Humanities Happenings–01/30-02/01

This weekend’s Humanities Happenings features the kick-off of the long-awaited “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” traveling exhibition!                  Hometown Teams_Title Treatment_color_FNL

Ellinwood: Sports Heroes Off the Field

The “Hometown Teams” Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition explores the ways sports build and unite communities. The enthusiasm and dedication of fans, athletes, and coaches bonds us across time, cultures, generations, and geography.

By engaging with photographs, audio and video clips, and hands-on components, visitors to the Hometown Teams Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition will learn how sports continually shape American culture and society. From the little leagues to the big leagues and everywhere in between, sports are a significant part of our national narrative.

“Heroes on the Sideline” local exhibition features Ellinwood sports fans and boosters. January 31st at Ellinwood Community Library  Click here for details.

William Clyde Brown

William Clyde Brown

Stafford: The Grapes of Wrath

Forced from their Oklahoma farm by the Dust Bowl, the Joad family sets out for the promised land of California. As they travel across the country, joined by other migrants, they confront an America deeply divided between rich and poor. 581 pp. February 1st at 1:30pm at Stafford County Historical and Genealogical Society. Click here for details.

Explore KHC’s events for the month of February here.


Humanities Happenings — 01/23-01/25

A diverse, engaging set of humanities happenings make for a lively weekend in Kansas!

Thomas Prasch

Thomas Prasch

Madison: Arab Spring and After

In 2010 most Americans were surprised by the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Many Westerners hoped the events would lead to democracy and social change in these countries, and long-term rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were ousted. However, years later only minor reforms have taken place in other countries, and a full-scale civil war has developed in Syria. This talk explores what led to the Arab Spring, the course of events since then, and the potential for further change in the Middle East. January 24th at 3:00pm at Madison Public Library. Click here for details.

Great Bend: Reflections on Water

“The Waters of Kansas–Cheyenne Bottoms” is the first of several short documentary films that explores the state’s complex relationship with our world’s most important resource. After the film, Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager for the Nature Conservancy will lead a discussion about the film and Kansas’ water issues. The documentary series is funded by the Kansas Natural Resource Council (KNRC) and a KHC Humanities grant. January 25th at 2:00pm at Fort Hays State University, Kansas Wetlands Education Center. Click here for details.

Erika Nelson

Erika Nelson

Beloit: Legend of the Tall Tale

Johnny Kaw shaped Kansas’ landscape with his oversized scythe. Lonesome cowboys first sited the mythical Jackalope while riding the range. This lecture will explore the roadside monuments devoted to our fantastical legends, from the Sasquatch of Washington to the Hodag of Wisconsin and the many commemorations of Paul Bunyan around the country. Our legends reflect our culture, growing out of geographically specific lore, while engaging in a favorite American pastime of Tall Tale telling. This presentation examines the origins of the legends, the people who crafted them, and how they reflect the regions they inhabit. January 25th at 2:00pm at Mitchell County Historical Society. Click here for details.

M.J. Morgan

M.J. Morgan

Newton: Lost (and Found) Towns

Kansas has nearly 9000 disappeared towns and communities, caused by its unusual and spectacularly fast settlement history. The variety of town types–from colony and end-of-line towns to cumulative and rural communities–is as striking as the stories they left behind. Kansas towns are diverse and contain vital human histories of failure and persistence against the odds. This talk will explore research conducted on lost Kansas places and discuss problems of recovery of information. January 25th at 2:00pm at Walton United Methodist Church. Click here for details.


Topeka: The Joy Luck Club

One of the four Chinese members of the Joy Luck Club has died, and her daughter June must now fulfill her mother’s lifelong wish. Her journey brings the other members to an unexpected confrontation with their pasts and with their American daughters. 288 pp. January 25th at 3:00pm at Aldersgate Village in Topeka. Click here for details.


Jim Gray

Jim Gray

Belleville: Life on the Range

The early days of ranching and trail driving required stamina and determination. The drover of yesteryear had little choice but to face the elements placed before him if he was to get his wild cattle to market. A thousand miles on the trail brought him into contact with all that nature could throw at him: lightning, flooded rivers, hail, tornadoes, and stampeding cattle were constant challenges. Today’s massive beef industry owes its beginnings to the men and women who were bold enough to “head ’em up and move ’em out.” Explore this exciting story of cowboys, cattle, and the steak on your plate. January 25th at 2:00pm at Belleville Public Library. Click here for details.


More events can be found on KHC’s Calendar of Events.





They Also Serve who Watch and Cheer: Ellinwood’s Heroes on the Sidelines

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, opening in Ellinwood on January 31st.

The Zahn Hall of Memories is just one way that Ellinwood's heroes on the sidelines have honored their hometown teams.  Image Courtesy Ellinwood School & Community Library.

The Zahn Hall of Memories is just one way that Ellinwood’s heroes on the sidelines have honored their hometown teams. Image Courtesy Ellinwood School & Community Library.

In sports, athletes understandably get the lion’s share of the glory. But especially in small towns, where everyone feels like part of the team, players aren’t the only people who become sports legends.

In the central Kansas town of Ellinwood, the folks lining the sidelines are equally important. And now they’re the focus of Ellinwood’s Hometown Teams exhibit.

“We wanted to recognize the contributions of these unsung heroes…because they helped to shape our successes and who we are as a sports community,” said Sharon Sturgis, Ellinwood School and Community Library’s Hometown Teams Host Site Project Director.

Sideline heroes aren’t necessarily lifelong Ellinwood residents, just people who love the town’s teams. Nick Loburgio fits the bill. He married into the community and quickly became one of its own, serving on the school board and coaching town baseball and basketball teams.

But to generations of Ellinwood sports fans, he’s best remembered as the high school football announcer—a position he held for more than 40 years. Win or lose, the “Voice of the Eagles” signed off after each game by reminding listeners, “Folks, drive to arrive alive, and don’t do anything ol’ Nick wouldn’t do!”

LeRoy Zahn wasn’t a native of Ellinwood, either, but he too became a proud adopted son of the community. He was a particularly devoted fan of local sports, working track meets, keeping score during basketball games for 15 years and running the clock at football games for 46 years.

LeRoy also assembled a collection of photographs of all of Ellinwood’s athletic teams, captioning each one with team members’ names, season records and highlights. When he retired, he donated the collection to the Ellinwood School System, where it now forms the Zahn Hall of Memories.

Many of the photographs on display in the Hall of Memories were taken by Fred Meyer, another of Ellinwood’s heroes on the sidelines. His enjoyment of photography led him to serve as the high school’s sports photographer for many years.

As an Ellinwood High School junior in 1939, Fred volunteered to keep statistics for the football team. He kept it up for the next 50 years, recording every play in detail for the coaching staff. He did the same for the basketball team, operating the electric scoreboard while he kept track of the Eagles’ point totals over the next five decades.

Another iconic figure in Ellinwood’s sideline sports history is Henry “Hank” Denker. Born and raised in Ellinwood, Hank was an enthusiastic member of the pep band until he was in his early 80s.

For about 60 years, Hank could be seen at every home football and basketball game, playing his drum alongside generations of Ellinwood high school students and inspiring the home crowds with his dedication to Ellinwood sports.

Unsung heroes like these men are important to the community, Sturgis said: “They don’t ask for credit. They don’t get the fame and glory of competition. They just loyally do their best to help and support. And they do it over and over, week after week.”

Both the Hometown Teams traveling Smithsonian exhibition and Ellinwood’s exhibit about heroes on the sidelines will be on display at Ellinwood School and Community Library at 210 N. Schiller Ave. from January 31 through March 15. For more information, contact (620) 564-2306.

A Slam Dunk Device

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

Without Ken Mahoney's innovation of the breakaway rim, Wayne Selden couldn't thrill crowds with his dunks. Image Courtesy Lawrence Journal-World/Nick Krug Photo.

Without Ken Mahoney’s innovation of the breakaway rim, Wayne Selden couldn’t thrill crowds with his dunks. Image Courtesy Lawrence Journal-World/Nick Krug Photo.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to have an impact on the game you love.

Dorrance native Ken Mahoney knew that well. Casual basketball fans might not recognize his name, but he had a hand in inventing two devices that profoundly shaped the way the game is played today.

Ken and his brother, Elmo, together invented the “Toss-Back,” a net stretched over piping that allowed players to pass the ball into the net and have it tossed back to them so that they could work on passing and catching drills. Mahoney was inspired to create the device during his time playing at K-State under then-assistant Tex Winter.

Mahoney’s greater contribution, however, is one that he technically isn’t credited with inventing—the breakaway rim.

In the 1970s, dunking in the NBA and NCAA was a fairly rare practice because it was too easy to shatter backboards with the net rim. Several companies, including Mahoney’s, were invited to pitch rims to the NBA that would solve the problem. Mahoney pitched his now-familiar design, which uses a coil spring to let the rim pop back into position without applying pressure to the glass, and that was that.

Unbeknownst to Mahoney, however, Arthur Ehrat of Illinois had filed a patent for a similar device in 1975. According to Larry Weigel, though, “That didn’t matter because [Ehrat’s] model didn’t make the NBA’s final cut. ‘Ehrat didn’t have a workable rim, and we and another company made it to the finals…,’ said Tom [Mahoney, Ken Mahoney’s son].”

The Mahoneys’ design was the clear choice. But just to be sure, the NBA brought Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins in to test the new rim. Dawkins was known for shattering glass with his dunks. He couldn’t shatter this one.

Within a matter of years, Mahoney’s breakaway rims were in use in almost all basketball venues. Now it’s hard to imagine the game without them.

Talk about a slam dunk!

Humanities Happenings — 01/16-01/18

Keep reading for exciting Humanities Happenings to kick off 2015:

Human(ities) and Nature:

Come to Washburn University’s Mulvane Art Museum for the opening reception of Drift and Drag: Reflections on Water, an exhibit that explores the political, economic, cultural, and intellectual issues surrounding water. Components of the exhibit explore our earth’s most precious resource through multiple mediums including dance, photographs, videos, and a community engagement project. Over the next few months, Washburn University will also host several events related to the exhibit. The university’s Drift and Drag exhibit is funded in part by a KHC Humanities Grant. Reception begins at 6:00pm and admission is free.

Donald J. Blakeslee

Donald J. Blakeslee

Greensburg: Prehistoric Plains

This presentation looks at Kansas in the era before Columbus. Consider what was not here: no cities, no roads, no mechanization, no domestic animals other than the dog. It is easy to imagine that the small human communities that occupied Kansas for thousands of years would have existed in relative isolation, focused on hand-to-mouth existence–but nothing could be further from the truth. The prehistoric inhabitants of Kansas traveled widely, even to central Mexico; traded with the Pueblo people of the Southwest; and included people interested in such arcane subjects as meteors and meteorites and were part of a continent-wide intellectual tradition. January 17 at 6:30pm at Scout Cabin in Greensburg. Click here for details.

John K. Burchill

John K. Burchill

Stockton: Patrolling the Prairie

Kansas was once the center of operations for many organized bands of horse thieves. In reaction, many independent anti-horse thief societies were formed, with the national Anti-Horse Thief Association especially strong in Kansas. By 1910 Kansas held the most members, was home to The Anti-Horse Thief Weekly News, and consistently had residents hold offices in the national order. So effective were these organizations that local law enforcement were often the first to join, and the Kansas Bank Commissioner called for their assistance to help fight bank robberies that plagued the state. January 18 at 2:00pm at Rooks County Historical Society and Museum. Click here for details.




KHC Awards Veterans Grants to 17 Organizations

DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, U.S. Air Force. Source.

DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, U.S. Air Force. Source.

KHC recently awarded $14,420 in The Things They Carried Home grants to 17 organizations. Local contributions to the projects are estimated at $25,803.

Four organizations received Preservation Project Grants to preserve, document, and create access to military artifacts and archival materials:

RezVets, Leawood ($3,000)
“Writing My Way Back Home”
Writers’ workshops offer military veterans and their families an opportunity to document the veterans’ experience. Cindy McDermott, project director.

RSVP Four County, Independence ($2,988)
“The 1011th – A Story of Service Throughout the Years”
A project to collect and preserve the images of veterans who served with the 1011th Quartermaster Company Army Reserve during deployments in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Kathy Shephard, project director.



Solomon Valley–Highway 24–Heritage Alliance, Glasco ($2,950)
“World War II Veterans Memorial Highway: A Tour of Remembrance, A Corridor of Service”
A project to inventory veterans memorials and collections of veterans artifacts in museums located along the route of US 24 designated as the World War II Veterans Memorial Highway. Joan Nothern, project director.

Wamego Public Library ($1,582)
“Veterans Oral History Project Conversion”
The library will digitize and preserve over 50 oral history interviews of Pottawatomie County veterans. Kelley Nordberg, project director.

Thirteen organizations received $300 grants to host public community workshops, led by a preservation consultant, to help veterans and their families preserve uniforms, medals, letters, photographs, email correspondence, and other important items that soldiers carried home:

Abilene Public Library: Kristine Sommers, project director
Belleville Public Library: Leah Krotz, project director
Brown County Historical Society, Hiawatha: Eric Oldham, project director
Emporia Public Library: Lynette Olson, project director
Friends of Fort Scott National Historic Site: Reed Hartford, project director
Friends of the Valley Center Library, Inc.: Janice Sharp, project director
Kinsley Library: Joan K. Weaver, project director
Leavenworth Public Library: Kim Turner, project director
Lebo Branch of Coffey County Public Library: Mary Davies, project director
Mary Cotton Public Library, Sabetha: Kim Priest, project director
Overland Park Historical Society: Pat Crabtree, project director
Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library: Donna Rae Pearson, project director
Watkins Museum of History, Lawrence: Jan Shupert-Arick, project director


Athleticism with an Attitude: Women’s Roller Derby in Kansas

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, opening in Ellinwood on January 31st.

Women competing in roller derby leap over fallen competitors in 1950. Image courtesy of Al Aumuller, Library of Congress. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Women competing in roller derby leap over fallen competitors in 1950. Image courtesy of Al Aumuller, Library of Congress. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Salina Sirens. Capital City Crushers. Wichita ICT Roller Girls. Emporia Veteran City Rollers.

If these Kansas roller derby team names sound like punk bands, that’s probably intentional. The women who make up these teams are punk-rock tough.

15 years ago, roller derby was dead. Once a highly competitive sport that drew millions of spectators on tours across the United States and on television, by the late 1970s, roller derby elicited little more than “Remember when…?”

What a difference a few years makes.

Since 2000, roller derby has become a full-fledged women’s sports phenomenon that’s thriving across Kansas.

Governed by the rules set by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association, teams playing in more than 400 amateur leagues around the world come together to skate, block and jam their way to victory in fast-paced, hard-hitting bouts. As you might expect, injuries happen. But the athleticism involved in the matches far outweighs the violence.

During every shift, or jam, each team sends out three blockers, a pivot and a jammer to skate for up to two minutes at a time. The jammer’s job is to put up points by lapping members of the opposing team. The pivot is the strategist, directing play. And the blockers use their bodies to keep the other team’s jammer from getting through.

This highly collaborative sport fosters a sense of community in the women who participate. Many women say they love it because it lets them explore a different side of themselves alongside other women who are doing the same. In an interview in KANSAS! Magazine, Kym Bearden of the Salina Sirens said:

I was looking for something to add in my life for myself….A lot of the women on the team will tell you that’s why they do this. It’s a sisterhood; we can go out there and be all serious and knock each other down, but then as soon as that last half ends we’re all friends.”

Until the next bout starts, at least.

New stories of Kansas Hometown teams and hometown heroes will be posted on the KHC Blog each week through November 2015. You can also follow KHC on Facebook and Twitter to see the latest post

Reading the Signs

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, opening in Ellinwood on January 31st.

Luther Taylor, front left, with members of his baseball team in Winchester, Kansas. Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Luther Taylor, front left, with members of his baseball team in Winchester, Kansas. Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

It’s not unusual for athletes to let the referees know how they feel about a call—sometimes loudly. Passion is part of the game, so it takes something really out of line for a ref to eject a player for mouthing off.

Luther Taylor of Oskaloosa, Kansas, was as passionate a baseball player as any, but he got away with more than most.

Taylor, who played for the New York Giants and the Cleveland Bronchos between 1900 and 1908, was Deaf and mute. So when he insulted referees through sign language, they often didn’t know what he was saying.

But sometimes they did.

Taylor was once kicked out of a game and fined $25 for hurling some choice words at umpire Hank O’Day. O’Day, who had grown up with Deaf family members, promptly informed Taylor of his punishment—in sign language, which he spoke fluently.

Although Taylor was quick to have fun at the refs’ expense, the pitcher insisted on his teammates learning sign language so they could all speak to each other. In fact, he cut his single season with the Bronchos short because they wouldn’t bother to learn his language.

His teammates on the Giants, however, all learned sign language, which they used to their advantage on the field. According to Kevin Baxter, hand signals had been used in baseball for years. But the Giants were the only team that regularly used actual sign language, especially when Taylor was serving as base coach.

Following his retirement from baseball, Taylor coached for many years, including at Kansas State School for the Deaf in Olathe—the same school where he had been valedictorian.

Taylor proved successful as a coach, too. According to David Anderson, “One of his proudest moments came in 1945 when Dick Sipek played with the Cincinnati Reds. Sipek [who was Deaf and mute] was the first player to escape the ‘Dummy’ nickname”—an offensive nickname then common to non-hearing, non-speaking people, and one that Taylor had carried throughout his own baseball career.

New stories of Kansas hometown teams and hometown heroes will be posted on the KHC Blog each week through November 2015. You can also follow KHC on Facebook and Twitter to see the latest post.