Bud Wilkinson: To a Very Rare Man

Topeka Capital-Journal
February 14, 1994

Last Wednesday night Jay Wilkinson called to say his dad, Bud, who made history as football coach at Oklahoma, was dying and probably wouldn’t make it through the night. He didn’t. Next morning we heard on the radio he had died.

Later in the morning I tried to call Charlie Hoag to tell him about Bud, but I couldn’t reach him. It wasn’t until the five o’clock TV news that we heard there had been a wreck on the Turnpike and that Charlie’s wife, Salli, was killed and he was seriously injured. The day had provided a double dose of bad news.

Wilkinson and Hoag had closer ties than you might think. In the early 1950s, Bud was one of the best coaches in the country and Charlie was a superb running back at KU , as well as being a key member of a national championship basketball squad. Continue reading

A Friend Recalls Alf Landon

Topeka Capital-Journal
October 16, 1987

In 1935, Gerry Barker was a junior at Ottawa University and Alf Landon was governor. On a night when Baker University played at Ottawa for the league basketball championship, Landon was in the stands. Ottawa won in the final seconds, and Barker was the star.

Later, Barker was just coming out of the shower when E. C. “Ernie” Quigley, who had refereed the game, came into the Ottawa dressing room and asked, “Where is that young man Barker?” Gerry stepped forward and Quigley said, “Hurry and get dressed. The governor wants to meet you.”

When they met, Landon congratulated him on the victory and on his efforts. Barker says today it was a high point of his career, and then some. It was the start of a long and enduring relationship.

In 1947, Barker went to work for radio station WREN, which had just been moved over from Lawrence. In 1952, Landon bought the station, and when he met the staff he looked at Gerry and asked, “Are you the Barker who played at Ottawa?”

Continue reading

JFK Tops for Intentional White House Humor

Topeka Capital Journal
Aug. 12, 1991

In this country we like to say that anybody can grow up to be president, but that’s like saying anybody can win the lottery. The odds are against anyone who has the White House in mind. That goes even for a vice president, particularly if his name is Dan Quayle.

All most of us can do about the presidency is hope we vote for the winner, and then hope he does a decent job. We also can hope he has a sense of humor, because when you consider the shape the country is in, it is clear the head man needs to be able to laugh and make others laugh with him.

jfkIf you were to rate presidents by their sense of humor, you would have to admit that, despite all his weaknesses, John Kennedy was the best ever. Throughout his career, his wit stands out like no president before or since.

Asked how he became a war hero, he said, “It was easy. They sank my boat.” During his presidential campaign he said his wealthy father would finance a victory, “but he flatly refuses to pay for a landslide.” Continue reading

On Assignment from the President

Topeka Capital-Journal
June 1, 1992

I ended the month of May with a blooper, and probably I’m starting June with another one, but some of us never learn. Last week I wrote that State Senator Frank Gaines of Augusta, who has announced his retirement, was a good man. It turns out he was a better man than I gave him credit for being. I should have known .

He was in the Legislature 24 years, and I noted that if he signed up for the plush pension plan legislators voted for themselves, he would qualify for about $25,000 per year. I added there was no reason to believe he hadn’t signed.

Since then I have been informed by a good friend of his, who would know, that Gaines didn’t take advantage of the souped-up pension. He deserves this apology and the respect of all of us.

I also have sentenced myself to do severe penance for this mistake, but not before I start June on the wrong foot by giving in to the irresistible urge to drop big names. It comes over me occasionally, and I am a pushover.

Maybe this one was caused by the recent new evidence from the two doctors that president John F. Kennedy was killed by two shots, fired by one man. Maybe it started me thinking about him and about my days as a dedicated public servant in Washington.

The story goes back 30 years, to the days when all public servants were dedicated and all Kansas State football fans were long-suffering. The story doesn’t have anything to do with K-State, but it does have a little to do with football. Continue reading

Another Look at the Second Amendment

Topeka Capital-Journal
Dec. 16, 1992

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution, one of the original 10 known as the Bill of Rights, says: “Right to keep and bear arms. A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

That’s all it says. It became law toward the end of 1791, when an armed and ready militia was necessary, because the security of the newly-created country was shaky. There was a real need for every able-bodied man to be armed and prepared to defend the nation against the British, French, the Indians or whomever.

But that was then, and this is now. The amendment qualifies the right of the people to keep and bear arms by saying armed citizens are needed to make up the militia that protects our security from the possible threats of outsiders.

Now, we don’t need militia, or a citizen Army, and it’s a good thing, because we are exactly 180 degrees away from having well-regulated armed citizens protecting our security.

In terms of physical security, what this country needs more than anything else is protection from the people who have the guns. Continue reading

Handguns Have Gotten out of Hand

Topeka Capital-Journal
Dec. 2, 1992

It would be great if everyone in the country decided the handgun homicides coast to coast last week, like the double slaying in Lawrence, were the last straw. There would be such a demand for gun control that Congress would get the message and do something about it.

Our representatives in Washington would be hammered so hard by constituents they would become more afraid of them than they are of the National Rifle Association now. They would do what they know to be the morally right thing, and they would pass laws making it very difficult to legally buy a handgun.

True, this would work a hardship on a lot of people, from schoolchildren to career criminals. The young thugs would have to settle grudges and impress peers with mere knives or baseball bats, or something like that. But there would be fewer of them killed.

Dedicated gun-carrying criminals might decide to get out of the business if they one day found themselves without a gun and no easy way to get one. Continue reading

Gentler Mud in 1990 Kansas

Topeka Capital Journal
May 14, 1990

It already is beginning to appear that mild-mannered minister Fred Phelps will be at a big disadvantage in the race for governor. The campaign is going to be down and dirty, as in muck and slime, and that’s hardly the place for a soft spoken man of the cloth.

Republican incumbents Mike Hayden and Democrat comeback hopeful John Carlin have started the mudslinging, and they seem to have enough of it to last until November. More than just a race between leaders of the two parties, this is a fight between two men who really don’t like each other.

On the side, sort of, is the shy and retiring Phelps, who would like to get into the thick of the battle, but probably won’t make it. He says he’s an old time Democrat. What does that mean? He explains: Continue reading

FBI Good Guys and the NRA Plague

Topeka Capital-Journal
May 12, 1995

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents once were hailed as heroes, but now they’re often hooted at for their blunders, real and imagined. They also are frequently criticized for their high-handedness in dealing with state and local police agencies. They never are idolized as they once were.

However the truth of the matter is that the FBI still is one of the premier police forces in the world. Their agents do thousands of things right for every one thing they do wrong. Nobody, and no organization, is perfect.

Even if FBI agents were only one-tenth as good as they are, I would vastly prefer to entrust the security of the nation and my personal freedom to them than I would some self-anointed militia.

I’d rather count on state police, county cops or the Podunk Police Department to protect me and my family than I would a bunch of men who dress up in combat gear, take assault weapons into the woods and play like they are preparing for the day they’ll have to take over the country. Continue reading

Whatever It Does, Legislature is Predictable

Topeka Capital-Journal
March 3, 1999

At approximately the halfway point in this session, the situation is normal in the Kansas Legislature. There is a lot of huffing and puffing going on, there is some name-calling, the Republican religious right-wingers are bent on doing God’s work rather than the state’s work, and whether by design or by accident the lawmakers seem once again to be headed for overtime.

In the midst of all this, Gov. Bill Graves said he will support Texas Gov. George Bush for president in 2000, a move many interpret as a clear indication that Liddy Dole is running for vice president, and that a Bush-Dole ticket is more than just a possibility. If nothing else, Bush-Dole fits well in a headline.

Probably due more to personalities than assessing the needs of the state, most legislators these days are found in one of three camps – the transportation people, the budget cutters and those wanting to fund all the social programs.

The transportation plan, which is the biggest gorilla in the Statehouse zoo, is getting a lot of attention, but that doesn’t mean it will ever make its way out of the place. It started when a task force developed a plan, just as it was asked to do, but then the governor changed it and it became his plan.

Now the House has passed its own version of the plan and sent it to the Senate, but it’s a foregone conclusion that when the Senate gets through with it the House won’t recognize it. This probably is the buildup for passing some kind of plan in the frenzy of the final minutes of double overtime, known as the veto session.

What will come out then is anybody’s guess, but it probably will have amendments in small print calling for a legislative pay raise with automatic pension increases, and stricter abortion laws. Continue reading

Maybe This Will Be the Year

Topeka Capital-Joural
Jan. 1, 1996

The new year holds some promise, even though the Czars exhibit is gone and there will be no downtown building to blow up. My crystal ball says one big story will be Glen Mason winning the Republican primary for Senate, but then changing his mind and deciding to remain as KU football coach because he just can’s bear to leave all those wonderful folks in Lawrence.

But will those wonderful folks in Lawrence say, “Oh, go ahead, Glen. Don’t let us keep you.” Some day. Maybe.

The early news spotlight also will be focused on another one of your favorite newsmakers. You want to guess who? Fred Phelps will be heard demanding that the police officer who called his gang a “cult” be reprimanded. Continue reading