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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Parade part of fest celebrating Kansas' 150th anniversary

BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle

In a year when the economy is down, budgets have been cut and Kansans are weary of a hot and dry summer, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Kansas feels hard to do.

But there's a band of Kansans about to do just that. For them, it's about the can-do spirit, raising money and finding enough volunteers to throw the state a birthday bash.

On Oct. 8, the Kansas 150 Festival will kick off with a parade through downtown Wichita.

The town of Glasco in Cloud County is creating a float about its 1914 to 1916 Red Line Basketball Team. The team was formed to bolster support for the highway that passed through town, which followed the historic Red Line Division of the Midland Trail.

The team painted red stripes on telephone poles during the day and played basketball at night to earn money for travel and paint.

The highway is now known as U.S. 24.

The National Park Service is creating a float about its five park sites in Kansas.

The people connected with the Home on the Range cabin in Smith County are working on a replica of the cabin to carry in the parade.

Caldwell residents have a miniature saloon float with children playing gamblers and cowboys.

Former residents of the tiny town in Radium in Stafford County are creating a float that notes two historic events: the first hot lunch program in Kansas and the site where Harvey Firestone first tested rubberized tractor tires on the sandy soils of a nearby farm.

"We are getting entries from all over the state," said Marci Penner, executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation near Inman, which promotes rural culture and is one of the organizers for the celebration.

"These little towns are showing that they are still standing. That they are still here and have a story to tell."

The parade, Penner said, came about last spring when a group of civic leaders organized the Kansas 150 Festival as a way to honor the state's history and celebrate Kansas' sesquicentennial.

"If we don't have a statewide parade and celebration for Kansas it would be a shame," Penner said.

Last year, officials with the Kansas State Historical Society said there were no funds in the state's cash-strapped budget to hold a lavish festival. They invited Kansans to mark the occasion with local, privately funded grassroots celebrations.

That's exactly what the Kansas 150 Festival is. Business and civic leaders from across the state are hoping to secure corporate sponsors to finance the cost, which could exceed $100,000.

"This is a great opportunity to be part of the sesquicentennial — and to do it in Kansas' largest city," Penner said. "This is a huge audience and an opportunity to tout your town and attraction to the largest audience possible."

The Kansas Sunflower Parade through downtown Wichita will lead to a historical encampment and fair held at Kennedy Plaza at Century II, where there will be booths of food, arts, Kansas attractions and cultural products.

The festival will conclude with a "Kansas: Home on the Range" concert that afternoon with more than 60 musical performers telling the history of Kansas in song, poetry and video.

The October date coincides with a League of Kansas Municipalities conference and the Prairie Fire Marathon. Both take place in Wichita that weekend.

The festival is being led by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who is president of the League of Kansas Municipalities.

Although the parade registration deadline is Friday, Jan Hiebert of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau said that if people can't make that deadline they can call her "and I'd be willing to work with them and extend the deadline."

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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