Video celebrates oral history of Obama’s Kansas family roots

More than seven decades have passed since Stanley Dunham and Madelyn Payne signed their Augusta classmates’ yearbooks. Nearly eight decades have passed since Madelyn attended Garfield Elementary School.

Many of their classmates have since died – as have Stanley and Madelyn.

Yet the handful that do still survive remembered them Sunday in a video presentation as good people.

That’s one reason more than 250 people came together Sunday to listen to “From the Flint Hills of Kansas to the White House,” a celebration of memories by friends of Stanley and Madelyn Dundham, grandparents of President Obama, and to hear other stories of Butler County’s 1930s-40s history. The celebration was sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council, Central Kansas Community Foundation, the Augusta Historical Society, Butler County History Center, Butler Community College, Wichita State University Department of History, the Augusta Public Schools and El Dorado Public Schools.

Since January 2009, a nonpartisan committee has been working to record the oral history of President Obama’s Kansas roots.

When Jackie Vietti, president emeritus at Butler Community College, welcomed guests at Garfield Elementary School on Sunday, she told them this was a project that mattered.

“Individually and collectively, if we do not capture, honor and celebrate our roots, we will never be as good as we can be in the future,” Vietti said. “We did not intend to write the history, but we did intend to capture it, to honor and remember to celebrate a Kansas president’s heritage that ties directly to Butler County. We want to educate and inspire our children so they can learn from a president’s heritage as well as their own that they can do and be anything when they grow up. It is important for us to tell the world our Kansas roots matter and we are very proud of them.”

Many of the stories from people featured in the video Sunday are on the website created by the project,, such as Anna Margaret (McCurry) Wolf, a third cousin of Obama’s.

Wolf, who died earlier this year, described how one family ancestor shook President Abraham Lincoln’s hand and how her grandfather’s family was attacked by Missouri bushwhackers during the Civil War. Her grandfather’s 10-year-old brother was shot and killed. Bushwhackers also placed hot coals in his infant sister Mary’s eyes, causing her to go blind, then burned the family’s house.

Although Obama never lived in Kansas, his grandfather did – Stanley Dunham grew up in El Dorado, working hard as a child and doing odd jobs to help bring in extra income. His mother, Ruth, is buried in El Dorado’s Sunset Lawn Cemetery.

Obama’s grandmother Madelyn Payne grew up in Augusta. In the video, her friends remembered her as smart and sincere.

Stanley and Madelyn married on the night of her senior class prom, not long before the United States entered World War II. Stanley joined the Army after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and Madelyn began working at Boeing.

Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann, was born in Wichita on Nov. 29, 1942.

As the video ended Sunday, Jay Price, history department chairman at Wichita State University, said it was important that events like Sunday’s were the beginnings of conversations, not endings.

“This is a good reminder for all of you students right now at Garfield Elementary to pay attention,” Price said. “You never know if your friend who is standing next to you in the lunch line, if that person who sings with you in choir or sits in the desk next to you, might end up being president of the United States – or the grandparents of a president of the United States.”