Evelyn Neier was a girl growing up in Garden Plain when Kansas turned 100 years old in 1961. She remembers parades and pageants and souvenirs and what a big deal it all was. Five or six years ago, she started collecting memorabilia from that centennial celebration. She dusted off the stuff that belonged to her family, and to the family of her husband, Bob.
She started scouting antiques stores in Wichita and elsewhere in the state, and typed the words "Kansas centennial" into eBay every now and then. Her intent: to use the collection, including serviceware, at a party celebrating Kansas' 150th birthday.
The party is tonight. The KU-K-State basketball game will be on TV, pieces of a Kansas jigsaw puzzle will be set out on a table, and Evelyn Neier will serve Kansas wine, Kansas soda, Kansas cider and Kansas beer in Kansas Centennial glassware.
"I've been warning people for years that I was going to do this," says Neier, who lives in Wichita these days and whose menu will also include Manning's chili from Wichita, elk sausage from Alta Vista, cheese from Alma, and a cake made by her Wichita cousin Alvina Tull in the shape of a sunflower.
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While the 1961 celebration reflected a lot on Kansas' pioneer years, Neier's party will in great part be a reflection of 1961. Some of the retro partyware bearing centennial marks: flocked paper coasters, frosted glasses, black metal serving trays, tumblers in a wire carrier, snack sets (plates with an indentation for a teacup), wheat-stalk salt and pepper shakers, a tablecloth and ashtrays.
Neier may or may not wear her gold centennial earrings and bracelet. Probably not the centennial apron.
It's a good thing she's having her party. The state, for budgetary reasons, is leaving a lot of the sesquicentennial celebrating up to private initiative. (A website, KS150.kansas.gov, is a place to plan, post and find information about celebrations.) There's no statewide ball, such as the semicentennial one in 1911, from which Neier has a dance card. Nor are there yearbooks or travel guides such as were published in 1961, touting "colorful pageantry and exciting special events in each of the 105 counties... elaborate stage shows and spectaculars."
Back then, Neier remembers, "everybody had a parade, and men grew beards and mustaches, and the women had old-time gowns and bonnets.... It was a big deal." There was a pageant on West Kellogg between 119th and 135th streets, and inside the building where Paramount Antique Mall is now, there were booths where you could buy centennial memorabilia.
By contrast, Neier has bought an ornament and a lapel pin that the Kansas State Historical Society is selling for the sesquicentennial, but so far hasn't found much else commemorating the milestone.
"There isn't the hoopla this time. I regret it for the kids," she says.
Still, the sesquicentennial only kicks off today, so there's plenty of time for some fun.
Neier will send her guests home tonight with a packet of sunflower seeds as a party favor.
"My personal goal this year is to encourage everybody to grow sunflowers this summer. They're so cheap to grow —everybody can afford a dollar-or-less packet of sunflower seeds. And they're very easy. I would just be excited if everybody blanketed the state with sunflowers as their own little way of celebrating statehood."