Sons of Kansas

Me and Flint Hall, home of the school of journalism. 30 years apart!

‘Cause I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,
Up at Lawrence on the Kaw —
‘Cause I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,
With a sis-boom, hip hoorah,

Got a bill that’s big enough
To twist a Tiger’s tail,
Rope some ‘Horns and listen
To the Red Raiders wail –

‘Cause I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,
Riding on a Kansas gale.

Kansas is a great place to be from. I say that without irony, without remorse, without regret. I am proud to be from Kansas.

I grew up in a community that valued education, supported the arts and instilled common sense in its people. Don’t ask me what happened to Kansas, because I don’t know. I shake my head as I read the latest shenanigans from the state government.

I especially feel like I received an excellent education — in grade school, high school and college. I return to the University of Kansas only rarely — maybe once every five years. But when I’m there, I feel like I’m home. (I also love my hometown, which I’ll write about later.)

Probably like everyone, sometimes I do feel bittersweet about my time at KU, though. For a long time, I never felt like I fit in — not at my dorm, not on the newspaper staff, not even in the neo-hippie co-op house I shared with six other people. But also like everyone else, college introduced me to the greater world. I discovered who I was, found out where I wanted to go, and figured out how to get there.

I just love the campus. Wide Jayhawk Boulevard curves along the stately limestone buildings; the Campanile towers over Potter Lake; the Chi Omega Fountain gushes and Prairie Acre remains pristine. In all my travels, it remains the most beautiful campus I’ve ever set foot on.

Off to See the Wizard

From Lawrence, we set off on our two-week exploration of the state I grew up in. I really had never seen much of western Kansas, so I wanted to check out some places I had always heard of and some I only discovered when researching this trip.

Our first stop was in Wamego, which has a very good Oz Museum. With costumes and recreated sets and collectibles and memorabilia. We had visited it before, about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, this time we arrived about 20 minutes before closing, which did not give us enough time to go through the museum.

img_0006Back to O-town

Next we bypassed Manhattan. Nothing to see there.

But we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go through Ogden, Kansas. Founded in 1854, it’s a proud little town of 2,000 people. The welcome sign at the city limits says “Gateway to Fort Riley,” so they must feel a connection with the nearby army base.

I Like Ike

So on to Abilene. Foreboding dark clouds told us to forgo our plans to camp out, and for the first time on our journey we stayed in a motel. We weren’t the only ones finding shelter there, either. In the rafters above a stairwell, there was a nest of baby birds — five or six of them — peeking out and waiting for Mama Bird to bring home dinner.

2016-09-09-13-39-34Abilene is the hometown of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His boyhood home is open for tours on the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. He and his wife and an infant son are also buried in the Memorial Chapel.

The museum has exhibits not only on Ike’s life, of course, but also on World War II, from the big players — Churchill, Hitler, Stalin — to the unnamed heroes of the French resistance, and the unfair treatment of Japanese-Americans who were sent to camps in the United States.

There are detailed maps and photos and plans about D-Day, of course. Then it goes into the Cold War and Ike’s presidency. They get their point across, I think, that many people consider the 1950s a very bland time in America, and Eisenhower a bland president. But, it was the time of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, especially in post-war Europe, but also in Southeast Asia, where communists took over China, the beginnings of the Vietnam conflict were brewing, and on our doorstep, when Castro took over Cuba. Amid all these crises, the museum maintains that Ike was a firm, steady hand that kept the tensions from boiling over.

Of the many Eisenhower quotes the museum displays, one stood out to me: “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”

You and me both, Ike — sons of Kansas.


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