Miner told the history of Kansas

09/14/2010 12:00 AM

09/14/2010 2:37 PM

Almost anyone who has a love for Kansas history knows the work of Craig Miner.

There wasn't much Dr. Miner, Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History and past chairman of the department of history at Wichita State University, didn't tackle.

From railroads, oil, entrepreneurship, technology, Civil War and pioneer stories, he passionately wrote the history of Kansas — all told, more than 40 books.

Dr. Miner died Sunday. He was 65. The service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. James Episcopal Church, 3750 E. Douglas.

"There is nobody close to him in stature or recognition," said Jay Price, director of the public history program at WSU. "He helped define Kansas' understanding of itself for a whole generation and for Wichita.

"He was... the go-to person for anything about Kansas history."

News of his death spread through history circles Monday with as much devastation and suddenness as the Kansas prairie fires he often wrote about.

"Western Kansas has lost an important part of its historical voice," said Dave Webb, historian and assistant director at the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City. "His 'West of Wichita' and 'Next Year Country' are great documentaries on a section of the state that often receives short-shrift by political and financial interest in eastern Kansas."

"I'm just devastated," said Wichitan Ann Garvey, whose family considered Dr. Miner a family member.

The Garveys and Miners were friends for more than seven decades, and they endowed Dr. Miner's chair at WSU.

Jean Garvey, the matriarch of the Garvey family, has known him from birth.

"Craig was such a lovely person, a talented gentleman, and the students really had a lot of respect for him," Jean Garvey said. "He made life interesting. He had a good eye for what would be interesting to other people."

Dr. Miner was born in Wichita on Oct. 12, 1944. He attended Minneha Elementary School and was a 1962 graduate of Southeast High School.

He went on to receive his bachelor's and master's degrees from WSU and his doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1970.

On Saturday — the day before Dr. Miner died — Fred Woodward, director of the University Press of Kansas, drove to Wichita to deliver a hard-bound copy of Dr. Miner's latest book, "A Most Magnificent Machine: America Adopts the Railroad, 1825-1862." The book will be released in five weeks.

Family members held the book up to Dr. Miner as he lay in his hospice bed and riffled the pages so he could smell the ink, said Suzi Miner, Dr. Miner's wife of 43 years.

"In my 40 years in scholarly publishing, I have run across only a handful of scholars who could match the breadth and depth of Craig's research capabilities, and even fewer who equaled his productivity," said Woodward, whose company published eight of Dr. Miner's books.

"Kansans have lost someone who spent a magnificent lifetime in explaining where we live, who we are, and how we fit into the world. We are bereft — it's a loss that will not be easily filled.''

Indeed, few people could rival the awards and honors Dr. Miner received in a career that spanned more than four decades.

He received the Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History in 1986; the Public Humanities Award in 1987. His "West of Wichita" book was listed by Choice magazine as a best academic book and received the Lyon Award from the Kansas Authors Club for best book in 1988.

In 1988 he received the Kansas Preservation Alliance Award for his work in regional history, the Governor's Aviation Honors Award in 1995 for his book "Borne on the South Wind" and a Notable Kansas Book award from the Kansas Center for the Book at Kansas State Library for his "Next Year Country."

He was a member of Wichita's first Historic Landmark Committee and a past president of the Kansas State Historical Society. More recently he was a board member of the Kansas Humanities Council.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Miner is survived by his sons Hal of Portland, Ore., and Wilson of San Francisco, as well as his sister Gay Schwery of Johnstown, Colo.

Memorial gifts may be made in Dr. Miner's name to St. James Episcopal Church, 3750 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS 67208; or to Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice, 313 S. Market, Wichita, KS 67202.

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