First published in The Emporia Gazette May 10, 2005

Sculpture of William Allen White


by Cheryl Unruh

My own introduction to Mary White and her father was the 1921 editorial that is inscribed at the White Memorial in Peter Pan Park.

William Allen White's moving eulogy for Mary has been widely published; it was even printed in school books. For many people that editorial is their only connection to White and Emporia.

On a trip that White took with his wife Sallie to Puerto Rico, hundreds of children gathered around.

"They wanted to see the man who wrote 'Mary White,'" Sallie White later told journalist Eric Schroeder.

On Saturday, Emporia will honor her favorite son with the dedication of William Allen White's home, Red Rocks, as a Kansas State Historical Site.

This is a big deal.

We are preserving Kansas history. And with a state historic site, Emporia gains a prominent cornerstone that will pull tourists into town.

The William Allen White Community Partnership Inc. is working alongside the Kansas State Historical Society to open White's home to the public.

I recently discussed some of White's history with Roger Heineken. He heads the marketing committee for the partnership and is fascinated with the details of White's life.

"His career was so vast and he was engaged in so much that there is a lot of trivia," Roger said.

"William Allen White is like a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle," he said.

As editor of the Emporia Gazette, White grabbed national attention in 1896 with the publication of his editorial, "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

White brought A-list visitors to Emporia. Notable guests to Red Rocks included well-known writers and six Presidents: McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and Hoover.

"How could he maintain an international and national career from Emporia?" Roger asked. "Because the main line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway ran through town."

"Emporia was a crossroads," he said, adding that the famous people "didn't 'fly over' us then; they came 'through us.'"

Roger shared a few tidbits about White's life:

White was born at 628 Merchant, just up the street from the site where, in 1900, he built new offices for the Emporia Gazette.

"Teddy (Roosevelt) stopped there (at the White home) at least three times," Heineken said, "That's why their dog was named Teddy."

White was on the original board of judges for the Book-of-the-Month club.

In 1935, along with Albert Einstein, White was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University.

White's likeness appeared on a 3-cent U.S. Postage stamp in 1948.

Eric Schroeder, White's friend and fraternity brother in Phi Delta Theta, wrote in a 1968 article in "The Scroll:"

"I once observed to Mr. White that he must be proud of the title, 'Sage of Emporia.' He looked at me reflectively. 'That 'sage' stuff,' he remarked with some feeling, 'makes my teeth ache!'"

The country editor from Emporia made a splash on the national and international scene, but he stayed close to his roots.

"His editorials, those hometown ones, maintain a sense of non-celebrity to keep the readership in Emporia," Roger said, remarking that White would write about "somebody's zinnias down the street."

With the opening of his family home, the life and career of William Allen White will once again draw visitors to town.

"White has a lot of bricks that are milestones, but what I find interesting is the mortar between the bricks," Roger said.

"It's the little things along the way, the encounters that make him an interesting person."


Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh

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