Ties to the past
The year was 1878, yet even today the gentle footsteps echo throughout our state.
Chances are, an early Tonganoxie resident nicknamed, "the mother of prohibition" would be pleased to know there are still some "dry" counties that exist in Kansas today.
Greever Allan, Valley Falls, who was born and bred in Tonganoxie, recalls that it was his step-grandmother, Margaret Newland, a school teacher in Wyandotte County, who swept George Greever, a 40-year old widower with four children, off his feet and turned the state from wet to dry.
George Greever, a Civil War veteran and a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, married his new bride on Christmas Day, 1878. They spent their honeymoon in Topeka where Margaret sat in the Statehouse gallery and watched her husband at work.
Greever Allan recalls the family legend, "She was still in the bride's status, and she had made her husband promise to vote for prohibition," Allan said.
At first he didn't.
"The vote came out to be a tie. She came down from the gallery to the floor and reminded my grandfather that he had promised to vote for prohibition," Allan said. "He changed his vote from no to yes."
According to a 1938 account by Walt Neibarger, former publisher of the Tonganoxie Mirror, because of George Greever's vote change, the decision ultimately went to the people of Kansas and the prohibition amendment carried by a majority of 7,998 votes. The law became effective in February 1881. It was many years before a second state voted for prohibition.
At the time of the vote, the George Greever family lived in Tonganoxie at 824 South Pleasant Street, the present home of Philip and Betty Stevens.
Today from his home in Valley Falls, when Greever Allan reflects on the past, it is apparent that the four seasons of life have been full for him and for his wife, Nancy. As he sits in the sunroom of his house on a clear October morning, crisp sunlight casts shadows of the falling leaves across the ivory carpet.
Greever, who will celebrate his 89th birthday on Oct. 25, and Nancy, 85, rest on white wicker chairs and hold hands as they pose for a picture. Married 62 years, Nancy said much of their life together was like a honeymoon.
"Greever traveled so much in his work that we were able to have lots of reunions," she said. "I guess it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder."
The highlight of Greever's career was that he served as the director of international service for the United States Post Office for more than 20 years.
"My job was getting the United States mail all over the rest of the world, by sea and by air," Allan said.
In addition to his regular travels, every five years, a postal conference was held in a different country. Greever and Nancy saw much of the world together that way.
Sounds like a lot of traveling for a lad born on Oct. 25, 1910, in a house located, Greever said, where Bitler's BBQ sits today.
He talks of an early Tonganoxie that few today can remember. He remembers spending summer days swimming beneath the "Tonganoxie Cliffs" northeast of town, working as a "soda jerk" at Ratliff's pharmacy, attending picnics when Tonganoxie still had a place called "Elm Park," and he's one of the few people in existence who can explain that Tonganoxie's "Strawberry Hill," was called that because a farmer who lived near what is now the 700 block of Pleasant Street was known for the strawberries he raised.
It is a past that sometimes conflicts with the present. He talks of the work the local citizens put into getting the state lake built. The WPA project was completed and dedicated in 1932. Alf Landon was one of the dignitaries attending the event. Allan laments that the name has been changed from Tonganoxie State Lake to the Leavenworth County State Lake. From a scrapbook he produces a black and white photo of local men celebrating on the day of the lake's dedication.
"These people worked hard to get the lake put here," Allan said. "It's a shame the name of the lake was changed."
It is a past that brings up names familiar to those who have lived in Tonganoxie. He tells of his first lesson in economics.
"My father worked at Zoellner's," Allan said. "Because of that, our family got a 10 percent discount on everything we bought. My mother sent me to the store to buy a loaf of bread. It cost 10 cents. I gave Fred Zoellner a dime and he didn't have any pennies in the cash register."
Allan recalled that he told Zoellner not to worry about the penny.
"But he went over to his office and got some anyway. He gave me the penny and said, 'Son, this is a lesson to remember. If you start saving your pennies today, it won't be long before you start saving nickels and then dimes. Before you know it, you'll have saved more than you'll ever imagine.'"
It is a past where the Allans relate having spent the first five years of their married life living in the upstairs apartment of what was later the Fred Zoellner house on Fifth Street.
"Amos and Grace Wilson lived on the first floor and we had a piano and they had a piano," Greever said.
"They used to play duos, one upstairs and one downstairs. Amos would call out and say to Nancy, 'Where are you starting at?'"
It is a past that continually contrasts with the present. He talks about Tonganoxie's current growth spurt.
"I'm a little leery," Allan said. "I'm afraid that the city's going to get out and we'll have Kansas City-type influences, compared to the small town that I love."
It is a lifetime of memories he shares with his wife, who grew up in Valley Falls.
"Life has been good," he said. "The Lord's been good to me. He's let me live all the years I have, with a good life and I've been blessed with a happy marriage."
Nancy agreed, "We've had a good clean life, we've laughed a lot, and we've really never had any reason to be unhappy."
When Allan retired in 1969, the Allans considered moving to Lawrence and finally decided to buy a home in Valley Falls.
Nancy looks briefly out the window where a brisk autumn wind plucks colored leaves from the trees and sends them sailing through the clear blue skies.
"We could have lived anywhere," she said. "But part of the reason we came back here was so we could experience the four seasons."