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May 12, 2006
Contact: Margey Frederick, visitor services director, (785) 864-7103.

KU Wheat State Whirlwind Tour to explore challenges to rural communities May 23

LAWRENCE — About 50 University of Kansas faculty and staff members will tour sites that focus on the unique features of the Smoky Hills and High Plains regions as well as on communities challenged by declining populations on Tuesday, May 23, the third day of the Wheat State Whirlwind Tour of Kansas.

The tour is sponsored by the Chancellor Robert Hemenway. This is the ninth year KU faculty and staff, many new to Kansas, will make a six-day, 1,500-mile tour to meet Kansans in their communities and learn about the state’s history, economy and landscape.

Tuesday’s route from Concordia to Colby includes a drive along Lake Wilson in the heart of Post Rock country, visits to a nationally known Grassroots Arts Center in Lucas and the African-American pioneer community of Nicodemus and a visit with 25 residents of Palco, a Rooks County community that represents a microcosm of the population shift occurring throughout northwest Kansas.

The terrain, the art and the resilience of residents of these rural communities can surprise anyone with preconceptions of Kansas, according to two of the tour’s veteran commentators, Don Steeples and Jim McCauley. Steeples, whose family farm is in Rooks County, is KU vice provost for scholarly support, the McGee Distinguished Professor of Geophysics and tour director. McCauley is a scientist with the Kansas Geological Survey and co-author of Roadside Kansas.

Located just north of what Steeples and McCauley regard as a near featureless stretch of I-70, Lake Wilson’s scenic canyons are part their recipe to encourage faculty to venture off the interstates and find landscapes few expect to see in Kansas. The route follows a scenic byway along Kansas Highway 232, from Lake Wilson to Lucas.

Lucas, population 416, is a mecca for grassroots art: work by self-taught, compelled artists whose often visionary, sometimes quixotic creations are neither fine art nor folk art. Rosslyn Schultz, director of the Lucas Grassroots Arts Center, will show the KU faculty the galleries preserving work of early and contemporary artists and stone masons and the nearby Florence Deeble House and Rock Garden, owned by the center. Along the way, faculty will also see the Garden of Eden, a monument to individualism created from concrete and limestone by a Civil War veteran and farmer.

Before lunch, the faculty will find Waldo, population 45, en route to Palco, population 235 and home to the Steeples family farm. Steeples and his brother, Dave, of Stockton, have invited a group of friends and neighbors to join the KU faculty for lunch in Palco’s town hall.

Their guests include Leo von Feldt, mayor; Doug Kysar, a Palco manufacturer with an international clientele; Dave Miller, Palco school superintendent who employs distance learning programs to expand the curriculum; Omer Knoll, an artist whose fossil-inspired work was selected by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as a gift for officials she met in China last year; and several farmers and ranchers who provide leadership in state agriculture and conservation groups. Many are KU or Kansas State University alumni and several have sons and daughters working as executives, professors, physicians, veterinarians, teachers or as foreign service officers throughout the United States and abroad. (See the list of luncheon guests below.) Ruth Ann Bigge of Stockton will cater the lunch. The mayor will talk about innovative efforts to preserve the community.

After lunch, the Steeples brothers will offer the KU faculty an up close and personal view of machinery for planting and harvesting crops at their farm a short distance from downtown Palco. The faculty will also stop at Palco’s Midland Marketing grain elevator for a quick lesson in buying and storing wheat and perhaps to get a group weight on the elevator scales. From the elevator they will walk to Palco High School to learn how the Internet and closed-circuit television enrich the students’ curriculum choices.

In Nicodemus, the faculty will visit the first African-American town established west of the Mississippi, the only National Park Site in the nation devoted to African-American town development in the West and perhaps the smallest community on the tour. Nicodemus’ population peaked at 400 in 1880 and today numbers about 20. The Nicodemus Town Company was formed in 1877 by a black minister and a white land speculator. In 1996, the National Park Service named Nicodemus a national historic site to recognize the role of African-Americans in settling the West.

The faculty will stop overnight in Colby, population 5,244, where they will join invited guests for dinner at Bourquin’s Old Depot Restaurant, located in a former Union Pacific railroad depot building relocated from its original downtown Colby site.

Though many of the faculty on the bus are new to Kansas, a few have Kansas roots. Kansans on the bus this year include Deb Ludwig, director of enterprise academic systems in KU’s Computer Center, originally from St. Francis, and Wendy Rohleder-Sook, assistant director/pre-law coordinator in KU’s Freshman Sophomore Advising Center, who attended schools in Hays and Plainville. Last year, Rohleder-Sook and another KU administrator from Hays founded a student organization at KU to help students from small towns find their niche on a large campus.

Faculty new to Kansas on the bus include two administrators who will officially begin at KU on June 1: Richard Lariviere, incoming provost and executive vice chancellor who is moving to Kansas from Texas, and Gail Agrawal, incoming law dean moving to Kansas from North Carolina. In addition, Rick Ginsberg, dean of education who joined KU’s faculty last July, moved to Kansas from Colorado.

On Wednesday, May 24, the faculty will visit Colby’s Prairie Museum of Art and History and learn about water conservation in the semiarid High Plains. They will stop in Gove County, Logan County, Garden City, Montezuma and Dodge City.

To view daily maps of this year’s route, visit the Wheat State Whirlwind Tour Web site at www.wheatstate.ku.edu.

Intinerary for Tuesday, May 23

7:30 a.m. — Depart Concordia for Lake Wilson (87 miles). Point of interest: Sylvan Grove (Vonda Stone Company)
8:45 a.m. — Tour Lake Wilson (11 miles)
9:15 a.m. — Arrive Lucas. Drive by Garden of Eden ; tour Grassroots Arts Center, 213 S. Main St.; Deeble House and Rock Garden
10:30 a.m. — Depart Lucas for Palco (62 miles)
11:30 a.m. — Arrive Palco. Lunch at Town Hall with local residents; tour Steeples Wheat Farm, Palco Midland Marketing grain elevator and Palco High School
3 p.m. — Depart for Nicodemus (9 miles)
3:15 p.m. — Arrive Nicodemus. Tour National Park Service, 601 Washington Ave.
4 p.m. — Depart for Colby (80 miles)
5:30 p.m. — Arrive Colby, check in to Holiday Inn Express 6:30 p.m. — Dinner at Bourquin’s Old Depot Restaurant, 155 E. Willow, I-70 Frontage Road

Lunch guests at Palco

— Sean Eklund, manager, Midland Marketing grain elevator in Palco.
— Stan and Patty Grecian, farmers (registered-swine breeders). Both Kansas State University graduates. Stan has a master’s in swine production from University of Georgia.
— Monte Keller, Palco bank president.
— Myron Keller, Quality Collision Repair owner.
— Terry and Wanda Kortan. He is bus system manager for Palco USD 269 schools and retired farmer. Wanda manages a flower shop in Plainville.
— Omer Knoll, artist, sculptor and retired community college teacher. On a visit to China in 2005, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius presented Chinese officials with one of Knoll’s sculptures of Fort Hays State University’s famous “Fish within a Fish” fossil.
— Doug and Pat Kysar, Kysar Machine Products owners. The company performs and markets high-tech custom machine work internationally. For example, they have made filtration systems for city water supplies in Egypt and Japan. Their son, Jeff, a Harvard University graduate, teaches mechanical engineering at Columbia University.
— Dan and Jennifer Kysar. He is a Kysar Machine Works designer and a forensics anthropology consultant. Jennifer is a nurse who works in Plainville. Her father, Bob Albers, grew up in Palco and graduated from the KU School of Medicine.
— Bob and Jo Eva McClellan, farmers. Bob was chair of the State Conservation Commission and served on the Kansas Wheat Commission. Jo Eva is a prominent leader in the Methodist Church in Kansas. Their daughter, Robin, is U.S. Consul General in Perth, Australia.
— Dave Miller, superintendent of USD 269 schools in Palco.
— Kent Stamper, farmer and chairman of the Board of Midland Marketing Coop Inc.
— Dave Steeples, senior vice president of Stockton National Bank. He and his wife, Joanne, are KU graduates and have three daughters who have KU degrees. Their daughters are working as a physician, a veterinarian and a high school math and Spanish teacher.
— Duane and Carol Steeples, farmers (with their son John). Duane served two terms as president of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture and served several terms on the State Fair Board. Carol formerly was the Palco Grade School secretary. One of their daughters is vice president of the highly ranked Thunderbird The Garvin School of International Management in Arizona.
— John and Cynthia Steeples, farmers (with his dad). John is an accomplished professional saddlemaker. Cynthia is president of Palco’s school board. Both are Kansas State graduates.
— Leo von Feldt, mayor of Palco, works in the Palco bank and recently sold his insurance agency.
— Vance Westhusin, general manager of Midland Marketing, a farmer-owned cooperative with elevators in Palco, Plainville, Zurich, Hays, Toulon, Yocemento, Brownell, McCracken, LaCrosse, Natoma and Hargrave.

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