Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Memories of the Prairie Series to begin June 8, 2013

The Dickinson County Historical Society and the Arts Council of Dickinson County in Abilene will host “Images of Depression-Era Work in Kansas Post Office Murals,” a presentation and discussion by Lorraine Madway on Saturday, June 8 at 7:00 pm at the Dickinson County Heritage Center located at 412 S Campbell Street.  Members of the community are invited to attend the free program.  Contact the Heritage Center at 785-263-2681 for more information.  The program is made possible by the Kansas Humanities Council.

This program is the beginning of the Dickinson County Historical Society’s summer Memories of the Prairie Lecture Series.  Each Saturday night in June and July there will be an historical program presented at the Heritage Center at 7 pm. The first program is co-sponsored by the Arts Council of Dickinson County. The Arts Council continues to help bring the arts and cultural to the residents of Dickinson County.  All of the Memories of the Prairie Programs are free of charge; however, donations are always welcomed to help offset the cost of the programs.

Between 1936 and 1942, the federal government’s Fine Arts Section of the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department partnered with Kansas citizens and professional artists and architects to produce post office murals that portrayed the workers, landscapes, and heritage of Kansas. Madway will discuss how the resulting depictions, heroic if not fully accurate, of agriculture, industry and state history preserved local autonomy while projecting the New Deal values of optimism and communal progress.

Lorraine Madway is the special collections curator and university archivist at Wichita State University Libraries. Her article about the Federal Writers’ Project for Kansas was published in Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains in Summer 2012.

 “Along with other art projects in the New Deal, post office murals helped to rebuild the nation’s spirit at a time of crisis,” said Madway. “These images challenge us to ask what we can learn from this creativity as we work to renew the spirit of our state and nation in our own time.”

“Images of Depression-Era Work in Kansas Post Office Murals” is part of the Kansas Humanities Council’s The Way We Worked Speakers Bureau, featuring presentations and discussions examining the theme of work and working in Kansas and how these stories help define us.

The Kansas Humanities Council conducts and supports community-based programs, serves as a financial resource through an active grant-making program, and encourages Kansans to engage in the civic and cultural life of their communities.  For more information about KHC programs contact the Kansas Humanities Council at 785/357-0359 or visit online at www.kansashumanities.org.

For more information about “Images of Depression-Era Work in Kansas Post Office Murals” in Abilene contact the Dickinson County Historical Society at 785-263-2681.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Guest Post: Recollections of World War II from Marvin Geist

This is the final story on World War II from local Dickinson County residents, interviewed and written by Amy Feigley.
Marvin Geist

December 23, 1944 is a date that is permanently embedded into Marvin Geist’s mind. While serving in the 9th Air Force, he and his crew were shot down overseas. “We were flying in the echelon when our lead pilot made a wrong turn. The Germans spotted us and shot us down. I had 21 shrapnel holes in my face by the time it was all said and done” says Geist. “The top turret gunner was behind me, got hit and came down out of the turret. I didn’t even know his name since he was serving his first mission with a new crew.” Marvin noticed that the left engine was on fire and knew that it was time to bail out. He strapped the parachute on the gunner and lobbed him out of the plane. Luckily his parachute opened. As the left engine blew off, Marvin jumped out of the plane.

Let’s go back to 1942, when an eighteen year old Marvin Geist joined up to fight the war that was known as the greatest aviation battle ever. Marvin began his Air Force career as a flying radio instructor in Tucson, Arizona, flying B-17’s and B-24’s. From there he went to McCook, Nebraska, where he flew B-29’s. Marvin was then to become part of a group of 300 men sent to Georgia to fly B-29’s and ended up in France on a B-26. “The orders were screwed up and the B-26’s stayed in the USA and the B-29’s went overseas. We were supposed to stay with the B-29’s stateside” quotes Geist. Marvin was in the top of his class, with the top five supposed to be pulled and made instructors.

Marvin was in le harve, France from September 1944 until May 1945, being stationed at two different bases. His rank was Technical Sergeant, with promises of becoming a Master Sergeant in January of 1945. Of course, all of that changed in December 1944. “When I was a Prisoner of War, I did not get promoted,” says Geist. “Our orders were to fly ten missions for experience and then become the lead crew of the whole squadron on the next mission.” That next mission never happened for Marvin.

Fast-forward to December 23, 1944, when Marvin and his crew were shot down by Germans. After jumping out of the plane he was on, he suffered burns on his face. He landed in a little village on a roof, in snowy and zero degree weather, all the while turning his right leg back under. After carrying his parachute five miles to a first aid station to get his wounds cleaned up, he then was sent, with a guard, to walk to Bitburg, Germany to a hospital. The next morning the Americans were bombing that same hospital in Bitburg. “I had been on the third floor of the hospital. When I walked out of my room and turned to the left, there was nothing left. When I turned to the right, I noticed that there was a hole in the second floor.” says Marvin. “There was a bomb on the first floor that did not explode.”

After a few days, he marched to a German prison camp. The group included Marvin, a paratrooper and three tank men. “I think the time I truly thought my life was over was when the Gestapo major lined us up and was looking straight down the barrel of his gun, pointing to us of course. The guard then pulled his gun on the Gestapo major and then we were let go,” declares Geist. From there the men went on to Frankfurt, Germany, where they were held in solitary confinement for five days. “We were asked questions and always answered with our name, rank and serial number only. On our last day, they confessed that they knew basically everything about us and that was scary” reveals Marvin.

Towards the end of the war, the POW’s marched towards the Swiss border. They spent their nights in farm villages and their days praying they would see another day. “One of the POW’s kept a diary, with intentions of writing a book about us five guys and POW camp life. When the liberation was here, we were sent to France for shots. We had little packs that included our service record. Everything was stolen from us, replies Geist. “When we came home we had nothing to show of our service, no pictures, no uniforms, nothing.” These men finally boarded a Navy transport ship and in ten days, according to the Captain of the ship, would see the promise land, the good ol’ US of A. Once that boat docked in New York City, the boys were treated like royalty the next two days while on the train ride back to Kansas City. “When I got back to Abilene, I had no way of calling the folks to tell them I was home. My buddy’s dad, Warren Graham, took me home, which at the time was east of Enterprise. We got to my folks place at about midnight and Warren went to the door first” says Geist. “It was a very emotional time because my folks had no idea I was even back in the states. I could have sent them a telegraph, but I would have gotten home before it even arrived” quotes Marvin. Once home, the residents of Enterprise looked at Marvin and were curious about his days as a POW. “I think everybody wanted to ask me questions, but really didn’t know how to go about doing so. There eventually was an article in the Enterprise Journal, which satisfied everyone’s curiosity, that told of my time overseas as a POW.”        


Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Exhibit at Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum to Highlight Area Bands

Abilene Merchants Military Band in 1896.

The Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum will be host to a new exhibit, Strike Up the Band: The Bands of Dickinson County and Abilene, showing now until September 2.
Near the turn of the twentieth century, it was common for most communities in America to have their own city band.  Dickinson County was no exception, and communities such as Talmage, Dayton, Hope, Herington, and many others boasted their own band.  Of the groups in Dickinson County, the Abilene Municipal Concert likely rose to the most prominence, marching in both inaugural parades for President Eisenhower in Washington, DC.
These stories will be shared through photographs taken over the span of one hundred years by the Jeffcoat Studio and other area photographers.  Strike Up the Band is now on display at the Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum at 321 N. Broadway St, Abilene.  Please call (785) 263-9882 for more information.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Guest Post: Recollections of World War II from Marvin and Lois (Hahn) Ledy

Over the course of this year, we will sporadically feature stories on World War II from local Dickinson County residents, interviewed and written by Amy Feigley. 


Lois and Marvin Ledy
In 1941, Marvin Ledy was a high school student in Miltonvale, Kansas when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He had just returned home from church with his family when he heard the news. A few counties away, Lois Hahn, a high school student in Gypsum, Kansas, was at a movie when she heard the news. Like most Americans, they were scared and had no idea what was going to happen next after the bombing.

After the draft of 1942, Marvin registered, and was in the first group of nineteen year olds to be drafted from Dickinson County. He served our country as a part of the 738th Tank Battalion, from February 1943 until November 1945. Before Marvin was sent for training in Fort Benning, Georgia, he went on a blind date with a beautiful young lady by the name of Lois Hahn (his future wife), to the Plaza Theater in Abilene.  While at Fort Benning, Marvin worked the radios and telephone switchboards.

After Fort Benning, Marvin was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky on May 1, 1943, for radio school. He then received his first furlough to come home in August 1943 and of course to go on another date with Lois. While at Fort Knox, he was issued an m3/Grant CDL tank in December 1943. In January 1944, Marvin then moved to Camp Bouse in Arizona. While there, he and his battalion trained with tanks at night. He came home in March 1944, on a ten day furlough, and married Lois Hahn. From there, he returned to the desert of Arizona and eventually went on to Fort Dix, New Jersey. “We weren’t at Fort Dix very long before we had to get a crew cut” says Ledy. “We were at Fort Dix for about three weeks before we boarded a ship, which was the first part of May in 1944. We shipped out on Marcatania and it took about eight days until we docked at Glasgow, Scotland.” From there, he and his crew rode a train to the very west side of Whales, where, as Marvin stated, the weather was very nice.

With Marvin away, Lois kept busy back home. She worked at Duckwall’s and then went on to work in the Welfare Department in the Courthouse. When Marvin returned home in 1945, she left her job. “During the war, everything was rationed. You had to have a coupon for pretty much everything from coffee to sugar and from shoes to gas. That is how we lived, from day to day not knowing if we were going to have something or not. But, we proudly did this for those serving our country” says Lois. “There were bond drives. That was the big thing, people would buy bonds.” During the war, the USO dances were held at a hotel basement in Abilene.

Wayne Barton and Marvin Ledy
On November 28, 1944, Marvin and his crew moved to Aachen, Germany, right before the Battle of the Bulge. They then moved to Belgium and were there until December 26, 1944 and eventually moved back to Stolberg, Germany after the battle. Marvin eventually made his way back to Aachen in March 1945. During the Battle of the Bulge, Lois did not hear from her husband for six weeks.

In August 1945, Marvin and his battalion returned home to the United States. “It was quite an episode getting off the ship in Boston to get back home to Abilene” explains Ledy. “Instead of going to Fort Leavenworth, we went to the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. We got back to Abilene right during the fair, at 4:00 a.m. I walked home and surprised my family.  The communication back then was not like it is now.” Marvin’s family knew he was coming home, but just did not know when. 

During his war experience, Marvin received three battle stars: Battle of the Bulge, Rhineland and Central Europe, and 3 stripes for eighteen months overseas, 2 stars for his status as a T-5 Corporal and a good conduct medal. “When we were on our way back home on the ship, two A-bombs were dropped on Japan” states Geist. When Marvin returned home, he helped out on the farm before moving to Indiana to work at a wiring cable factory, which is the same job he had before the war. He and Lois moved back to Kansas in May 1946 to the farm and eventually to a farm near Talmage in March 1949. They resided on the farm until 1974.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nerd Nite Abilene KS to Kickoff on April 25

Push up your glasses and grab a drink, it’s time for Nerd Nite in Abilene!  Nerd Nite is a global organization with over fifty venues all over the world that bring people together for three presentations on vastly different topics with drinks throughout the night.  Nerd Nite will premiere on April 25 at the Great Plains Theatre.  Doors open at 7:00pm, presentations begin at 7:30pm.  During the night, three presenters will speak on orphan trains, soil, and geek culture.

“History of the Orphan Trains” presented by Amanda Wahlmeier will cover the history of the Orphan Trains from 1854 - 1929, and how this movement helped shift American society from placing orphaned and abandoned children in orphanages to placing them with individual families.  Wahlmeier has served as curator for the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia since January 2012, and had this to say, “This movement was such an important part of American history, I love that I have the opportunity to preserve it.”

“The Dirtiest Presentation Ever” by Austin Bontrager.  With degrees in Environmental Soil Science and Agronomy, Austin Bontrager knows quite a bit about dirt.  In his presentation, Bontrager will focus on the life of soil, what we can learn from studying soils, and why it is such an invaluable resource.

“Comic-Con International and the Geekification of America” by Kevin Dilmore.  When San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con drew all of 300 people in 1970, organizers never imagined they were laying the groundwork for what now is arguably the largest annual pop-culture event in the world.  Join Abilene native, author and Comic-Con veteran Kevin Dilmore for a look inside Comic-Con International and how its 150,000 annual attendees help shape what we see from the movie, television, videogame and publishing industries.

Be sure to come out to the Great Plains Theatre on April 25 for Nerd Nite, doors open and drinks are served at 7:00pm, presentations begin at 7:30pm.  Admission is free.  Be there and be square.

Nerd Nite is sponsored by the Dickinson County Historical Society, Great Plains Theatre, Keller Photography & Design, and Kansas Humanities Council.  For more information, visit abileneks.nerdnite.com.  You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and RSVP here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Kirby House: Losing an Abilene Landmark

Photo by Tim Horan, Abilene Reflector-Chronicle.
On Wednesday evening, February 20, 2013, Abilene lost a 128 year old landmark. The Kirby House had stood at 205 Northeast Third Street since 1885, and was a well-known Abilene staple. The Abilene Gazette reported on March 13, 1885, “County treasurer Kirby has let the contract for a $6,000 residence, to be erected on his beautiful ground on East 3d street. Abilene will boom the coming season.” During the past 128 years though, the Kirby House served as more than Thomas Kirby’s home, it was the meeting place of the Abilene Commercial Club, an apartment complex, and since 1987, a high quality and popular restaurant. The Kirby House was an important part of Abilene, and now it is gone.

Thomas Kirby
Thomas Kirby came to Abilene in 1872. The cattle town days were coming to an end, but Abilene was still a city of significant growth. Kirby began working as a bank cashier for another prominent Abilene figure, Conrad H. Lebold. Kirby quickly found success though, and opened the Kirby Bank in 1878. As Kirby’s successes grew, he purchased significant real estate, owning several city blocks in Abilene and land outside of the city as well. Kirby also had a philanthropic heart, and donated funds to build some significant projects in Abilene. He was influential in the building of Saint Joseph’s Academy (later Orphanage) north of town, and built Kirby Park, a small public area featuring a fresh Sand Springs Water fountain. Kirby Park was located near the corner of Northwest Second Street and Buckeye, the location of the Civic Center’s parking lot today. In addition to his work as a banker and philanthropist, Kirby also served two terms as county treasurer.

The Kirby House as it appeared during Thomas Kirby's lifetime.
In 1885, construction began on Kirby’s home which would house himself, his wife Anna, and their daughter Gertrude. Thomas would live in this home until his death in 1905. Anna continued to live in the family home until 1914, when she decided to sell the building to the Abilene Commercial Club, a forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce. Under this ownership, the home went under significant renovations. A dining hall was added to the northern side and the front tower was removed from the structure. Large pillars were added to create a new front porch entryway. The Commercial Club used the building for several years until 1930, at which time the home was divided into apartments.

The house after renovations from the Abilene Commercial Club.
Terry and Jerry Tietjens purchased the building in 1986 and after conducting research on the house’s history, decided to restore it to its original 1885 appearance. In 1987, the Kirby House opened as a fine dining restaurant. Since then, the restaurant saw a variety of owners, but remained an important and popular eating destination in Abilene.

The Kirby House may be gone now, but it will not be forgotten. The memories of wedding receptions, Valentine’s dates, or lunches with friends will remain; memories of the fun times we have shared in this historic Abilene building. Abilene has seen historic structures fall in the past; the Belle Springs Creamery, the Plaza Theater, and many more. Many of these losses cannot be predicted or avoided, such as the Kirby House fire. However, some can be prevented if we work towards preservation and restoration of our town’s historic structures. Together, we can keep our town’s history alive, instead of allowing it to come crashing down.

Note: To view more photographs related to Thomas Kirby and the Kirby House, visit our Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Guest Post: Recollections of World War II

Doris and John Larson

Over the course of this year, we will sporadically feature stories on World War II from local Dickinson County residents, interviewed and written by Amy Feigley. 

The year was 1941. People were doing the East Coast Swing to Tommy Dorsey, the Andrew Sisters and Glenn Miller. Citizen Kane and Here Comes Mr. Jordan were drawing crowds to the movie theaters. Life was grand for all until that fateful Sunday in December when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Life suddenly changed for everyone. 


For Doris Larson, helping with the war effort back home was something that she proudly did. She started working at Ehrsam’s in Enterprise at the end of 1943. “We got used to working a certain shift and then got rotated. I learned to run a lathe and a flange machine for a plane” says Doris. “I then worked in the drafting room and started to draw the legs for the elevators and punch boards.” 

Doris (Hoover) Larson enjoyed reminiscing about her high school days, when she met John (her future husband) and life was great. “We met at the fair in Abilene one night” says Larson. “When we were back at school, Glen Dalton passed me a note from John saying that he wanted a date with me. His parents were going to be in California and he was going to have a party. I knew that would not turn out well, so I didn’t go.” 

Fast-forward to 1941, for 20 year old Doris, this day would be embedded in her memory forever. “John was in the service and more and more men were being called into the service, including my brother Dale” says Larson. John was stationed in Olathe, then went to Virginia for training camp, then was off to San Diego, California and was eventually sent overseas to Okinawa, Japan, where he was a mine sweeper. 

While stationed, John was granted leave and returned to Olathe. On March 12, 1944, he and Doris were married. She took a leave of absence to be with her husband. When he returned overseas, she returned to Ehrsam’s and lived with her sister and brother-in-law Miriam and Loren Nichols. 

In 1945, John was granted another leave, this time to San Diego, California. Doris hopped on a train and joined him. Like most wives, she was anxious for the war to end and for her husband to return home. She eventually got her wish. 

When the war ended, Doris was pregnant with her daughter Susie. She was still working at Ehrsam’s, but left the company three weeks before Susie was born. John returned home from overseas on December 15, 1945 and eight days later on December 23rd, daughter Susie was born. Doris had many concerns when John returned home, such as where they were going to live and what was John going to do. John and Doris eventually rented a home near his folks and he began farming with his father. “We made that little house as homey as possible. There was no electrical power at all. We had a lamp from John’s grandmother that we used, as well as a lantern” said Doris. 

That next spring, Doris was anxious to plant a garden. John had borrowed a walking horse and plow and made a garden space for her. They eventually bought cattle from a neighbor so they would have milk, cream and butter and family members brought them pullets so they could have eggs. 

“Things are much easier now than they were back then. We did not have the conveniences that we do now. But, I would not have changed a thing.” Doris and John were married for 59 ½ years before he passed away. They raised two daughters together and shared a life of love and happiness, through good and bad times.