Friday, May 4th
Happy May Fourth! We were busy today, visiting four counties – Greenwood, Elk, Chautauqua and Neosho County! Again, in the southeast corner of the state.
We had brunch with the mayor of Eureka (Greenwood County) at Cherokee American and Chinese Daily Buffet. This mayor was quite the character. He had us laughing the whole time. One interesting thing he shared with us about their town was that it used to be a horse racing city. He also shared with us that Hwy 45 is bad and that they don’t have funds to fix. Additionally, the state won’t fix it because of an old agreement between the city and state years ago from a different mayor.
For Elk County, we got to meet some of the town leaders of Howard and the county commissioner. They shared how the windmills have brought in around $1 million a year for their county and has become essential with how much it has benefited it. Taxes
Next, we met with the mayor of Sedan (Chautauqua County). They are currently undergoing a $6 million three-year project of updating close to 100-year-old water lines. It has been very challenging since most people in the area are on fixed incomes, and this is one of the poorest counties in state. He shared how they budget in each year to tear down around three houses a year in trying to clean up the town. Lastly, he shared how the highways near them, K-99, has had many roll-over accidents on the road, and that they need funds to add a shoulder because it’s big drop.
We went to Opie’s Pizza & Grill, a family-run buffet. We just beat the rush with a whole baseball teaming coming in right after us. We were able to talk with the owner’s brother who manages the place. We also got to talk with locals about farming.
It was a long day, but we made it through! We hope you enjoyed your Friday – May the Fourth be with you (for all the Star Wars fans out there)!
Thursday, May 3
Today we visited Woodson, Wilson and Montgomery County – which is in the southeast corner of the state.
We started off by meeting with the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Yates Center (Woodson County). She shared how they started a program that helps smaller communities by offering five years no income tax and student forgiveness to people who come back to rural communities in Kansas. Additionally, she mentioned how they have lost 11 teachers and the difficulty in getting new ones to come to their community.
We had a great time in Fredonia (Wilson County) we ate at the Downtown Grill. The atmosphere was so inviting and the food was great! There was hardly a seat open and the locals seemed to be regulars. The cook, Rory, serves breakfast from 630 a.m. to 12 p.m., and lunch from 12-2 p.m. With many years as a head chef, the food is absolutely good. One of the best omelets and burgers we’ve had!
After we ate we went next door to the Citizen Newspaper. This newspaper is over 140 years old and is the oldest publication in Kansas. Joe and Rita Relph have operated it since 1960 as a family business. We got to meet almost the whole family. We stopped by the oldest clock tower in Kansas, and lastly, we headed to the mound. You could see pretty much the whole city and it was a beautiful place to hang out.
We got to meet with part of the school board and the superintendent of Independence (Montgomery County) and the newspaper ended up coming to sit in. The president of the board was a farmer and shared how as a farmer they can’t afford any more property taxes. He would like to see a tax that works more on an income base for farmers, so if the crops are bad that year at least they aren’t going under as much. After the board meeting, we talked with the superintendent a little longer. He shared about the agriculture program they had started and how not all his students are interested in a four-year university, but rather in a skill or trade. Lastly, he shared how the education budget has always been between 45 and 50 percent of the budget, and that it’s not something new.
Wednesday, May 2
Today we hit up Bourbon and Linn County, which are on the east central border of Kansas. We stopped at Common Ground Coffee Co. in Fort Scott (Bourbon) for some coffee and muffins – they have such a beautiful downtown. We also stopped by city hall and introduced ourselves to the city manager, and then ended up talking with the tourism guide Larry. He shared with us how Kansas needs to promote rural Kansas and tourism.
Then we went and toured Fort Scott National Historic site.
We stopped in Pleasanton (Linn County) to get lunch and ate at a local drive-in/diner called Cookees. They had great chicken quesadillas and burgers!
Shortly after we headed to Mound City for a meeting with the mayor. Mat shared how the schools are the bedrock of their community and that it’s the number one employer in Mound City. He feels like Topeka has not done its job taking care of our schools. One drawback he found was that the school’s technology was hurting the them because it’s hard to steward and direct, and teachers were not ready to implement it. He found that it was more distracting than helpful in a lot of ways. His wife is a substitute teacher at the school. He also shared how the tax lid restricts them and messes up their budget process. His passion for his community was evident. Since there’s not much manufacturing he wants to attract intelligent people that could do businesses online. Their community recently got google fiber so the town has some of the best internet available and is good for working from home. He said people fall in love with this city because of the nature, golf course and lake.
Tuesday, May 1
We had a great meeting with city leaders in Pittsburg (Crawford County) learning about their city. They are currently outgrowing most cities in Kansas, with the exception of Johnson county. They are a very healthy community and promote their city’s outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, hiking and mining. Recognizing that outdoors is important to their community they invest in it as an asset to attracting others. Manufacturing is a majority of their jobs and the poverty level is down 10 percent in their community. They shared how some of their bridges are very old and that they couldn’t afford to replace them on their own as a community and need the state to step in and help. With around 46 percent of bridges over 50 years old I shared that the next governor has to stop taking from KDOT. Preserving Kansas’ appeal includes having quality infrastructure. They, like many others, don’t like the tax lid. With electricity up four times the normal amount, they want to be able to adjust. Driving through the city, you can tell they proud of their gorilla mascot, as they’re all throughout the town.
For Cherokee county we went to Baxtor Springs and stopped at the historic Route 66 byway and the family-ran Weston’s Cafe. They had great chicken noodle soup, chicken fried steak and dessert. I got to speak with some locals and shared how I was a frustrated republican, and it seemed to be the same for all the locals eating there as well. After that we stopped by the Baxtor Springs Kansas Museum. This museum was around 20,000 square feet. One of the coolest museums we’ve visited yet!
On our way to Parsons (Labette County) we saw this beautiful big house. In Parsons, we met the executive director Ashley at the chamber of commerce. One of the most important things to their community is infrastructure. Katy Days, a yearly festival in Parsons, is what the community is using to attract people and build community. Parsons is a manufacturing city, but they unfortunately have to outsource many jobs out of state because they don’t have the skilled workers. Though Labette Community College has been working with manufacturing companies in the area to accommodate the workforce manufacturing companies are needing. Also, one cool thing the hospitals are doing is offering to pay tuition for nurses.
It was a full day, but we’re making ground!
Monday, April 30
Again another moving day for us. We headed to Ottawa (Franklin County) and stopped at the Mug Shot coffee shop, had some coffee and an amazingly big cinnamon roll. Then we ate brunch and lunch at the Riverside Diner where we had a great Philly cheese steak. Great food!
From there we stopped by the Anderson County Review Newspaper in Garnett, and then headed to meet with the superintendent. We asked his opinions on arming teachers and he said that in his community they aren’t for it. He said he couldn’t see any of their teachers being armed. He showed us their 3D printer that they use to print things students make on the computer. He does an excellent job at being involved by trying to make it to all the games for school.
We finished the day off in Iola (Allen County) at the newspaper and eating dinner at El Charro.
Great day overall back on the road!
Sunday, April 29
Today we traveled home and got to have a day of rest – much needed!
Saturday, April 28
Today was Nate’s birthday and for Riley County we went fishing at Milford Lake, the largest lake in Kansas. Jason Hyman a longtime family friend and fishing guide at Milford took us out with some close friends. We spent the whole day on the lake. Milford has some of the best fishing!
For dinner, we went to The Cove which is in Geary County but sits on the lake. What a beautiful place to eat good food and enjoy Kansas’ outdoors.
We fished from morning to evening! Happy Birthday, Nate!