Kansas Sampler: assessing local culture

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Kansas isn’t known only for basketball and the Little House on the Prairie. And oil wells and cowboys and ancient oceans with the remains of giant fish. And sunflowers and tallgrass prairies and the conterminous center of the nation and an amazing amount of U.S. history.

That’s enough to make me want to start planning a vacation, but there’s something else about Kansas that’s quite interesting, something that we can borrow and investigate here in Morenci. It’s the “Elements of Rural Culture” assessment from the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

Here’s the introduction to the foundation’s rural culture assessment program:

Many rural communities squirm when asked, “What does your community have that a visitor would want to see?” The answer (given too often) is, “We don't have anything in this town.” The truth is every town has a story to tell and offer visitors but it is sometimes hard to see what is right under your nose.

The Sampler program lists eight elements of rural culture used to assess a community: architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history and people.

Examine your community through those eight features and you’ll know who you are.

Take architecture, for example. The guide suggests looking at the downtown buildings and mills and barns and churches to determine when they were built, who designed them, where the building material came from, etc. This should lead to some interesting findings.

We have to get past the loss of the auditorium, the hotel, the mill, the old city hall/fire station and all the other buildings that were demolished, and take a closer look at what’s left. Not so much the new trend of steel siding, but the older wood and bricks.

What about art? The foundation asks questions such as these: do you have sculptures, murals or grassroots art? Is there a place where you can see a local artist at work? Think about people, places or events to find music, fine art, drama, literature or dance in your town.

They’re probably not thinking of dancing at the Eagles, nor are they referring to the abundance of bulldog paintings scattered around our town. Art could be a tough element for this city.

Maybe we need to follow the lead of Partridge, Kan., a town of about 213 people where a Garage Sale Art Show was organized. Buy the pieces at a garage sale and create your art using non-powered tools. It’s a perfect tie-in to our annual garage sale day.

When considering commerce, think about why your town was founded. Is it known for a certain kind of business? Are there stores located in historic or unique buildings? Research the lineage of businesses in each building.

Do we have specialty foods served in our restaurants? What kind of food is served at church suppers? Do we have local traditions about certain foods or how we eat them?

Is the Barney Burger still served at the east end of town? Are church turkey dinners being abandoned in favor of swiss steak?

Do we have unique customs? We have our festival, but is it in any way unique in the area? Are there quirky things that happen regularly? There’s the Bridge Walk, of course. What do we do for recreation?

It’s under the heading of customs where you learn the capitals of Kansas: the Prairie Chicken Capital, the Watermelon Capital, the Halloween Capital, the Cow Chip Capital, the Covered Dish Capital, etc.

Geography leads us to our natural landscape, such as Bean Creek, the glacial features in the area, and all the plants and animals that inhabit the territory.

Do we have much history? What are the significant events that made us what we are? How about a walking tour of the town that tells the story of our past?

This brings us down to the final element, people. Do we have any historically significant people? Do we have any present-day characters? What is the story of our population?

So think it over—what do we have to show a visitor? It’s going to take some heavy-duty thinking.

    - April 9, 2003 
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
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    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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