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8/25/2014

SAM HARRIS HAS A NEW BOOK ….”WAKING UP: A GUIDE TO SPIRITUALITY WITHOUT RELIGION…AND YOU CAN HELP LAUNCH IT…

Filed under: prairie musings, Authors — Peg Britton @ 6:20 pm

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Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

Not everyone will buy Sam Harris’ new book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, but  know that IF you are planning to do so, you can help it come to the attention of many more readers by pre-ordering it today at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or your local independent bookstore. Timing is important because the first week’s sales of a book often determine its future (by affecting how many copies bookstores order, whether it appears on best seller lists, etc.). All pre-orders count as first-week sales, and these are the best sales to have. My copy has been ordered as well as one for Tyler.

You can listen, or read, the first chapter of the book here… which is on his website.  You’ll find it very informative, interesting and well worth the time it takes to absorb the first chapter.

I highly recommend another book of his…The Moral Landscape.

For the millions of Americans who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris’s new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology.

“From multiple New York Times bestselling author, neuroscientist, and “new atheist” Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the 30 percent of Americans who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.

Waking Up is part seeker’s memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous skeptic—could write it.”
Thanks for tuning in…

12/15/2013

DOG OF THE AFTERWORLD BY LEON UNRUH

Filed under: prairie musings, Authors, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 1:25 pm

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One of the best page-turners I’ve read in a long time was made even more interesting because it was written by someone I know. I met Leon and his family when they came to Kansas several years ago to participate in the Bike Across Kansas program.  Leon and both of his sons, Sam and Nik, pedaled the entire distance without ever “walking” their bikes during the difficult uphill stretches.  His son, Nik, was the youngest to pedal the entire distance of 400 plus miles in the history of the race, as best we could determine.

Dog of the Afterworld, a mystery thriller, is described on the cover this way:
Nikolai Fyodorov, a young Russian assassin on a mission to punish a turncoat in Alaska’s largest city, is instead humiliated by a mysterious gunman.  Nikolai is given one chance to redeem himself with a new assignment that will shape the U.S. Senate — and to do it he must go to the windy, hot plains of Kansas.

What he finds is a state beset by industrial farming, extreme  right-wing politics, and kidnappers who prey on teenage girls.  Nikolai confronts the betrayal that led him into the assassin’s trade and the price he must pay for his family’s past — and he must escape the temptations of love that draws him towards his own death.

One of my favorite passages in the book sums up the plot this way:
Special Agent Barb Pellen was talking to Special Agent Fred Snike…”We have a Russian assassin in Kansas to kill a Senator, but he holds his fire –with a rifle stolen from a local man who tried to kill him — because he’s in love.  Instead, he shoots into the crowd, aiming  at a Ukrainian national hired by  the Russian mafia to kill him.  He comes back to Sandstone and is present when a conspirator is killed, and the he and his girlfriend break up a husband-wife kidnapping and child-pron operation.  They capture the Congressman’s assassin and kill the mafia assassin on top of the grain elevator during a lightning storm, and the hero nearly dies at the end of a rope but she rescues him.  We have our SWAT team arriving in black helicopters, a house fire, at least three fresh corpses here in Sandstone, and a water well stuffed with dead girls.”

Leon’s sister, Cheryl Unruh who is also a noted writer, has written an excellent review of the book which you can read HERE.

The Salina Public Library has the book available for you to read and you can purchase the book from several places including HERE and HERE.  It’s a great book that I know you will enjoy.

Thanks, Leon, for an excellent book.

Here are other articles I’ve written about the Unruhs…Here, here and here.

12/9/2013

CHRISTMAS TIME AT THE PALACE…

Filed under: prairie musings, friends, Authors, Presbyterian Manor, Rod and Genn Helus — Peg Britton @ 6:23 pm

It is hard for me to believe I’ve lived at the Palace for over a year.  I moved in the end of November 2012 and now find we’re in the repeating throes of holiday cheer; tables are laden with decorations galore to be placed here and there in the lobbies, dining room and general gathering places.

Every lobby has a decorated Christmas tree with a stack of presents underneath. All of us on the second floor took whatever nibbles we had and gathered in our floor lobby and chatted while a handful of inmates added ornaments to a tree that earlier Pete Peterson had assembled and adorned with twinkly lights.  We always say that we should do it for no reason at all, but so far that hasn’t happened.  Gather together, that is.

The second floor has more residents than any of the other floors because, unlike the other 5 regular floors, we have the addition of 2 west, the “hood” where I live.

Doors to inmate apartments are reflecting the anticipated festivities of the season.  The deliveries are more frequent and the mailman has a fuller pack than usual. The obvious thing that is missing from this picture is the joy and expectation that come from the presence of little ones.  I miss my children enormously, but also miss having children tumbling about, in general, as they are few in number here on any occasion.  Well there was an exception at the Halloween party for the employee’s children.  It was delightful to have them.

The other day I heard someone yelling at children, or so I thought.  She was saying things like, “I told you to stay right there!”,  “Why did you move when I told you not to?”, “If you don’t stand up straight, I’m going to punch you in the stomach.”  It took me a while to focus in on what was being said because  this place is so quiet you don’t generally hear conversations. This was a very one-sided conversation. It was coming from the patio below me so I actually got up to see who was making all the racket.  It was one of the aides who was trying to get huge inflatable snowmen and Santas to stand upright and not blow over.  She was cute and laughing at her assigned task and it was funny when I finally realized what was transpiring and no real children were being berated.  I have quite a Christmas scene below my windows…lights galore and “inflatables” that better stay in place.

Holidays aren’t like they once were for me or for anyone who lives here. Not being surrounded by family makes all the difference in the world in how you look at your surroundings.  You adjust and relax and appreciate what you have and recall the beautiful memories of Christmases past.

It’s amazing to me that I seem so busy.  I just don’t seem to have any idle time.  I have a new book that Amy thought I’d like, Charles Frazer’s Nightwoods.  I’m also waiting for the Salina Public Library to let me know when Leon Unruh’s book, Dog of the Afterworld arrives.  I love to read and wish I had more time for it.  There are so many books I want to read.

I also love it when people come to visit.  I’m fortunate to have friends and family who take the time to stop by.  Claudia and Mark were here Sunday and we had a good visit.  They have so little time for such things.  The last time they came to Salina…months ago…they also came to see me.

Ryon and James came last Friday to take me out to dinner.  We had a good time laughing as we share the same kind of warped humor.  It was good to see them again.  I got a good report on Rich’s and Charlie’s wedding last week in D.C.  I’m so happy for them. Finally, attitudes and laws are changing, something that I didn’t hope to see in my lifetime.  It has been a real struggle for the gay community.

Last week I went downtown to the Ultra Lounge with my friend and trivia whiz, Lynn.  We had a lot of fun trying to figure out the answers, but she ended up winning one of the three games and came in second on the other two without any help from me.  She’s got a remarkable memory.  The only answer I knew with certainty was Crockodile Dundee’s first real name.  Mick.

I went to “Art Discovery” today which is one of the many activities they offer to keep idle hands busy.  It was fun, in a weird sort of way.  I made a necklace that I’ll pawn off to someone and a little tree ornament that soon turned into a door handle ornament. I like being with the other people who live here.  They have very distinct personality traits when you get to be up in your 90’s and 100’s and plus. Nice people.

We have a new addition in the Hood….Carolyn.  Originally from Hoxie but more recently from Cuchara CO.  She’s a  lot of fun to be around and I enjoy her company.  There isn’t a lot of turnover on 2 west…the hood…as there are only 7 apartments the size of the one I’m in.  The rooms are large and that appeals to people.  There really isn’t a lot of difference in the cost of any of the apartments in the tower.

I have a young friend who is in India for her work with Hospira for  two or three weeks.  If you want to read about her experiences, which are very interesting, you can find it here.

I promised some pictures of my apartment a long time ago and I still don’t have them posted.  Tyler found my camera battery charger when he was here and I’d almost given it up for lost.  I knew it was here….someplace.  Now that I can take pictures, I’ll try to include some.

One of the really important things in my life is that I now am a great-grandmother.  Emma Grace was born to Rodney and Gennifer Helus and, of course, is one beautiful little baby.  Grandmother Karen is on her way right now to assist the new parents however she can.  She’s the lucky one.  I hope to get a daily report on the Emma’s progress.

I have posted about the International dinners they have at the Korean Restaurant.  They have been a lot of fun for me, gets me out from here and in a position to talk to complete strangers who share food as a common interest.  I like helping entrepreneurs who  are trying new and different things to expand their businesses and this is one of them. That comes from all my PEP training…Prairie Enterprise Project.   We won’t be having another dinner until next month.  I’ll see what it is and make plans to attend.  In this case, the number of places is limited and it’s first to pay, first to get on the list.  I like the idea.

I’ve rambled way too long, but I needed to add something about life in the Palace to my blog.  It’s a great place to be…I’d most likely be turning in to a vegetable if I were still home.  I have challenges here, interesting people to talk with on a daily basis, friends that I love to be with, things to do, places to go…life is very good here and I don’t wish to be anywhere else.  And, it’s a very safe place to live.  You can’t find that just anywhere in the world.

Thanks for tuning in…

7/15/2013

KANSAS IS SINKING IN DEBT…H.EDWARD FLENTJE

Filed under: political musings, Authors, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 2:52 pm

H. Edward Flentje: State sinking in debt

By H. Edward Flentje

Published Sunday, July 14, 2013, at 12 a.m.

“I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.” – Thomas Jefferson

The radical Republicans who now rule Kansas often hail Jefferson as an icon of their small-government dogma but have not heeded his warning.

In their struggle to clean up the financial mess they created one year ago, Gov. Sam Brownback and his political allies focused on taxes and spending and gave little attention to the impact of their actions on state borrowing. Their inattention could damage the state’s credit ratings for the long term.

Kansans may not be aware that over the past 25 years their state government has aggressively issued debt to address its obligations. As of July of last year, the state had $3.2 billion in tax-supported debt on its balance sheets – an amount that is more than twice that of our surrounding states, both in terms of per capita debt and debt as a percentage of state personal income.

Brownback has continued along this path. During his governorship, he has signed off on $660 million in new tax-supported debt and plans to issue another $360 million this year and next. In addition, he has supported $580 million in new borrowing financed by other state revenues.

Kansas has historically managed its debt professionally and maintained rock-solid credit ratings. However, Brownback’s perilous tax experiment has placed state finance on an unsustainable course, with state government now projected to spend more than it takes in this year and each of the next four years until it goes underwater in a sea of red ink. And shaky finances will assuredly weaken the state’s borrowing capacity – eroding credit ratings and raising the cost of borrowing.

Moody’s, one of the nation’s most reputable credit-rating agencies, issued state lawmakers a shot across the bow this month with a three-step downgrade of $200 million in economic development bonds that are secured by state income taxes. The value of those Kansas securities plummeted immediately, and any investor holding these bonds will face huge losses in trying to sell them.

Another canary-in-the-mine alert came a few weeks earlier when Moody’s gave investors a “negative outlook” on $14 million in state bonds issued in 2010 to finance student union improvements at Emporia State University. Moody’s cited “flat state funding” as one of the factors in its warning, likely unaware that just days earlier state lawmakers had cut the university’s tax support by $1.5 million, or nearly 5 percent in the current year.

The budget cuts required to finance Brownback’s income-tax cuts will increasingly draw the scrutiny of credit-rating agencies and inevitably diminish the state’s credit. Investors will become more wary of Kansas state debt, and borrowing costs will edge upward.

State lawmakers have also embarked on a slippery slope by applying bond proceeds from long-term debt to pay for current-year obligations. This egregious practice was begun in 2009 to deal with the economic downturn but has been continued by Brownback for his purposes.

For example, in December 2012 the state issued $200 million in highway bonds, and one month later Brownback applied those and prior bond proceeds to pay for an array of operational expenses in his two-year budget, including $248 million for school finance and $10 million for mental health. Republican legislators gave their approval.

In essence, the state highway fund has become a finance playpen for lawmakers. They could apply excess highways funds to improve roads or pay off existing debt. Instead, Kansans will be paying sales taxes, gas taxes and vehicle-registration fees into the highway fund for the next 20 years in order to pay for income-tax cuts in the current fiscal year and next. Even with this perversion of state finance, Brownback’s risky tax experiment continues on an unsustainable course.

Jefferson would be appalled.

H. Edward Flentje is a professor at Wichita State University.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2013/07/14/2885698/h-edward-flentje-state-sinking.html#storylink=cpy

1/18/2012

REV IT UP…REFLEXIONS ON FAITH AND LIFE…

Filed under: prairie musings, Authors, Rev. Kathryn Timpany — Peg Britton @ 7:10 pm

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,
First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
January 18, 2012

In November 1941, shortly after invading Czechoslovakia, the Nazis transformed the ancient walled town of Terezin  (Theresienstadt) into a holding pen for Jews until they could be shipped east to the death camps which were by then running at full steam. They billed it as a “model camp”, presenting it as a facade to hide the truth of their campaign to exterminate all those who didn’t fit into their utopian scheme to start the human race all over again.

As they claimed their exclusive prerogative to define who was perfect and who was subhuman, they infected all spheres of human activity, including music. Many musicians were yanked from their creative lives and sent to Terezin as the Nazis attempted to rid the German world of any influence from any other culture than their Aryan one. One of the things they did at Terezin was encourage the playing of music they sanctioned. They would allow the musicians to gather and rehearse, and then they would film the concerts and show them to the world as if to say, “See, we’re not treating them so badly here. We have given them a city. They are having a good, safe life with us.”

The truth was a bit different than they presented. More than 140,000 men, women and children were sent to Terezin between 1941 and 1945. Only 11,000 survived. Karl Berman was one of the survivors. He was sent to Terezin at age 22. His job was a “garbage collector”, which meant he carried corpses he found in the streets to the crematorium. Since he had been a professional musician before he arrived, he was eventually transferred to the “sanctioned cultural activities” work force. He was commanded to conduct, compose, sing, and organize public concerts.

In September 1943, Berman was the bass soloist in one of the most incredible concerts presented at the camp, a production of Verdi’s Requiem. The inmates defiantly sang of death before their executioners. They sang of the hellish punishment in store for evildoers, and of the power of faith to liberate humanity from its mortal fate. They rehearsed in cramped corners for hours. They never knew from week to week whether their fellow performers would show up for rehearsal, or if they had been sent to the death camps in the East.

“We rehearsed in a very small basement,” Karl Berman said in an interview after the war was over. “The entire chorus was squeezed in there, Gideon Klein accompanied the rehearsals on a harmonium….For the concert we moved to a hall with a very nice new piano…The story of these rehearsals and performance is unique in the history of music. The production had three performances, and always after a performance half of the chorus was transported to Auschwitz and was gassed… After the third performance, Gideon Klein, Raphael Schaechter, and I were transported to Auschwitz. Now I am the only eyewitness alive who can tell about what happened there.”

One other survivor, Joseph Bor, also wrote about the experience. He described the extraordinary moment when the performance began:

Schaechter looked at his choir and soloists….; he knew every one of them, he knew what they could do, he could rely on them…. “You must not think of parents and brother and lover,…remember the others, too, all those beaten and tormented and massacred, they will unite for you into one great mass, you will not even recognize individuals among them, and so much the more clearly you will be aware of the true face of the murderers. You must not show fear or weakness before them. Today you will be singing to the murderers, don’t forget that.” He took up his baton. The auditorium fell silent. A strange, a special silence, unusual in the camp. Not the silence of bare walls and secret dread. The silence of quivering anticipation…Almost imperceptibly the baton moved. Almost inaudibly the first notes of Verdi’s Requiem stole through the hall.

from “Music in the Holocaust” by Joshua Jacobson, Choral Journal, December 1995
Terezin Clarinetist

This is why music and all the other creative arts matter so dearly. They are our best defense against evil. They allow us to live fully into our imago Dei, bearing the image of God the Creator as our defining characteristic. When we fund education and provide bonuses for teachers, let us include the music teachers and the art teachers and the writing teachers and drama teachers in our plan.

Science and technology will help us compete on the world stage. But only the arts can unite us and make us fully human.

may you find a way to sing today, even if it is only in the shower

1/5/2012

REV IT UP…BY KATHRYN TIMPANY

Filed under: prairie musings, Authors — Peg Britton @ 6:34 pm

Rev It Up
reflections on faith and life
Rev. Kathryn Timpany,
First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
January 4, 2012

I don’t know Rev. Kathryn Timpany, but she is a good friend of Greg Edson who is a good friend of mine.  From time to time, Greg sends one of her articles to me when he knows it will be something I would enjoy.  Whatever your social or religious preferences might be,  I think many of you will like this too.

There are some really good stories happening all around us. Sometimes they are buried beneath the ash fall of the political scene, but if you take a minute and have some idea where to look, you can find them.About 40 miles from Oslo, Norway there is a prison that doesn’t look like a prison, doesn’t act like a prison, and doesn’t fight the high recidivism rates of other prisons. It is Bastoy Island. It is hilly and heavily wooded and there are typical Norwegian wooden houses nestled in the folds of the hills. There is a church and barn with stalls. 115 prisoners live there, and they are not “mere rascals, but murderers, rapists, smugglers and con men,” according to the article in the December issue of Ode magazine (odewire.com).

As Rene Kars was preparing to depart after serving a seven-year sentence, he remarked, “In the evenings, they come and count heads and wish you a good night. This doesn’t feel at all like jail. I’ll still miss the work, the people.” That’s because the prisoners aren’t locked up; instead, “they form a village community. In the first weeks of their stay, the prisoners are brought to a large house where they receive social training and learn how to cook and clean. Afterward, they go to smaller homes and work from 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on the organic farm. In their free time, they swim or fish. There is a library as well as educational and fitness facilities. Once a day, the prisoners receive a communal meal; otherwise, they must care for themselves. They run a store where they also shop. Says prison director Arne Kvernvik Nilsen: ‘Who would you rather have as your neighbor? Someone who’s set free after years behind bars – or a prisoner who for such a long time has had the chance to be part of a community?’”

In Cattaraugus, New York, there is a family-run community bank that is the smallest in the state – one branch, 8 employees. In its 130-year history, the bank has rarely booked a profit for itself in excess of $50,000, according to an article in the New York Times on Christmas Day. Last year it made $5000. Nothing much has changed at the bank since 1882, when 20 prominent residents established it to safeguard the townsfolk’s money and to finance local commerce.

“My examiners always ask me, ‘When are you going to grow?’ said Patrick Cullen, the current president, who got his start wrapping pennies for his father at age 5 and helped repossess a car when he was 9. “Where is it written I have to grow? We take care of our customers. The truth is we probably couldn’t grow too much in a town like this.”Some of the ways they have taken care of their customers include giving a $300 loan to a retired secretary named Carol Bonner. She is 61 and cares for her disabled sister, Jane. She receives $417 a month from her pension account. She needed new tires which cost $244. She knew where to go when the numbers didn’t add up. A few years earlier she had fallen behind on her property taxes and was forced to sell her home. Patrick Cullen, the banker, held the mortgage on the house. He called his son Thomas who lives in Chicago and sold him the house, so the Bonner sisters could continue to live there as renters.

“The whole thing was incredible,” Ms. Bonner said the other day, a single pine branch hanging in her living room in lieu of a full Christmas tree, which she could not afford. “I just didn’t realize there were people like that in the world, people who would help you. Especially a banker.”Then there was the Amish customer who wanted $85,000 to consolidate his debts. He only earned $2300 a year, but Patrick Cullen gave him the loan. “If you know Amish culture, you know his sons work and that everything they earn goes to him until they’re 21 or married,” Mr. Cullen said, observing that the man had eight sons, each earning at least $10 an hour. “So he was fine, but none of that shows up on a credit score.”

These are great stories. They aren’t religious stories, per se, but they are also excellent examples of the heart of the Sacred Story that defines us as the people of God. Love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself. These commands are part of the Torah, the Hebrew scriptures, which are also foundational for Islam and Christianity. When Jesus was asked which of the more than 600 commands contained in the Torah were the most important, he named these two.

It’s really pretty basic. They will know we are Christians by our love, runs the refrain of a popular song from a generation ago. If you want to have a good life, if you want to be a genuine person of faith, you can start by taking care of each other. You can focus on building true community. It doesn’t matter what religion you claim, or whether you claim one at all. If you take care of each other, you will become as fully human as it is possible to become.

May you notice your neighbor in every face you see today.

10/15/2011

COMMITTED BY ELIZABETH GILBERT…

Filed under: prairie musings, Authors, BOOKS — Peg Britton @ 4:03 pm

Elizabeth Gilbert, who also penned Eat, Pray, Love has created this  very interesting book — Committed — with wit and wisdom by weaving the magical places she’s traveled with insights about marriage and facts about the history of marriage.  I was aware of the information below, but particularly like the way she presents it.  It’s a quick read, and one I think most adults would enjoy and benefit from…especially those contemplating marriage at an early age.

Here are a few excerpts from her book:

Marriage does not benefit women as much as it does men.  It’s a sad truth, backed up by study after study.   Marriage as an institution has always  been terrifically beneficial for men. If you are a man, say the actuarial charts, the smartest decision you can possibly make for yourself is to get married.  Married men perform dazzlingly better in life than single men.  Married men live longer than single men; married men accumulate more wealth than single men; married men excel at their careers above single men; married men are far less likely to die a violent death than single men; married men report themselves to be much happier than single men; and married men suffer less from alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression than do single men.

Disheartingly, the reverse is not true.  Modern married women do not fare better in life than their single counterparts.  Married women in America do not live longer than single women; married women do not accumulate as much wealth as single women (you take a 7% pay cut, on average, just for getting hitched); married women do not thrive in their careers to the extent single women do; married women are significantly less healthy than single women;  married women are more likely to suffer from depression than  single women; and married women are more likely to die a violent death than single women — usually at the hands of a husband, which raises the grim reality that, statistically speaking, the most dangerous person in the average woman’s life is her own man.

All this adds up to what puzzled sociologists call the “Marriage Benefit Imbalance” — a tidy name for an almost freakishly doleful conclusion:  that women generally lose in the exchange of marriage vows, while men win big.

There are factors that can narrow this inequity considerably.  The more education a married woman has, the more she earns, the later in life she marries, the fewer children she bears, and the more help her husband offers with household chores, the better her equality of life in marriage will be.

If you are advising your daughter on her future, and you want her to be a happy adult someday, then you might want to encourage her to finish her schooling, delay marriage for as long as possible, earn her own living, limit the number of children she has, and find a man who doesn’t mind cleaning the bathtub.  Then your daughter may have a chance at leading a life that is nearly as healthy and wealthy and happy as her future husband’s life will be.

(taken from pages 166-168)

The better-educated you are, statistically speaking, the better off your marriage will be. The better-educated a woman is, in particular, the happier her marriage will be. Women with college education and careers who marry relatively late in life are the most likely female candidates to stay married. (page 124).

You can buy “Committed”  used from Amazon for a couple of bucks.  Money well spent.

9/1/2011

THERE YOU HAVE CRICKET…

Filed under: prairie musings, Authors, BOOKS — Peg Britton @ 11:33 am

After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry.  It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect.  I don’t wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the wrong way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks.  It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect.  It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players — more if they are moderately restless.  It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.

Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it out to center field; and that there, after a minute’s pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt toward the pitcher’s mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radio-active isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg.  Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle forty feet with mattresses strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compunction to run; he may stand there all day, and, as a rule, he does. If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that  leads to his being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug.  Then tea is called and everyone retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege.  Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue.  There you have cricket.

From Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country.

1/1/2008

CHERYL UNRUH

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:50 pm

On the Horizon
Cheryl Unruh
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

me.jpg

Photo by Tracy Million Simmons

With the anniversary of statehood coming up on Monday, it’s time once again to reflect on what makes Kansas, Kansas.

And what Kansas is, is flat.

Oh, don’t yell at me, I know Kansas isn’t absolutely flat; there are bumps and bruises on that grassy skin of ours.

Yes, parts of the state actually have roads that go up and down as opposed to the directions we’re most used to driving: North, east, south and west. Despite the rolling hills, you have to admit there is a pleasing smoothness to the state.

While the stark landscape alarms visitors, we Kansans are pleased to gaze toward the west and see nothing but that steady line in the distance. And on occasion we find ourselves thinking that the setting sun is like the centered bubble on a carpenter’s level.

In Kansas, we can look in any direction and find that balanced line. In fact, the horizon forms a big hoop — this straight line encircles us.

The flatness of landscape lets our eyes aim for distance. When we’re out on the plains, we can see five, 10, maybe 15 miles ahead.

While driving during daylight, we view the contours of the earth, the soft hills, the valleys. But in the low light of dusk, the topography seems to level out.

At twilight, the rounded shapes flatten and the view becomes an abstract painting: a heavy slab of straight earth, a swath of darkening sky and that horizontal line between them.

I love the Kansas horizon — the simple, clean line that defines the heavens and the earth. It’s a narrow line, as thin as a guitar string.

Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, that the horizon would be a bold, thick, Magic Marker of a line, one that, in effect, says, “Warning: The earth stops here! Take one more step and you’re a goner!”

And perhaps, posted at the end of the earth, there is a sign announcing that danger.

But hey, none of us have been to the edge of the planet. I’ve driven fast, I’ve driven far, but I’ve never reached that narrow line. The horizon is a mythical place, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But if I ever did stumble upon the horizon, I would lie flat on my stomach, my face hanging over the edge of buffalo grass and I’d peek into the blackness where stars are used as stepping stones.

Kansas is flat; the earth is round — a contradiction of shapes.

Now we’ve known about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria ever since second grade; our minds have always had to reconcile the level land with a round planet.

It may be a sphere, but our planet does have edges — beyond which the sun appears and disappears.

Our sun rises like a waking cat, sleepy eyed, unhurried. With a show of creamy blues, Easter pinks and blinding yellows, the sun finally stretches its long light across the eastern sky.

But in the evening, the Kansas sun does not go quietly into that dark night. It crosses the finish line in a fiery battle, shooting flares as if it’s going down for the very last time.

It flings color into the sky and onto the clouds — a kaleidoscope of scarlet, tangerine and lavender.

You train your eyes for subtle changes, afraid to glance away lest you miss the coral-to-crimson moment.

Before you’re ready to let go, the colors fade, the sky empties. Dark falls. And we sleep in the shadow of the earth.

We plainsmen are given free admission to these light shows which are not seen by people who live in the mountains, forests, and cities.

We are the lucky ones, for every day our eyes rest naturally upon that horizon, that thin line of magic that holds together the heavens and the earth.

“Flyover People” is online at here. Most of Cheryl’s writings, she says, are “about living on the prairie where the land stretches miles ahead of us but also reaches behind us, to the beginning of time. And the blue sky–while I can write so much about the blue sky, all I am ever saying is ‘thank you.’ ”

Cheryl is a very talented writer and the essays she writes for the Emporia Gazette can be found here.

Cheryl is my favorite Kansas writer.

LEON UNRUH

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:38 pm

THE WAR WE LIVE WITH
Leon Unruh
May 25, 2006

It was a warm May morning — 1974, I think — as I stood inconspicuously in the double row of cedars at the north end of the Pawnee Rock Township Cemetery. A hundred feet to the south, members of the American Legion and several families were gathered around the white-painted plywood obelisk.

Dorothy Bowman had invited me to play taps on my trumpet for the town’s Memorial Day ceremony. I was to listen to the speakers and be ready after the honor guard fired their .30-caliber carbines into the sky.

Though it was late in the morning, the air was still, and the scents of the cemetery were full and familiar: the buffalo grass, the cedars, the cut flowers decorating dozens of graves, and the peonies. The peonies were my favorites; families planted them and roses between the gravestones.

Small cloth flags had been slipped into metal holders the night before at each veteran’s grave, and even in Mennonite-dense Pawnee Rock there were plenty of flags. The red, white and blue stood sharply against the spring-green grass and somber gray and red marble.

Pawnee Rock’s oldest identified veteran in the cemetery fought in the Spanish-American War at the end of the previous century. There were vets from World Wars I and II and Korea in our ground, none yet from the dying war in Vietnam.

It seems odd now that on that perfect morning, Pawnee Rock’s biggest war went unmentioned.

For decades, through the 1860s, the war against the Indians played out around the Santa Fe Trail landmark known as Pawnee Rock. Soldiers posted at Fort Zarah and at Fort Larned went into battle to protect the settlers’ westward push. Indians — the Warriors and Braves who became our school’s mascots — fought to protect their land and life.

The prairie on which our town is built was a battlefield. Men and women died for their cause in the few hundred yards between the cemetery and the Rock, between the Rock and town.

Our town will take this Memorial Day to honor those who fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the great and lesser wars of the 20th century. But as we drive down the hill from the cemetery on Monday morning, let us remember also those who fought on our — our — soil and who lie buried around us.

When we climb the sandstone pavilion atop the Rock or look at the sandstone buildings in town, I hope we will be reminded of our landmark’s history by the dried-blood color of that inherited stone. The shouts and the gunfire were over before any of our families arrived, but the struggle is ours to honor.

On that pretty morning in the mid-1970s, I waited for the snap of the carbines. I raised my silver trumpet and played 27 solemn tones.

The final note faded into the air, and on command the honor guard brought their weapons to rest.

PAM GROUT

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:38 pm

[Coming soon!]

ROBERT DAY

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:37 pm

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Bring on the Oboe Players
Prairie Writers Circle

I have an idea. How about we repopulate the rural areas of America with poets and painters and scholars? And oboe players who want to practice in the solitude of the High Plains?

My thinking is that we get a Rich Somebody’s Foundation to buy up semi-ghost towns with the idea of repairing the abandoned houses, cleaning the lots, turning on the street lights, and then inviting a sonnet writer from Brooklyn to Petrarch away in peace for a few months with a morning coffee pot perking in the kitchen and coyotes howling at the edge of town at night. It would do both the town and the poet good.

What’s so funny?

My wife and I live like this. She’s a painter working with glee and oils in a rebuilt chicken shed we had pulled onto our property in Bly, Kansas. There is no Bly, Kansas. I’m not going to tell you where we live. Only that we live in a town like Bly. A lovely, more than half-abandoned town on the High Plains with wild turkeys walking West Dirt Street and dove roosts in the cottonwood trees. We’ve got fine neighbors. Do they think we’re strange because my wife doesn’t make paintings of windmills and that I don’t write cowboy poetry for Hallmark Cards – much less run cattle for a living? Yup. Do they like us and help us? Our neighbors are the ones who set up my wife’s chicken shed. It’s been great fun.

By my counting there are half a dozen houses in Bly that could be bought and repaired. Maybe more if you add the ones that aren’t for sale but are falling down and might be for sale if you could find the owner. And there might be 10 lots or so onto which you could move in houses from the country.

What the Rich Somebody’s Foundation does is buy these properties and hire local contractors to put them in good shape. Then the foundation establishes a trust run by the local banks, and the trust pays for the upkeep of the houses. It wouldn’t be much over the years. Oboe players don’t do much damage to property.

When it is all settled about the money and the trust, and when the windows of the houses are washed and the floors swept clean, and the squirrels and the pack rats have been run out of the attics, you print a Homestead flyer for the rest of America. Free House in Kansas.

But not free to everybody. And not free forever.

I imagine a scholar who needs six months to finish a book on Carrie Nation that is difficult to write because there’s no place in his high rise to walk between paragraphs. Writers need a place to walk between paragraphs. Montaigne says his mind was never busy unless his feet were. We’ve got paragraph breaks all over Bly.

I imagine a potter who arrives from Denver one spring morning with a load of wheels, a kiln and buckets of clay, and by the next day you can hear the wheel spinning as you walk down Middle Dirt between paragraphs. Then a few days later in the Bly Co-op on the edge of town (where the Committee to Save the World meets over coffee) they are talking:

“Did you see we got ourselves a woman potter this time?”
“My favorite was the bagpipe player.”
“Is it true she’d play her bagpipes all by her lonesome down the creek where Cody keeps his goats?”
“It is.”
“I liked the poet. He didn’t seem to do anything but he didn’t brag about it.”
“Cody claims the music was good for his goats.”

What’s so funny?

I imagine my wife in her chicken shed looking out the windows to the south, where she can see rows of pots being set out in the October sunshine by a woman from Denver who has done lovely work over the summer and who, later in the day, will make the rounds here in Bly to thank everybody for how kind they have been, and invite them over to see the pots, and to pick one for themselves as a gift for their kindness. And we will all gather together and tell stories about the bagpipe player and how her music was good for Cody’s goats.

I like my idea.

Taken from the Ellsworth County Independent/Reporter Thursday May 2, 2002

Robert Day is a member of the Prairie Writers Club, a project of the Land Institute, a natural systems agriculture research organization in Salina, Kansas. Day is the author of the novel “The Last Cattle Drive” and “Speaking French in Kansas,” a collection of short stories. He is the author of two novellas, In My Stead and Four-Wheel Drive Quartet. When he and his wife, the painter Kathryn Jankus Day, are not living in fictional Bly, Kansas, he is a professor of English and director of the O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. He has received the MacDowell, Yaddo, and NEH fellowships in fiction writing and has been a visiting writer at the Iowa Writers Workshop and an artist-in-residence at the University of Kansas.

LINDA MOWERY-DENNING

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:37 pm

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It’s time to move from being spectator to participant. Rural Kansas calls to those willing to work hard to make a place for selves, family. Years ago, a friend tried to talk us into moving to Overland Park.

My husband’s response was, “I’m married to a woman who thinks Mingo, Kan., is the most beautiful place in the world. There’s no way to get her to the city.”

I thought of that story earlier this week as my car passed the exits off Interstate Highway 70 to the towns of north-central and northwest Kansas.

Lincoln. Ellsworth. Sylvan Grove. Dorrance. Wilson. Russell. Gorham. Victoria. Ellis. WaKeeney. Ogallah. Quinter. Grinnell. Grainfield. Oakley. Colby. Levant. Goodland. Mingo, with its twin grain silos, endless sky and Willie Engelhardt, the man to call about weather, crop conditions and other issues of importance to the farmers and ranchers of northwest Kansas.

When I first saw this country in the heat of late summer almost 27 years ago, I thought time had stopped somewhere around 1935. There was the wind and the dust. And the isolation. And the huge fields stretching to nowhere. This was a strange land for a girl reared in the rich soil of Indiana. There the towns and villages and farms are maintained with an eye to the neighbor’s property. Fill your barnyard with old machinery and you get talked about. Neatness is a sign of prosperity, whether it’s true or not.

I was to learn Kansas offered no such luxury. Life is often hard here, especially on the Great Plains west of Salina. A farmer’s spare time is better spent in church praying for enough rain to raise the wheat crop than it is mowing a yard that’s bigger than the one your neighbor tends.

I learned about endurance and pride in family and community. Dean Banker can be found most days at the Russell department store established more than a century ago by his family. Similar stores in Norton, Concordia and other rural towns are gone, their customers lured to larger communities by giant merchandisers like Wal-Mart. Despite the challenges, Banker’s sense of humor is always intact. And his inventory and service top-notch.

The same is true for Jim and Kathryn Cleland. They operate a pharmacy and lunch counter at WaKeeney. This day, Jim Cleland prepared for the town’s annual celebration of Scot customs. The lunch hour was filled with laughter and talk of the party.

Across rural Kansas, from Abilene to Atwood, from Lindsborg to Lincoln, from Sharon Springs to Smith Center, citizens have worked for decades to make a place for themselves and their families.

I joined them Friday. That was the day fellow Journal reporter Sharon Montague and I left the Journal to start our own weekly newspaper in Ellsworth. It was time to make the move from spectator to participant. Our paper will be called the Ellsworth County Independent, a tribute to the spirit of this state.

Most of my professional life has been spent covering the small towns along the interstate and other roads of north-central and northwest Kansas. For years, I’ve written stories about the determination of some communities, the almost self-destructive nature of others. I’ve interviewed rural sociologists, the New Jersey professors who wanted to turn western Kansas into a home for the buffalo and countless others with more theory than sense.

We don’t have the answers any more than they do. Just the other night someone accused me of having more nerve than sense. They might be right.

What we do have is a commitment to rural Kansas and an appreciation of the issues that continue to change the lives of those who live there. We want to be part of a place that I have come to consider special. This is home.

So, to everyone who has helped me over the years - thank you. And don’t be surprised if I’m on the telephone in the next week or next month wanting to talk about Kansas.

What I’m planning to do in the future won’t be that different from what I’ve done in the past. Only the name of the newspaper will change.

Great Plains column for March 27, 1999 - Salina Journal

Linda Mowery-Denning was a Salina Journal reporter for 26 years. She is managing editor and, with Morris Publications, is co-owner of the Ellsworth County Independent/Reporter (the only newspaper in the county), the Marquette paper and Kanhistique.

KIRK ZOELLNER

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:35 pm

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Vision from a Small Town

As you drive into town on Highway 50 from the east, the first thing to catch your eye is a large, glossy black billboard directing you to the Cow Palace in Lamar, Colorado, fifty miles to the west.

To passersby, Syracuse, Kansas, is little more than another wide spot in the road on the way to the Colorado Rockies. With an exception or two, it is a typical gritty, dusty, western Kansas small town. Movie types picked the location to shoot the scene in National Lampoon’s “Vacation” where Chevy Chase and his family are stranded with a broken down station wagon on a heat-scorched August afternoon.

I came to Syracuse at the invitation of the local chamber of commerce to speak about economic trends and the potential for economic development in Syracuse and Hamilton County. I had heard from professional colleagues that the people of this community were a very independent lot. Their leaders were well educated, aggressive, and somewhat intolerant of outside “experts” who supposedly knew their town better than they did.

My presentation came off without a hitch. After giving a brief situation analysis of the county, I challenged the people to organize a local strategic planning effort aimed at improving their community and bolstering its economy. It would take a lot of time and effort, I said, but if the community and its leadership would make the investment, it would pay off in the long term.

The local bank president, Roger Bergsma, was not impressed. In a rather sarcastic tone, he made it clear that they’d heard this all before. They were not interested in another dog and pony act telling them how to make “their” community work.

Sensing that this was a town not unfamiliar with good, old-fashioned vigilante justice, I hit the trail running and didn’t look back.

Over a year and a half passed until I heard from Syracuse again. Sandy, the chamber of commerce executive, was on the line. She had just talked to Bergsma, and together they’d decided maybe it was time to give this strategic planning thing a try. They were committed to the process, she said, and they had local government leaders, business people, and everyday citizens lined up who were willing to give the time and effort necessary to make the venture a success. I was ecstatic.

The year following that phone call was filled with many community meetings, surveys, studies, and evaluation. I came to know the people of that community, and they came to know me. The planning effort became much more than a professional challenge; it became a deeply satisfying personal experience. Positive things began to happen in Syracuse as townspeople rallied around the common cause. A long-term strategic action plan was developed, a substantial grant award was obtained from the State of Kansas, and local economic activity picked up.

As I turned the program over to local leaders at the end of the planning process, I could not help but wonder at how it had all come together. So many things had to fit to make it work. Timing, opportunity, commitment, patience…it took all these and so much more. I look back on the Syracuse experience with much fondness and appreciation, for it taught me so many lessons about people, about life, and about relationships. In short, it taught me about “community”.

So rarely in life do things happen just the way we expect them to. When they don’t, we can rebel, we can fight, we can run… Or, we can bear patiently with the situation and let God show us the big picture in His time, in His way. As I found out in Syracuse, seeing the big picture means looking beyond ourselves and our own plans. It means taking the time and care to consider the dreams and aspirations of others with whom we share in community.

Good things happen in Syracuse, Kansas.

Kirk Zoellner’s appreciation for the prairie and its people began in his childhood, fostered by his father’s love of the outdoors, scouting, and time spent at his grandparents’ farm. He currently lives in the Chicago area, where he serves a suburban community in local government management.

SANDRA STENZEL

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:31 pm

Home on the Prairie
By Sandra StenzelSometimes it gets lonely here on the prairie with no one special to share this big sky, bright sunshine, and sweet fresh air. Even though it is fall, it has just been beautiful and mild here, and it was wind still last evening too, a rarity for this time of year in Kansas, or anytime in Kansas for that matter. I still remember when I moved to Texas how stunned I was at the sight of people eating outdoors. You would need to nail your food to the table to eat outdoors here! The wind is our constant companion, and it blows fiercely, dependably, and relentlessly.

They say some of the pioneer women used to go mad because of the wind. Its relentless howling unnerved those unprepared for its rigors. They also say that underneath that madness was loneliness. In the earliest days, when Kansas was a territory, they went weeks, months, years, without contact with others, and the isolation pushed the limits of sanity for many of the pioneers.

Even today, you have to really like your own company to live on the farm day in and day out. I think that is why many farm wives have “town jobs”, muddy roads and demanding families be damned. It is a way of getting out of the crushing solitude and into society again. Of course, there is that financial exigency thing, with wheat prices being what they were 120 years ago and fuel and fertilizer costs running at today s prices. But I don’t really think it’s always about the money. I think they get lonely and need human contact with people other than their families.

Humans always need that contact, and more importantly, that connection. Here, we are isolated by geography and occasionally muddy roads. In more urban areas, our fears and our unwillingness to connect with strangers isolate us. I was never lonelier than when I lived in the city, surrounded by people who neither understood me nor cared about me.

We bitch a lot in small towns about nosy neighbors and rumors that fly with the speed of light and we sigh at the utter futility of ever having a secret in WaKeeney. And when we are really mad, we even say that we wish no one here knew us, knew our business, knew our families, whatever. We wish for anonymity, and the privacy that it brings, but I don t think that is sincerely meant. I think we are secretly glad that others know who we are.

In a small town, we know everything about each other, both the good and the bad, and we generally drive each other crazy, like siblings confined in a compact car. But in that knowing, with all of its lack of privacy and carelessly applied stereotypes and labels, there is a connection and a bond that can not be replaced. There is nothing like living in a small town, in a place like Cheers , where everybody knows your name.

You know the joke about how you know you live in a small town? The punch line is that you never have to use your turn signals because everyone knows where you always turn. That kind of familiarity can breed contempt, but it also means when I am not at work, I get calls inquiring about how I am, because they know I must be sick. It means that when my father died, we were surrounded by friends and family and food for a week, because we were one of their own. It means when I drive down the street, people wave.

And in those waves of recognition, I find acceptance. I become real, my contributions acknowledged, and I am granted existence by people who are as dependable as the Kansas wind. And who make each other as crazy as the wind did the pioneers. I become part of a greater whole with that acknowledgement, the affirmation that I am a member of a community, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. It is a marriage that sometimes feels like it was made in hell, but in my community, I feel closest to heaven when I stick my arm out my truck window and give a big country wave to a friend. It makes me smile when they wave back, and I remember thinking yesterday, St. Peter hold the pearly gates, I am glad that I live here”!

Sandra Stenzel grew up on a farm in the middle of Kansas. When she was 29, she decided she needed to see what the big outside world was about. So…she moved to Texas for a high powered career in financial consulting and economic development. She never intended to leave the farm for long, but she ended up living in the Lone Star State for 17 years, most of which she spent either living in Austin, Texas, or traveling the nation for business. During those 17 years, she saw a whole lot more of the world than she ever intended, and loved most of it, hated some of it, and laughed and cried over much of it. But she never lost her love for the farm, or Kansas, or the people she left behind. And…in April of 2001 she realized that if she were waiting for a GOOD time to move home, it would never happen. So…she shut down her consulting practice, sold everything that wasn t tied down and left a cosmopolitan life in the city and traded it for the absolute bliss of Kansas. Sandra is the economic development director for Trego County, a dynamic public speaker, advisor and very good friend.

FATHER JEROME MORGAN

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 9:00 pm

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The preacher was attempting to explain to his congregation the difference between faith and reality.

He offered this as an example: “That I am standing up preaching is a reality. That you are sitting out there in the pews is a reality. That anyone is listening —is faith!”

Often times when preachers speak of faith it is implied they are only referring to spiritual and other worldly thoughts.

I have faith in the rural aspects of America. That is why I chose to live here.

I have faith in farming as a business.

A business that offers a satisfactory way of earning a living.

A business that offers no great financial rewards, but rewards in family relationships and an understanding of the affiliation between work and play. I have faith in the rural life as a rich contributor to the needful half of our world despite the poor being deprived by the whims of politicians.

Since people always need some type of food, I believe the farm will continue its contribution of foodstuffs.

It will also continue to contribute its sons and daughters with strong bodies and clear minds to give constructive help in the enrichment of city life.

I have faith in the youth of open spaces, that the nature that surrounds them — the sounds of the birds, the scent of the flowers, the sunrises, sunsets, rivers and ponds for fishing and woods for hunting — will be translated into a spirit of service as they enter into their adulthood of tomorrow.

I have faith in the philosophy which is developed through contact with the wide open spaces –the skies, the green fields, the great silences.

I have faith that rural life will always have its place in the sun, that it will give opportunity for mental and spiritual growth, for the development of ideas and ideals, that it will erase the line of concern on the face of the father and put a joyous melody on the lips of the mother.

I have faith in those earnest men and women who have a vision and are strongly endeavoring to solve problems and surface the possibilities of rural life.

May their dreams be realistic!

Taken from the Ellsworth County Independent, Thursday, August 12, 1999

Father Morgan lives in Salina

SANDRA WOOD ZOELLNER

Filed under: Authors — Peg Britton @ 8:58 pm

Economic Development
By Sandra C. Wood

Bill Cosby said, “I don t know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Leadership has costs; one of those is being lonely. This column is going to be a little different than the others I ve written because I will be sharing a bit of who I am, not just what I do.

Several months ago, I attended a seminar in Osborne County where several Kansas authors read from their works and answered questions. One message of those sessions was that Kansans prefer positive press&that is they don t want anything controversial said about them or their neighbors. Therefore, the best stories are often times not retold or told at all. The great Kansas epic is Lonesome Dove. So, the image of Kansas to most everyone around us remains cowboys, Indians, vast wide open, prairie inhabited by abundant buffalo. We re not cultured and certainly not civilized like the folks on the East Coast or our European friends across the great Atlantic Ocean, right? That s said tongue in cheek, but if the world stopped today, that is how it might look.

Before moving to Russell County, I was advised by my mentors that the only friends I would find would be like-minded people, in my field. That no one in my community (or service area) would merit my trust, because once I let my guard down, doing my job could be difficult. So, here I have been for nearly five years attempting to balance the image the Kansas authors portrayed, which is that we re all fine, moral people. With only one exception, given me by a professor, who plainly said trust no one in the community.

Before coming to Russell, I read articles about special interests and definitions describing individuals who sought to create and sustain their own authority. I experienced this phenomenon working in Wichita and I came to the conclusion that such individuals exist everywhere. Only the names change, as do the faces and the places. We are outnumbered. As eventually, the settlers outnumbered the Plains Indians. Prior to interviewing for my position here, I read the Russell Daily News. I will likely continue to read articles in the Russell News after I leave because I have an academic interest in this community.

Community interests must outweigh personal gain in every case. Tom Peters and Nancy Austin, in their book, A Passion for Excellence, say “A passion for excellence means thinking big and starting small; experience happens when high purpose and intense pragmatism meet&courage and self-respect are the lion s share of passion.” In the grand scheme of things, Russell is very small. But, I got the opportunity to be part of other peoples dreams and to accomplish some of my own. And, I followed my Dad s advice. All we truly have is our good name. He was right.

Clearly, my job was to meet the needs of the entire governing body that hired me and the appointed body that supervises me. That sharing of power raised the competency level of all concerned. I attempted always to stay out of the limelight, and made sure that the whole team realized all the successes we found. The hired hand should be invisible, something else I have learned in my experience with economic development.

So, I wasn t lonely these past five years in Russell because I kept busy trying to help the people who really want to see Russell County charge into the next decade. So, I kept busy, attempting along the way to work together with people and establish trusting relationships that allowed me to be open, honest, and perhaps even confrontational. The real challenge is learning to overcome discord. I have been asked how I can stand confrontation? My answer to this question was not to lose focus and stick to the facts. Sometimes the facts were ugly, but it is preferable to deal directly with the ugliness than to allow it to fester and later erupt with more severe consequences. Sometimes, it meant working with one person at a time, over a course of years. It was a slow and deliberate process. I was frustrated early on because I didn t think I d ever get anything done. But, looking back, my Dad, the professor, and my mentors were right.

It is my fond hope that I have accomplished some service to this community and the surrounding communities in Russell County.


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