Friday, February 8, 2013

Stafford: Making Sundaes from Plain Old Vanilla

From a mile away, you can see our "skyscrapers" in the background.
"Stafford Next 5 Exits."

The sign is accurate, though the tongue of the creative sign maker was planted firmly in cheek. There are five streets from which travelers can choose to turn off U.S. Highway 50 and enter Stafford: Population 1,042.
However, Stafford County mirrors what is happening in rural America. Parts of the rural Great Plains have been losing residents since the Great Depression. Some areas saw a baby boom after World War II. In the 1940s, Stafford experienced a modest population gain during an oil boom.

Main Street looks different than it did in this photo from 1955 (found in Stafford's Centennial book, Crossroads of Time: 1885-1985). The latest census shows what everyone already knows: The population in rural communities, including Stafford, keeps decreasing. But, instead of giving up, Stafford citizens are pulling together and trying to make lemonade out of lemons - or, in this case, beautifully topped ice cream sundaes out of plain old vanilla ice cream.

Tomorrow, Senator Jerry Moran will be in Stafford to present a Building Better Communities Award. The award spotlights positive community action in Kansas and shows how creative thinking and teamwork make a positive difference. Senator Moran will be at the Stafford Mercantile at 9:30 AM, Saturday, February 9, to honor the residents of Stafford for efforts to revitalize the community.

 In a speech on the U.S. Senate floor on January 30, Senator Moran said:

     In small communities across America, the people there, they work hard. They come together to find common-sense solutions. They solve problems. They try to make a difference in the life of their families and their community. They also strive to provide a better future for their kids, so that every child has the opportunity to grow up, pursue the American Dream and reach their goals.
     For rural communities to survive and prosper, citizens have to work together to create their own opportunities for success. … The reality is that those communities that are going to have a bright future are those who decide, on their own, to work together within that community to make certain that’s the case.  An example of a community that rallied together in a way to make good things happen and make the community better for the future is the community of Stafford. ...
     Rural communities across Kansas have been hit hard by the economic downturn over the last few years and many towns have encountered the closing of businesses. Main Street looks a lot less appealing. There's a shortage of health care services. The younger generation is leaving home in search of employment. In light of these challenges, the community leaders of Stafford have taken steps to secure that town’s future.  …

Comments from Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas

Speech from the floor of the U.S. Senate

January 30, 2013

See the complete speech
It seems fitting that the senator will be at the Stafford Mercantile to make the presentation. The variety store on Main Street Stafford has been open since last fall. Local investors came together to return a business to the vacant storefront, after national retailer Duckwall's pulled its stores from most small Kansas communities two years ago.
The Mercantile makes it possible for residents to shop for things like Wrangler jeans or a bridal shower gift without driving 30 minutes to Pratt or Great Bend or 45 minutes to Hutchinson. 

The centerpiece of the Mercantile is a 1928 marble soda fountain. It was originally in Smart Drug in Stafford, but was stored in a neighboring town for years. 
From the Stafford Centennial Book. You can see the marble soda fountain as it was in Smart Drug on the lefthand side of the photo.
Those renovating the soda fountain added oak columns from a Stafford Victorian-era home. The back bar was from a prohibition-era speakeasy near Stafford Lake, and booths and marble tables are original to the same drug store as the soda fountain.  All were dug out of different storage places and refurbished.
Senator Moran's staff also prepared a video that's been posted to Youtube (That link is at the bottom of this post.) There are three other videos that focus on specific ways Stafford is looking to thrive (click on each of the underlined links to see those videos.) Besides featuring the Stafford Mercantile, another talks about how the community rallied to save the Stafford District Hospital. Another features Stafford USD No. 349's SEED (Stafford Entrepreneurship and Economic Development) Center, a charter school for high school students. It's where students develop a business plan, talk to the banker, make a product or deliver a service and then actually open and operate their own business on Main Street Stafford.
Stafford is proving that when communities look within themselves for growth, they do have the capability to forge a stronger, more positive future.
Stafford County Economic Development Director Carolyn Dunn
It's about using plain old ingredients - like vanilla ice cream - and making that tasty sundae - complete with cherry on top.

Or maybe revitalizing a community is like making an old-fashioned cherry limeade. Even in a community "squeezed" by challenges, the future looks a lot more "rosy" when people get "stirred up" and come together. (You can get one of those cherry limeades at the Mercantile's soda fountain by the way. They are even half-priced on Thursdays!) 

See this related post. Yes, even toilet paper can make a difference in a small community.


  1. Kim, I LOVE your blog! This most recent one makes me SO proud to be a "product" of Stafford. My husband & I are in the process of trying to move BACK to the area in order to help my parents, and THIS information is SO encouraging for us. Knowing that there's still a promising future for my hometown makes a little easier to make such a drastic move from the thriving Northwest back to rural Kansas.

    Janet Vasey Hardin

    1. Thanks so much, Janet! We will be glad to welcome you back home. We always need more people to be part of the fabric of the community and make a difference as we find new ways of weaving our stories and our ideas together now and into the future.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I'm so proud of what you are all doing to try and save my little old hometown
    Cindy Driggs Paukner

    1. Thanks so much for taking time to comment. It is encouraging to see some of the positive things happening in our little community.

  3. Kim, if you are interested we could add your blog to our community bloggers at If interested give me a call at 549-3201, and we can discuss the details.
    Good job, Terry

  4. What a great thing people have done for Stafford, and whether their monetary investment pays off for them, the investment in the town is definitely paying dividends. Thank you for the information about the materials in the soda fountain. We were curious about that when we visited the Mercantile.

    1. All these different components were certainly put together beautifully, I think! Thanks for commenting.

  5. Kim:

    Thanks for posting this video and congrats to Stafford and the many who worked so hard to bring new businesses to town! So proud of a community that gave me so much growing up.

    1. Lori:

      We're always glad to have you come home, too. Though it isn't my hometown, I'm proud to be a part of the community for almost 32 years. That almost makes me a native, doesn't it?

    2. You bet! You have been a leader in many ways to promote Stafford County

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