Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Pratt County 4-H Clubs of 1962

 The Pratt Pride magazine of 1962 devoted a large article to the role of 4-H Clubs in Pratt County, consisting at that time of 356 young members among 12 organized clubs throughout the county, with 96 adults involved in leadership posts.

The first 4-H memberships in Pratt County, organized in 1927, by 1962 had involved 6,331 boys and girls, although technically the early clubs were called "Project Clubs."  Those organizations became 4-H Clubs in 1931.  Each community could decide the projects their club would offer.  While rural clubs might focus on livestock and poultry, clubs with more urban members might focus on other projects.  In either case, the rules required that the young members do most of the project work themselves and keep their own records.

Listed in the article were agricultural and home economics, junior leadership, bees, rabbits, tractor maintenance, home grounds beautification, soil conservation, and wood working.  Also mentioned were developing personal confidence by participation in demonstrations, project talks, and skits.

The clipping at the beginning of this post appeared in the "Pratt Tribune" showing the chicken dinner hosted by the 4-H clubs for Pratt Businessmen.  Notice the reference to "business men," although there must have been several business women in Pratt at that time.

I did not have livestock.  My projects were cooking, sewing, and home improvement.  I do recall giving a demonstration describing how to select items for a first aid kit, which I carefully packed into a tin lunch pail.  I also remember the emphasis on learning how to conduct a meeting with the proper motions, seconds, and voting.  As an adult sitting through a few meetings, I sometimes wished those adults conducting the meeting had benefitted from the same 4-H training I had received.

Our club particularly enjoyed music, whether it was square dancing or singing.  The quartette pictured at right consisted of four Byers classmates--Helen, Judy, Cheryl, and Lynda.  Our serious pose was intended to depict a Barbershop Quartette.

I also remember the dances at the fairgrounds, with 4-H members from all the clubs in the county attending.  I think we learned the bunny hop and the schottsche, as well as various square dances, but whatever the dances were, we had fun.

This past Christmas we were surprised by a knock on our door one evening for the delivery of a Christmas ornament decorated by the local 4-H club.  The traditions live on!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pratt, Kansas has Always Supported It's Libraries

Pratt, Kansas has supported its libraries from early years, getting its start in 1909 when the Coterie Club, a local study group, offered its library to the city, offering its 1,700 books to the city in exchange for a commitment from the city to keep the library open daily, provide a free public reading room, and include free reading for the county as well as the city.  The offer was accepted and in May of 1910, on September 14, the new Public Library in the ground floor of the Court House opened.

By 1961 the library collection had expanded to 153,214 books, pictures, clippings, classical records, and films.  There were 403 adult and 330 children new borrowers registered, as well as 160 new rural patrons, part of the 6,027 total registered borrowers.  Of the 36,000 books available for loan, about one-third were loaned each month.  Librarian Miss Johnson indicated that local patrons read about an average of 12 books per year from the library. 

One of those rural patrons may have been me.  Until my grandmother's death when I was five, we tended to shop in St. John, where she lived, but after her death, we shopped in Pratt most Saturdays, and I was a regular at the library. 

The city provided $10,000, and county provided $7,000, and gifts to the Library added another $308.70.  Also included in their budget were fines ($1,011.25), fees ($64.) and  charges for lost books ($33.85.)  The Library Board Members were:  Mrs. Paul Tupper, John H. Calbeck, Eldon Green, Miss Johnson, Dr. Julia Barbee, Miss Flavel Barner, Mrs. Don Brown, John Megaffin, and Jess Kennedy.

(I cannot help but notice as I share this information that many of the ladies are identified by only their last names, or if married, only by their husband's given name instead of their own.  That practice drives people trying to search their families' genealogy on the maternal side crazy, but it was very common even into the later decades of the 1900s!)

Today we have the beautiful library pictured at the top of this blog, recently renovated, and located next to the Vernon Filley Art Museum, making joint efforts to celebrate the arts possible!  

Kids at the Pratt Library
The Mission Statement of the Library states:  "The Mission of the Pratt Public Library is to foster lifelong learning by providing materials and services which will serve the educational, cultural, professional, and recreational needs of the community."

For more than a century, Pratt, Kansas has recognized the importance of supporting the cultural needs of the community.  The Library continues to perform its role in that commitment. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Larned Opera House and the Ghosts of Past Performers


Close-up of the Larned Opera House
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

As the razing of the 1886 Opera House commenced its final performance, the stage became an outdoor theater for the first time, a gaping hole in the center of the wall where the stage had been.  On the west side of the stage, old posters advertised the entertainments of the past, and my imagination focused on the image of the Victorian actress with her pompadour hairstyle.  Was the ghost of the actress hiding somewhere inside the undemolished part of the opera house, or had she moved on with the rest of the cast as the train carried cast, costumes, and sets to their next performance somewhere down the line?  The sight of the demolished Opera House could not help but stir my imagination.

While I do not know the name of the girl with the pompadour hairstyle, nor the name of the play in which she may have performed, I do know, thanks to the advertisement for The Great Train Robbery at left, that the now famous movie did play in the Larned Opera House.

That movie has become legendary, claiming many titles, some of which it does not deserve, such as the claim that it was "the first western" and even the "first story film," neither of which is accurate.  However, The Great Train Robbery was a   wildly popular movie.  It was not a movie as we think of movies today.  As the Larned ad states, "new pictures" and "new illustrated songs" have been added, and this was possible because the pictures themselves did not move.  The story line and the music tell the story, with fixed images appearing one after another on the screen.

The iconic image from this movie is of actor Justice D. Barnes pointing his gun directly at the camera and firing.  The frightening impact on the audience was the sense that a man had suddenly appeared and shot them!  Interestingly, the theater had the option of using the picture of Barnes firing into the crowd at the start of the firm or at the end.  Either way, apparently it created a sensation with audiences! 

Although the pictures were still, some were hand colored, for example with puffes of smoke.  While we have become jaded by the amazing special effects in today's movies, for those early theater goers, the sound and the surprise were enough to frighten them.


The next time you approach the corner of 4th Street and Broadway the Opera House will no longer be standing, and perhaps even the pile of rubble will have been taken away.  Yet, there will still be a few people who remember the old Opera House, maybe even a few who remember it before its sad decline.  Gradually most of the old opera houses have disappeared.  Even many of the movie theaters that followed them are disappearing.  Yet once, the Larned Opera House was the Price of Larned!

P.S.  I have blogged about other Kansas Opera Houses.  You may want to do a search to discover those previous blogs.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Final Performance--The Larned Opera House

Photo Credit:  Great Bend News

Even after the once famed Larned Opera House was no longer used, it displayed remnants of the architectural details from its 1886 origins, when four Larned men decided to construct a lasting entertainment venue for their community.  Once the decision to build was made, they did not scrimp on making it magnificent, with large cathedral windows, ornate parapet along the roof edge, with corbelled corners.  The second-floor interior contained a semi-circular auditorium, divided into orchestral, dress circle, parquet and balcony seats.  There were four private seats on each side of the stage, and cherry-wood trim emphasized the painted scenery.  The stage was described as "the largest in Kansas," and the entire building was lit by gas-light.

Sadly, by 2022 the elegant Victorian structure had deteriorated to the point that it was dangerous.  The City Council was compelled to do something, but not everyone agreed just what that should be.  To give the citizens an opportunity to express their views, a poll was taken:  20.83% wanted the building repaired at the cost of the owners; 39.58% wanted the building razed at the cost of the owners; 18.75% wanted the building repaired at the expense of the city; and 20.83% wanted it demolished at the cost of the city.  If it were destroyed, nearly 3/4th wanted no compensation for the various owners, some of which had active businesses in the lower floor, but 26.53% believed owners should be compensated.  Obviously, there was no single majority among the Larned citizens about how to proceed.   

Yet, a decision needed to be made.  The decision was made to raze the once grand old building, which had become so unsafe that even the inspectors were reluctant to move through the entire building, described as being "in emanate danger of collapse."  One tenant had made repairs to his portion of the property, but he agreed to "do what's best for the community." 

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

As we entered Larned from the south, we were taken by surprise, not having been aware of the decision to raze the old opera house.  Although I was never inside the Opera House, even I could imagine the history--the remaining soldiers from the old fort riding into town for some entertainment, the early homesteaders dressing up for a special occasion at the theater, the performers arriving by train with their costumes and props to get ready for their performance.

Isaac Werner occasionally traveled to Larned, and in his journal he mentioned the novelty of arriving under lighted streets.  He also mentioned one trip to Larned to sell trees from his farm and discovering that the Governor was speaking that evening.  He had written in his journal that he wanted to stay to hear the Governor but felt it was necessary to start toward home before dark, getting a bit closer so that the remainder of the journey could be shortened for the following day.  But, surely Isaac would have admired the beautiful exterior, and perhaps he had even slipped inside to view the interior.  

If only those old bricks could have called out the names of performers and sweethearts and politicians who had frequented the Opera House as the bricks tumbled to the ground.  What stories they might have told.   

More about the Larned Opera House next week.



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Getting the News

Early Newsboys selling papers
In Isaac Werner's day Newspapers were extremely important.  In cities there were morning and evening editions, with special editions if something important happened.  For those who did not live in cities, like Isaac, their local weekly newspaper brought not only local news but also stories rewritten from the city newspapers.

A century later, with radio and television, we were able to get our news more quickly, but local newspapers remained important.  My family subscribed to four different newspapers at least some of the time while I was at home--Pratt, St. John, Hutchinson, and the weekly Macksville paper.

At the close of the day, the family watched the CBS station hosted by Walter Cronkite, who was such a familiar and trusted newsman that he acquired the nickname of 'Uncle Walter.'

Times have obviously changed, and today newspaper are struggling.  Those changes have brought us immediate access online, as well as television news.  But, one of those changes is the blurring between newscasters and commentators.

To understand the difference between those two roles let me first share the Journalist's Code of Ethics.

1.  I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis.  I recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.

2.  I shall not violate confidential information on material given me in the exercise of my calling.

3.  I shall resort only to fair and honest methods in my effort to obtain news, photographs and/or documents, and shall properly identify myself as a representative of the press when obtaining any personal interview intended for publication.

4.  I shall refrain from writing reports which will adversely affect a private reputation unless the public interests justify it.  At the same time, I shall write vigorously for public access to information as provided for in the constitution.

5.  I shall not let personal motives or interests influence me in the performance of my duties; nor shall I accept or offer any present, gift or other consideration of a nature which may cast doubt on my professional integrity.

6.  I shall not commit an act of plagiarism.

7.  I shall not in any manner ridicule, cast aspersions on or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.

8.  I shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise.  I shall exercise caution in publishing names of minors, and women involved in criminal cases so that they may not unjustly lose their standing in society.

9.  I shall not take unfair advantage of a fellow journalist.

10.  I shall accept only such tasks as are compatible with the integrity of my profession, invoking the 'conscience clause' when duties imposed on me conflict with the voice of my conscience.

11.  I shall comport myself in public or while performing my duties as journalist in such manner as to maintain the dignity of my profession.  When in doubt, decency should be my watchword.

Without commenting on my observations of how well today's journalists are adhering to their Code of Conduct, I will only say that we have come a long way from 'Uncle Walter,' but it is significant that the ideals of the Journalists' code remain.

What has crowded into "news" is commentary rather than journalism.  There are many problems as a result, and at the top of the list is that many people do not recognize the difference. To balance this consideration of journalism and commentary I would like to be able to include the Commentators' Code of ethics.  Unfortunately, I have not found any such Code for Commentators.  That in itself says a lot.

Newspapers have long had Opinion Columns, clearly identified as such.  Perhaps a good place to start considering how commentators became so prevalent is with the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial.  Many people followed that closely, and commentators were used to help explain legal rules of evidence.  Since then, the use of Commentators has only grown.

In today's competitive world of news reporting, often reporters and journalists are dealing with incoming news in real time.  They are trying to report the news when they lack the needed expertise on the subjects.  In the past they would have been expected to research what they needed to know, but real time reporting does allow time for research.  To help with that problem, experts are often sitting beside them to offer such explanations as historic comparisons, related political issues, laws, previous court rulings, and countless other matters.  Who are these "experts" and what is the extent of their expertise?  Most of the time, we do not know.

There is a huge difference between a Commentator with a knowledge of the topic under discussion vs. a Commentator lacking adequate knowledge of the topic or spouting his or her opinion rather than sharing informed knowledge to help journalists and viewers better understand the issues being reported.  Even a knowledgeable commentator must be aware of speaking beyond his or her expertise or wandering off into opinion. 

If journalists have chosen to be guided by a Code of Ethics, shouldn't those Commentators who are  willing to present themselves as experts in their fields also be willing to accept a Code of Ethics for Commentators?

 Here are some suggestions to consider:

1.  Lawyers are familiar with the duty to avoid a conflict of interest.  Should a commentator consider whether he or she can avoid a conflict of interest regarding the subject or the person involved, and either recuse themselves or at least disclose the potential conflict.

2.  If a commentator has gained his or her expertise through the person about whom the topic concerns, how should that impact any confidentiality the person may have expected?

3.  If a commentator puts him or herself out there as an expert, shouldn't the training, experience, education, or whatever is regarded as creating expertise be disclosed.

Americans value freedom of speech, and it is a right to be protected.  However, some commentators take that freedom as the right to express their opinions about whatever they choose, and they occupy settings that give the impression of expertise they may not have.

The importance of Americans being well informed in our complicated world is obvious.  Reflecting on ways to protect our access to information without exposing us to misinformation in disguise is a challenging issue but remains one worth trying to protect. 

There could be no better example of the importance of journalism than events happening right now throughout the world.  Yet, when I began drafting this blog, there was no invasion of Ukraine.  The reality is that the need for journalists is always essential, and the importance of accurate reporting and commentary never disappears!