Tonganoxie mural provides new attraction downtown
A mural in the downtown Tonganoxie pocket park drew many passersby last week.
Kelly Poling, a muralist from Chillicothe, Mo., painted the mural much of last week on the west side of the Dr. Phil Stevens medical office.
The mural, which Poling started Sept. 15, shows “books” with various titles depicting people and things that are part of Tonganoxie’s history.
And at the middle of the mural Dr. Stevens is looking over the shoulder of a girl who is trying to weigh herself on a scale in Stevens’ office.
The image is based on a photo former Lawrence Journal-World photographer Bill Snead captured of Stevens for a story that ran several years ago.
Stevens celebrated 60 years of practicing medicine in Tonganoxie earlier this year. That evening, he died in his sleep.
Two books on the wall are dedicated to Stevens, one for his work as a physician and the other for his persona as Tonganoxie Phil. A Kansas City area radio station started calling Stevens on Groundhog Day each year for a local answer to Punxsutawney Phil. Stevens would always indicate whether he saw his shadow and provide some weather prognostication in the process. The Mirror continued to interview Tonganoxie Phil each February after the radio station stopped its annual tradition.
The mural was made possible in part through a Pete and Margaret Leighty grant and was a project of the city’s Retail Commercial and Development Committee.
Keyta Kelly, Cheryl Hanback, Shawn Linenberger and Council Member Chris Donnelly are on the committee, along with assistance from Jamie Shockley, assistant city administrator. Former Council Member Bill Peak also served on the committee for several years and was part of the mural process.
The mural books move in chronological order from left to right along the painting.
One book is dedicated to Chief Tonganoxie, while another recognizes Magdalena Bury, who platted Tonganoxie. The next gives a nod to the dairy industry and the Farichild Knox barn, which now stands on the Tonganoxie Community Historic Site campus. Evans Real Estate, one of the oldest businesses still going in Tonganoxie, is next on the mural’s bookshelf. The company dates back to 1895.
The Stevens’ book, “Sixty Years of Nurturing,” has a date of 1927, which is the year Stevens was born. After the “Tonganoxie Phil” book is one for Mollie Myers, who operated the Myers Hotel for several years. The next book is for Kirby McRill, the eccentric resident who once walked from here to Chicago in 7 1/2 days. The wall finishes up with a book for “The Tonganoxie Split,” the much-discussed weather phenomenon and then books for Danni Boatwright and the Grinter Farms sunflowers.
Boatwright, a Tonganoxie High School graduate, was a finalist for the Miss USA pageant and then won the television reality series “Survivor: Guatemala” on CBS.
Poling finished up the mural Sunday, as rains Friday prevented him from completing the mural at that time.
Plans call for the artist to complete the mural on the south side of the City Council chambers either later this fall or next spring.
The downtown artwork marks Poling’s first mural in Kansas.
His work can be seen at kellypoling.com.
The mural attracted several visitors last week and created a buzz on social media.