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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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