That visit  must have been not too long before she died in 1970.

Decades later, when I was doing the research for Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, I was researching the settlement of Isaac's estate.  Imagine how surprised I was to discover that Isaac's farm had been purchased by a man named Jacob DeGarmo.  Jacob and his wife Adeline had a large family, and it included a son named Archie Glen DeGarmo, who was born in 1886 before the family had come to the Macksville community.  However, by May 29, 1895, I documented that Glen was 8 years old, living with his family in Albano Township, and he was still there at the turn of the century.  He married Oma in St. John, where her family lived, on January 14, 1914.  In summary, my childhood friend lived in Isaac Werner's home most of his childhood and adolescence.  

Gravestone of Glen & Oma, Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Recently, while doing some research about Neelands Cemetery, where Isaac is buried, I discovered that Glen and Oma are also buried there.  My husband and I made a visit, and I was surprised to discover that Glen and Oma are buried only a few steps away from Isaac.  Somehow, I find that comforting.    


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Pausing to Remember the Past

Photo credit Lyn Fenwick

 When we received the message from David Werner explaining that he and his wife were hoping to drive from Wernersville, PA to South Central Kansas to visit Isaac Werner's grave and to see the Journal, as well as anything else of interest in relation to Isaac, I was pleased...and then worried.  The two things he mentioned were certainly available, but what else was there to show them?  Nearly all of the structures from Isaac's time are gone, and even the land Isaac claimed has changed.  What is there to see?

As it turned out, there was a lot to see, and this blog is not only about our visit from Isaac's cousins but is really about the things around us that we no longer give our attention--that we fail to share with our children and grandchildren.  While the things available to share are not exactly like they were when our ancestors lived, there are still things to see and stories to share.  That is what this week's blog is about.

Photo credit Larry Fenwick

The picture above of David  Werner, Isaac's 1st cousin 3 times removed, having slipped back to take one more picture of Isaac's grave, particularly touched me.  As did the light touch on the corners of Isaac's stone by each of the cousins--LaRita, David, and Cynthia--as the group gathered around for a photograph.  (Also in the picture is Deann Werner.)  The emotions for this once forgotten bachelor cousin were real.  

I walked them around the quiet country cemetery, pointing out the graves of friends of Isaac, many of whom are mentioned in Prairie Bachelor, and I directed their attention to the number of settlers whose stones displayed their military service in the Civil War.  Particularly emotional were the many stones of infants and young children.

We drove around Isaac's timber claim and homestead, although both are changed by cultivation for more than a century.  The second day we returned, first for a farewell to Isaac and then for a tour of his community.  As we drove through the community, I read brief excerpts from Prairie Bachelor, connected with the particular locations where we paused, such as the land where Isaac stayed with neighbors in his final days, the locations of the country post offices, the location of the home of the young man who visited Isaac every day until Isaac could no longer remain in his home--sharing details at each pause related to each of his neighbors in some way.  They couldn't believe how far he walked in his community for visits, jobs, and other reasons.

They discovered their own surprises--how sandy the soil was, how pretty the wild flowers were, how many animals they saw on the country roads, how the cottonwood trees had looked like a snowfall had covered the bark, and because of the blackened trees from a recent fire in our community that burned many acres, how frightening prairie fires must have been in Isaac's time.

Lyn, Dave & LaRita: Photo credit Larry Fenwick
We visited both the Lucille Hall Museum in St. John and the County Museum in Stafford, which Michael Hathaway generously interrupted his weekend to share with us.  It was a particular treat to see both where Isaac's Journal was found and to see the actual "County Capital" newspapers where I did so much of my research for Prairie Bachelor.

Although I had worried that there would be too little to show them, that was never the case.  Of course, I have written this blog to share their visit with you, but I hope that it may encourage you to consider your own family tour, whether to see sights specifically relevant to your family or just to explore the community that we sometimes take for granted.

I will close with a final photograph that perhaps best displays the joy of connection with roots from the past.  I had covered the dining room table with examples of my research, and added to the display was an incredible research collection compiled by Cynthia McClanahan Cruz, tracing the Direct Descendants of Henry and Magdalena Meyer Werner, (Isaac's grandparents), genealogy that stretched back to the generation that connected all of the guests to one another.  Among these items placed on the table to be explored was Isaac's Journal.  I will close with the picture that seems to say it all. 

Photo credit Larry Fenwick

Without Isaac Werner's daily entries in this 480 page oversized journal, there would never have been a Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  Many of you who had never heard of the Populist Movement in which Kansas and other states played such a significant  role, might never have known about it, its influence today, and the roots of Populism and Progressivism.  For many readers of the book, they now understand the challenges their own ancestors faced during that time.  Today, Kansas is sometimes referred to as a "flyover state," but those who know its full history know better!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Isaac meets his cousins

James Werner, Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
When my husband and I packed for a Willa Cather Conference at Smith College in Massachusetts, we had no intention of doing any more than attending the conference and visiting some of the places we remembered from the time my husband was stationed at the air base nearby.  However, rather than returning straight home, we began to travel down the east coast, making spontaneous stops at historic locations.  Our wandering took us as far as Gettysburg, and that was probably when I began to suggest that we travel to Wernersville, Pennsylvania.  

I had already transcribed Isaac Werner's journal and had done quite a bit of  my research, but we had left for the Cather Conference with no intention of its being anything other than a holiday.  The spontaneous side trips had not taken us too far out of our way, but they had delayed our return home.  My suggestion to visit Wernersville would add both miles and more days away from home to our trip.  Yet, it seemed a shame to be so close to the town Isaac's father had founded and not visit it.  I had brought none of my research with me, but at least I could see the present-day town and perhaps visit the cemetery where members of Isaac's family were buried.  I convinced my husband to go out of our way to visit Wernersville. 

My lack of professional preparation for doing research was embarrassing when we reached Wernersville with only the research I had in my memory, but I was rewarded with far more information than I deserved, and one of those rewards was meeting James Werner, to whom I was introduced because we wandered into Hains Church after visiting the church cemetery.  I had asked if any Werners were members of the church, and that is how I was introduced to James, who interrupted his day to come to the church to share much of his family history as a descendant of Isaac Werner's favorite uncle.

In my files I have a letter dated July 5, 2012, in which I tell James "The manuscript is completed, and I am at the point of preparing submissions to publishers."  My expectations for quickly finding a publisher were overly optimistic!  My previous books had been published quickly, but as most of you reading this blog know, Prairie Bachelor was finally released in late December of 2020, twelve years after I first saw the journal and began my work toward telling Isaac's story!  I was determined to write history accurately but in a style that would read like a novel.  Academics already know about the Populist Movement, but most Americans do not know about the most successful Third Party in our history, and I wanted to share that important past with general readers through Isaac Werner and his community.  Finding a publisher willing to do that proved challenging.  I am proud that Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader & the Populist Movement was honored as a 2021 Kansas Notable Book.      

I stayed in touch with James off and on during those years, and when FHSU hosted a virtual book launch in December 2020, the James Werner family was well represented among the many supporters who attended. Many of those who attended the book launch had never attempted virtual gatherings, although many of us learned during the covid pandemic.  Yet, people across America, and even from as far as Ukraine, learned the technology in order to attend.  The picture at left is of James and his wife Emily gifting Prairie Bachelor to the Hains Church.  They also gifted the book to the town library, the school library, and the Heidelberg Heritage Society.  Tentative invitations for me to speak have been postponed by covid.

James and Emily do not look their age, but they have begun to limit distant travel, and it is a long drive  from Pennsylvania to Kansas.  However, for younger members of the family, such a trip was not out of the question.  This past weekend we hosted David & his wife Deann Werner, as well as Cynthia Cruz and LaRita McNeely, whose ancestors were brothers of Isaac's father, making them first cousins to Isaac, three times removed.

The truth is that Isaac Werner was a forgotten man, but he is forgotten no more.  It was surprisingly emotional for all of us to visit Isaac's grave in Neelands Cemetery, not only to see Isaac's stone but also many of the other early settlers buried there, several of whom are mentioned in Prairie Bachelor.  I open Prairie Bachelor by quoting Walt Whitman's poem and close the book with a reference back to that poem, asking,  "Will someone when I am dead and gone write my life?" I conclude by answering Whitman's question with, "Someone has."  

By using Isaac's life to tell the true story of the Populist Movement--the struggles that led farmers, ranchers, miners, and small town merchants to form a political party, the successful achievements of the People's Party, and the eventual decline of the party--a pattern very much like Isaac's own life--my book has brought awareness of this historic movement to so many people, a political movement that changed the two older parties and continues to influence politics today. Now, not only Isaac's relatives know who he is, but also people across the nation--and even beyond.  Isaac's story attracted readers who would never have read a scholarly book about political history, but today they recognize the significance of Populists and Progressives that began with farmers like Isaac and that continues to impact politics today. 

Gifting "Prairie Bachelor" to Heidelberg Heritage Society


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It's a Small World

 When I was a young girl, I thought my father must know more people than anyone in the world.  I would meet someone from another school and mention my new acquaintance to my father, and he would proceed to tell me who my new friend's parents were, and sometimes who the grandparents were.  Of course, his wide acquaintances were primarily in the half-a-dozen counties where he had been raised.

This blog is really about those serendipitous meetings where you are someplace far from home and you meet someone you know, or you meet someone new and discover you have a very close connection.  For example, when we attended the Montreal World's Fair of 1967, we ran into a man my husband had played basketball against in high school.

During my husband's tour of duty in South East Asia, he was playing pool in the officers club and heard someone call out his name, using his high school nick name.  It was an acquaintance from a neighboring Kansas town whom, my husband discovered, was also an Air Force Officer.  Although they hadn't seen each other for several years, they had a nice visit half way around the world.

In the early 2000s we took our mothers to England for a holiday, and while having lunch in an English castle my husband spotted the parents of one of our best friends having lunch in the same castle dining room, and we stopped by to say hello..

This story, however, is a little different, since the person I met was a stranger.  We were attending an art exibition in Oklahoma, and I wandered into an ongoing conversation with one of the artists exhibiting her work.  The Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas was mentioned, and the artist acknowledged having some familiarity with that area.  As I joined the conversation, the artist asked if I grew up in Pratt, and I replied that I had grown up in the small community of Byers, adding "which you have probably never heard of."  She replied, "Oh, yes, I know Byers.  My Aunt Gloria went to school there."  "Gloria Martin?" I asked, never imagining it might be someone I knew.  "Yes," she replied excitedly.  "That's my Aunt!"

Painting by Sonya Terpening

As a result of pure serendipity I had a delightful conversation with Sonya Terpening, an artist who began studying with professional artists in junior high school, who received her degree in art from Oklahoma State University, and who was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from that university in 2020.  However, her recognition as an artist goes well beyond Oklahoma, and even well beyond Texas, where she now lives.  She and her work have been featured in such important magazines as Art of the West, Western Art Collector, and Southwest Art.  Her deep feeling for the West, which is the frequent subject of her paintings, is beautifully expressed in her own words:  "Living in Oklahoma or Texas is living with the fable of the West, both states are so rich in history." (More of her work can be seen online.)

What a treat for me it was to meet Sonya Terpening, and what proof that "It's a Small World" that I wandered into a conversation, mentioned my small childhood community, and unexpectedly had a pleasant chat with an artist whose work we had admired as we wandered through the exhibit earlier.  Serendipity can shrink the world and produce delightful surprises!   

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

What Else May You Be Missing in Kingman?

In previous blogs I have mentioned outdoor mural art and indoor post office art, from both of which history can be learned.  Kingman, Kansas offers both examples.  In a previous blog I featured the two murals by Stan Herd on the north outside wall of the Main Street Kingman County Historical Museum.

Just across the street from the Museum is the Kingman Post Office.  Kingman is one of those lucky towns whose post office contains art commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture.  Kingman's painting, "In the Days of the Cattlemen's Picnic," was done in tempera by Jessie S. Wilbur.

Because I have already posted a blog about the commissioning by the U.S. Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture during the 1940s, I will mention that only to date Jessie Wilbur's painting as being done in 1942.  At that time, she would have been 30 years old and would have completed her study of art at Colorado State Teachers College.

Initially, she became interested in cubism, which held her interest for many years, but later she became interested in impressionism.  However, it was as a printmaker that she became best known.  None of these styles dominate her painting in the Kingman Post Office, but her inclination toward a more modern style of painting can be seen.

She did not rely entirely on her paintings for income but rather taught at Colorada State for a few years before going to Montana State College in Bozeman, Montana, where she also taught courses at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana.  

Many examples of her public art may still be seen. Some of her art is on permanent display in the Jessie Willber Gallery at the Beall Park Art Center in Bozeman.

The next time you travel through Kingman, Kansas, you just may want to visit the Post Office.