Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Kansas Deserves More Attention!

Importance of Country Schools--School Isaac Werner helped build

In the 1920s, a Kansas City reporter wrote:  "Even historians don't understand Kansas.  I wonder sometimes if anybody except God understands Kansas and sometimes I think Kansas even has him fooled."  Craig Minor, a history professor at Wichita State prior to his untimely death, and the author of several books on Kansas history, including his thick volume, "Kansas, The History of the Sunflower State, 1884-2000," expressed a similar concern about how poorly even we Kansans know our own history.

"Until the Kansas everybody knows--Amelia Earhart, John Brown, Wyatt Earp, Ike Eisenhower--or think they know--Matt Dillion or Dorothy Gale--are joined by many others, our sense of place and our understanding of the local legacy will be palid."

Craig Minor's words explain my motivation for writing "Prairie Bachelor."  When I discovered Isaac Werner's journal and realized how little I knew about Kansas in the late 1800s, even though I was born and raised in the house my homesteading ancestors built, I knew there were almost certainly many other Kansans--with ancestors living at that time or relative newcomers to the state--who had no idea of the significant role Kansans played in the Populist Movement nor of the influence that Movement continues to play even today.

The Importance of early Churches: Macksville Methodist Church

Scholars know about that, but I did not want to write a scholarly book.  I wanted to write a book for readers who enjoy stories--in my case, real stories about forgotten people who played a big role in this nation.  My research for the book provides new information for scholars as well, but what excites me is hearing from friends and strangers who tell me that they fell in love with Isaac, that they have an ancestor who lived in the communities about which I write and have new respect and understanding for what their ancestors achieved, or that they relate to to "Prairie Bachelor" in some other way.  I even enjoyed the scoldings I got from two friends--one telling me she stopped reading for several days because she was angry I let Isaac die, and the other blaming me for her lazy day finishing the book after getting so involved in reading it over her morning coffee  that she couldn't put the book down until she finished it.

Importance of early businesses:  St. John, F. B. Gillmore Building

So many people have sent supportive messages during the writing of the book and compliments after reading the book, and in last weeks blog I tried to express how much all those comments have meant to me.  The blog was my effort to thank as many of you as possible--those I know and those I don't.  Thanks so much to all of you.

Like Craig Minor, who through his classes and his books sought to add to the awareness of our state and its people, I was motivated to write "Prairie Bachelor" for the same reason.  Each of you who enjoys the book justifies for me the decade of researching and writing it.  Thank you.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Honoring the Kansas Notable Books of 2021

Eric Norris, Lyn Fenwick, Dr. Ted Daughety
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

This past weekend was the Kansas Book Festival held at Washburn University.  My husband and I  arrived Friday afternoon, in time for the Pre-Festival Presentation by author, Rebekah Taussig.  The title of her book describes its subject, "Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body," but to describe Rebekah I must put the emphasis on 'Sitting Pretty,' for Rebekah refuses to be defined by her disabilities.  As she prefers to say, 'All of us are disabled in some way at some point in our lives.'  We had the pleasure of meeting her parents as well, and this is definitely a family determined to live their best life possible, working with and around the obstacles and getting on with life!  Of course we came home with a signed copy of her book, and we may have to flip a coin to see who gets to read it first. 

The first event the following morning was The Presentation of Notable Book Awards 2021 at the the Mabee Library.  Everyone at the Library was so welcoming and helpful, and after being the first event of the day, we proudly wore our awards (as we were asked to do) for the rest of the day.  The awards were announced by our State Librarian, Eric Norris, who included a brief description of each book as we were called forward to receive the award.  After which, we received the award itself from our Kansas First Gentleman, Dr. Ted Daughety.  The photograph above shows me standing between these two gentlemen, State Librarian Norris on my right and Dr. Daughety on my left.

The break-out group presentations by a variety of authors and poets began at 10 a.m., with new groups beginning at the top of each hour.  Outside were a variety of booths hosted by publishers displaying books for sale.  I had studied the break-out groups carefully in advance, trying to decide which group to select when I wished I could attend all of them.  As it turned out, I was only able to attend two programs and a few minutes of a third.  For those of you reading this blog who might attend in the future, I think you will be tempted by all of the options.  Of course, there were writers, poets, and would-be writers and poets in attendance, but there were also people who love books and those who came to hear specific speakers.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

Of course, I wanted to visit the University Press of Kansas tent, where I got to meet in person Kevin L. Smith, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kanas and also Director of the University Press of Kansas,  and Editor in Chief, Joyce Harrison and her husband (Not pictured).  I have worked with Joyce for over two years during and since the publication of "Prairie Bachelor," so I was delighted to finally meet her in person.

In late August, I was asked by Kaye McIntyre, Producer, KPR Presents, on Kansas Public Radio, if I would be available during the Book Festival to join her for an interview.  Of course, I was delighted.

Cropped images taken through window:  Photo Credit, Larry Fenwick

It was pre-recorded for a later program, but I do not have the date it will be broadcast.  McIntyre is a wonderful interviewer, and I hope listening to it will be as much fun for her audience as I felt during the interview.  Our conversation covered Isaac, his community, and the populist movement of which he was a part, supplemented with comments about the adventure of writing and questions she was curious about from having read the book. The interview felt like a chat with a friend.  For those of you who know my voice, don't be surprised by the husky sound.  Apparently, the pollen and dust I breathed in while cleaning out my iris beds for winter gave me a double dose of autumn allergies.  

 I will close with a group picture of those notable book authors attending the festival, also including Dr. Daughety and State Librarian Norris.  I wish it included Cindy Roupe, who did such a wonderful job putting all of the Notable Book details together, but she was, as often, busy in the background, behind the camera making sure to get a photograph of all of us instead of joining us in the picture.

This particular photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

 Thank you to so many people.  From the moment I sat down to read the first few pages of Isaac's Journal. I have accumulated a sense of gratitude owed to more people than I can count.  So many helped me along the way, and many of you continue to help expand the reach of Isaac's story and the history of the populist movement across America and beyond.  Thank you for the notes and compliments that you continue to send my way.  Thank you to so many people who were involved in the Kansas Book Festival, as well as many others who were involved with programs at which I spoke and which continue to be scheduled.  From my first book club group, to the many other ways others have helped to  publicize "Prairie Bachelor," by buying books, recommending it to friends, asking for it in their local library or book shop, with articles in newspapers, and gifting "Prairie Bachelor" to friends and others, I recognize how important that has been.  And especially, thank you to my driver, photographer, publicist, and so many other things he does to encourage this adventure we share.  I am in the picture above, but so very many more of you helped place that award around my neck.  I thank all of you!


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Kansas Book Festival 2021

Display of 2021 KS Notable Books at Watermark Bookstore  
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

 This weekend is the Kansas Book Festival 2021 in Topeka, hosted by Mabee Library on the campus of Washburn University.   Friday, September 17, at 4 p.m. Rebekah Taussig kicks off the Festival with a book talk about her book, "Sitting Pretty, The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body."  Admission is free and the public is welcome. 

Saturday morning at 9 a.m., September 18, the Notable Book Award Ceremony starts the full day of activities. State Librarian Eric Norris will describe the Notable Book Program, followed by the introduction of the recipients which will include a short description of each of their books.  The books recognized with an award may include Fiction, Narrative Nonfiction (history, biography, memoir, essays), Cook Books/Food Related, Poetry, Children's Literature, and Art & Architecture.  My book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, falls within the narrative nonfiction category.  This year's selections include youth books, as well as  poetry, memoir, art, and narrative. 

Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

In addition to recognizing books, the Kansas Book Festival program includes a grant program, begun by former First Lady Mary Brownback.  This year, ten libraries received grants, among which were both public and school libraries.  Grants included not only books but also technology, especially important during the pandemic.  The director of the Wamego Public Library explained, "The effects of the pandemic have pushed many into isolation in a way that once seemed unfathomable. is no longer just a luxury but a necessity." 

Among this year's recipients of a Notable Book Award is Aimee Nezherkumatathil's World of Wonders:  In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, for which she was also recognized by National Public Radio and Barnes and Noble as a Book of the Year.  As the New York Times concluded its review of her book, "A very fine book indeed."

A part of the celebration of books and authors has included a Youth Writing Contest for students Grades 3-12, and although it has been interrupted by Covid, plans for its return in 2022 are being made.

During the time my husband and I lived in Georgia, I received the Georgia Author of the Year Award for my book Should the Children Pray, which was presented to me at the state capital by the Governor.  It is customary to receive the awards for Kansas Notable Books from the Kansas Governor, but because our governor has a conflict, we have the privilege of receiving our awards this year from Dr. Ted Daughety, the First Gentleman of Kansas.  Later that afternoon, I will be visiting with Kay M. McIntyre  of Kansas Public Radio.  Between my two scheduled meetings, I have the challenge of deciding which of the multiple programs available to the public during the day to attend.  Unfortunately, I can't attend all of them and must choose from among some tempting topics! 

I am looking forward to a wonderful day celebrating books and reading at the Washburn University Mabee Library!  Perhaps I will see some of you there.



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Remembering Nine Eleven, Two Thousand One

A Personal Memorial by guest, Larry D. Fenwick 

During the decade of the 1980s, and the early part of the 1990s, I worked in the investment world of Wall Street and frequently attended monthly and quarterly meetings in New York City.  Our home office was located in the South Tower,  known by the name 2 World Trade Center.  The North Tower was slightly taller than the South Tower, 2 World Trade Center, and when you accounted for the spire which was atop the 1 World Trade Center, the height came to 1,728 feet.
Towers Under Construction

Both of the buildings were 110 stories tall.  Our offices were in the floors above 100, but were not on the top floor.  The Windows of the World restaurant was located on the 106th and 107th floors of 1 World Trade Center.  The Center actually consisted of seven buildings in lower Manhattan, and the area was so large and employed so many people that it had its own zip code.

I began my investment training on Wall Street in 1971, and while both of the World Trade Center buildings were under construction during that time, neither had been completed.  Construction actually began in 1968, but all seven buildings in the complex were not completed until 1987.

In 1983 I joined an investment firm in Dallas and became the Regional Sales Manager for the Central Division of our firm.  I covered the state of Kansas and nine other central states during those years, and in 1988 my job changed and I became the Divisional Director of Sales and Marketing for the same firm out of Atlanta.  In that position, I covered Georgia and eleven other Southeastern states.

Completed Twin Towers

During those years, when we were in meetings in New York, we stayed at the Vista Hotel located in the 3 World Trade Center building, connected to the South Tower by both an overhead skywalk, an underground tunnel, or corridors as well.  The NYC subway system had a large terminal station under some of the WTC buildings.

Both Twin Tower buildings had some unbelievable banks of elevators to service their buildings--99 each.  As in all high rise office buildings, you had to know the floor you were visiting in order to "get on the proper bank of elevators."  If you were going to the upper ten floors--where our companies were located--there was a special bank of elevators that travelled at 'warp speed' to ascend quickly to the top.  They traveled so fast that when they began to brake for a stop, you truly felt some moments of weightlessness. 

Our firm acquired Lehman Bros in the mid-80s, and we came into possession of most of their corporate furniture.  On one of the top floors at the Executive Dining Room of the firm, you entered a huge room that had an enormous table that could seat at least fifty people.  It had been the former Lehman Bros partners' table.  If you have seen some of the pictures of dining halls of historic castles in England, you can envision the Dining Room setting--minus the armory, swords, and ancient battle ware.

From that floor, you could walk to the west side of the building and look out the large windows to the left and, at night, see the illuminated Statue of Liberty in all it's glory, and then look to the right toward uptown along the Hudson river and see the Empire State Building in midtown, and further up, the Chrysler, Pan Am, and so many other notable landmarks of the city.  On a clear night, it was truly a special moment to feel good about America and American capitalism.

I often think back to the special meetings and my fellow work associates I shared that time with in those buildings.  Once, while I was standing at one of those large windows, a senior officer of the firm came over to me and said, "Fenwick, this is a long way from Kansas."  I am not sure what I said in response, but in fact he was correct; it was a long way from the plains of Kansas.

Memorial at the Twin Towers Site

On that tragic day of September 11, 2001, twenty years ago this week--when America lost so much, I also lost some friends.  In total, 2,606 people were killed in the Towers that day, including over 300 firemen who perished as first responders working to help rescue others.  Additionally, 157 people who were aboard the two planes that hit the towers also died.  Others were killed in two more hi-jacked planes, one of which hit the Pentagon, and others aboard United Flight 93 died when a courageous group of passengers led by Todd Beamer, who spoke the memorable words, "Let's Roll" as they attempted to regain control of the flight deck.  Although the plane crashed into the ground at Shanksville, PA, that brave group of passengers prevented the plane from crashing into its intended target in Washington, DC.

My wife and I have never been back to NYC nor Ground Zero since that horrific day, but we will.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Watching the Sky for Weather

I have previously posted a blog on the topic of weather predicting in the 1800s, and in this series about the impact of outer space I  return to the perspective of we earthlings.   

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwck
Isaac Werner began every entry in his daily journaling with the weather.  Following a long interruption from his journaling in Illinois, he finally resumed writing daily on the Kansas prairie, starting on page 129, August 24, 1884:  "Some light raining during the night, and similar prospect this A.M."  Following that entry, he wrote every day until he filled his journal, always beginning with the weather.  On June 10th, 1891, at page 480, he wrote:  "Occassional wind during night whirling bended peach trees, still partly cloudy, clouding over from N.W. & cool wind." 

Isaac was following the advice of Henry Ward Beecher, a famous minister and the brother of Harriet Beecher Stow.  A newspaper clipping by Beecher, titled "Keeping a Diary," was glued on the inside  front cover page of Isaac's journal.  Beecher concluded his article with these words:  "One may trace, from day to day, the mere facts of his history, the proceedings of the farm, or the books read, visits made or received, the events in society, the conversations with men of mark, the facts of the weather, the seasons, the aspects of nature, and in short, a journal of knowledge, in distinction from feeling..." Isaac Werner followed that advice exactly, which is what made him an excellent reporter of his time and location.

Photo credit: Lyn Fenwick
It also made him a capable weather reporter, with the ability to turn to specific dates to determine the previous years' weather, building a record of weather from year to year.  In a new environment, where less was known about seasonal changes, Isaac's journal gradually collected that information so that he acquired some weather predictability.

At a web site online I found advice for becoming a Citizen Weather Reporter.  Although weather forecasters today have many sophisticated means for predicting the weather, citizen reporters can still help.  Although meteorologists can see snow showing up on radar, citizen reporters can alert these professional men and women to what is happening in specific locations, and of such things as when snow changes to freezing rain.  They can also report tornadoes, hail, and wind damage, with specific information that could help save lives during a severe weather event.

For example, precipitation is extremely localized.  Recently, we received no rain at our home, and we were quite surprised when we found large mud holes on the road only a quarter-mile south of our house the next morning.  I also remember driving through heavy rain and suddenly driving out of the rain onto dry pavement.  I understand that rain must stop somewhere, but the the abruptness of driving out of rain, rather than simply the rain gradually becoming less heavy, (or as my father used to say, "letting up,") surprised me. 

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network utilizes thousands of citizens with official rain gauges and snow rulers to measure precipitation right in their backyards.  This is particularly helpful for meteorologists to use figuring out areas prone to flash flooding in future storms.

Skywarn is an official weather spotter training program run by the National Weather Service to teach the basics of spotting severe and hazardous weather and properly reporting that weather back to the NWA.

Some amateurs want to learn how to do their own forecasting, and that can be a fun hobby.  However, professionals warn that there are many events involved that are not intuitive about how air, water, and solar radiation interact and evolve to create weather conditions.  While amateurs may enjoy forecasting for their own pleasure, they should not encourage others to rely on their predictions.