Jan. 29, 1999
Kansas Native Sons and Daughters are getting together again this weekend, and it reminds me that I have a lot in common with the man generally considered to be greatest Kansan of all.
For one thing, both Dwight D. Eisenhower and I were in uniform during World War II, and for another, neither of us is a native son of Kansas. I was born in western Oklahoma; he was born in Baja Oklahoma. Also, he probably would share my feelings that it’s no big deal to belong to a club when everyone in it qualified by accident.
I came close to being a native son of Kansas. My dad was born in the state, in Miltonvale, and my mother in Nebraska. If they had met sooner, before both of them drifted into Oklahoma, it is likely I would have been a Jayhawker, rather than an Okie. I’m not sure how I should feel about the way things turned out. On this weekend of activities that has become known as Kansas Day, I usually review bits of the history of the state, as seen by an outsider. This year, I’m also am not sure I like what I see. Times are good, but that doesn’t mean Kansas is without problems. On my desk is a 1950 map of the state, using little symbols to show the leading products and industries, and where they are located. West of Hutchinson there are symbols for wheat, chemicals, dairy cattle, beef cattle, sorghums, broomcorn, salt, sugar beets, oil, natural gas, turkeys, chickens, eggs and flour. These symbols are scattered all over western Kansas. At the top of the map, on the Nebraska border, about where the towns of Webber and Republic are, there is a symbol for hogs, the lone such location noted in the western half of the state. The map today would show hogs so thick they’re becoming a threat to clean water and clean air in parts of the area. Corporate hog farms from the East Coast have bamboozled Kansas into laws and financial favors that already have brought cesspools of hog waste, creating a stench that makes outdoor living impossible, even for distant neighbors. To date, the only reason the problem isn’t a lot worse is that the hog market has been ailing. If it revs up again, you’ll need a gas mask to drive to Colorado. Politics smells, too, but it’s a different odor and it’s not as critical because the good guys won a big battle last year. The continuing disaster known as the social conservative wing of the Republican Party took itself too seriously and went for the governor’s chair. What followed is known as the Slaughter of’98. Still, the wing walkers are meeting this weekend, apart from the real Republicans, to plot another takeover. Thanks to Gov. Bill Graves, in most places they’ll have to start again from square one, at the precinct level, because their defeat went that deep. No matter what Graves does in the next four years, he probably will be best remembered and most admired for turning back the threat from Outer Space. In 1896, William Allen White, owner and editor of the Emporia Gazette, became an influential voice in state and national politics when he wrote an editorial headlined, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” He aimed that one at the Populists, but it’s too bad he can’t aim another one at the super conservatives who are trying to destroy their party. We might also like to hear again from Sen. Arthur Capper, who had something going for him. He started working for the Topeka Daily Capital in 1884 and in eight years was publisher and proprietor. He died in 1951, before I could ask him how he did it. I know how he became governor and U.S. senator. He circulated the Capital, and his other publications, in the hinterlands and boonies, and they had a lot to say that was good about Capper, and nothing to say that was bad. As a disciple of Capper, I try to follow that example, not always with success. Some of Kansas’ great families argued like politicians, but they could afford it. The Kochs feature four brothers who together count their money in billions, but they still argue over how to divide it. And there’s the Wallace family, which inherited the basis for the Cessna Aircraft Co., but also had a couple of brothers who fell out over something. This argument wound up differently, with one of them running Cessna, making it fly high and far, and the other becoming an executive at Beech, one of Cessna’s top competitors. Few men have had as great an impact on Kansas as Bill Snyder, who has led Kansas State to national football prominence. He, along with Bill Avery, former governor and congressman, is being honored tonight by the Native Sons and Daughters, and I was amazed to learn he was born in Kansas. In Salina. It started when I asked around the newsroom where Snyder was born. Nobody knew, and the KSU football guide doesn’t say. Someone called Kevin Haskin, who covers KSU, at home, and he said Salina. I called the KSU sports publicity office to confirm that, because I had heard he was born in Texas. I was then referred to Snyder’s secretary. She didn’t know, but said she’d ask him when he called in. Later, she said it is true. Snyder is a native son. That explains everything.