Many Kansans have written about our state and the men and women who till the soil. Some of the more famous authors include William Allen White, Karl Menninger, Milton Eisenhower and Kenneth Wiggins Porter to name just a few.
One author, not as well known, but every bit as knowledgeable who wrote about agriculture and the people who live in rural Kansas was Myrtle H. Richardson. This native Kansan wrote several books about her home of Edwards County. One of her books was titled, “The Great Next Year.”
Like many of the other writers, Richardson talked about this undying faith that most Kansans, especially those in rural areas, seem to be born with. There is a strong feeling among these small-town farmers, ranchers and businessmen that they share a unique experience that has created, a strong esprit de corps.
According to Richardson, the people who settled this southwestern Kansas county continually grasped for better things the next year. This quality in their personality proved important. This forward-looking optimism provided a stabilizing force in their lives.
These early Kansas pioneers often faced times when uncertainty and natural disasters threatened not only crops and dwellings, but life itself. In spite of these hardships, these early pioneers learned to use each year as a stepping stone for the next—a year they hoped would be better than the one which preceded it.
Today, these early pioneers reside in the cemeteries scattered throughout Edwards and other rural Kansas counties. Still their spirit continues in the hearts of their descendants—those hearty souls who continue to farm, ranch and conduct business on Main Street.
While it is true towns are made up of the people, it takes these people to breathe life into a community. They are the ones who may occupy small storefronts on a one-way, red brick street just three blocks long.
They are important people. Not in themselves, but in the cohesiveness they bring to a community. They are the people who provide the goods and services for residents living there.
In these communities, these folks take on names and identities—Bob the grocer, Steve and Brenda the newspaper publishers, Kathy the florist, Ed the clothing store owner, Les the barber, Jim the stockman and a cast of many more.
Each one is important to keep Main Street and rural Kansas going. Each one contributes to those living in the community.
Such contributions harken back to the pioneer spirit when small Kansas communities were founded. That same community spirit that fires people to carve out their niche and say, “I’m going to make a go of it here.”
It’s the same spirit of a local shopkeeper who steps forward to lead a fund drive to light the hometown ball diamond. In a town with pride, people never take off their volunteer hats.
Instead they just pull them down a little tighter against their ears to keep them from blowing off in the wind. They live by the motto, “We’re willing to do our part.”
These modern pioneers, like their forefathers before them, know the local economy is tied to agriculture and such an economy changes with the waving of the wheat in the heartland. They’ve learned to take the good with the bad.
They’ve also learned to look ahead to the Great Next Year, when their crops and shops will prosper—just like their ancestors—better than the year before.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.