Buffalo statues announce Canton as refuge gateway

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The inspiration to have buffalo statues in Canton came in the wee hours of the morning last fall, when Thelma “Tim” Everhart was driving back from the Salina Raceway.

“We’re coming through Lindsborg at 2 a.m., my husband is kind of dozing, and I’m thinking about the Dala horses there,” Everhart said of the small statues in the Swedish community.

“Why not buffalo in Canton?”

Eight small buffalo statues now adorn the corners of downtown Canton, and two more will be installed in the near future.

Six statues were initially mounted on the city sidewalks before a town-dinner celebration June 29, with the remaining two installed during the event.

Each bison is 45 inches long, 25 inches wide and stands 34 inches tall. Painted with deep-brown cement paint, they stand on a grass-green cement pad glued to the city sidewalks or poured-cement support surfaces.

The curious need only travel along Main Street to capture a glimpse of each statue standing proud on eight corners of the business district of the city.

For the past 12 years, Everhart has been the director of the Canton Senior Center. But she is a member of the Friends of Canton, too.

“The purpose of the Friends of Canton is to make Canton a better place to do some things that our city might not have the funds to do,” Everhart said.

“It’s a tourism kind of thing. If we can do something to better our Main Street, we want to do it.”

The current Friends of Canton group, comprised of about 15 members, has been meeting for the past year to promote the town.

“Anyone is welcome to join this group,” Everhart said.

Promotional signs, located on U.S. Highway 56 at the south edges of Canton, advertise the town as the gateway to Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is located six miles north of Canton and is the home to about 200 buffalo-all part of a popular tourist destination.

“Why not use (the refuge) and the buffalo associated with it?” Everhart said. “Why not use that to give people going to Maxwell something to look at before they get there?”

After seeing the Dala horses, Everhart approached members of the Friends of Canton at the next meeting and suggested buffalo statues for the community.

“But they said, “Where in the world do you think you’re going to get buffalo statues?'” Everhart said. “And I said, ‘I don’t know, but I think I can figure it out.'”

After traveling to Burton to talk to representatives at Yoder Ornamental Concrete, Everhart learned they had a buffalo mold, and they offered to pour and paint a sample statue for her.

“I went back in about March of this year and looked at (the sample statue) and said, ‘Oh, my goodness,'” Everhart said.

“There it is in front of me. Now, OK, we’ve got to come up with the money for these little 800-pound buffalo.”

Armed with a photo and the knowledge that the buffalo would cost $280 each, Everhart returned to Canton to present her case.

“We had a meeting and everybody said, ‘Let’s go for it-let’s see if we can come up with the money,'” Everhart said.

“We just got busy and worked, and the money came together. We had enough for 10 statues. That was $2,800 plus tax.”

Some donors, such as the State Bank of Kansas and Citizens State Bank, contributed the full amount for a statue placed in front of their banks.

“And Jeff and Chris McMannis, who had lost their son in an accident, gave us money for a complete buffalo in memory of Kyle,” Everhart said.

Others contributed what they could to the buffalo fund, ensuring that the total due the concrete company was paid in full.

“We didn’t put any signs up,” Everhart said about a list of donors. “But we will be doing a plaque later, maybe in city hall with names of people who contributed to the buffalo.”

Having enough money for the statues and installation was not a problem, Everhart said.

All other expenses were covered through volunteer work or extra money in the buffalo fund.

A member of the community donated some extra QUIKRETE he had in his garage, Everhart’s husband, Dwight, donated his winch truck to set the statues, and the glue to adhere them to the cement support pads was purchased with extra funds from donors.

In a continuing effort to promote the buffalo, the city held a buffalo supper in late June, and about 100 people came to support the event.

For a suggested price of $7, patrons enjoyed a dinner of shredded buffalo, coleslaw, baked beans and drinks catered by the ladies of Canton.

“We will be doing other projects in the very near future, and that’s what this money will be used for,” Everhart said.

“Our next project is probably going to be the gazebo lot at Main and Osage. We want to make a veterans park out of that. This city has lost numerous veterans overseas, and we thought this might be a perfect place to do it-a meditation place.”

Everhart said she is concerned about vandalism but hopes people of all ages will respect the community’s projects.

“I would hope everybody would care enough that this group has worked very hard to put the statues up,” she said.

Maintenance issues are negligible, she said. As rain and snow take their toll on the statues over time, they will be repainted as needed and resealed.

“As long as water doesn’t get underneath them, they’re going to be there for a long time,” Everhart said.

And if there’s any question about the statues fulfilling their duty as Canton ambassadors and a tourist attraction, Everhart said those concerns were laid to rest the night of the buffalo supper.

“We were setting up to do this supper when a couple came through town and stopped at every corner,” Everhart said.

“Then the lady got out and took pictures. So that’s what we were hoping for, and that’s already happened.

“We just hope that the buffaloes sitting on the corner, if they make you come and look, maybe you’ll also stop in some of the stores and make purchases.”

And what has the response been from the town folk?

“I have heard no negatives-it’s all been positive,” Everhart said.

“Little children walk up to them and pat them on their noses. That’s neat to watch.”

And the buffalo don’t seem to mind the attention at all. They’ve stayed in their newly adopted town and haven’t budged an inch.

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