Archive for Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Finding a comfort level in small Kansas towns

November 24, 1999

When I began work last Wednesday as The Mirror's new editor and publisher, I felt in many ways that I had come home.

Obviously, I'm not from Tonganoxie. I'm not even from northeast Kansas. But I grew up in a small town, and my heart always has been in a small town.

My family Mom, Dad, sister and brother lived in Wilson when I was born in October 1955. These days, Wilson is best-known among those of us living east of Topeka for its annual Czech festival, Wilson Lake and the sausage at Shaw's grocery.

When my family lived there, Wilson held an after-harvest festival, not a Czech festival. The Shaws were making their sausages, an art learned from Tony Sula. And Wilson Lake was only a vision.

I was 2 when we left Wilson, but we didn't go far. Our new home, Russell, was only 25 minutes to the west. And my grandmother and aunt continued to live in Wilson. So I spent many weekends and summer days in that town. Every day, my aunt and I would walk uptown, where we'd go in and out of stores and she would gather "the news," as she called it, for The Wilson World.

At the dime store, I always prayed she would spring for something special. Perhaps it would be those sparkling high-heeled play shoes that looked like my mother's. Oh please, let it be. We'd visit the post office, where postmaster Dale Stinson would tease that he was going to plant a stamp on my nose and mail me to Alaska to see my aunt and uncle. We'd usually run into Reverend Reno, and he'd remind me that he hoped I'd be in church on Sunday, seated next to my grandmother, the organist. At Brown's drug store, we'd order up a chocolate Coke or cherry limeade, settle onto stools and enjoy the comings and goings.

I didn't realize that I lived in a small town or that my grandmother and aunt lived in an even smaller town. These places were my hometowns, and that was all that mattered. Everyone knew me. And I knew everyone. It was comfortable. And I was comfortable.

As many of us do, I left my hometowns.

I moved to Lawrence, enrolled in Kansas University, like my sister, mother and great-aunt before me. I graduated from KU, proud of a degree in journalism.

My first job at the Wichita Eagle was exciting. But I wasn't exactly comfortable in that town, so I returned to Lawrence, to the Journal-World. I have worked for that newspaper for the past 18 years except for two years that I commuted to a job at the Kansas City Business Journal.

And now, I find myself gathering the news in a small town. And I feel comfortable here.

I hope that we'll get to know one another. I hope, as I visit your businesses or I run into you at the post office, we'll become acquainted. I look forward to meeting you.

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