Explorers Visit Howard
Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
EXPLORERS VISIT HOWARD
Every hour on the hour, Howard residents can hear the ringing of the courthouse chimes.
It wasn’t always so.
The Elk County Courthouse was built in 1908 with a clock tower – but funds ran short, so instead of inserting a real clock, four clock faces were painted on the building’s tower. The time was right twice a day at 12:50.
“It was always lunchtime,” Shirley Black said of the fake clock. Residents decided to get time moving in Howard; the community raised money. They put four glass clock faces in the tower with metal hands that actually move. The clock chimes on the hour and can play tunes including patriotic and Christmas melodies.
Shirley Black and other Howard residents spoke to more than 60 Kansas Explorers Club members on the courthouse lawn Sept. 5 at a BYLOC (Bring your own lawn chair) gathering in Howard.
These occasional BYOLC events showcase small Kansas towns which have taken their destinies into their own hands, towns in which the residents work together to keep their communities energized and viable.
Laura Fry, the Elk County Economic Development and Youth Coordinator, spoke of a new fitness center. The community was able to purchase 30 pieces of used commercial exercise equipment for only $1,000 from the town of Cherryvale.
“And businesses in our community, without even being asked, came forward to pay the first six months’ rent for the (fitness) building,” Fry said.
Also, Fry mentioned that a $90,000 Heritage Trust Fund grant has been awarded so the county can put a new roof on the courthouse.
Pharmacist Julie Perkins told the Explorers that she’s a hometown girl who left Howard in 1987 to attend the University of Kansas. At that time, she had no intention of ever returning to Howard to live. After college, she landed a job in Hutchinson.
But after two years of working in the corporate world, Perkins jumped at the chance in 1995 to purchase the town’s pharmacy (with soda fountain), Batson’s Drug Store.
“It seemed natural to move back,” she said. That move has allowed Perkins and her husband to raise their daughters in a small community.
Meanwhile, in 2004, the grocery store in town closed which meant that residents would have to drive 30 minutes to Eureka or Sedan or 45 minutes to Winfield or Independence to purchase food.
Rather than let the town go without, Perkins decided to take on the grocery business. They added space, shifted the pharmacy around, and put in a meat counter.
Perkins told the audience that on weekends she hauled her daughters “to the city” to buy groceries for the store. After two years of that time-consuming venture, she was thrilled to have a large enough food order so that groceries could be delivered to her.
“In 2006, we finally got our first grocery truck,” she said.
They’ve recently purchased an adjacent building and will move the gift shop and soda fountain over to make more room for groceries.
Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation added, “For Julie to even get the grocery truck to stop, she has to buy $7,500 worth of groceries a week.”
And yes, that $7,500 is a weekly commitment. The town has about 750 people and she draws some customers from the outlying area. For her store to stay in business, area residents have to support the Family Market. And they do.
Explorers were told of other businesses and attractions: Poplar’s Pizza, Toot’s Drive-In, a soap maker, a downtown seamstress, a convenience store.
The American Legion is almost finished with the Veterans Memorial. Plans are developing for the renovation of the historic Howard National Bank building. Explorers were encouraged to investigate the city lake with its WPA structures as well as Hubbell’s Rubble, Jerry Hubbell’s colorful welded characters displayed along K-99.
Howard may appear to be a sleepy little town, but there’s positive action afoot here. Residents can smile and remember that fact each time the courthouse clock chimes.
Copyright 2009 ~ Cheryl Unruh
See photos of the Family Market in Howard.
Snoopy and Woodstock by Jerry Hubbell.
Public Art in Howard, Kansas, along K-99.