Aug. 27, 1999
I was given the opportunity to volunteer for one of The Topeka Capital-Journal’s weekly small-town, coffee-and-doughnut parties this week, so I did it. Actually, it was volunteer or else, and that’s why Wednesday morning found me in the Eskridge Cafe, doing decaf and doughnuts, plus one butter-soaked cinnamon roll.
It is possible I did the newspaper as much harm as I did my cholesterol count, but I must say I met some nice folks and got caught up on what’s happening in Eskridge, which is quite a lot.
For example, there is Calvin Hinch, 74, a retired farmer who goes fishing every day. That is, he fishes until it gets too hot, which is about 10:30 in the morning, and then goes home and takes it easy. Last week, he caught a 14-pound channel cat at Lake Wabaunsee.
Calvin farmed for 50 years, but now his son, who has been a Goodyear employee in Topeka for 31 years, has taken over the place and Calvin has moved to town into one of the apartments.
Where are the apartments?
“Behind the bank,” he said. “They are across the street from the old bank, and now they’re behind the new bank.” Right.
I SHOULD HAVE asked Bob Hogue, 82, another retired farmer who now manages the apartments. There are 20 units, and Bob says the occupancy rate is good. Once, a few years ago, five units were empty, but that dip in the local economy straightened out, and now there’s a waiting list.
Bob, incidentally, is a brother of Boyd Hogue of the construction company that has built a lot of homes in and around Topeka.
Willard Selby, 87, who is not a retired farmer, came in late and sat down at a long table where coffee drinkers and doughnut eaters kept coming and going at a pretty steady clip. He has lived in Eskridge 53 years, since he got out of the Air Force after World War II. He learned to be a mechanic in the service, and then used the skills to repair tractors and farm machinery. He still works on lawn mowers.
He told me he has subscribed to the Topeka newspaper for as long as he can remember, and said at one time he also was a mail subscriber to a Topeka publication called the Kansas Farmer Mail and Breeze. I told him the Breeze still blows in this space three times a week, and now it also has a lot of smoke in it.
Willard moonlighted as a rural mail carrier for many years, and recalled that the towns of Allen, Admire, Miller, Bushong and Comiskey, along the now-abandoned Missouri Pacific railroad line, all were named for Chicago baseball players.
THE ESKRIDGE CAFE is the work of Bryan and Sherry Johnston, who took a rundown joint with a leaky roof and turned it into an attractive place to meet and eat. It also has a
K-State Wildcat room in the rear, with a big-screen TV, a Powercat painted on the floor, and KSU mementos on the walls. One regular, Mike Mikos, said the town is about 85 percent to 15 percent in favor of K-State over KU, and nobody disputed him.
The cafe is a sort of sideline for the Johnstons. Bryan delivers The Capital-Journal in the area, and also does roofing and other home repairs. Sherry is classified advertising manager of the newspaper, commuting to Topeka, a 40-minute drive each way. They’ve had the cafe open only since May of last year, but it’s the town’s gathering place, and when the regulars are on hand there is non-stop conversation and laughs.
Mikos, who said when asked that the name is Polish and not Greek, is a former coach and high school principal, and also a sports official of some renown, having worked at the Big 12 level in track and field. His daughter, Leslie, is a busy K-Stater, throwing the discus and hammer for the Wildcat varsity, playing in the marching band and maintaining a 3.66 grade point average.
Everyone in town was invited to the party, and at least one subscriber who couldn’t make it phoned to tell me how nice The Capital-Journal delivery men are. She said they know she can’t get around very well, so they place the paper right at her door, and even carry out her trash. “They couldn’t be nicer,” she said. The same can be said of all of us at the C-J, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to start carrying out your trash.
There was only one complaint. Sandy from the bank took her break to stop by and say that all the advertising inserts don’t make it to Eskridge. It was explained to her that decision rests with the advertisers, but I suggested that in exchange for the right interest rate on a big loan, like something close to zero, I’d personally fix the problem. She gave me a banker’s cold, hard look.
I MENTIONED GOLF, and learned that Alan Clark, who runs the Standard Oil station, locks up the place at any time of the day when he feels like playing golf. I admire him, and also look up to Layton Smith, a retired math teacher and certified fellow Okie who has been the butt of Eskridge jokes for 30 years. Layton was born not far from my Oakwood birthplace.
I met Sally Bozarth, mother-in-law of golfing friend Gale Rice, and Bob Kraus, who told me about attending the one-room Little Gem school near Harveyville. I also met unforgettable Gary Kemble, whom you’ll soon read more about in a C-J feature. When the party was over I felt like I’d met all 518 of the town’s residents, and I sort of wished I was one of them.