President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be an official U.S. holiday in 1863, and in 154 years the holiday has evolved into turkeys, football and the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season. But what has remained largely unchanged is the opportunity for family and friends to gather and be grateful for what they have in their lives.
In Wichita, we have much to celebrate and recognize. We are a big city with small-city attributes. We have kind, generous people who take pride in their community, making it a place where people arrive to work, then stay to raise families.
A look at some other blessings this Thanksgiving:
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Wichita continues to be a city swelling with pride. Our 80-year-old city flag is enjoying its resurgence through murals, T-shirts, possibly a license plate and, well, flags. Our city has its challenges, but Wichitans seem to have the spirit that’s ready to battle them.
The number of chronically homeless people in Wichita is dropping through work by the city, Sedgwick County and private agencies that provide assistance and shelter. Chronically homeless dropped from 92 people in 2015 to 39 this year. The police department’s Homeless Outreach Team is charged with helping homeless Wichitans find assistance that includes temporary and permanent housing. In July, the team helped a 90-year-old World War II veteran who said he had been living in his car for almost 29 years.
The community continues to be charitable. United Way of the Plains said preliminary figures for this year’s campaign show roughly $13.5 million in donations and pledges, with corporate contributions still being tallied. That’s up 3.6 percent from last year. United Way funds more than 30 local nonprofits that assist residents.
Can the end of tax cuts be a blessing? Depends on the taxpayer. Kansas lawmakers put an end to Gov. Sam Brownback’s four years of tax-cut policy with an override of his veto to a bill restoring some taxes. The bipartisan override, helped by the election of more moderate Republicans in 2016, signaled Kansans were done with Brownback’s experiment (parts of which are now being championed in Congress). Public school districts saw more money from the state, though not enough to please the state Supreme Court. Stay tuned.
We can be vocal, and recent protests have had an effect. Wichitans were heard when it came to a major redesign at Naftzger Park, and the city put the project on hold before a developer last week pulled plans that would’ve created funding for changes. The community has made it clear that it wants a say in the future of Century II and the city’s convention and fine-arts center, and those against a Tyson Foods poultry processing plant are being loud and clear in their opposition.
Police and fire departments continue to keep Wichitans safe, and they come through particularly around the holidays. Officers and firefighters visit children’s hospitals with gifts, collect donations for food banks and conduct other community service efforts.
When Wichita’s Advanced Learning Library opens next year at Second Street and McLean Boulevard, it will be a destination spot for readers and many others. It’s being billed as having triple the technology of the current downtown library, plus faster internet speeds, a café, auditorium and genealogy pavilion. The children’s section will be the double the size.
None of us are enamored with construction cones, reduced-speed zones and tight lanes, but construction on Kellogg has us ever closer to a safer and non-stop journey across Wichita. The rebuilt interchange at I-235 and Kellogg will be a fix that has been needed for decades, while ongoing construction east to K-96 will continue to lead us to a day – 2021 at last estimation – when the city limits can be traveled at full speed without stops.
The NCAA Tournament will make its first stop in Wichita in 24 years. First- and second-round games will be March 15 and 17 at Intrust Bank Arena, putting an exclamation point on a college basketball season that will keep excitement at a high with Wichita State’s top-10 team in the national rankings. The Shockers won’t play here as a regional host, but the Kansas Jayhawks, with another strong season, should be a likely high seed at Intrust. KU hasn’t played a game in Wichita since 1992.