Ron Wilson, with the Huck Boyd Institute of Rural Development at Kansas State University, was the speaker at the first joint Marion-Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce banquet Monday in Hillsboro.
Wilson said he commended the two Chambers for coming together for the event. About 250 people came to the dinner and program.
“It is a wonderful thing and, if we work together, it is the mutual benefit that can strengthen all of us,” Wilson said.
In his presentation, Wilson spoke about a sampling of “amazing people” in the state in the areas of business, agriculture, arts and tourism, history and places and technology.
Kansas’ 106th county
Wilson said that whenever he is able to talk about the history of Kansas, it gives him a chance to tell the “true story” of Kansas’ 106th county.
“You know Kansas has 105 counties, but if you look at western Kansas and the outline of counties in the state, it looks like boxes stacked on boxes—all squares with one exception,” he said.
The exception is in Finney County, he said, located in the southwest quadrant, shaped like an upside down letter “L,” with the 106th county the box within and alongside it.
The story of the 106th county, he said, goes back to the era of when Kansas was organizing its counties and, at that time, Garfield County, named for the president, had two towns within it. They were Rovana and Imminence and they both wanted to be the county seat because they both knew that was important, he said.
“But the unfortunate thing was that these two towns were bitter rivals and hated each other,” Wilson said, “so the only fair way to decide which would be the county seat was to have a vote of the people.”
They had the election, he said, and Imminence won, but the citizens of Rovana weren’t satisfied with the outcome and did an investigation which found that there were voting irregularities.
The election was invalidated and a second election was held. This time, he said, Rovana won, but the citizens of Imminence were not going to let Rovana get away with it and found their own irregularities.
“The dispute continued back and forth until it went all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court with one of the towns believing they had the upper hand,” Wilson said.
As files were taken from one town to the other, the town that wanted to get the “upper hand” did surveying and presented the those to the Supreme Court, he said.
The results by the court found that Garfield County was a few acres short of the minimum number required to be a county under the Kansas constitution.
“When the Legislature saw the findings, they washed their hands of it,” he said. “The territory went to Finney County and became known as Garfield (County) Township of Finney County as it is today.”
Wilson highlighted Don Landoll of Marysville, who, along with three other men, began a welding shop that turned into a corporation with 600 employees.
“Landoll Corp. sells worldwide,” he said, “and employs people from 43 different zip codes.”
Wilson also spoke of Pat Sinclair, who liked boating.
“Pat went to a boat show in Chicago and didn’t sell any boats, but he got an idea,” Wilson said.
Sinclair realized that no one was targeting the upper end of the market—the “Cadillac” of boats. Today, Cobalt Boats has dealers in South Africa and Saudi Arabia, employing about 600 people.
“You can’t get much further from the ocean than Neodesha, Kan., yet Cobalt Boats and Sinclair are shipping products around the world,” he said.
In the arena of agriculture, Wilson talked about Lee Reeve, who is president of Reeve Agri Energy in Garden City.
Wilson said Reeve built a small ethanol plant on the family farm when ethanol wasn’t fashionable.
“He turned grain into ethanol and in the process of fermenting the grain found that the water was heated to a temperature conducive to raising tilapia,” Wilson said.
Reeve’s circular system continued with leftover grain used to feed cattle, and the cattle waste was used to fertilize crops.
“Beef cattle and fish co-existing in western Kansas,” Wilson said. “It gives new meaning to the words ‘surf and turf.’”
Wilson said Marci Penner of Inman stands out as the champion in arts and tourism.
Founder of the Kansas Explorer’s Club, Kansas Sampler Foundation and Festival and the Eight Wonders of Kansas, Wilson said Penner cares deeply for rural Kansas.
“She has visited every one of the 627 towns in Kansas, and she believes that we, as Kansans, need to see our state and communities with new eyes,” he said.
New chamber boards
Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce board of directors for 2012 are: Cynthia Fleming, president; Roger Sinclair, vice-president; Cheri Barton, treasurer; and Pam Riesen, office manager. Board members are Patty Decker, Katherine DeFilippis, Kris Erickson, Lea Isaac, Lori LaLouette, Barb Nowak, Kodi Panzer and Gretchen Wagner.
Marion Chamber of Commerce board of directors for 2012 are: Don Noller, president; Shawn Geis, vice-president; Gene Winkler, treasurer; Kevin Fruechting, secretary; and Margo Yates, executive secretary.
Other board members are Linda Carlson, Tamara Christiansen, Chris Costello, Doug Regnier and Dave Richmond.