Tuesday, October 31, 2023

To Make the Best Better


If those walls could talk ...

The old Quonset hut building on the Stafford County Fairgrounds came tumbling down in late September. It had served as the main building for exhibits at the Stafford County Fair since the 1950s.

Once upon a time, that building was state-of-the-art. It was a new enclosed space with a concrete floor, showers in the restrooms and giant electric fans that kept the air moving as fairgoers perused hundreds of 4-H projects.

Stafford County Fair photo

But "state of the art: becomes "state of deterioration" in 70 years. The steel framed-round top building began to leak. The bathrooms were out of date. And those overhead fans had been replaced by floor fans, hoping to alleviate a little discomfort on hot July fair days. Judging for things like foods, photography and arts and crafts were moved several years ago to the air-conditioned comfort of the Stafford Recreation Commission.

But change is coming to the Stafford County Fair. The board is in the process of adding a new building on the fairgrounds in Stafford.

The old building was kind of like the "background music" of the fair. It was there, but it didn't take center stage. The important part wasn't the building, but the 4-Hers who were "built" there. Those 4-Hers included my family. Randy was a Stafford County 4-Her back in the 1960s and '70s. Jill and Brent spent their fair share of time as 4-Hers there, too. Though it wasn't my "home" fair, it became my 4-H home as a 4-H leader, parent and volunteer.

But the old had to make way for the new. In late September, the walls of the old building were pulled down.

Photos by Jeanette Hildebrand, September 25, 2023

Last year, when I was writing about selling Melvin and Marie's house, I realized that I didn't have a lot of photos of the house itself. Lots of important memories were made at that house, but the dwelling itself didn't show up in a lot of photographs.

Buyer ribbons from a Stafford County Fair hung on the peg board in the fairgrounds extension "office."

The same can be said of the 4-H building. When I looked through Jill's and Brent's 4-H books, I found a lot of photos. There were a few that were taken in the building.

Photos courtesy of the fair's fundraising committee

But the building itself wasn't the main focus. The focus was on the 4-Her - what they were learning and how they were growing.

These were from Jill's very first 4-H foods judging. She looked so apprehensive. Neither she - or I - knew what we were doing. But after a dozen years, she was one of the leaders helping to check in 4-Hers for judging and getting the whole event coordinated.

The photo below was taken in the 4-H building during Brent's rocketry judging. Same with him: None of us knew anything about building a rocket for 4-H. But with the leader, Rosanne's, help and the constructive remarks made by fair judges, he learned more every year. That's what 4-H is all about.

The 4-H program will still have that same goal: Building productive, successful people. But there will be a new building to use for those efforts. It's exciting for the 4-H program AND for the community. 

This is just a facsimile of what the building will look like. It will match the colors of others buildings already on the fairgrounds.

Billy Milton, Stafford County Fair Board president, said in an article published by Stafford County Economic Development: “We started looking into fixing the roof and got back an estimate that was going to cost between $30,000 to $40,000 to fix and that in 10 to 20 years, we’d have to do it again. We did not feel like that was the right area to pursue. It doesn’t make sense for us to be spend that much money. Our budget just is not that big to operate like that.” 

Using $250,000 in funds that was available to Stafford County to help stimulate the economy after the Covid pandemic, Milton said, the fair board was able to begin the process of replacing the old building. The money was awarded by Stafford County Commissioners with the stipulation it be spent by the summer of 2024. The construction will be more like a Morton-style building. 

The fair board has partnered with Stafford County Economic Development to raise an additional $275,000 to pay for the building’s amenities – such as heating and air conditioning, a concession stand area with stove and refrigerator and showers in the restrooms. 

“The rest of it will be open for meetings, wedding receptions and reunions,” Milton said. “We entered into a fiscal sponsorship agreement with Stafford County Eco-Devo because our organization is not a 501-C nonprofit so that when people donate, they can still get the tax breaks and save a little bit of money with sales tax also.”

We still volunteer for the fair and for the 4-H program itself. And old habits die hard: We still enter things in open class. 

Randy often entered wheat at the Stafford County Fair.

Last summer, Kinley and Brooke were here during the Stafford County Fair and they got a taste of a small-town fair.

I didn't know it at the time, but it was last time that old building would house my open class photos. Kinley also entered. It ended up being quite a send-off for us. 

People wanting to donate to the new building fund can do so by sending a check to the Stafford County Economic Development Office at P.O Box 233 at St. John, KS, 67576, or by calling 620-549-3527. The checks can be made to Stafford County Eco-Devo with the words “Community Fair Building” in the memo portion of the check.  Donation levels include: Grand Champion level at $80,000 and up; Reserve Champion, $50,000 to $80,000; Champion, $20,000 to $49,000; Reserve, $10,000 to $19,000; Purple, $2,000 to $9,999; Blue, $500 to $1,999; Other and Add a Brick, $200 to $350. 

Stafford County Eco-Devo or the Stafford County Extension Office can mail you a copy of the brochure, if you'd like one.

Kinley at her first Stafford County Fair, 2012. Now she and Brooke are 4-Hers in Shawnee County!

Randy and I have given money toward the project, and we'd like to encourage others to do the same.

If you're local, here's another tasty way you can be part of the fundraising efforts:

The old building may not be there any longer. But with the help of donors, I certainly hope the growth and experiences that have always been part of the 4-H program will continue far into the future. 

And there's already progress being made. The cement for the new building is in place. Let the building begin!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Booking It to the Library

It seems appropriate that the ribbon cutting for the renovations at the Nora Larabee Memorial Library in Stafford occurred during October - National Book Month.

However, in my opinion, it's always the right time to celebrate libraries and books - two of my favorite things. 

The ribbon cutting during Stafford Oktoberfest celebrated the renovations for the library, which has been part of Stafford since 1905. It was constructed in memory of Nora Emily Larabee, who died in 1904 at the age of 27 from tuberculosis. One year later, her parents, who were prominent Stafford residents - Joseph Delos and Angeline Larabee along with her two brothers - contracted the building of the library, complete with a stained glass portrait of Nora. The family donated the library as a gift to the City of Stafford. 

Stained glass window at the Nora Larabee Memorial Library in Stafford 

In 1963, the library had its first expansion. Mrs. William E. Richardson donated the east room - The Richardson Wing - in memory of her late husband. 

Taken several years ago in the east room of the library - The Richardson Wing.

The community rallied together in 1975, raising the funds to move the children's library from the basement to the south room addition it currently occupies. 

Guests at the ribbon-cutting could also walk downstairs to the old children's room to view the tiles surrounding the old fireplace. That is a defining memory for many of the people who grew up in Stafford.

Randy (AKA Fantastic Fritz) doing magic for a Nora's Gathering at the library's current children's room on the main level in May 2022.

In 2006, the library was accepted for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the initiative of longtime librarian, Dixie Osborn. As librarian in 2020, Denise Dickson commissioned an architectural and structural engineering site assessment of the failing foundation and front door. Then, in 2021, librarian Jan McKeel wrote an article for The Stafford Courier, asking for donations to fund the foundation restoration project. Additionally, she wrote a successful application for the Heritage Trust Fund Grant, which brought in $90,000 from the Kansas Historical Society.

Taken during the reception following the ribbon cutting, October 7, 2023

The Courier article attracted the attention of two major local donors, who pledged $50,000 and challenged the library and community to raise matching funds. Thus, the Preserving Nora's Legacy Committee was launched. During the fall and winter of 2021, donations from large to small began arriving at the library, thanks to the hard work of volunteers. An additional $98,000 was raised. The library also got grants from Golden Belt Community Foundation, South Central Community Foundation, Kansas Strategic Economic Expansion and Development and Midwest Energy. To date, $310,000 has been raised to help restore and preserve the library.

Donors are recognized for their gifts in this memorial display, created by local woodworker/artisan Robert Owens.

While the library is an historic treasure in Stafford, it is not simply serving as a "museum" to the past. Nora's Place - as it is affectionately called locally - has undergone a renaissance in the past few years. Librarians and volunteer committees are also working hard to make the Nora Larabee Memorial Library a hub of community activity. Since 2021, the library has sponsored Nora's Gatherings. These once-a-month events offer art, music, storytelling, children's activities, food and fellowship. In June, I had the honor of displaying my photography during Nora's Gathering. The display remained in pace as Stafford welcomed Bike Across Kansas participants. The library provided a cool place for weary bikers to rest, to access reliable wi-fi, get a homemade piece of pie and ice cream and visit with fellow bikers and community members. Nora's portrait in stained glass became a backdrop for many photos that bikers shared to provide a memory of that day in Stafford. (Click HERE for more about that event.)

I love the Larabee Library. But I am an equal opportunity library lover. I also claim the Hutchinson Public Library as "my" library. I first got a library card there when I moved to Hutchinson to begin working at The Hutchinson News in 1979. A trip to Hutchinson ALWAYS includes a stop at the library. 

If you are a library lover, too, and have some discretionary funds, the Nora E. Larabee Memorial Library is still raising funds to redo the front steps and finish repairs on the historic windows. They also are seeking additional grant funding.

For more information, check out the Preserving Nora's Legacy and the Nora E. Larabee Facebook pages.  There's a Paypal link on the Legacy page. Or contact the library if you have questions about donations. You can also email them at preservingnoraslegacy@gmail.com.


During this National Book Month, I thought I'd take the opportunity to recommend a few more books. As I've mentioned before, it's always a little risky to recommend books. What I like to read may not appeal to you - and visa versa. And that's OK. At my age, I've come to the realization that if I don't like a book, I'll stop reading it and start another one. So many books ... so little time.

The River We Remember is by William Kent Krueger. I probably liked two of his other books - This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace - a little better than this one. But I enjoyed this one, too. It's set in 1958 in a small Minnesota town located alongside a river. A local man is murdered and another is arrested for the crime. But does the local sheriff have the right person? Why won't the man proclaim his innocence. Who is he protecting? Just like the river, there are undercurrents of the past and the present in the lives of the people in the community of Jewel, Minnesota, including prejudice, post-traumatic stress disorder from the war and other scars from their pasts. I loved this summary in the epilogue: "Our lives and the lives of those we love merge to create a river whose current carries us forward from our beginning to our end. Because we are only one part of the whole, the river each of us remembers is different, and there are many versions of the stories we tell about the past. In all of them there is truth, and in all of them, a good deal of innocent misremembering."

ANYTHING by Fiona Davis. My sister, Lisa, who shares similar taste in reading, suggested The Spectacular by Fiona Davis. I read - and enjoyed - that book in September, which featured Radio City Music Hall, and then went in search of other books by Fiona Davis, and I have loved them all so far. Since that first suggested book, I've read four additional Fiona Davis books. They all have an iconic building as their centerpiece. They also have two story lines from two different time periods that eventually intertwine.  
Since I'm writing about the library today, I'll start with The Lions of of Fifth Avenue, which featured the New York Public Library. One of the women was a librarian's wife and essayist in 1913, Laura Lyons. The other portion of the story deals with Laura's granddaughter in 1993. 

The Masterpiece was about Grand Central Station. One portion of the storyline deals with Clara Darden, who teaches at the
Grand Central School of Art in the 1920s, unusual for a woman of that day and age. The other - set in 1974 - tells the story of Virginia Clay, a recent divorcee who ends up working in the dilapidated Grand Central Station information booth. 
I've also read The Address and The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis. I think I have two more Fiona Davis books to read until I'm fresh out. I hope she's working on her next one.

Change of Plans was a light read by Dylan Newton. In it, chef Bryce Wetherford suddenly becomes guardian to her three young nieces. She moves to a new town and meets Ryker Matthews, who lost his leg at war and now runs an auto mechanic shop. It's a light, funny, romantic comedy that reads really quickly. 
I've enjoyed other books by Shari Lapena, and Everyone Here is Lying is no exception. The town of Stanhope seems to be a great place to raise a family. But Avery Wooler, age 9, is missing. Her father - William Wooler - seems to be a family man, but he's been having an affair. William isn't the only one on his street hiding a secret. Who took Avery? There are lots of twists and turns in this domestic thriller. 
I've also enjoyed several books by Matthew Quirk this year, including The Night Agent. I guess there's a Netflix show based on this book, but I don't have Netflix so I can't speak to it. I can speak to the ability of Matthew Quirk to write fast-moving thrillers. An FBI agent's reputation is tainted by his father's legacy. Peter Sutherland's dad was suspected of selling secrets to the Russians. Still, Sutherland is given a job in the White House Situation Room. Can Peter uncover a Russian mole that's been hiding in plain sight in the upper echelons of the American government before it's too late? Quirk's books are fast-moving conspiracy thrillers with lots of action.
If you have books you've enjoyed, please let me know. I'm always in the market for a good book.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

We Like Ike


I might have my native Kansan card revoked. I've lived in Kansas my entire life, but I'd never been to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene. I must have passed the billboards advertising it hundreds of time as we've traveled down I-70 to go to Manhattan and beyond for school, ballgames and family time.

We finally changed that on a recent trip to Topeka. Randy had visited as a child with his parents. That's been a year or two ago - give or take a few decades. 

Randy & me in front of Eisenhower's boyhood home.

Like Randy and me, Ike was proud to "come from the very heart of America." But this Kansas boy became the 34th president of the United States, serving from January 20, 1953, to January 20, 1961. He was the only 5-star General to become president. The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is one of 15 Presidential Libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Ike grew up on the "south side" of the tracks in Abilene. However, his humble beginnings served him well. He was born October 14, 1890, to David and Ida Stover Eisenhower. As one of the displays says, the Eisenhower parents "lived in piety and Christian service, brought sons into the world, and taught them the ways of righteousness, of charity to all men and reverence to God."

Ike was the third of six surviving brothers  - Arthur, Edgar, Roy, Earl & Milton. (Another brother, Paul, died as a child.) All the brothers were successful adults. The youngest, Milton, served as president of his (and our) alma mater, Kansas State University. He later went on to serve as president of both Pennsylvania State University and Johns Hopkins University. Milton was Ike's closest confidant during his presidency. Milton also served Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. 

This photo of Ida reading a letter from Ike is in the front entryway of the home.

The boys credited their mother, who they called "the greatest personal influence" in their lives. She filled them with ambition and raised them to value learning, discipline, service and hard work.

The boys didn't get to spend much time in the parlor.

His boyhood home and the furnishings are just like when the Eisenhower's lived there.

With six growing boys, I'm sure this bread box for mixing and proofing dough got plenty of use from their mother.

Next stop was the museum.


Dwight D. Eisenhower from a small town in the middle of the country was selected as a West Point cadet. As one of the displays said:

Eisenhower's intelligence and determination placed him on a path that led to the center of world events. He helped save the world from tyranny and set it on a course of peace and prosperity that endured for decades. Eisenhower not only came from the heart of America - he defined it.

This table was where Ike and other Allied leaders planned Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. The success of the operation ultimately shortened the war against Nazi Germany. Ike worked tirelessly revising invasion plans and preparing the millions of troops for the liberation of Europe.

When Randy was a boy, he had a couple of favorite displays at the museum. One of them was Eisenhower's staff car.

General Eisenhower used several different cars over the course of World War II. The 1942 Cadillac Fleetwood was used by Ike during and after the war. Although there are many pictures of Ike visiting troops, there are few of him with his staff car for personal security reasons. It was refurbished and presented to him as a gift in 1957. 

Before we even got to Abilene, Randy said he remembered a display of jeweled swords. We found these. (In Randy's "little boy" mind, he remembered more swords and more heavily bejeweled.)

Eisenhower's success on the battlefield introduced him to the world stage and ultimately gave him the name recognition and popular standing that helped him win the election as President of the United States.


President & Mamie Eisenhower

Though that name recognition and reputation may have been forged in war, Eisenhower was an advocate for peace.

After 40 years of military service, Eisenhower devoted his presidency to waging peace. He strengthened the nation through alliances, promoting prosperity and demonstration moral leadership. He consistently sought peaceful positive alternatives to military action. In doing so, Eisenhower helped to established the post-war order that guided American policy for more than 60 years. The Eisenhower Administration become known for its eight years of peace and prosperity. (From a museum display)

He promoted the nation's economic well-being by improving the movement of goods (national highway system), the social safety net, funding research and development, balancing the federal budget and creating new opportunities for all Americans. 

During his presidency, the percentage of American households with cars increased - from 40.3 million cars in 1950 to 61.7 million in 1960.  In 1950, only 8 percent of American households had a television, while that number increased to 87 percent in 1960. With the GI Bill, many more Americans were able to afford family homes. 

Eisenhower left the presidency in 1961 at the age of 70. From Eisenhower's farewell speech:

The world will soon be yours ... Approach your task with boldness and hope and the joy of challenge in your hearts and with the dedication to freedom and human dignity, for this is the only route to peace with justice. Good luck then ... I, for one, believe in you.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In addition to the regular museum displays, there were some temporary exhibits. Randy and I especially enjoyed a display featuring Paint By Numbers creations. I suppose it's because we remember the kits from our childhood.

Even the White House was involved in the fad. Eisenhower's appointment secretary, Thomas Edwin Stephens, secretly handed out kits to Cabinet members, government leaders and visitors. He collected the resulting paintings and created a gallery of them in his office and around the West Wing. Aware of Ike's fondness for painting, the exhibit was a surprise gift.

Randy thinks this dog paint by number painting was in his childhood home growing up. 

By his brother, Milton

By J. Edgar Hoover

In addition to the paint by numbers, a few colleagues and friends did their own freehand paintings.

I think the paint-by-numbers display is only available through December. 

Our final stop was the chapel where Eisenhower is buried.  Eisenhower hoped that visitors would reflect upon the ideals that made this a great nation and pledge themselves again to continued loyalty to those ideals.


I loved the reflection of the stained glass windows on the wall as we departed from the chapel.

It seems the world could use a dose of Eisenhower's ideals these days. We could have spent more time there, but we had an important volleyball game to get to in Topeka. Perhaps we will make another stop. We would recommend it.