First published in The Emporia Gazette November 22, 2005

farm and livestock



by Cheryl Unruh


Winona, Clyde, Otis.

Mankato, Milford, Minneola.

Name any one of the 627 incorporated towns in this state and Marci Penner could respond, “Been there, done that.”

After two years of touring, Penner, of Inman, compiled a book that reveals the unexpected charm and wonder found in Kansas.

The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers has more than 400 color

Cover of the Kansas Guidebook for Explorers

photographs and offers 3,597 entries which describe places to go and things to experience. The book includes local art and customs, architectural and historical highlights.

To write the 432-page travel guide, Marci Penner didn’t just sit in her house and call chambers of commerce to ask, “What’cha got in your town?”

Nope, she wore out a car in the process. And a few tires.

“One day in the Flint Hills I went through three tire changes,” she told me.

Penner wandered around every single dusty town within the Kansas borders--and some unincorporated communities as well. Not every town made the book, but most are mentioned.

She visited with independent grocery store owners and listened to their stories of financial struggle. Penner stopped in post offices and antique shops. And she browsed menus in countless small-town cafes and ate home-baked pie at their Formica countertops.

Marci Penner

Penner, who directs the Kansas Sampler Foundation, wants Kansans to be as excited about exploring the state as she is.

The foundation’s mission is to preserve and sustain rural culture.

The Kansas Explorers Club, an offshoot of the Sampler Foundation, was formed to provide a way of uniting and communicating with those who appreciate the state.

Explorers Club members take it upon themselves to support rural communities by choosing to dine in small-town restaurants, and by purchasing such things as gas, groceries, and even postage stamps in these tiny places.

To appreciate small towns, you learn to love the details.

A photo in the book shows the metal wheat shocks that decorate light poles in Ellinwood.

Street signs in Bison, are in the shape of, well, a bison.

In Norwich, Rowdy’s, a convenience store, is housed in an old Valentine diner building.

When telling about McLouth, Penner mentions Granite Street. “There’s no warning sign, no caution light, just a big glacial boulder parked in the middle of the road. You’re welcome to stand on it, kiss it, take pictures of it! It’s one of the darnedest sights you’ll ever see.”

The caption under a photograph of an oddly shaped and cleverly painted water tower reads, “It’s supposedly a water tower in Narka—or is it an alien spaceship?”

“I wasn’t expecting the humor factor to be so prevalent,” Penner told me, “but there were some funny things along the way, from hilarious signs to ‘attractions’ like a shoe tree near Wetmore or the twine paintings in the store windows in Cawker City.”

While gathering information, Penner traveled 40,124 miles. She prefers dirt to pavement and topping her list of favorite roadways are “the road through the Arikaree Breaks north of St. Francis” and “the dirt roads in Barber County.”

When asked what characteristic best describes Kansans, Penner

said, “Independent.”

And what one thing does she think that every Kansan should


“I think I’d recommend that every Kansan go to the cabin north of Athol where Brewster Higley wrote the words to the song that ecame known as Home on the Range,” she said.

In her introduction, Penner describes The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers as her “love letter to Kansas.”

That, it is.


Marci Penner will sign books at Town Crier Bookstore in Emporia n December 10 from 10 a.m to noon. For more information, go to:


Home on the Range Mural

Home on the Range mural in Emporia.

Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh




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Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh

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Text by Cheryl Unruh | Web Design: Dave Leiker
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