The Story of Kansas

150 years of statehood: Events statewide will celebrate Kansas

In big and small ways, Kansans will be invited next year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the state. Nothing will be as lavish as when our neighbors to the south — Oklahoma spent $60 million — celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2007; or when Minnesota celebrated their 150th in 2008 with a $1.6 million budget or Oregon in 2009 with their 150th with a $2.5 million.

There is no money in Kansas' budget for any state-sponsored events.

"There are no funds. It just couldn't happen given the economic climate, everything is grassroots," said Bobbie Athon, public information officer at the Kansas State Historical Society.

Instead, most of Kansas' celebrations will be at the local level celebrating the spirit and passion of Kansans.

"We approached the 150th as more of a grassroots commemoration instead of a big event," said Tracy Quillin, director of communications with the Kansas Humanities Council.

Concert, other events

One of the more ambitious projects is from a group of Kansas musicians and artists who are putting together the Kansas Home on the Range 150th anniversary concert, scheduled for 2 p.m. March 13 at Hutchinson's Historic Fox Theatre.

The show will later be broadcast on Kansas public television and radio stations throughout the year. Tickets for the March 13 performance will be between $20 and $25 and go on sale Jan. 2 at the Fox Theatre box office.

"Everybody that we have talked to about it has been just thrilled," said Roger Ringer, a cowboy poet and singer and an owner of the Bunkhouse at Wildfire Ranch near Medicine Lodge.

Almost all the musicians are members of the Western Music Association and include the Diamond W Wranglers from Wichita and the Prairie Rose Rangers from Benton.

And although the show will tell the story of Kansas through its 150 years, it will have decidedly western overtones because Kansas was, after all, significant in the Old West.

"Kansas is home," said Topeka musician Judy Coder, who grew up in Wichita and will be performing at the concert. "It has a special feel, I think. As Kansans, we have a special tie to the land — even though some of us may not consider ourselves rural people."

Other aspects of commemorating the state's anniversary include the U.S. Postal Service issuing a 150th Kansas stamp, and, in July, a vintage Santa Fe steam locomotive will be chugging a path on the Amtrak route from western to eastern Kansas on its way to a celebration on railroading in Rock Island, Ill.

Why the train?

"Because the Santa Fe Railroad started in Kansas and has become one of the two largest railroads in the United States," said Dave Webb, historian and assistant director at the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City.

What's planned

The Kansas Humanities Council has produced a Film Lovers Program available for communities to check out and use in exploring topics like 'There Is No Place Like Home' to examine Kansas as a sense of place and what it means to be a Kansan; and "As Big As We Think," about Kansans who had big ideas and big dreams.

It has also put together a statehood speakers bureau commemorating the birthday of the state exploring both the popular and little known aspects of the state's history.

Some events in the coming year will be visual, as simple as the Kansas Department of Transportation posting blue signs at 20 of the entry points in Kansas welcoming travelers and saying "Kansas 150th anniversary — Jan. 29, 1861 to Jan. 29, 2011."

Kansas Lottery tickets will also take note of the sesquicentennial.

There will be a special Kansas Day program held at the state Capitol in Topeka on Jan. 28 — and because of limited access, the 30-minute program will be live-streamed over the Internet.

A two-day Kansas Day program Jan. 28-29 will be held at the Kansas Museum of History.

All state historic sites will have Kansas Day programs.

The Kansas Department of Education is developing civics lessons for grades K-12 to use with the program.

The Kansas Museum of History in Topeka will open an exhibit on Jan. 28 titled "150 Things I Like About Kansas."

It will feature 150 objects, images and documents about Kansas exploring the 34th state's themes through: the Wizard of Oz; weather, the Wild West, wheat, sunflowers, landscape, people and past state celebrations.

The state travel and tourism department has unveiled a website of sesquicentennial events planned throughout the state:

The website offers tips for communities in planning their own celebrations, a calendar and planning ideas.

"What we are hoping with the website we created is have communities look at their own resources and focus on this monumental anniversary, either creating new ones or enhancing the ones they do annually," said Mary Madden, statewide coordinator of the Kansas 150th.

Throughout the year, merchandise will be available for Kansans to purchase their own 150th anniversary T-shirts and key chains, lapels, coins and medallions.

"Anyone can use the logo to create their own items if they want to," said Joy Brennan, program coordinator for the Kansas State Historical Society. "The logo is for public use."

Why celebrate

In the past, when Kansans celebrated the state's centennial in 1961 or even the territorial centennial in 1954, Kansas men grew beards and the women donned ankle-length dresses.

There will be decidedly less of that in 2011.

In public meetings held in Topeka last year, participants were asked to voice their thoughts on how to commemorate the anniversary.

Participants said they wanted both a grassroots approach and to include as many cultures as possible in commemorative events across the state.

"When people are looking at the sesquicentennial they are looking at the complete heritage of the state," said Bob Keckeisen, museum director for the Kansas State Historical Society. "Back in 1961, people focused on the pioneer heritage and so there was a lot of beard growing and prairie dresses. But now, we are looking at our diverse heritage."

And in the beginnings of statehood — 150 years ago — it was place for people of all faiths and cultures to call home.

"You can't beat Kansas," Dodge City's Webb said. "This was the place where people wanted to go — where Abraham Lincoln even said he wanted to come."

Before the Civil War, Kansas territory was where all the national turmoil took off in tornadic form.

It sparked the Civil War when it became the 34th state accepted into the Union on Jan. 29, 1861.

"They talk about tornadoes as when warm air collides with cool air, "Webb said. "Well, this is where people who thought that everyone could live free collided with people who believed one race could own another."

And after the war, Kansas was a place where people of all faiths, colors and cultures came and settled.

"Kansas' geographical position is the center — the heartland of our country," Webb said. "It has long been a crossroads. It has an impact on the country even now as people go through it on their way to somewhere else."

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