The Great Overland Station in Topeka is one of the best renovated train depots in Kansas.
When it opened in 1927 as a Union Pacific passenger station, it afforded both luxury and space. But then, similar to what happened to many stations across the state, it fell into disrepair and ruins.
Nearly 10 years ago, it reopened as an “ecumenical train museum,” said Beth Fager, the museum’s campaign director. It tells the story of famed restaurateur Fred Harvey and other types of railroading history.
But it is also telling the story of Kansas and is home to the Kansas Hall of Fame.
This year’s inductees, who will be honored Friday, are Superman; the rock group Kansas; James Naismith, the man who invented basketball; Drs. Charles, Karl and Will Menninger, founders of the Menninger Clinic; and the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.
In 2011, when the state of Kansas had done relatively little to celebrate its 150th anniversary as a state, the museum board took on the task of recognizing famous Kansans.
“Some of them were like, ‘Isn’t there already a Kansas Hall of Fame?’ ” Fager said. “But there wasn’t.
“There is a Business Hall of Fame, a Greyhound Hall of Fame, a Sports Hall of Fame and even a Teacher’s Hall of Fame. But where do you put the Dwight David Eisenhowers and the Amelia Earharts?
“We have per capita more famous people who have done good in this world than any other state. So, the board jumped on it and went, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”
The Kansas Hall of Fame exhibit room is eclectic. Inductees are chosen on the basis of their geographic location in the state, diversity and fame.
“We want to make sure we are representing the different areas of the state, different fields of endeavor and how much they have broad appeal,” Fager said.
“Superman may not have been born in Kansas but truth, justice and the American Way certainly were,” she read from one of inductee poster boards.
People can nominate potential inductees by going to the museum’s website, www.greatoverlandstation.com. The website is also where people can go to find out more about past inductees.
“There are some nominations we haven’t used,” Fager said. “It doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future.
“It is hard not to nominate just Topeka people because there were so many of them. But Wichita, we really want to get some of the aircraft people honored. And then there are the cattle drives, the wheat industry, Emmett Kelly, Gordon Parks and Langston Hughes. Kansas is so rich.”
Fager said they try to have at least one living inductee in each class. This year, it is the nine members of the rock group Kansas.
“And, of course, Superman, although he is fictional, lives on,” she noted.
Deb Bisel, a Kansas history writer who serves on the museum’s committee, said each year’s inductees are part of a temporary exhibit and then become listed in a small permanent display within the museum. What’s more important, Bisel said, are the inductee stories.
“We are writing a curriculum for high school students,” Bisel said. “We don’t want to duplicate what the Kansas State Historical Society is doing. They have created curriculum packets for primary and middle school-age kids.
“But the real dearth of information for Kansans is for high school age where we can encourage leadership and entrepreneurship skills.”