Assignment Topeka: Great People and the Best Capital in Kansas

Topeka Capital-Journal
February 25 , 1995

The executive editor, who really is a very dear friend of mine, said a special edition was in the works, and he wanted me to write something nice about Topeka.

I gave him my most engaging grin and said, “Isn’t that a isn’t that request a little oxymoronic? You know, like ‘Army intelligence’ and ‘honest government’?

Doesn’t saying nice things about Topeka have the same ring to it?”

The executive editor, who really is as nice a fellow as you’d ever want to meet, wasn’t smiling. “This is not a request,” he said. “It is an order, and I won’t repeat it.”

He was glaring at me now, displaying the same cordiality he did when I referred to the “giant Goodrich plant North of Topeka” in a recent column.

In an ominous tone, he said, “I will only remind you that you are hanging on by the thinnest of threads here, so it behooves you to comply with this order promptly.”

Well, that being the case, plus the fact the executive editor really is one of my all-time favorite people, I will get right to it.

Let me begin by saying that, unlike many Topekans, I am here not by chance, but by choice. I wasn’t born here. I moved here of my own free will not just once, but twice.

The first time, I was living in the city of Odessa, in parched and desolate West Texas. One day a friend called and said he’d just been named sports editor of the Topeka Daily Capital, and would I join him?

I asked if the place had any trees, and water. Yes, he said, plenty of trees and water.

I took the job and less than a year later there was about 20 feet of water covering North Topeka, and trees were floating everywhere. The year was 1951, and I wondered, briefly, why I ever left the sand and wind of West Texas.

I met my wife at the newspaper in Topeka, where she worked for United Press Telephotos service. We thought about eloping to Kansas City, but we couldn’t afford it, so we married in the church across the street from the paper. It’s still there.

Four of our five children were born here, and that seems logical, since we were living here at the time. All were delivered by Dr. Robert Pfuetze. He’s still here, too.

None of the four ever has complained about being born here, and that’s about the only thing in their entire lives they haven’t complained about. That says a lot for Topeka.

We must have loved the city, because in those early years we lived in many parts of it. We started in an apartment in the inner city, and in those days we thought nothing about walking home in the middle of the night, after the final edition was on the press.

We brought our first child home to a duplex in Highland Park. Our neighbors were deaf and mute, and as we carried the baby in, they stood on the their porch and hooked their thumbs in the top of imaginary vests and waved their fingers in a traditional sign of “nice going.” I’ve never forgotten it.

We lived in the Mount Vernon apartments, and then bought a home on Cornwall Street. It was a great neighborhood, for us and for the children.

We left town in 1961 to follow a legend. I took a leave of absence from the paper that lasted for 25 years. We left with four children, had another one in 1962, born at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., but returned with none.

Interestingly, our youngest, Mary, and I are the only two in the clan who are not Kansas native sons and daughters. She and I get together occasionally and drown our sorrows.

Why did we return here? Writing a column had a little to do with it. One day, while we were debating whether to retire to the South of France, Palm Springs, Palm Beach or Palm’s Down, Ark., I called a Capital-Journal editor who, like the current executive editor, is a very dear friend of mine.

I offered my services, and he was overwhelmed. Actually, what he said was that he’d see if they could do any better and, and if they couldn’t he’d call me back. He called and made what he said was his “First and final” offer, and I took it. I’m a sucker for sweet talk.

So here I am, and I don’t know what I’d do without Topeka. So what if it’s 80 miles to the airport. It’s only five minutes to the golf course.

Topeka would inspire any columnist. There is the Legislature, one of the world’s longest running “Our Gang” comedies. There are all those lawyers, who deserve my attention. There are all the politicians who feather their nest, using greenbacks for feathers, and who regularly band together to bushwhack Indians.

Topeka has problems, like the hot dog spelling of Expocentre, too much basketball, the shooting of the week and Gage Park. But whatever the problem, remember this: for every bum in this town, there are hundreds of genuine people. For every lunatic packing a gun, there are thousands of good people ready to help you if you need it, and for every Bible-toting bigot there is a multitude preaching tolerance.

If you’re not too demanding, Topeka has all you need, and is close enough to whatever else you might think you need. It’s like the sign I remember from my Oklahoma childhood: “Near beer sold here. Real beer sold near here.”

Topeka also has a great newspaper, namely this one period it is run by great employees and supported by great advertisers an great subscribers. The executive editor said if I didn’t include that in this column I would be history.

Always kidding. What a great guy!

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