Explorer Research Voyage

September 25th, 2012 at 11:35 am


Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

2012 Kansas Notable Book Award winners


Sometimes the evening news from the Statehouse discourages me. I hope for and expect better things for Kansas than are sometimes decided for us.

I had been feeling down, so I was delighted recently to get a positive jolt of Kansas from two of our state’s shining stars.

I’m talking about Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant. Marci directs the Kansas Sampler Foundation headquartered at Inman; WenDee is the assistant director.

At the Kansas Book Festival in Topeka on Sept. 15, I spent the afternoon with them. Marci was a speaker at the festival, and she was also there to receive a medal. Her “8 Wonders of Kansas” was selected as one of 15 winners of the 2012 Kansas Notable Book Award.

“8 Wonders of Kansas” is a gorgeous guidebook which includes photographs by Harland Schuster. It offers Kansans 216 fabulous places to visit in the Sunflower State.

Several years ago, the public voted on not only the 8 Wonders of Kansas, but also on the 8 Wonders of each of the following elements: architecture, art, cuisine, commerce, customs, geography, history, and people. The results of that contest became her award-winning book.

Speaking at the festival, Marci told about a Kansas Wonder in Harper, a red fish atop the town’s water tower. She said that a few Harper residents were surprised that attention was being drawn to their weather vane which had been in place since 1887; they had simply forgotten about it being there.

“You stop seeing what’s right before your eyes,” Marci said.

And that’s a goal of the Sampler Foundation, to get people to see and appreciate the big and the little things that make Kansas unique.

Marci talked about the Holy Cross Church in Pfeifer in Ellis County, a building that has been closed as a church, but the community keeps it open to the public because they’re proud of it.

“It’s just beautiful,” Marci said. “It’s called the ‘two-cent church.’ It was built in 1918 and every farmer was charged two cents per bushel of wheat to pay for it.”

“Our work with the Kansas Sampler Foundation has shown us that there’s an audience that loves these small and interesting things around the state,” Marci said. She mentioned the Kansas Explorers Club, a group of people who revel in these often-unrecognized treasures.

I visited with Marci and WenDee about their next book, an update to the 2005 Kansas Guidebook for Explorers.

Marci visited the 627 incorporated towns in the state and compiled that 2005 guidebook about things to see and do and eat in Kansas. In the intervening years, businesses have closed and have opened, and fans have requested an update.

Over the next couple of years, Marci and WenDee will be visiting 626 incorporated towns (we’re down one town, Treece, in southeast Kansas). They will research cafes, small town museums, and odd “explorery things,” as Marci likes to call them.

They started this new adventure in June in a vehicle dubbed ERV, Explorer Research Voyage. Midway Motors of south central Kansas provided the car.

“We’re looking at even deeper layers than we did before,” Marci said.

WenDee said that in Linn County they came across a hand-made sign which noted the birthplace of Enos Mills, the Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.

In Geary County they were inspired to track down a nearby Indian monument. “We were eating at Stacy’s, which is in an old Valentine diner in Grandview Plaza, and saw a picture of it under the glass on a table top,” Marci said.

With some help, they located the statue. “It’s an Indian monument on a hill,” she said. “It was put up in 1920 in a pasture that doesn’t have a fence. It’s been vandalized and is in pretty poor condition. A man had put it up there to honor the Indians.”

“It’s a concrete statue and you can see the rebar and red paint (from the vandalism) and it’s almost symbolic of what (the Indians) have been through. And because it’s in a remote area, it was one of those things that was kind of goosebumpy,” she said with a smile.

I feel better about the state when I focus on the interesting and unusual things that Kansas offers. It helps that Marci and WenDee are unwavering in their efforts to find and hold up these good things for all of us to see.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

**Follow along with Marci and WenDee on the ERV blog.

**Check out the Support ERV page to learn how you can sponsor a day of research.



columns, Kansans, Kansas Explorers, life on the ground, other people's stuff, small towns, traveling

  1. heineken160
    September 25th, 2012 at 21:21 | #1

    Sorry I couldn’t attend the Kansas Book Festival this year. Last year was absolutely great because two of my friends, Beveley Buller and CHERYL UNRUH, received the 2011 honor.

    Marci and WenDee are helping to let Kansans rediscover Kansas. This is good.

  2. cheryl
    September 25th, 2012 at 21:44 | #2

    Thanks, Roger. 🙂

  3. Wendy Devilbiss
    September 26th, 2012 at 09:01 | #3

    Thanks for the tune-up! Kansas is a wonderful place; blessed to have people like you who show us!

  4. Greenseeds
    October 1st, 2012 at 08:35 | #4

    Love following the ERV team! I’ve been jotting down a list of new places to explore in KS. Forgotten about Enos Mills birthplace, will have to check that out. Thanks for the article.