John Reed McDonald – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, September 27, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the last of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

In order to appreciate the following story, one needs to consider these facts about craft beer and microbreweries in America:

  • Craft brewers are small brewers, as opposed to large well-known American brands such as Anheuser-Busch, Coors, or Miller.
  • The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
  • Craft brewers have distinctive, individualistic approaches to connecting with their customers.
  • Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism and sponsorship of events.
  • Craft brewers maintain integrity by what they brew and their general independence, being largely independent of outside corporate ownership.
  • Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.
  • The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

McDonald John May 2012 closeupIn the latter 1970s interest in local specialized beers, or craft beers, emerged in America.  Long an European tradition, craft breweries became popular in the 1980s as microbreweries and brewpubs sprang up across the country.  Only a very few ever managed to stay in business for any length of time.  That is what makes John McDonald’s story all the more remarkable.

John Reed McDonald was born in 1953 in Osborne, Osborne County, Kansas.  Sandwiched between siblings Carrie and William, John was the second of the three children of Bill Ray and Mary Jean (Hoffman) McDonald.  He grew up in Osborne and considered himself to be, as he puts it, “an average study, more interested in social endeavors and hunting quail than in books or formal learning.”  John and his friends did all the things normal boys did in those days – played PeeWee baseball, joined the Boy Scouts, and was a member of the football, basketball, and golf teams in junior high and high school.

McDonald John PeeWee baseball 29 July 1965 Osb Co Farmer pg 4 with x
Osborne PeeWee baseball team, July 1965.  John McDonald can be seen kneeling in the front row.
McDonald John Scout photo Osb Co Farmer 3 August 1967 page 1
John McDonald (with the “X”) working with fellow Boy Scouts to clean away storm debris. “Osborne County Farmer” newspaper, August 3, 1967.
McDonald John Osb Co Farmer 19 Sept 1968 pg 11
MEET A BULLDOG – John McDonald, Osborne High School Bulldog football team, “Osborne County Farmer” newspaper, September 19, 1968.
McDonald John Golf 1970 Swan Song pg 82 with x
John McDonald (right) as a member of the Osborne High School Bulldog golf team, 1970.


And drank beer.

John’s father indeed made, as John would later put it, “a little home brew which you know was more of a conversation piece than something good to drink.”  In fact adding a little tomato juice to it helped to get the potent stuff down.

“I grew up in a small rural town in Kansas.  Growing up in that small town, we drank beer.  The whole age thing wasn’t a big deal.  So by the time I went off to college in the ‘70s, drinking beer wasn’t really a big deal.  It was just part of life.” – John McDonald, as quoted in the story John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing,, November 22, 2010.

In the summer following his junior year of high school John’s family moved to Wichita, Kansas.  After high school graduation he followed in the family tradition and enrolled in the University of Kansas.  “It’s interesting because when I was at KU I really didn’t drink a whole lot of beer,” McDonald later recalled. “I had already gotten that out of my system growing up in Western Kansas and I knew I was going to flunk out of school if I partied too much.”

John graduated from college in 1976 with a fine arts degree and was awarded the Lockwood Scholarship for his promise in the visual arts.  John then spent several years traveling widely across Central and South America and taught for a time in Ecuador.  When he returned to the United States John bought a home in Kansas City, Missouri and started his own construction business, earning a living for the next fifteen years as a carpenter and cabinetmaker.  He became well known as a hard worker and a dedicated craftsman.  In the early 1980s John married Anne L. Blumer.  The couple has three children, Boulevard, Jake, and Piper.

It was when he and his wife won raffle tickets for a trip to Europe in 1984 that John’s eyes were opened to the vast number of beers available and the traditions small European brewers embraced.  John and his wife traveled extensively throughout the great beer-making regions of Europe, and he fell in love with the idea of small breweries making flavorful beers in a variety of styles for a local or regional market.

“I just fell love with English ales,” he later recalled. “Then when we were in Paris, I stumbled across a Belgian beer bar.  My wife would go to museums and I would go back to that bar every day. They had 400 different bottled beers from all of these different breweries.  I was just like, ‘Wow, this is crazy interesting.’”

Returning to Kansas City, John took up homebrewing in his woodshop and was soon fascinated with the small brewery phenomenon that was then sweeping America, with microbreweries suddenly popping up all around the country.  John decided that his interest in brewing was more serious than just a hobby and he put his career as a carpenter on hold.

“There was this guy that I was in art school with at college who ended up in the wine business.  I was always enamored of the wine business, but he kept telling me that I ought to open a brewery. You couldn’t start a winery in Kansas City, but you could open a brewery.” – John McDonald.

It also occurred to him that having a degree in Fine Arts was beneficial as a business owner.  The same qualities that made John a sought-after-carpenter made him a natural at brewing beer.  He was a process kind of person, and making beer isn’t that different from painting and carpentry.

In the mid-eighties John started looking into starting a craft brewery, one that made spec. He visited a lot of breweries in the central Midwest, gathering ideas and making plans. John had a friend who was a writer and he helped him write the business plan. Raising the money needed to get going wasn’t easy.  People kept wondering how he could possibly try to compete with that big brewery across the state in St. Louis.  No, he kept telling them, he wanted to produce an entirely different kind of beer on a much smaller scale.  For four years John met with dozens of bankers and a lot of disappointment.  He even sold his house to raise money.  By 1988 John had raised about $850,000 in capitalization, just enough money to start the brewery.  By then he was living and working in an old brick building on Kansas City’s Southwest Boulevard that had once housed the laundry for the Santa Fe Railroad. John moved his carpentry shop to a corner and began to build a brewery, using second-hand equipment that included a vintage 35-barrel Bavarian brewhouse.  The first keg of Boulevard Pale Ale Beer was pro­duced in November 1989.

The story of Boulevard’s first sale is now legendary in Kansas City business circles: how on November 17, 1989, the first keg of Boulevard beer was sold to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen, located just a few blocks from the brewery.  John McDonald personally delivered that half-barrel of Pale Ale in his pickup truck.  A handful of reg­u­lars looked on in amuse­ment as the young upstart tapped the strange new brew.  John’s product would do well at Ponak’s.  But it was often tough going elsewhere.

“It was grim in the early days in the Midwest trying to sell a better beer. I remember once I went into this bar called the Twin City Tavern. It was a real classic tavern. I went in at like eleven in the morning and there were three guys in there all drinking their twelve-oz pilsner, probably Busch. No head on the beer, because that would be cheating them out of some of the beer. So our sales guy said, ‘You know what, guys, I’m gonna buy you a beer. This guy makes this beer just five or six blocks from here. He’s working his ass off. He’s out here delivering beer at eleven in the morning. You should try one of his beers.’  So the bartender poured them all a Pale Ale. It looked great.  Had a nice head on it.  One of the guys wouldn’t even try it.  The other two guys took a little sip and then pushed the beer back across the bar to the owner.  And then they didn’t say anything.  So I went and picked up my little half-barrel keg.  There were probably 20 full Busch kegs there.  And as I was walking out the door one of the guys looked at me and said, ‘Young man, that is absolutely the worst beer I have ever had in my life.’  I ran out of there thinking, ‘What have I done?  I’m gonna go broke.’” – John McDonald, John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing.

When Boulevard Beer opened its doors it instantly became the largest brewery in Kansas City.  For the first year the brewery only produced draft beer.  After a lot more cajoling and pleading for money, a small loan was finally secured to install a used bottling line so Boulevard could start bottling its own product.

McDonald John Manhattan Mercury 3 June 1990 Page 39
John McDonald starts to get some press. “Manhattan Mercury” (Kansas) newspaper, June 3, 1990.

The original business plan called for someday selling 6,000 barrels a year.  By the third year sales passed 7,000 barrels, and continued to climb.  For the timing was perfect.  Boulevard was at the fore­front of America’s taste switch­ing from homogenous-tasting nation­ally dis­trib­uted brews to Pre-prohibition style craft beers with a local identity.

When John built the brewery deep in the heart of a century-old urban neighborhood, he hadn’t worried about outgrowing it. But it had happened, and a new brewhouse was needed.  This time around finding financing for the project was not a problem.  In 2006 a $25 million expansion brought a new building with a 150-barrel brewhouse, packaging halls, offices and hospitality spaces.  The addition of the new brewhouse increased the annual brewing capacity from about 140,000 barrels a year to almost 700,000 barrels a year.

Boulevard Brewery
Boulevard Brewery, Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri.
Boulevard Brewery night exterior
Boulevard Brewery at night. The operation runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Almost from inception, Boulevard has consistently been among the region’s fastest-growing companies.  Boulevard grew in double digits every year since opening in 1989.  The regional specialty brewery enjoys a strong reputation and an enviable market presence in its limited territory.  Revenues for 2009, at $26.3 million, were up nearly 12-fold from 1994.  About 35 percent of its sales are in the Kansas City market and 90 percent within a five-state area.  One Boulevard beer, their unfiltered wheat, is the company’s most prolific product and accounts for more than 60 percent of their business.

John McDonald’s success has not gone unnoticed.  In 2008 he was inducted into the Greater Kansas City Business Hall of Fame. And in 2012 Boulevard Brewing Co. was named the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year.  At the time it was noted that Boulevard controlled more than 5 percent of the Kansas City-area beer market, with 40 percent of its beer being sold locally. Boulevard reported 2011 revenue of $32.01 million, up 11.2 percent from 2010.  In presenting the award Jim Heeter, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, observed the following: “John exemplifies the three qualities needed by every successful entrepreneur — passion for what he wanted to accomplish, extreme attention to detail and remarkable perseverance.  Plus, John is someone who does a lot for the community in which he lives.”

John, along with other Boulevard colleagues, founded Ripple Glass in 2009 as a response to Kansas Citians throwing away some 150 million pounds of glass annually, 10 million of which were Boulevard bottles.  They built a $4 million state-of-the-art processing facility that took glass recycling from around 3,000 tons a year to up to 18,000 tons a year.  Since then, Ripple Glass has transformed the way Kansas City recycles: in just six years, Ripple Glass converted Kansas City’s glass recycling rate from just 3% to over 20%.  All of Boulevard’s beer is now bottled with recycled glass.

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A Letter from Boulevard Brewing founder, John McDonald

(Kansas City, Missouri) – Boulevard Brewing Company founder, John McDonald released a statement on Thursday regarding the sale of his majority stake in the company to Duvel Moortgat.

October 17, 2013

Dear Friends,

Almost 30 years ago, I was fortunate to spend time traveling around Europe with my wife, Anne Blumer. In each city I visited, one of my favorite adventures was trying different beers. I sipped bitter ales in England, spent my days in Munich drinking pilsners and wheat beers, but it was in Paris, in a Belgian beer bar, that I truly fell in love.

I will never forget the day. I walked into the pub, ordered a Belgian ale, and experienced what I can only describe as an epiphany. The beer was brilliant in color, with intensely floral aromas and a flavor bursting with joyous complexity. I went back day after day, sampling a wide array of amazing beers, and was hooked for life.

Last winter my wife and I returned to that same Parisian pub, and the memory of that long-ago experience flooded my senses. It has been many years since that fateful encounter started me on the path to brewing my own beer and founding Boulevard Brewing Company. At the outset, my goal was to make a beer as extraordinary as the Belgian ales I had so fortuitously discovered. With the help of my parents Bill and Mary and my wife Anne, Boulevard has grown into one of the largest craft breweries in the country, and my dream has become a reality. While I always say I don’t have a favorite Boulevard beer, I must admit that some of the Belgian ales in our lineup are as exciting to me as those beers I first tasted in Paris all those years ago.

I have long felt as though I have three children: Boulevard, born in 1989, Jake, in 1990, and Piper, in 1992. I’m not getting any younger, and the long-term future of the brewery has weighed on my mind for the past several years. After long discussions with my family, we determined that we wanted to find a way to take Boulevard to the next level while retaining its essence, its people, its personality – all the characteristics that make our beer and our brewery so important to Kansas City and the Midwest.

I am honored and humbled to announce that I have chosen Duvel Moortgat as the long-term partner for Boulevard. An independent, family-owned craft brewer spanning four generations, Duvel Moortgat produces world-class beers at several breweries in Belgium, and owns and operates Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. They bring to us an unparalleled depth of experience, strong resources, and an unwavering devotion to quality. Duvel Moortgat is committed to our people, to the expansion of our Kansas City brewery, and to growing Boulevard brands throughout the US and abroad. After spending a lot of time getting to know the company and its people, I am confident this is the right decision. We share the same values, respect each other’s achievements, and have the same obsession for exceptional beers.

Be assured that this is not goodbye. Although Boulevard is combining with Duvel Moortgat, I will remain closely involved, with a continuing stake in the business and a seat on the board. My commitment to sustainability initiatives will continue, as will Boulevard’s support of Ripple Glass, the glass recycling company I co-founded.

For now, all I can say is thank you. Thank you for making the last 24 years an amazing journey for me and the entire Boulevard family. We will continue to work hard to produce great beers, and to give back to the community. Ultimately, I am determined to make Kansas City even more proud of its hometown brewery, and our dedicated supporters delighted to raise a glass of Boulevard beer.

Cheers, John McDonald

Posted by Adam Nason

October 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm

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McDonald John 2012 with oak barrels of beer
John McDonald, founder and board member, Boulevard Brewing Company.

Boulevard Brewing Company is now the largest craft brewery in the Midwest and the 12th largest craft brewery in the United States.  It employees 125 people and is known both for its quality of product and its commitment to being an environmentally friendly company.  In 2017 its products were sold in 41 states and the District of Columbia, along with a global distribution in the following countries: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Outside of Boulevard and Ripple Glass, John has managed to keep himself otherwise occupied.  He has led in the redevelopment of Kansas City’s East Bottoms area and serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Kansas City Chamber Of Commerce.

John McDonald has come a long way from his days growing up in Osborne County, Kansas, and we look forward to watching his life’s tale continue to unfold, only now as a member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

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Boulevard Beer logo


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Boulevard Vamos Mexican Lager

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Boulevard Smooth-Fuzz

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Boulevard Silver Anniversary Ale

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Boulevard dark sour ale

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Boulevard 30th-Anniversary-Ale

2010 Dec 2 Boulevard Beer factory photo

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Osborne County Farmer newspaper, October 26, 1961; July 29, 1965; August 26, 1965; November 4, 1965; June 30, 1966; November 3, 1966; July 6, 1967; August 3, 1967; September 28, 1967; November 30, 1967; June 27, 1968; July 25, 1968; September 19, 1968; December 18, 1969; May 7, 1970.

Osborne High School, Osborne, Kansas, Swan Song Yearbook, 1968.

Osborne High School, Osborne, Kansas, Swan Song Yearbook, 1969.

Osborne High School, Osborne, Kansas, Swan Song Yearbook, 1970.

“Grin and beer it: Boulevard Brewing stays true to its vision in tough times, good times”. Champions of Business, June 3, 2007.

“Boulevard Brewery releases Pilsner lager”, University Daily Kansan, August 25, 2009. Twd8VZHO.dpuf

“Boulevard Brewing Co.”,, November 2010.

Agnew, Michael, “John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing”. November 22, 2010., “K.C.’s Boulevard Brewery comes of age”, The Booze Beat, December 2, 2010.

“Bob’s 47 and the story of Boulevard beer”., May 6, 2011.

“Cradle of Entrepreneurs Re-cap: John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Goes for Regionalism, Sustainability”., Thursday, August 4, 2011.

Johnson, Julie, “Pull Up a Stool with John McDonald Boulevard Brewing Co.”.  All About Beer Magazine, May 2012, Volume 33, Number 2.

“Boulevard Brewing wins Small Business of the Year from Greater Kansas City Chamber”,, May 23, 2012.

 Palosaari, Ben, “Boulevard hires new CEO; founder John McDonald stays put, teases Chocolate Ale’s 2014 return.”  This Week’s Pitch, Wednesday, September 12, 2012.

Nason, Adam, “A Letter from Boulevard Brewing founder, John McDonald”., October 17, 2013.


Staff, “Boulevard Brewing Co. and Duvel Moortgat USA to Combine.” All About Beer Magazine, October 17, 2013.

Strom, Stephanie, “An Ale Admired, Now Owned”.  New York Times, October 17, 2013.

“Profile: John McDonald”.


Gerald Jean Beisner – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, September 9, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the fourth of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

Beisner, Colonel (Ret.) Gerald Jean (Jerry) b

The Beisner family of southwest Osborne County can note with justifiable pride that there are now two members of the Beisner family honored in the Osborne County Hall of Fame, as 2002 inductee Louis Beisner is joined by military ace Gerald Jean “Jerry” Beisner, the newest honoree in the Hall’s Class of 2019.

Gerald, known as “Jerry”, and his twin sister, Geraldine, were born on September 30, 1923 in Salina, Kansas to Otto Louis Beisner and Nora Belle (Hogan) Beisner.  Their mother died in childbirth, and the infant twins remained in the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph at the hospital in Salina for a few months before being brought to Natoma, Kansas, in 1924.  There Gerald was reared by his mother’s brother, William Patrick “Pat” Hogan, and Geraldine was reared in the home of her father’s sister, Alvena (Mrs. Henry) Pruter.

Beisner Otto & Nora Belle Hogan parents of Gerald
Otto and Nora Belle (Hogan) Beisner, parents of Gerald Jean Beisner.  Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Beisner.
Hogan Home 1908 Gerald Beisner's uncle NE of Natoma FINAL
The Pat and Rose Hogan home northeast of Natoma, Kansas, as it looked in 1908.   They were already raising seven children of their own here when they took in Pat’s nephew, Gerald Beisner.
Beisner Geraldine Phillip & Gerald photo from Mark Marzec
Geraldine, Phillip, and Gerald Beisner.  Photo courtesy of Mark Manzec.

Jerry attended elementary school in Natoma and graduated in 1942 from Maur Hill High School in Atchison, Kansas.  He enrolled in Brown Mackie Business College in Salina prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army on April 1, 1943.  At the time of his enlistment Jerry was described as being five feet seven inches in height with brown eyes and hair, and weighing 150 pounds.  He was assigned to the U.S. Army Corps.  While training in Pensacola, Florida, Jerry met the love of his life, Bessie Melva Parrish.  They were married April 4, 1946, at Salt Lake City, Utah, and remained married for 62 years.  Together they raised four daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Bridget, and Arianne.

Beisner Gerald J WWI Enlistment Page 1

Beisner Gerald J WWI Enlistment Page 2
Gerald Beisner’s World War II registration card.

Jerry served throughout the remainder of World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War.  Jerry was a combat pilot, assistant operations officer and later assigned to 40th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, part of the 35th Fighter Group.  He was a Wing Director of Operations at MacDill Air Force Base and Tactical Air Command Chief of Safety at Langley Air Force Base in addition to countless other assignments.

Jerry served in Korea from October 1950 to March 1951, and in January 1952 he served as adjutant with the 120th Fighter Bomber Squadron.  He flew 127 combat missions in the Korean War.

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“A surprise visit from Captain G. J. Beisner gladdened his Salina relatives and friends on the weekend of March 28th.  He flew to Salina from Clovis Air Base, New Mexico, where he has been stationed with his family for more than a year with the exception of two months spent in Georgia at Woody Air Base where he attended school. Clovis is twenty-five miles distant from Portales, where Jerry and his family live.  In addition to his flying and his duties as an adjutant, he is taking a post graduate course at the University of Portales by attending evening classes.  Jerry now flies the newer type of Jet – the F-86 – but he flew to Salina in a P-51.  Well decorated with service honors, he remains the same modest, self-effacing youth known to his Natoma friends.” – Natoma Independent, April 16, 1953.

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In November 1956 Major Gerald J. Beisner became commander of the 355th Fighter Squadron, a position he held until September 1957.   In November 1965 Jerry entered a new phase of his career when he was sent to Vietnam as commander of the 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the second Phantom II F-4C jet squadron to be assigned there.  He flew 202 combat missions in the new jet, of which 35 were over North Vietnam.

Beisner Gerald C O 558 TFS climbs out of F-4 First Squadron to arrive in Vietnam Nov 1965 a
Arrival at CRAB L/C.  Gerald Beisner (left, in plane), commander of the 558 TFS [Tactical Fighter Squadron],  getting out of  an F-4 with Lt. Charles T. Jaglinski, GIB (right, standing). The 558 TFS was the first squadron of camouflaged fighters to arrive in Vietnam, in November 1965.  Photo courtesy of
Beisner Gerald Lt Col Commander 558 TFS Photo Oct 66 front 5th from left photo by George Devorshak
 The 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Photo taken in October 1966 in Vietnam.  In front row, 5th from left with the red “X”, is Lt. Colonel Gerald Beisner, Commander.  Photo by George Devorshak.

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“Lt. Col. Gerald J. Beisner, husband of the former Bess Parrish of Thomasville, has attained the rank of Colonel with the U. S. Air Force and has been assigned duty as director of operations and training for the 4453d Combat Crew Training Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona.

“A native of Salina, Kansas, Gerald enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 and has amassed over 4,500 hours flying time, 662 of which were in combat and nearly all logged in fighter aircraft.

“Colonel Beisner is in Tucson with his wife, three of their daughters, Mary, Bridget, and Arianne [Tinker Bell].  A fourth daughter, Elizabeth, is attending Mercer University, Macon.

“Mrs. Beisner and her children lived in Thomasville while her husband was in Vietnam.” – Thomasville Times-Enterprise, August 19, 1967.

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In the course of his 30 years in the U.S. Air Force Jerry earned the following medals and honors:

Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism with Oak Leaf Cluster

Air Medal with 15 Oak Leaf Clusters

Legion of Merit

Bronze Star

World War II Victory Medal

Combat Readiness Medal

Good Conduct Medal

Japanese Occupation Medal

Four stars for Korean service

Stripes indicating more than 100 missions in Korea

Sigmund Rhea Korean Presidential Unit Citation

U. N. Service Medal

Following his retirement from the Air Force in 1974, Jerry founded the market research firm Beisner Research Associates in Macon, Georgia, and continued in that business for approximately 30 years. In addition to his distinguished career, Jerry’s love and devotion to his wife, family and friends stand out as his greatest accomplishment.  Jerry loved his family and took great joy and pride in his daughters and grandchildren.  He was diligent in staying in touch with his much loved extended family of brothers and sisters, calling and visiting them and their families across the country.  He particularly adored his grandchildren and enjoyed being an active part of their lives following his retirement, taking them on vacations, helping with homework, teaching them to drive, and creating many cherished memories.

Jerry was blessed with a wonderful personality and keen sense of humor. He was gregarious, outgoing, eternally optimistic, and kind hearted. He will be dearly missed by his family and friends. The family wishes to express thanks for the many kind expressions of sympathy and the exceptional caregivers who assisted him in recent years.

Gerald Jean Beisner passed away on May 16, 2018, at his home in Macon, Georgia.

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Mary Ann Beisner, Natoma, Kansas

Clovis News-Journal, January 21, 1952, Page 2

Natoma Independent, Natoma, Kansas, April 16, 1953, Page 1

Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Thomasville, Georgia, August 19, 1967, Page 8 Utah, Select Marriage Index, 1887-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. 

US World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946


Vinnorma (Shaw) McKenzie – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, August 19, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the third of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

Shaw Elmer Franklin Vinnorma & Ida
The Shaw family of Downs, Kansas.  From left: Railroad engineer Elmer Shaw, son Franklin, daughter Vinnorma, and wife Ida.

Her unusual name, and then her talent, drew attention to her all of her life.  Vinnorma Shaw was born on September 27, 1890 in Downs, Osborne County, Kansas, to railroad engineer Elmer McKee Shaw and his wife Ida Vinnorma (Rudy) Shaw. The arrival of her younger brother, Franklin B. Shaw, four years later completed the family circle.  While still quite young “Norma” proved to have an innate gift for sketching and other artwork, and over the years her rising talent drew the interest of the entire community.

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“Vinnorma Shaw has demonstrated that she has much natural ability as an artist and her parents contemplate sending her to an art school when she completes her work in the Downs High School.  By all means, she should be encouraged with her drawing, for it is not only possible, but probable, that in a few years she will gain an enviable reputation as an artist, and command a good salary on the Chautauqua platform, should she desire that class of work.” – Downs Times, May 27, 1909.

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And so it was that after Vinnorma graduated Downs High School she enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she continued to excel in her studies and was duly invited to participate in the 1911 Lincoln Park Chautauqua, held just a few miles to the east of Downs.

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Vinnorma Shaw, Artist

“It is with no small degree and pride that we introduce this young lady for evening program at Lincoln Park, Wednesday, August 9th.  She is a Kansas girl who has developed a decided talent for crayon work, and for the last year has been in Chicago attending the Art Institute preparing to make this line of work a profession.  Many of our patrons have seen and heard Miss Shaw before she took up this work seriously, and they will no doubt be pleased to have an opportunity to congratulate her upon her advancement.  She has received several Honorable Mentions from the Art Institute for her work in both drawing and painting, and is exceptional serious and conscientious in her work on the platform.” – Osborne County News, August 5, 1911.

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Honor for Miss Vinnorma Shaw.

“Downs can well feel proud of the high success attained by one of our fairest young ladies, Miss Vinnorma Shaw, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw.

“In June Miss Shaw completed a three years’ course at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and graduate with high honors.  She then remained in Chicago and took up special work in the art line, just returning to her home here last Friday.

“The last of this week the young lady will go to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she has accepted a splendid position as instructor in the Manual Training high school of that place, one of the very best schools in the country. This position was secured on meritorious work, as the officials who employed Miss Vinnorma went to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and personally investigated with a view to securing an exceptionally good instructor, and we are sure they have made no mistake.  Miss Shaw’s work in drawing and art, and the high grades in her studies, coupled with her pleasing personality, proved a powerful magnet.  She had many other good offers but this seemed the most attractive and pays a high salary.

“We are very glad, indeed, to note the young lady’s progress and we trust she will continue till she reaches the highest pinnacle of fame. This is an age of efficiency and, it is pleasing to note that honest and hard work efforts are appreciated.” – Downs Times, September 3, 1914.

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She makes Art Pay in Chicago

“A Kansas girl who is attaining success in advertising poster work and commercial art is Miss Vinnorma Shaw, of Downs, Kansas. Miss Shaw has been teaching art in the [Technical] high school of Indianapolis. Indiana, but as a side line she does all the designing and poster work for the stationery find advertisements of the Missouri State Fair.

“Miss Shaw is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw, of Downs, and is a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the Chicago Institute and the Fine Arts School of Yale. She also holds a Master’s degree from Yale.

“During [World War I] she designed posters for the American Red Cross, and added not a little money to its treasury from the sale of several of her paintings. Miss Shaw has been doing the mechanical drawings for the Winchester Rifle Company, and has handled the Missouri fair work for two years. The Montana State Fair association has asked her for some posters.  She does the art work for several theatrical associations in the East, and for some time has done all the drawings for the Stafford Engraving Company of Indianapolis.

“Although she is at present making a specialty of poster work and artistic advertising, Miss Shaw’s exhibits of landscapes and portraits in New York and Chicago have won favorable criticisms. Miss Shaw’s secret ambition, which she admits reluctantly, is to illustrate a ‘Best Seller’.  Already Miss Shaw has broken into the magazine field, and has designed covers for ‘The Imprint’ and ‘The Horseman’, a sporting monthly.” – Topeka Daily Capital, August 15, 1920.

*  *  *  *  *  *

“Miss Vinnorma Shaw of Downs, who has won fame in New York art circles because of her ability as an artist, will be married at the home of her parents in Downs Saturday to John McKenzie of Michigan.  Miss Shaw has for a number of years been the instructor of art in the Indianapolis Ind., high schools, and continued her work in designing and painting besides.  She [has] designed all the advertising matter for the Missouri State Fair for several seasons.” – Osborne County Farmer, July 7, 1921.

*  *  *  *  *  *


“An unusually interesting home wedding was that which occurred at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw at eight o’clock on Saturday evening, July 9th, when the only daughter of the household, Miss Vinnorma Shaw, plighted her troth to Mr. John Harrison McKenzie. Only about sixty of the relatives and close friends of the bride were present, and the weather being very warm, the guests were seated on the lawn; and there in God’s out-of-doors, just as the setting sun had spread a glow of purple and gold over the western sky, the beautiful, sacred ceremony took place. [State] Representative Charles Mann, his wife accompanying him on the piano, sang the tender song, ‘I Love You,’ as the bridal party came down the stairs and stationed themselves against a lattice of vines and flowers. The bride, always beautiful, was charming in her gown of charmeuse satin and georgette crepe with decorations of iridescent pearl; while caught back from her face with a wreath of white roses was the filmy bridal veil. She carried a huge shower bouquet of bride’s roses, lilies of the valley and Maiden hair fern.  The bride was attended by her cousin, Miss Gladys Bottorff, gowned in rose taffeta and carrying pink tea roses. The groom, who met his bride at the improvised altar, wore a suit of white serge and was attended by the bride’s brother, Mr. Frank Shaw. The beautiful ring ceremony was used, and the solemn and beautiful service was read by the Rev. A. S. Hale, of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

“The festivities attendant upon the close of the ceremony were interrupted by the receipt of telegrams from the groom’s mother at Port Huron and Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lindley, of San Diego, California, offering long-distance felicitations to the contracting parties.

“The guests much enjoyed the delicious refreshments served by the Misses Violet Cushing, Margaret Tamm and Aveline Heshion, young neighbor girls who enjoyed the honor of assisting in this happy occasion.  The gifts from Downs and from abroad were exceedingly numerous, costly and beautiful.

“No finer girl has ever gone out from Downs than Miss Vinnorma Shaw.  She has made for herself an enviable record . . . During the war she designed posters for the American Red Cross, and added not a little money to its treasury from the sale of several of her paintings . . . Her exhibits of landscapes and portraits in New York and Chicago have won favorable criticism. She has also broken into the magazine field and has designed covers for some of the popular American magazines. But all the aforementioned are simply side lines. Her real job for the past six years has been teaching art in the high schools of Indianapolis, Indiana.

The groom, also, is not without his accomplishments.  He rose to the rank of captain in the World War, and is leader of the Boy Scout activities in his home town.  He is also identified with the Y.M.C.A. and in the Business Men’s Club of Port Huron.  The coming year he will teach mathematics, electrical science and athletics in the schools of Port Huron half of his time, and the remainder he will be busy representing the Toledo Scales Company.

“Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie left that night for the East. They will take a furnished cottage at Edison Beach, on Lake Huron for awhile, and in October will go to housekeeping in their own home at Port Huron, Michigan.

“Out of town guests at the wedding were: Mrs. Chas. Hoverfield, Indianapolis; Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Myers, Orange, Calif.; R. C. Young, Baltimore, Md.; Frank Shaw, Buffalo, Wyoming; Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Kaup, Portis; Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Mann, Osborne; Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Beatty, Osborne.” – The Downs News & The Downs Times, July 14, 1921.

*  *  *  *  *  *


Designs Poster for Missouri State Fair

(By Journal Correspondent)

“DOWNS, July 23.—Mrs. J. H. McKenzie, who until less than a month ago was Miss Vinnorma Shaw, is the designer of the beautiful poster that is being used to advertise the Missouri State Fair on its fiftieth anniversary. The porter combines, in striking effect, the spirits of the earliest Missouri and the modern hundred years-old commonwealth. The foreground of the poster is occupied by three figures. The foremost of the group is an Indian, seated and covered with a blanket of bright orange. Standing beside him is a Missouri pioneer, whose dull coon skin cap and leather suit speak the life of hardship and self-dependence which he leads. A woman, representing Missouri, is pointing out to the pioneer and the Indian a vision of the future Missouri, one in which characteristic buildings of the modern day are the central figures. Mrs. McKenzie has gained national fame as an artist, and her parents as well as the people of Downs are proud of her achievements. She became Mrs. John McKenzie August 9th and is now a resident of Port Huron, Michigan, where her husband is one of the teachers in the high school and is active in the business life of the city as well.” – Salina Evening Journal, July 23, 1921.

* * * * * *

Local Interest Adds Appeal To Michigan Art Exhibit Shown Here

“No previous art exhibition held during the past year by the Port Huron Art Association offers so much local interest as the one now open to the public in the public library, where 25 oil paintings lent by the Michigan Artists association are hung.

“Michigan is a picturesque state and her artists have found subjects of interest and beauty within her borders. The present exhibition also offers variety, much color and several pictures that border upon the modern method used with restraint and good taste.

“‘Sunshine and Shadow,’ by Mrs. Vinnorma McKenzie of this city is naturally attracting the major portion of interest. Mrs. McKenzie was formerly supervisor of art in the city schools and is widely known. Three of her canvasses were recently exhibited in Detroit and received much favorable comment.

“Her subject in the portrait on exhibition here is one of interest and character. It is a study of a doctor, she says, when he is off duty and is enjoying the out of doors. The figure is nearly life size against a background of trees and expresses, relaxation of manner with particularly keen expression of face. There is vivid color in the broad sun hat and blue shirt, the strong hands and green foliage.” – The Herald Times, Port Huron, Michigan, 14 March 1929.

*  *  *  *  *  *

On July 9, 1932, John Norman – or “Jack”, as he was most often called – was born in Port Huron, the only child of John and Vinnorma McKenzie.  Throughout the 1930s Vinnorma continued to teach in the local public schools and held private art classes at home.  She was considered a master in easel painting, printmaking, and graphic design and in the medium of lithography, and was admitted into the National Association of Women Artists.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Former Downs Girl Now Famous Artist

“At Port Huron, Michigan, all during at Port Huron, Michigan, all during December, Mrs. Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, famous artist, is showing her collection of paintings in an art exhibit at the Port Huron Public Library.  The showing opened December 5th and tea was served to 300 friends from 2 to 5pm in the hall where 48 of her canvasses were being shown.

“Mrs. McKenzie, whose maiden name was Vinnorma Shaw, was born in Downs.  She received the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts of Yale University, where she worked under Sergeant Kendall.  She has also studied at the New York Art Students Summer School at Woodstock, N.Y., and at the Chicago Alumni Summer School of Painting at Saugatuck, Michigan.  The past summer she has spent at Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she painted under the direction of Umberto Romano, a foremost classic modernist.  She has taught art in the Technical High School [at] Indianapolis [Indiana].  She has exhibited in New York, Indianapolis, Detroit, and in many of the larger cities in Michigan.  She holds memberships in the American Artists Professional League, Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, and the American Federation of Arts.

“Port Huron daily newspapers gave Mrs. McKenzie’s opening exhibit much space and the citizens of that city crowded to see the exhibits many of which were sold at fancy figures.  Osborne County people and especially her old schoolmates in Downs will be much pleased to hear of her success in the world of art.  Mrs. McKenzie’s mother, Mrs. Ida M. Shaw, is at Port Huron to visit with her daughter and attend the art exhibit.” – Osborne County Farmer, December 30, 1937.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Hundreds at Exhibit and Fellowship Tea

“Apparently the fellowship fund for women, supported by the National Association of University Women is the richer today for the benefit coffee sponsored Thursday in Public Library hall by the Port Huron branch of the association.

“Early in the afternoon a good number had already arrived, toured the hall where Vinnorma McKenzie had hung 71 of her paintings, lithographs and water colors, drunk their tea and departed; and folks kept arriving right through the evening hours, until time to close the library for the night.  There were about 300 in all.  Perhaps it’s not too much for a layman to say that Port Huron is richer, too, for the exhibit.

“It has been some years since Mrs. McKenzie has shown her pictures publicly here and in the meantime she has been winning honors among Michigan painters and has extended her technique both in oils and water color. Her paintings filled the walls and two or three screens about the room and the fragrance or steaming tea from the tea table plus a lot of chatter made a pleasant hubbub of the occasion.

“Mrs. Andrew Murphy, a charter member of the Port Huron branch, Miss Ellen L. Kean, state fellowship chairman, and past presidents of the local branch. Mrs. Albert Fenner, Miss Marjorie Muhlitner, and Miss Blanche Peters poured.  Miss Norene Bushaw, AAUW president here, received with Mrs. McKenzie, and Mrs. Lillian Forbes and Miss Jean Thompson and a large committee assisted. The exhibit will be open to the public until Jan. 15.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, December 29, 1944.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mrs. McKenzie Will Exhibit Paintings in New York Gallery

“Mrs. Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, local artist, and Mrs. Agnes M. Lindemann, Grosse Pointe artist, will leave Sunday for New York to exhibit their paintings, in the Argent Galleries.  The exhibition will formally open Tuesday with a tea, and continue through May 22.  Both artists will show 18 oils and eight watercolors each.

“Mrs. McKenzie is a member of the National Society of Women Artists, the Michigan Academy of Arts, Science, and Letters, and the Michigan Water Color society. She was a student of Umberto Ronano, Gloucester, Mass., and Yauso Kuniyoshi, Woodstock, N.Y.

“‘Picnic,’ a recent painting of Mrs. McKenzie’s has received acclaim as one of her best oils. It was exhibited at the Michigan’s Artists show in the Institute of Art, Detroit, and through special invitation was included in the ‘Detroit By Detroiter’s Show’ held at the Women’s City Club, Detroit.

“Another painting, ‘Memories’, is on display now in the Detroit Society of Women Painters show in the Scarab Club, Detroit.

“Mrs. McKenzie’s latest show in Port Huron was in December, 1947.  She and Mrs. Lindemann previously exhibited their paintings together in 1946 in the Scarab Club.

“‘Christ and the Penitent Thief,’ ‘Sun Through The Clouds’ and ‘Boats Moving Under a Bridge,’ all in abstract, and ‘Northwest Blow,’ ‘Sarnia Bay,’ ‘Emily’ and ‘Old Pot Belly,’ are some of the paintings Mrs. McKenzie will show in New York.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, May 7, 1948.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was a year after the New York show when Vinnorma, back working and teaching in Port Huron, began to feel unusually tired and weak.  Her husband John, now the dean at Port Huron Junior College, felt that she had been working too hard and suggested that he take some time off and they spend a few weeks together at their summer home on Lake Huron just north of Sarnia in Ontario, Canada.  But the change of scenery did not help and Vinnorma became worse.  She was taken to the nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sarnia, where she died within a few hours of her arrival.  She was 58 years old.  Her cause of death was diagnosed as leukemia.  A shocked and saddened Port Huron community joined Vinnorma’s family in mourning the beloved artist at her funeral in the First Presbyterian Church and later at a burial service in Port Huron’s Lakeside Cemetery.

At the time of her death Vinnorma was a member of the First Presbyterian Church; the auxiliary to Charles A. Hammond Post No. 8, American Legion; Port Huron Musicale; the Detroit Museum of Art Founders Society; the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors; the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters; the Michigan Watercolor Society, American Association of University Women, National Association of Women Artists, and American Artists Professional League.

*  *  *  *  *  *


Twenty Years Later . . . A Dream Comes True

“When leukemia claimed the life of artist Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, she took an unfulfilled dream with her to the grave.

“Today, nearly twenty years later, her works and influence live on in Port Huron and her dream of a permanent art center for the community is a reality.

“Next weekend a retrospective exhibition of her work will open in the St. Clair County Museum of Arts and History, Sixth Street, where her oil painting ‘Girl in Bohemian Costume’ hung for many years when the building housed the old library.

“The Kansas-born artist’s son, John N. McKenzie, owns the largest single collection of her work in both oil and water colors, but the pictures to be displayed have been borrowed from many Port Huron homes.

“The Museum Board of Trustees feels that the exhibition will be a tribute, not only to the artistry of Vinnorma McKenzie, but also to her influence in promoting art appreciation here. Many of her former pupils have continued painting as an avocation and have won honors in area exhibitions.

“The McKenzie exhibit will be held from September 7-22. A members’ preview and reception is scheduled from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, September 6, with the Women’s Association of the First Presbyterian Church as hostesses.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, August 30, 1968.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie continues to be an inspiration to artists from all over the Great Lakes region.  Both the St. Clair County Museum of Arts and History and the St. Clair County Community College Library have displays of her works.

McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw tombstone 2 Lakeside Cem
Grave of Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie in Lakeside Cemetery, Port Huron, Michigan.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A few of the paintings of Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie:

McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Light on Lilacs
“Light on Lilacs”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Boats
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Zinnias


McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Steamer Horuhic
“Steamer Horuhic”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Bend of the River
“Bend of the River”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Boat Passing Under Bridge
“Boat Passing Under Bridge”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Autumn at Klaineth Moor
“Autumn at Klaineth Manor”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Melting Snow
“Melting Snow”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Melting Snow signature
Artist’s signature

*  *  *  *  *  *


Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (Active before 1945), compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian, University of Kansas, August 2006

Who Was Who in American Art. Compiled from the original thirty-four volumes of American Art Annual: Who’s Who in Art, Biographies of American Artists Active from 1898-1947. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985

Who Was Who in American Art. 400 years of artists in America. Second edition. Three volumes. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999

Who’s Who in American Art. 18th edition, 1989-1990. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1989. The Necrology is located at the back of the volume

Who’s Who in American Art. 19th edition, 1991-1992. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1990. The Necrology begins on page 1387

Who’s Who in American Art. 20th edition, 1993-1994. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1993. The Necrology begins on page 1455. (WhoAmA20N)

The Downs News & The Downs Times (Downs, Kansas), July 14, 1921, Page 1

Downs Times (Downs, Kansas), May 27, 1909, Page 5; September 3, 1914, Page 1

Osborne County News (Osborne, Kansas), August 5, 1911, Page 5

Osborne County Farmer (Osborne, Kansas), July 7, 1921, Page 1; December 30, 1937, Page 1

Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas), July 23, 1921, Page 9

Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), August 15, 1920, Page 19

Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan), July 20, 1949, pg 23

The Michigan Daily (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), May 26, 1940, Page 2

The Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan), March 14, 1929, Page 2; December 29, 1944, Page 56; May 7, 1948, Page 24; July 19, 1949, Page 1; August 30, 1968, Page 19; August 31, 1969, Page 5


Willis Acton Pyle – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, August 26, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the second of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

Pyle Willis color photo

It was over five miles north to the nearest post office at Bellaire and over eight miles northeast to Lebanon, the nearest town of any size, from the farmhome of Benjamin Harrison Pyle and his wife, Maudine “Maude” Mae (Acton) Pyle, in Crystal Plains Township of southeastern Smith County, Kansas.  But being farmers they were used to having to travel a distance for the weekly mail and supplies.  Then in 1914 a new complication arose after Maude became pregnant with their second child.  The impending birth prompted the need to travel some ten miles to the south to the nearest doctor, where on September 3, 1914, son Willis Acton Pyle was born just over the county line in Portis, Osborne County, Kansas.  Their daughter, Lorraine Farrel Pyle, had been born the previous year.

When Willis was two years old the family moved to the small town of Bethune, in Kit Carson County, Colorado, where they lived in a sod house.  The Pyle’s third child, Denver Dell Pyle, was born in Bethune on May 11, 1920.  Willis became a local celebrity when his first drawings were showcased in Cora’s Restaurant in Bethune.  In the early 1930s the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where Willis attended school and graduated from Boulder Prep High School.  He then worked a year in a grocery store before he entered the University of Colorado as an art major. While there Willis served as art editor of the college’s satirical magazine, Colorado Dodo, and worked an advertising illustrator for the Denver clothing store Gano-Downs.

In 1937 Willis saw a bulletin board with a big poster of Pluto with the words: “Draw me and earn $25,000 a year”.  Now, $25,000 was quite a large sum in 1937, so Willis sent his samples, covers, and cartoons to the Disney Studio.  He received a letter saying he wasn’t yet skilled enough to sit right down and start working in production, but he was offered a job in the Traffic Department carrying art supplies to the animators at $16.00 a week, if he was willing to attend evening art classes in its art studio.  The 23-year old Willis dropped out of his senior year at university and moved to Hollywood, California, where he found a room within walking distance of the studio and starting work at Disney in November 1937.  His schooling included classes with Rico Le Brun (“one of the great draughtsman of our age”, Willis later recalled), Donald Graham and Gene Fleury.  Every day Willis went to his classes and tackled assignments like animating a bouncing ball or a flag waving on a flagpole.  Later assignments involved animating a character walking, running, or jumping, sometimes to a soundtrack.  Willis worked hard and in less than three years he was finally given the chance to sit down at an animation table and start doing production work.  His excellent draftsmanship landed him in the 1940 musical fantasy Pinocchio unit assisting one of Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men, the top animator Milt Kahl, who was also Pinocchio’s designer.

Pyle Willis at Disney
Willis Pyle at work for Walt Disney Studios.  Courtesy the Disney Corporation.

“Willis made drawings in between Kahl’s main pose drawings, cleaned up them up, and added details.  Kahl was ‘a ‘tough master,’ he recalls, ‘who’d grab a piece of film out of the moviola [a projector] cause he didn’t like it.  And it’d be his own work!’”

“Easy-going Willis, however, did a great job on the very first scene Kahl handed him: Jiminy Cricket, late on his first day at work as Pinocchio’s conscience, dressing on the run, a scene that is a Milt Kahl tour de force of personality, clarity of action and superb timing.  ‘He complimented me after I did it,’ Willis remembers proudly. ‘That’s the thing that got me in good with Milt.  We got along great!’” – from John Canemaker, “Happy Birthday Marge Champion and Willis Pyle,”, September 2, 2010.

Milt Kahl was responsible for the final design, going for a “cute boy” look rather than the “wooden puppet” persona of two previous incarnations that Disney believed would not elicit sympathy from audiences.  Willis then brought Pinocchio to life with his pencil drawings – making him walk and talk, and giving him different facial expressions – that were passed on to the artists in the inking and painting department.

“‘The character had to act – raise his eyebrows, turn and jump, and react to other characters,’ Pyle said.  ‘And the way you could do it was by looking at yourself in a mirror to see what that expression looked like.’” –, June 21, 2016.


Pyle Willis pinocchio sketch b
A sketch of Pinocchio by Willis Pyle. Courtesy the Disney Corporation.

Willis continued to work for Disney Studios as an assistant animator.  He drew the cupids for the mythological setting of the Pastoral Symphony scene in Fantasia (1940), and in Bambi (1942) he drew the white-tailed deer of the title, his girlfriend, Faline, Flower, the skunk, and Thumper, the rabbit.

Pyle Willis
A dapper Willis Pyle.

In 1941 Disney workers went on strike in a dispute over differentiations in staff pay and benefits.  While Willis had no personal beef with Disney (he was then making $40.00 a week), he joined the strike because, “All my friends were on strike, and I couldn’t pass them in the picket line!”  When the strike ended Willis returned to finish Bambi and then worked for Walter Lantz’s studio drawing Woody Woodpecker cartoons for about six months.  During this same period he went to night school to study celestial navigation and was set to take a job with American Airlines, when Willis was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 6, 1942.  As he entered World War II the 28-year old Private Pyle stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 137 pounds.

Willis spent the war years in military service with other Disney alumnae in the First Motion Picture Unit film unit at the Hal Roach Studio in Culver City, California, animating training and propaganda films such as Flathatting, a brilliant John Hubley-directed short released in 1946.

After the war Willis married Virginia M. Morrison in West Riverside, California, on October 27, 1946.  He then joined United Productions of America (UPA) as an animator and also worked as a fashion illustrator for the magazines Vogue and Harper’s.  He was animator for the Oscar-nominated cartoon shorts The Magic Flute (1949) and Ragtime Bear (1949), the first film to feature the near-sighted, accident-prone Mr. Magoo.  He also was chief animator for the animated short Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950), which brought a Dr. Seuss story to the big screen for the first time, and included Pyle’s sequence of the title character performing sound effects for a nationwide radio audience.  The cartoon won an Academy Award in 1951 for Best Animated Short Film.

Pyle Willis Early sketches by (A&S’37) for first Mr. Magoo film Ragtime Bear (1949) aka Strike Up the Banjo
Sketches by Willis Pyle for the 1949 short Ragtime Bear, a.k.a. Strike Up the Band, the first cartoon featuring Mr. Magoo.


In 1950 the Mr. and Mrs. Willis Pyle moved to New York City.  There he formed his own studio, Willis Pyle Productions. For 30 years, Willis worked alone as an animator and rented a studio from the Abbey Victoria Hotel, located near the Rockefeller Center.

“I was offered [full-time studio] jobs, but I wanted to get up from my desk and go to the Museum of Modern Art at three o’clock in the afternoon if I wanted to, or go to Macy’s and buy a tie.” – Willis Pyle.

Willis created numerous television commercials over the next three decades.  He also worked as an animator on such productions as Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter (1972), Really Rosie (1975), Chicken Soup with Rice (1975), Noah’s Animals (1976), Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), the Emmy Award-winning Halloween is Grinch Night (1978), A Family Circus Christmas (1979), and several Charlie Brown animated specials.

Meanwhile Willis’ younger brother, Denver Pyle, was making a name for himself as well. As an actor he had a long film and TV career, with memorable roles on television in The Andy Griffith Show, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and as Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard.

Willis retired from animation at the age of 68 but briefly returned to work on the 1989 television series This is America, Charlie Brown.  Willis then became a leading painter of watercolors and oils, and exhibited for many years at Manhattan’s Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery while taking art classes at the Art Students League, the National Academy and the Brooklyn Academy.

In his later years Willis traveled between a house in East Hampton, Long Island, another in Los Angeles, and a penthouse on New York’s upper west side.  He kept a brown 1972 Mercedes sedan in the Hamptons, where he would stay in the spring and fall.  When at his home in Seal Beach, Southern California, he tooled around on special occasions in a 1969 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.  For his 85th birthday on September 3, 1999, Willis gave himself a present: an 1872 Steinway upright piano with rosewood finish, so that he could learn to play the piano.

Willis was a respected member of the Society of Illustrators and was a member of the Dutch Treat Club in New York City, an invitation-only club for artists and writers, which honored him in 2007 with a life-time achievement medal.  In 1987 he was the recipient of a Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Award, known as the “Golden Award.”  Willis gave a portion of his archives and papers to the Lilly Library at Indiana University in  Bloomington, Indiana.

After 47 years of marriage Willis’ wife Virginia passed away in April 1994 at the age of 72.  Willis himself died at his penthouse apartment on Broadway in Manhattan, New York City, on June 2, 2016, at the age of 101.

The only man to professionally draw Pinocchio, Woody Woodpecker, Mr. Magoo, and Charlie Brown, Willis Acton Pyle joins fellow Portis animator Melvin “Tubby” Miller as a honored member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.




*  *  *  *  *  *


Lentz, Harris M. III, Obituaries in the Performing Arts 2016 (McFarland Publishing, 2017, 456 pages; Page 320)

1920 US Census Kit Carson County, Colorado

1930 US Census Kit Carson County, Colorado

California County Birth Marriage & Death Records 1849-1980

Early sketches by (A&S’37) for first Mr. Magoo film Ragtime Bear (1949) aka Strike Up the Banjo

National Archives and Records Administration. Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; ARC: 1263923. World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park. College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.



Edward R. Roche – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, August 25, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the first of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

2nd U.S. Cavalry battle flag 1860

The latest inductee into the Osborne County Hall of Fame is perhaps the one member that we know the least about.  His is the oldest known Euro-American burial within the confines of Osborne County and he is the oldest military veteran buried in the county as well, far from his native home.


Edward R. Roche was born in County Tipperary, Ireland in 1845/1846, the exact date unknown.  That was the period of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, and over the next five years there was great suffering and hardship on the Emerald Ise.  When only six years old, and any known family, the young Edward joined 273 other passengers in sailing for the United States aboard the clipper ship “Fidelia”.  Launched in 1845 and owned by the Black Ball Line, the “Fidelia” left Liverpool, England, and after a voyage of 45 days arrived in New York City, New York, on August 5, 1851.


Roche Edward painting Fidelia by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen 1850-1921
Painting of the clipper ship Fidelia, by artist Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921). 

Roche Edward Fidelia Ship List 5 August 1851 short view
Photo of a portion of the ship’s passenger manifest for the “Fidelia”, with a large black “X” at extreme left beside Edward’s name. Courtesy of the Famine Irish Entry Project, 1846-1851, Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration.


What is next known about Edward is his enlistment as a private at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on March 16, 1866, for a period of three years in Company I of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.  Roche’s enlistment record described him as being 20 years old with a height of 5 foot, 7.5 inches tall, having gray eyes and a fair complexion, and his birthplace given as County Tipperary, Ireland.


Nearly five years earlier U.S. Deputy Surveyors D. E. Ballard and E. C. Manning were given the task to ascertain and officially set the boundaries for what was later named Osborne County, Kansas.  The pair had commenced the survey the county on September 8, 1862, but all surveying activity was halted in 1863 due to Indian incursions in the area.  It was not until 1866 when the pair were allowed to take up their work again. According to the official records at Fort Riley, Kansas, Private Roche and others of Company I were assigned to escort duty for the surveyors in the summer of 1866. The surveying party are believed to have been somewhere in the lower Twin Creek valley, near the South Fork Solomon River, when they were attacked by Indians on July 21, 1866.  Private Edward Roche was the lone soldier killed in action during the fray.  The surveying party buried Private Roche atop a prominent nearby knoll near where the four corners of today’s Penn, Hancock, Corinth, and Bloom Townships meet in east-central Osborne County.  A stone was placed there to mark Roche’s remains and afterwards his grave became a well-known landmark to the area’s early Euro-American settlers.  On May 15, 1868, the survey of Osborne County was officially completed.


In 1879 the Osborne City Cemetery was opened and Roche’s remains was reinterred in Section D, Lot 37 of the cemetery, an area commonly referred to as the “soldier’s lot” and specifically set aside for military veterans.  A government military marker was ordered for his grave and unfortunately arrived with his name incorrectly engraved as Edmund Roach.  It has marked his grave for over 140 years.


Though over fourteen decades have passed, the memory and sacrifice of this young Irishman will not be forgotten by those living where he has lain in peace for so long.  We salute Edward R. Roche and accord him a hallowed place among the honored in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.


*  *  *  *  *  *



“Black Ball Clipper Fidelia leaving New York, 1852”, painting by Henry Scott (1911-2005).

“The Packet Fidelia,” painting by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921).

Enlistment Records, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, March 16, 1866.

Famine Irish Entry Project, 1846-1851, Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration. List of Hostile Actions with Plains Indians 1835-1891 by Sjoerd Bakker (eBook, 2019).

The Western Ocean Packets, by Basil Lubbock (Dover Publications: June 1, 1988, 192 pages).

Osborne County Farmer, July 22, 1880, Page One; November 26, 1931, Page One.



Eugene Alleyn Van Gundy – 2018 Inductee

(On this date, November 16, 2018, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the second of the three members of the OCHF Class of 2018.)

Van Gundy Eugene photoEugene was born to 1996 Osborne County Hall of Fame inductee Bliss Albro and Pearl Josephine (Nelson) Van Gundy at Osborne, Kansas on November 18, 1921. He graduated from high school in Osborne, Kansas in 1939.  Eugene then attended John Brown University for two years and transferred to Oklahoma State University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education.  Eugene registered for the draft on February 16, 1942, and was described as being six feet in height, weighing 175 pounds, with eyes and hair color being brown.  He then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in May 1942 and entered World War II as an aviator.

By July 1943 Eugene was assigned to the Marine Scout Bombing Squadron and had earned the rank of First Lieutenant.  In April 1944 First Lieutenant Van Gundy was assigned to Air Regulating Squadron 3, Personnel Group, Marfair, West Coast, Mcad, at Miramar Air Force Base in San Diego, California.  By April 1946 he had attained the rank of Captain.  In July 1950 Captain Van Gundy was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 236, Marine Air Squadron Training Command, at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina.  He was soon after sent to Korea.

Eugene flew in both World War II and in the Korean War, completing over 180 missions.  For his valor as a pilot Eugene earned four Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, and numerous other awards and honors.

*  *  *  *  *  *

“It was not until September 23, 1951, that an F7F achieved the type’s second – and last – aerial victory. Major Eugene Van Gundy and Master Sergeant Thomas Ullom picked up a PO-2 coming into Kempo [Air Base], but too late to get anything airborne in time for an intercept . . . Lowering his flaps to the maximum setting, Van Gundy eased up behind the Mule, which was not expecting any pursuit. A few miles north of Seoul, a fusillade of 20mm rounds converged on the frail machine resulting in its immediate disintegration. It was an outstanding kill for VMF(N)-513 and a portent of things to come when the unit received its Douglas F3D Skyknights later in the war.” – “F7F Tigercat”, Flypast Magazine, June 2018.

*  *  *  *  *  *

On September 23, 1951, an F7F-3N Tigercat of the “Flying Nightmares,” VMF(N)-513, flown by Major Eugene A. Van Gundy and Master Sergeant Thomas H. Ullom, was aloft searching for a “Bedcheck Charlie” Polikarpov PO-2 biplane and made radar contact.  The Tigercat pilot purposely went down to minimum speed to avoid overshooting the slower biplane.  At a range of about 500 feet, Van Gundy made visual contact and fired about 100 rounds of 20mm ammunition at it.  The Polikarpov burst into flames instantly and was seen burning on the ground as the F7F-3N returned to base.” – Robert F. Dorr, “The Lore of the Corps: F7F Tigercat was terror of night skies in Korea”, in the Marine Corps Times of April 26, 2004.

*  *  *  *  *

“Major Eugene A Van Gundy, U. S. Marines, is reported among the wounded in the Korean War.  His wife lives in Osborne.” – Salina Journal, January 20, 1952.

*  *  *  *  *  *

“Major Eugene A. Van Gundy, Osborne, has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the Marine Corps in Korea.  He received the decoration for shooting down an enemy plane at night, an unusual accomplishment of the Korean War.  This marks the fifth time Major Van Gundy has been decorated.  He previously had been awarded four Air Medals. His wife Betty, son Rodney, and parents Mr. and Mrs. Bliss A. Van Gundy, all reside in Osborne.” – Osborne County Farmer, July 3, 1952.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Eugene was first married to Betty Rae Fallis in 1944.  They had three sons, Rodney, Martin, and Thomas.  He then married Geneva Marie Stiner on March 5, 1965 in Elk City, Oklahoma.  With Geneva Eugene had three daughters, Billie, Sherri, and Doryce.

At the end of the 1950s Eugene left the Marine Corps and took a job with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), spending a great deal of time in Europe.  While there he spent nine years working with the development of the Concorde supersonic aircraft and was one of the first Americans to pilot it.

After retirement from the FAA Eugene and his family settled in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  He was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Ardmore and of the Military Officers Association of America. Eugene’s hobbies were camping, cabinet making, wood working, traveling, eating (especially ice cream and M&M’s) and numerous family activities. He loved animals, especially horses and birds, and was known for his infectious humor.

Retired USMC Colonel Eugene Alleyn Van Gundy passed away on Sunday, August 26, 2012 at Ardmore, Oklahoma.  He was laid to rest in Hillcrest Memorial Park, Ardmore, Oklahoma, with full military honors.  Eugene joins his father Bliss Van Gundy with an honored place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

VanGundy Eugene A tombstone photo


Natoma Independent, May 21, 1942; April 16, 1953.

Osborne County Farmer, July 3, 1952., Page 42.

Fortitudine, Volume 32, Number 4, 2007, Marine Night Fighter Aerial Victories in Korea by CMSgt. David P. Anderson, USAF, Air National Guard History Office.

The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 398.

U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1893-1958. Microfilm Publication T977, 460 rolls. ARC ID: 922159. Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, Record Group 127; National Archives in Washington, D.C., April 26, 2004: “The Lore of the Corps: F7F Tigercat was terror of night skies in Korea”, by Robert F. Dorr.


Arabelia Ann (Cowell) Thompson & Lucy Arabella (Cowell) Thompson – 2018 Inductees

(On this date, November 15, 2018, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the first of the three members of the OCHF Class of 2018.)

Thompson Bell & Arabelia circa 1870 crtsy Darlene Johnson
Lucy and Arabelia (Cowell) Thompson. Date unknown. Photo courtesy Darlene Johnson.

When we consider the stereotypical negative reception that a female medical doctor practicing her profession endured from most patients – and, sadly, yes, her fellow colleagues as well – in Kansas during the latter 19th Century, one generally pauses to admire the courage and resolve of such trained professionals whenever we come across them in our history.  We more than paused when we discovered that not one, but two such doctors – sisters – who were active medical practitioners and who lived and worked in Osborne County during the homesteading period of 1870-1910.  It is with great pleasure that Arabelia and Lucy (Cowell) Thompson, the sisters who married brothers, take their special place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

In the year 1846 22-year old Christopher Columbus Cowell joyously married Rebecca Harmon in Pennsylvania.  The couple would raise four children: son Madison and daughters Arabelia, Lucy, and Mary.  Arabelia Anna Cowell was born January 3, 1850 in Tunkhannock Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania.  The next year the family moved to Rock Creek Township, Carroll County, Illinois, where Lucy Arabella Cowell was born November 11, 1851.

By 1870 the Cowell family was living in Elkhorn Grove Township, Carroll County, Illinois.  Both Arabelia and Lucy attended Mount Carroll Seminary (later called Shimer College) in nearly Mount Carroll, Illinois and in 1872 graduated from Hahnemann Medical College at Chicago, Illinois, with degrees in homeopathic medicine.

The Hahnemann Medical College opened in 1860 and became coeducational in 1871.  During this time period in our national history there were perfectly legal medical institutions who trained practitioners in alternative medical practices to what was taught in what we would label the “regular” medical colleges. Homeopathy was the most popular alternative, especially among well-educated segments of society.  The homeopathic theory of medicine held that drugs should be tested to determine their effects, that a drug which causes specific symptoms in a well person should be used in diluted form to treat those same symptoms in an unwell person, and that by utilizing these methods over time the body can be trained to heal itself.  Except for the emphasis upon homeopathic therapeutics, instruction at Hahnemann resembled that found in Chicago’s “regular” medical schools.

Immediately after graduation Arabelia and Lucy Cowell settled in Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois, where they opened a joint medical practice.

*  *  *  *  *  *

“We would call the attention of the public of Sterling and vicinity, to the advertisement of the Misses Drs. Cowell, in another column of this paper. These young ladies have prepared themselves for the practice of their profession by an extensive and thorough course of study, graduating at the last annual commencement of the Hahnemann Medical College, of Chicago, with the highest honors of their class. We would recommend those in need of medical advice or treatment, to give the Drs. Cowell a call. Special attention is given by them to diseases incident to those of their own sex, though they are prepared to treat all classes of disease. Office over Machamer & Gable’s Confectionery store, on Mulberry Street.” – Sterling Standard, Sterling, Illinois, May 16, 1872, Page 1.

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Thompson Lucy Arabella Cowell adv Sterling Standard Sterling Illinois 16 May 1872 Pg5
Thompson sisters’ advertisement in the Sterling Standard of May 16, 1872.

*  *  *  *  *  *

On November 17, 1873 Lucy Arabella Cowell married Mayo Clare Thompson in Elkhorn Grove Township, Carroll County, Illinois. Mayo was born October 10, 1850 in Cornish, Maine. He lived in Dane County, Wisconsin in 1860, and by 1870 in Black Hawk Township, Grundy County, Iowa.  After their marriage Mayo and Lucy moved to Reinbeck, Black Hawk Township, Grundy County, Iowa.  There they had two children, Mary Rebecca and Sydney Roy.

Meanwhile, Mayo’s older brother Curtis Austin Thompson was getting to know Lucy’s older sister Arabelia.  Curtis was born April 7, 1846 in Cor­nish, Maine.  He met Arabelia Anna Cowell in 1873 at his brother’s wedding.  From 1873 to 1876 Curtis had a government position at Washington, D.C.  Finally on August 18, 1876 he married Arabelia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The next year they moved to Fairfield County, Grundy County, Iowa, where they had two children, Lewis William and Sarah Pauline.  In 1879 they moved to Reinbeck, Black Hawk Township, Grundy County, Iowa, where Arabelia opened a practice and Curtis operated a creamery.   While there the couple’s third child was born, Ray Harmon.

1879 was the year that Mayo and Lucy bought a partially-proved up homestead claim located in Section 35 of Independence Township, Osborne County, Kansas, some eleven miles southwest of the county seat of Osborne City, and moved west from Reinbeck.  Their first home was a log house. Later Mayo built two frame houses and a large barn.  On the homestead Mayo hunted deer, antelope and, buffalo.  In later years he hunted prairie chickens, quail, ducks, and geese. Some of these were salted, packed in barrels and shipped east.  Lucy opened her medical practice and often watched over the patients of other physicians in the area whenever they were away.  In September 1881 Mayo finished “proving up” the claim and used it as the foundation of what would become the 1,182-acre Thompson Ranch.

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Thompson Mayo homestead claim Osb Co Farmer Sept 15 1881 Pg 3
Official notice of Mayo Thompson finalizing his homestead claim, published in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper of September 15, 1881.
1880s Thompson Ranch Independence Twp Osb Co KS
The Thompson Ranch headquarters as it appeared in the early 1880s.  Photo courtesy Susan Arron.

In 1882 Curtis and Arabelia Thompson moved their family to Independence Township, Osborne County, Kansas, onto an adjoining farm next to Mayo and Lucy. The brothers pooled their land to form the growing ranch as the wives resumed their medical practice via horse and buggy, both being referred to as “Dr. Mrs. Thompson”. Things were fine until August 1883, when Lucy contracted pneumonia from a patient she was caring for.

“Mrs. Dr. Thompson of Covert is reported as seriously ill. Dr. VanScoyoc has been in attendance.” – Osborne County News, August 16, 1883.

“Mrs. Dr. Thompson of Bristow, the lady who had charge of Dr. VanScoyoc’s practice during his absence in Colorado, died very suddenly on Sunday morning.” – Osborne County Farmer, August 23, 1883.

Lucy Arabella Thompson died on August 19, 1883.  The mother of two was buried in the nearby Bristow Cemetery.

Curtis and Arabelia lived on the ranch for another ten years. Curtis devoted his time to raising livestock and was one of the first people to introduce alfalfa to Kansas.  Their fourth child, Lee Austin, was born on the ranch in October 1883. Then came three more children, Phoebe, Edward Wayne, and Prentice Madison.  In the spring of 1892 Curtis and Arabelia moved to the town of Osborne, Kansas, both to give their children better school advantages and Arabelia the chance to practice her profession in an urban setting.  Their final child, a son, was born the next year but lived only a short time.  They continued to operate the ranch until 1905, when it was sold.

Thompson Arabelia in her buggy
Arabelia Thompson. Date and place unknown.  Photo courtesy Darlene Johnson.

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Thompson Arabelia Adv Osb Co Farmer 24 May 1894 pg 5

Dr. Arabelia Anna Thompson’s advertisement in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper of May 24, 1894.

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Osborne County Doctors Meet.

“The Osborne County Medical Society met in Osborne on January 9, Dr. T. O. Felix, vice-president, presiding. The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved. Drs. Armstrong, Dillon, Chilcott, T. O. and T. B. Felix, Walker, Thompson and Henshall present. The advisability of erecting and maintaining a hospital in Osborne to be known as the Osborne County Hospital, to be incorporated and open to all patients, physicians and surgeons was introduced and discussed. A committee was appointed to investigate its feasibility and report its findings to the next regular meeting of the society. The secretary was instructed to send the record of this meeting to each newspaper in the county. A paper “Quacks and Their Ways”, was read by Dr. Armstrong and discussed by the society. Dr. B. F. Chilcott was elected president of the society for 1906; Dr. T. O. Felix, vice-president; Dr. E. O. Henshall, secretary; Dr. A. A. Thompson, treasurer; and Dr. J. H. Walker, member of board of censors for three years. No further business appearing the society was adjourned to meet in Osborne on the 2nd Tuesday in February, 1906. E. O. Henshall, secretary.” – Downs Times, January 18, 1906.

*  *  *  *  *  *

In 1901 Curtis Thompson and his son Lewis bought a machine and blacksmith shop in Osborne. They operated it until February 8, 1908, when it was destroyed by fire, and they did not rebuild.

*  *  *  *  *  *


Fire Causes Loss of Three Thousand Dollars.

No Insurance.

“Thursday evening shortly before 11 o’clock the fire alarm bell summoned the department to the machine shops of C. A. Thompson & Son, on South Street, which had been discovered to be ablaze. That is hardly the right term. The whole interior of the building was a roaring mass of flames, which had not then broken through the roof. A fiercer fire has not occurred in this city in several years, but fortunately the damage was confined to the building in which it started. Surrounding buildings were very damp, having been crusted with ice the previous day, and the roofs were wet with melting snow, or there would have been a different story to tell. The fiercest fire was located near the business office, where a quantity of mixed paint and lubricating oil was stored, adding to the difficulty of extinguishing the fire. The alarm was not turned in until the fire had gained considerable headway, the shops being so located that even nearby residents would hardly notice it, and the time of night being when most of our people had gone to bed. The fire department responded promptly to the call, as did also a big crowd of spectators. A breeze from the northwest prevented the alarm bell from being heard in the western arid northern parts of the city and many of our people did not learn till next morning that there had been a fire. It was about 4 a.m. Friday before the firemen thought it safe to leave the ruins. The, contents of the shop, including a buggy belonging to C. H. Nicholas, a gasoline engine owned by B. P. Walker, and a separator and all necessary machinery for making repairs, were either consumed by the fire or so badly warped and twisted as to be practically worthless. The loss is estimated to be something like $3,000, with no insurance. We understand that the shops will not be rebuilt.” – Osborne County Farmer, February 20, 1908.

*  *  *  *  *  *

In 1910 Curtis and Arabelia moved to West Arvada in Jefferson County, Colorado to live with their son Lee.  In July 1910 Arabelia made a trip to Waterloo, Iowa to deliver her grandson, Frederick Yoxall Thompson, son of Ray. The next year Curtis and Arabelia went to live with their son Lewis in Ontario, San Bernardino County, California, and in 1914 they moved to Orange, Orange County, California.  It was there that Arabelia Anna (Cowell) Thompson died on November 22, 1915.  She was laid to rest in Fairhaven Memorial Park at Santa Ana, Orange County, California.

Thompson Arabelia Ann family Arabelia at far left
The Arabelia and Curtis Thompson family.  The children are (in no particular order): Lewis, Sarah, Ray, Lee, Phoebe, Edward, and Prentice.  Photo courtesy Susan Arron.


Judy Thompson, Telluride, Colorado.

Downs Times, January 18, 1906.

 Osborne County Farmer, September 15, 1881; August 23, 1883; May 24, 1894; February 20, 1908.

Osborne County News, August 16, 1883.

 Sterling Standard, May 16, 1872.

Osborne County Genealogical & Historical Society, The People Came (1977), ppgs. 186-188.

Thompson Family Genealogy, prepared by Curtis Austin Thompson and Ray Harmon Thompson.  Unpublished.

1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d., Year: 1860; Census Place: Rock Creek, Carroll, Illinois; Roll: M653_159; Page: 918.

1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d., Year: 1870; Census Place: Elkhorn Grove, Carroll, Illinois; Roll: M593_191; Page: 108B., “Medical Education”.


Willis Albert “Bill” Paschal – 2017 Inductee

(On this date, August 8, 2017, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the fourth of five members of the OCHF Class of 2017.)

2013-09-08 90th birthday grey background
Bill Paschal, taken on his 90th birthday.


The seventh and latest Valley Township resident to be named a member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame was born September 9, 1923, the third child of Albert and Clara (Russum) Paschal in the Vincent community in Osborne County, north of Luray, Kansas. Willis Albert “Bill” Paschal was welcomed by older siblings Inez (Breeden) and Wallace. From a very young age, Bill was helping his father with chores around the farm. He helped to work the horse-drawn plows, tended to cattle and horses, and weeded gardens, among many other tasks.  At the tender age of seven Bill’s mother died, and the young boy became a very independent thinker and doer. By the age of nine he was riding his pony the seven miles to Luray and on another four miles east to spend the week at a farmer’s home, herding his cattle along the road for pennies a day.


Paschal Bill 8 to 9 years old
Bill at age 8 or 9 years old.

His father married Hazel Cooper a few years later. The family soon welcomed the addition of Robert and later Maurita (Cederberg). Bill’s grade school years were in the rural one-room Vincent School. He would usually ride his pony there. When it was too cold to ride, his father, Albert, would put him in an old milk wagon, point the horse towards the school, and slap the horse on the rump. This was reversed for the trip home. Bill had many cousins in the surrounding Vincent community with whom he enjoyed spending time. Because of their love of baseball, Albert and Wallace constructed a baseball field out of the corner of a pasture. The cousins enjoyed many games played on Paschal Field.

Bill attended and graduated from Luray High School with the class of 1941. During high school he participated in basketball and football (lettering multiple times), and was part of the undefeated football team of 1940. Another cherished memory was of beating Russell High School in basketball (Bob Dole was on Russell’s team). At the age of 15 Bill was one of the workers who dug out the floor (by hand) of the Hickman Theater to turn it from a theater to a gymnasium, which was used by Luray High School and is now known as the Luray Legion Hall.

Paschal Bill at 16
Bill at age 16 years.
Paschal Bill 1940 Luray High football team Bill is #5 in back row
Bill was #5 ( find the “x”) on the Luray High School undefeated team of 1940.
Paschal Bill at age 19 WWII
Bill was 19 years old when he entered the Army Air Corps during World War II.

After graduation Bill enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. By the age of 19 he had become an instructor for ground and aerial gunnery (50mm machine gun) at Tyndall Field in Florida. After ten missions over northern Europe as a nose gunner on a B-24, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Austria, the day after his 21st birthday. Bill parachuted, landing in the Danube River, where he was discovered by a farmer’s dog and captured. The next eight months were spent in POW camp Stalag IV-B, in northern Germany. To combat both boredom and the extreme cold, Bill fashioned a crochet hook from a piece of wood he pulled loose from a floorboard. He would unravel the sleeves of sweaters sent by the Red Cross and, recalling how he used to watch his grandmother crochet, he invented a crochet stitch and proceeded to crochet hats and gloves for himself and other soldiers. In the last months of the war, Bill was forced to endure the hardships of three months of the “Black March”. Starvation and freezing temperatures were a constant threat. He was eventually liberated by Scottish Highlander soldiers, and proceeded to walk to Holland in order to find a ship home. Bill was honorably discharged in October 1945.

Bill returned to his parents’ home in the Vincent community, and enrolled at Kansas State University (KSU). While in college he started his farming operation, renting 160 acres in Osborne County and soon buying a farm one mile east of Luray. In order to keep farming while attending college, Bill would hitchhike from Manhattan back to Luray on the weekends. During this time he married his high school sweetheart, Joyce Johnson, on New Year’s Day 1947. After they both graduated from KSU, Bill with a degree in agricultural economics and Joyce with an education degree, they made their home in the Luray area where Bill was a successful farmer/stockman and Joyce taught school. Over the years he was featured in several farming publications for his progressive farming techniques and soil conservation efforts. Bill and Joyce were named Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker for the year 1981. Their farming operation increased to include almost 6,000 acres (including the Osborne County farm he grew up on) growing crops of wheat, milo, and alfalfa and running a cattle and hog operation.

Paschal Bill & Hazel Cooper wedding 1 Jan 1947
Bill wedded Joyce Johnson on January 1, 1947.

Bill has served his community by involving himself in area activities. During his 20s he played on the Luray community baseball team, usually as the catcher. Bill also umpired many baseball games in the area. When he was a little older, on most Friday nights he could be found working the score clock at a Luray basketball game or the chains at numerous high school football games. The stands at these football games were filled with people wearing hats bearing the orange and black of Luray High School. Bill crocheted all those hats using the crochet hook and the crochet stitch he invented while he was held prisoner in the POW camp. If there was any event in town, Bill could usually be found helping to set up for it and cleaning up afterward.

In the past Bill has served on the board of directors for Midway Co-op, served many years on the Russell County Free Fair board, the Russell County 4-H Development Fund board, and over 30 years as a 4-H club leader of the Wolf Creek Valley 4-H Club. He is a charter member of the Luray Lion’s Club (over 65 years), a member of American Legion Post 309, and of Luray United Methodist Church where he has served  on the  Board of Trustees, Administrative Board, and on the Building Committee when they built the new church in 1968. He also sang in the church choir on a weekly basis. Bill served at the first Luray Methodist Men’s Fish Fry in 1939 and volunteered again at the 80th annual event in 2018, missing volunteering for this event only while in captivity during World War II.

Von Rothenberger took this photo of Bill Paschal at the 79th Luray Fish Fry on March 17, 2017.
Paschal Bill part of Am Legion firing squad Memorial Day
Bill Paschal participating with the Luray American Legion as part of the firing squad during annual Memorial Day ceremonies.
Paschal Bill rafting June 17 2016 Colorado
Proving that age is just a number, Bill Paschal enjoys rafting with family members in this photo from June 2016.

Bill retired from farming, with his son Mark taking over the farm. He and Joyce (deceased November 2012) had three children – Mark Paschal, Martha Powell, and Meredith Mense. He loved spending time with his grandchildren – Nicole (Paschal) Webber, Dr. Caitlin Powell, Garrett Powell, Brennan Mense, and Michaela Mense. Bill was thrilled by the addition of his first great-grandson, Landyn Webber, and made his home at Luray until his passing in the early morning hours of April 12, 1998.  Bill will always be an honored member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.


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World War II veteran recalls experiences as a German POW

Salina Journal

Friday, November 11, 2016

By Gary Demuth

LURAY — Until he was held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, Bill Paschal never thought the time he spent watching his grandmother crochet would come in handy.

Paschal, a nose gunner on a B-24 bomber, parachuted into the Danube River after his plane was shot down over Vienna, Austria, on Sept. 10, 1944 — the day after his 21st birthday.

Now he was in Stalag IV-B, a German POW camp in the far northern city of Stettin, Germany. During his nine months at the camp, much of it during a fiercely cold winter, Paschal and his fellow prisoners experienced frigid temperatures in uninsulated cabins with nothing but a small heating stove for warmth.

The Red Cross had supplied the prisoners with sweaters to help keep them warm, but that didn’t help their half-frozen hands and bare heads. That’s when Paschal had an idea. They would rip the sleeves off their sweaters, unravel them into strings of yarn, and Paschal would crochet them into gloves and caps.

“Me and another prisoner, Rex, a kid from Missouri, remembered watching our grandmothers crochet while we were growing up,” said Paschal, now 93. “We made some crochet needles from tree branches and fiddled around until we made gloves and caps that looked like little hunter hats with flaps.”

Paschal was happy to do this service for his fellow prisoners, crocheting nearly 50 hats and gloves during his nine months at the camp.

“It was something to do in the camp,” he said.

‘Black March’

On the eve of Veterans Day, Paschal recalled his service during World War II, where he not only flew 10 missions on a B-24 and spent months in a German POW camp but was part of a German “Black March,” where thousands of POWs marched countless miles in northern Europe to avoid the advancing American and Allied forces from the west and Russia from the east.

The Germans wanted to keep the prisoners to use as bargaining tools as the war came to an end, but the arduous march cost the lives of 6,000 of their starved and exhausted captives.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” Paschal said.

It was a situation Paschal never envisioned for himself while growing up the middle child of five on a Luray farm family. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the U.S. entered World War II, Paschal and a few of his buddies went to Kansas City to enlist in October 1942. Paschal was just 18 at the time, a recent graduate of Luray High School.

“I signed up for the Army Air Corps and went off that day because I didn’t want to have to come back later,” he said.

Paschal went through basic training at Tyndall Field, Florida, near Panama City and became an instructor for ground and aerial gunnery beginning at age 19. In 1944, he was deployed to Europe, eventually ending up at an air base in southern Italy.

Shot Down

Paschal became a nose gunner on a B-24, operating a .50 caliber machine gun and manning a gun turret. He flew 10 missions over northern Europe before the September day when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid into Austria and began spiraling into a crash dive.

“The captain held onto the controls as the plane spun around, and he jumped out just before it crashed into the Danube River,” Paschal said. “I parachuted into the river and crawled up the bank. We were being hunted by local farmers who had a police dog, and the dog found me. They turned me in.”

At home in Luray, Paschal’s sister Maurita, then just 7, remembered her parents receiving a telegram saying their son was “missing in action.”

“My brother Robert and I were walking home from school, and we saw our parents coming down the road towards us,” she said. “We knew something was wrong from the looks on their faces. They told us Bill had been shot down and they didn’t know where he was.”

It took another two months before the Paschal family was informed that Bill was in a POW camp in Germany.

“Dad would sit with his ear against the radio every night to hear the war news and find out anything he could about the POWs,” she said.

POW Life

At the stalag, or prison camp, about 26 prisoners were crammed into rooms of about 15-by-15 feet. They slept on triple-deck bunk beds and ate rutabaga, kohlrabi and boiled potatoes, with the occasional luxury of horse meat.

Cigarettes also were a luxury at the camp. Paschal, who didn’t smoke, traded the crocheted caps and gloves he had made for cigarettes, then traded the cigarettes for food to nicotine-addicted prisoners who would rather smoke than eat.

Paschal said he wasn’t the only crafty operator in the camp. There were prisoners who made radios out of wires ripped out of their insulated air uniforms. With these wires and other scrap items, they were able to fashion a crystal radio set to receive war news coming over the airwaves.

“Every night, there was a guy who would sneak around to different cabins and give us news reports of war activities,” he said. “The Germans never knew.”

After the American and Allied armies began pushing into Europe, the Germans decided to move their POWs to another stalag. They marched to different locations in northern Europe for three months in what became known as the “Black March.”

“They were losing the war, so they just started marching us in circles,” Paschal said. “We slept on the ground and were not fed well. It was constantly moving, moving.”


Paschal estimated the march covered about 800 miles before they were liberated by Scottish Highlander troops.

“We were marching north with the Americans coming one way and the Russians coming the other,” Paschal said. “After awhile, we noticed there weren’t any guards around anymore. They knew the war was coming to an end, so they disappeared one day. We continued to march and ended up in Holland.”

After being liberated, Paschal was sent back to the U.S. He took a train to Kansas, stopping in Russell, where he was met by his father and brother Wallace.

“He weighed about 100 pounds by the time he got home,” sister Maurita said. “His eyes were so sunken, it didn’t look like him at all.”

Paschal was honorably discharged from the Army and went to college, earning a agricultural economics degree from Kansas State University. On New Year’s Day 1947, he married Joyce Johnson, his childhood sweetheart in Luray, who had worked as a secretary for the Department of the Navy in Washington, D.C.

Paschal spent his life farming in the Luray and Russell County areas. Joyce became a teacher and had three children, Mark, Martha and Meredith.

For years, Paschal didn’t talk about his war experiences and kept all of his war memorabilia in a trunk, including uniforms, his POW dog tag, a German backpack with a wooden block reading “Destination Home” and his medals, which include a POW medal and two Purple Hearts.

What people in his hometown did discover about Paschal’s war years was his crocheting ability, which led to many requests for caps and gloves.

“After I got home, everybody wanted caps and gloves,” he said. “But they had to be orange and black. Those were our school colors.”

*  *  *  *  *

Paschal Bill Storytelling ad Salina Journal 2006 10 Nov

Paschal Bill Storytelling advert Salina Journal 2006 10 Nov
Two advertisements for a talk on Bill Paschal’s WWII POW experiences, from the Salina Journal newspaper of November 10, 2016.

*  *  *  *  *

Luray Farm Couple Honored

Salina Journal

March 11, 1982, Page One

MANHATTAN – A Russell County farmer, who was once a prisoner of war, and his wife, who has taught school for 25 years to help make ends meet, have been named 1981 Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker for Northwest Kansas.

They are Mr. and Mrs. Bill Paschal, Luray.

Six couples will be honored March 19th at the annual Kansas Master Farmer-Master Farm Homemaker recognition banquet on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan.

The other honorees are Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Colle, Sterling; Mr. and Mrs. Dean Hamilton, Dodge City; Mr. and Mrs. William Beezley, Girard; Mr. and Mrs. Detman Gooderl, Hoyt; and Mr. and Mrs. Ewald Meier, Palmer.

Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker competition is sponsored by the KSU Cooperative Extension Service and the Kansas Association of Commerce and Industry to honor outstanding farm couples.

Nominees are submitted by county extension councils. A five-member judging panel at Kansas State selects the recipients on the basis of excellence in farming, homemaking, farm living and rural citizenship.

The Paschals, both 58, purchased their first land – 240 acres just east of Luray – in 1951. Their operation now includes 1, 600 acres (160 acres in Wyoming) and another 280 rented acres.

About 950 acres are in cultivation and the remainder are pasture.

Strong believers in diversity, the Paschals grow wheat, milo, and alfalfa, feed about 150 steers a year and run a 100-head cow herd.

“If something happens to the profitability of one enterprise, hopefully the others will carry us through,” Paschal says.

The beef cattle operation starts with the purchase of 45-pound crossbred steers in the fall. Steers are wintered on sorghum silage that includes ground grain. Cattle are moved to bromegrass pasture for the summer.

If plenty of milo is available in the fall, steers are finished on milo, ensilage alfalfa, then sold at 1,100 to 1,200 pounds in the spring. Otherwise, they are sold as 800 to 900-pound feeders in the fall.

They also had a farrow-to-finish hog operation for a number of years, but have now turned that operation over to their son, Mark.

The cropping operation is built around a wheat, milo and summer fallow rotation. Herbicide is sprayed and bladed in immediately after wheat harvest, and the land is planted to milo in the spring.

Last year, Paschal had 330 acres of wheat, 225 acres of milo cut for grain, 53 acres of forage sorghum cut for silage and 24 acres of alfalfa. About 270 acres are fallowed each year.

Soil conservation get top billing on the Paschal farm. About 600 acres of cropland have been terraced and a number of ponds have been built in pastures.

The Paschal farmstead has undergone a number of improvements over the years. An old concrete cattle shed with an open front was closed in and used as a farrowing house. A number of new structures were added, including a metal garage and shop, a pole-type building for machinery storage, a 40-by-80-foot steel building for grain and machinery storage, a hay shed and five steel grain bins.

Original wooden corrals have been replaced with steel and are served with automatic waterers. Many of the electric lines, as well as the water and natural gas lines, are underground.

The Paschals are active off the farm. They are members of the United Methodist Church in Luray where Bill has served as chairman of the church board, sung in the choir and is on the pastor-parish and pension fund committees.

Joyce has been an extension homemaker unit member for many years, and both have been 4-H community leaders for 18 years.

Bill has served as county Farm Bureau president, Farm Management Association director, county fair board president and director of the Midway Co-op board. He also served on the county extension council and has been a member of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and the Kansas Livestock Association. He was a charter member of the Luray Lions Club, commander of the American Legion and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Joyce is a member of the National, Kansas and Russell County Education Associations, and Delta Kappa Gamma International educational sorority.

*  *  *  *  *

60th Wedding anniv Salina Journal 31 Dec 2006 Page 10
60th Wedding announcement for Bill and Joyce Paschal, from the Salina Journal newspaper of December 31, 2006.

*  *  *  *  *

SOURCES: Maurita Cederberg, Luray, Kansas; Meredith Mense, Kansas City, Kansas; Mark Paschal, Luray, Kansas; Willis “Bill” Paschal, Luray, Kansas; Martha Powell, Spring Hill, Kansas; Salina Journal, March 11, 1982; Salina Journal, December 31, 2006; Salina Journal, November 11, 2016; Salina Journal, December 31, 2006.

Harold Louis Mischler – 2017 Inductee

(On this date, August 7, 2017, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the third of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2017.)


Harold’s Early Years

by Shirley (Mischler) Davis, sister

HALHarold Louis Mischler was born January 9, 1946 to Louis and Elsie Mischler, at the Beloit Hospital, known now as the Mitchell County Hospital, in Beloit, Kansas. He was their younger child, having two sisters, Carolyne (Mischler) Sage and Shirley (Mischler) Davis. He grew up on a farm 12 miles southwest of Osborne, Kansas, in the Kill Creek Community. He attended the one-room, eight-grade Mayview Elementary School for eight years. The school year was in session from September 1st until April 30th. The kids in country schools only went eight months so they could help with the spring farming. He then attended Osborne High School, graduating in 1963.

While in high school, Harold played both football and basketball. He played the trombone in the school band. He was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and several other organizations. He started college at Kansas Wesleyan University (KWU) in Salina, Kansas, completing his freshman year. He played football while at KWU. From there, he transferred to Kansas University (KU) at Lawrence, Kansas, and graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business. Before graduation at KU, he was selected to attend Officers Candidate School and was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas. Upon his graduation, June 28, 1968, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force and assigned to Vance Air Force Base, in Enid, Oklahoma for one year of pilot training.

Harold was a member of the Kill Creek Evangelical United Brethren Church, which later became the Kill Creek United Methodist Church, and the Osborne Masonic Lodge.

All through his school years Harold was an avid reader. He would read whatever was available. When he didn’t have library books, he would read the World Book Encyclopedia. He would much rather do that than go out to do the farming and other chores that needed to be done!

As a child, Harold especially enjoyed playing with his dogs. He spent most of his summers fishing with his sister on the creek where he lived. On Sundays, his dad would take them to fish in one of the area ponds. In the fall and winter he enjoyed hunting rabbits, squirrel, pheasants, and quail.

Harold was a people person that greatly enjoyed spending time with his family and friends. He especially enjoyed children and spending time with his nieces and nephews.

In the summers while he was on break from college, Harold helped in the construction of the Glen Elder Dam and Reservoir. The summer between his junior and senior years in college, he worked in Iceland, for Icelandic Airlines, working with their cost accountants and cost analysts.






Mischler Harold photo


Lieutenant Mischler was awarded his United States Air Force silver pilot wings at Vance Air Force Base on August 1, 1969, and was assigned to fly a Military Airlift Command C-141 Cargo plane out of Charleston Air Force Base, Charleston, South Carolina. During this two-year period he had the rare experience of traveling extensively and visiting many distant places most people only hear about. He was promoted to First Lieutenant December 1, 1969. In February 1971 he was upgraded from Co-pilot to First Pilot or Aircraft Commander.

On June 27, 1971, he was promoted to Captain. The following August he was assigned to duty in Southeast Asia and reported to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for specialized training on the OV-10. He left San Francisco February 28, 1972, to begin his overseas duty, being sent to NKP (Nakhom Phanom) Thailand.






Hal, as he came to be known by friends, had compassion for people and their well-being was one of his great characteristics. This was evident in his relationship to those around him during all of his experiences in life.

He made many, many close friends during his formal education and military training. He took great interest in visiting and learning of the culture and history of the people as he flew the C-141. During his tour of duty in Southeast Asia he participated with his squadron in teaching a class of Thai children. Harold volunteered for many rescue missions to help fellow pilots who were downed. His devotion to others won him many friends who loved and admired him.



Mischler Harold last photo 1972 c

Most of the fighting over Laos on December 23, 1972, took place in an area known as the Plain of Jars. While directing his squadron in air strikes, Harold’s plane was shot down by ground fire and he lost his life. He was 26 years old and had served 225 days in combat.

The day before Hal was shot down, he had called his cousin, Senior Master Sergeant Elmo “Mitch” Mischler, who was stationed in Laos at the same time, and they had made arrangements to spend Christmas Day together. A French chef was going to prepare their dinner for them. This would have been the day after he lost his life. Mitch accompanied Harold’s body back home to Kansas from Laos. A public memorial service for Harold was held at Osborne High School, after which he was laid to rest in the Osborne City Cemetery with full military honors.

If you are ever in Washington, D.C., be sure to find Harold Mischler’s name on the Vietnam Memorial, located at 01W 104 – a fitting and lasting tribute to the promise and sacrifice of this honored member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.


Star Pilot Volunteered For Dangerous, Secret Flights

Written by Raelean Finch

May 25, 2014

It was late in 1972. President Richard Nixon was on the verge of being re-elected. He had cut troop levels in Vietnam by 70,000. Rumors of peace talks entered a pool of speculation already churning with rumors of a secret war being waged by the CIA in Laos, a “neutral” country neighboring Vietnam.

Shirley Mischler-Davis had no idea her brother Hal had just signed up to fight in it.

“We didn’t even know where he was at the time,” Mischler-Davis said of her brother’s involvement in the secret war. “One day he just sent everything home and said that as far as we were concerned, he was no longer connected with the Air Force.”

After Hal Mischler joined the Ravens, he shipped all his possessions home to his parents. Officially, he was no longer in the Air Force but one of 22 pilots fighting the CIA’s secret war in Laos.

Hal Mischler was a good pilot — one of the best. After graduating from Kansas University in 1968, he got a commission in the Air Force and commenced crisscrossing the globe flying cargo planes. In February 1972, Mischler shipped off to Thailand to pilot high-flying reconnaissance planes called OV-10’s over Vietnam as a forward air controller. He’d find enemy positions, then guide bombers in so they could drop their cargo.

Then, as Mischler’s tour was coming to an end, he made a fateful decision: to join the Ravens.

Only the best and the brightest, the craziest and the bravest Americans served in Laos during the Vietnam War. Officially assigned to the Ambassador to Laos as civilians, the Ravens were a group of elite pilots of no more than 22 men at any one time, who flew the Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs during the Southeast Asian Conflict as forward air controllers for the CIA’s covert operation in Laos. They flew in support of the Royal Laotian Army against contingents of the North Vietnamese Army that had infiltrated Laos. They went to war in blue jeans, T-shirts, and sometimes cowboy hats. It was a symbol of their disdain for the conventional, “bureaucratic” military. They were the Ravens, fighting a secret air war in the jungles of Laos, almost forgotten by everyone . . . They suffered the highest casualty rate in the Indochina war – over 30%. Their deeds were the stuff of whispered legends.

Instead of relatively safe OV-10’s, the Ravens flew low over the Laotian countryside in single engine, two-seater, Cessna-like planes. They searched for North Vietnamese positions that ground troops couldn’t see, sometimes goading well-camouflaged gunners into firing at them to reveal their locations. To guide bombers to the enemy locations they found, the Ravens would sometimes use smoke grenades, other times landmarks. Ideally, the Ravens provided pinpoint grid coordinates. Sometimes, when bombers weren’t available, the Ravens strapped high explosive bombs to their wings and dropped them on the targets themselves, an extraordinarily risky technique.

“We were 25. We were immortal,” said Jack Shaw, former Raven and longtime friend of Mischler’s.

Mischler’s reputation and rank earned him a position as a senior Raven immediately upon his entry into his program. He landed in a tough spot. The war in Laos was getting hotter, but pilots and planes were in short supply.

Lew Hatch, whom Mischler had replaced as senior Raven, said the two of them frequently flew upwards of 180 hours each month, nearly double the flying time allowed by Air Force regulation.

On December 23, 1972, Mischler and his Laotian co-pilot were shot down over Saravene, a hotly contested piece of terrain in southern Laos tenuously held by out-numbered and out-gunned Thai soldiers. It was a mission Hatch had been slated to fly. But Mischler was tired of flying training flights and yearned to get back in the fight. And it was quite a fight in Saravene.

“In that one 24-hour period, the 23rd and 24th of December [1972], we lost 40 percent of the Ravens that were in country. For years after the war — after we came back — I was really depressed over Christmas,” Hatch said. “It took me until about 10 years ago before I really got over that.

A few weeks after Mischler-Davis’ parents received her brother’s trunks packed with uniforms and Thai souvenirs that he couldn’t take with him to Laos, they received Hal Mischler’s body. Among his effects was the camera he’d taken with him to his secret mission in Laos. There was no film in it.


McCook Gazette

McCook, Nebraska – Friday, November 21, 2008

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I read Dick Trail’s article (My Gomer, Tuesday, November 18th) with great interest.

I grew up on a farm in rural Osborne County, Kansas. In our church community was a young man named Harold Mischler; his parents and mine were neighbors and friends for many years. Harold’s mother was my third-grade teacher.

Harold was 10 years older than me. I remember him as one of the “big kids,” kind and decent but worshiped from afar, if you know what I mean. I have two older brothers, and they knew him better than I did.

Harold was one of the Ravens that Dick speaks of in his article. I will always remember getting out of school to attend his funeral when they brought his body home from Vietnam, a few short weeks before the peace treaty was signed with North Vietnam in 1973

I really didn’t know much about the Ravens until recently, when I found some information about them on the internet. I knew that Harold flew small single-engine planes, and I knew he died in Laos.

I have been to the Wall in Washington, D.C., twice to see his name. It’s very close to the last of those who lost their lives in Vietnam.

I found the following remarks posted on a website by a David Preston, a contemporary of his:

A True Hero: Hal Mischler

“Hal Mischler was my best friend. His SEA [Southeast Asia] tour commenced about 7 months after mine. He was my roommate at both OTS and in pilot training. We both attended the University of Kansas and traveled to OTS together. From those early beginnings in 1968 until his extraordinarily unfortunate death in 1972 over Saravan, Laos, Hal was my friend and one of my heroes. As a search-and-rescue airborne mission commander, I monitored some of his strike missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail as a OV-10 Forward Air Controller (FAC, Nail 81). Hal was a great pilot and FAC. His deep baritone voice came over the airways and his hearty chuckle touched everyone that knew him. Hal worked as a FAC on several aircrew rescue missions that I coordinated and his efforts contributed greatly to the success of those missions. He volunteered for the Raven FAC program during the last months of his scheduled tour in SEA. This perilous duty involved flying in support of the “secret war in Laos” and supported directly the anti-communist forces fighting in Laos. On December 23, 1972, just weeks before the peace treaty signing in Paris that ended our war against North Vietnam, Hal was shot down while piloting his small 0-1 Cessna over Saravane.”

Hence, his name is listed on the last panel of the Vietnam Wall along with the other final casualties of the war.

Submitted by Gary Shike – Oberlin, Kansas






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Mischler Harold military Osb Cem 13 Dec 2008
Harold Mischler’s military stone in the Osborne City Cemetery, Osborne, Kansas.


SOURCES:  Shirley (Mischler) Davis, Salina, Kansas; Gary Shike, Oberlin, Kansas; “Covert Ops: The CIA’s Secret War in Laos” by Robert E. Parker, Jr. (Macmillan, 1997, 272 pages); Montana Standard, Butte, Montana, December 28, 1972; Osborne County Farmer, December 28, 1972; Salina Journal, August 20, 1968;;;;; Ltd.



William Hardesty Layton – 2017 Inductee

(On this date, August 6, 2017, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the second of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2017.)

In Memoriam: William Layton

Translation and adaptation of the article published by Paz Mediavilla in Babab magazine ( by Von Rothenberger

William_LaytonIn November 1993 I had the opportunity to speak with the teacher William Layton in what would be his last interview. A few months later he ended his life at his home in Madrid, Spain on June 15, 1995. He was 82 years old.

During the interview Layton informed me without, of course, letting me share in his decisions on the latest efforts to keep all his affairs in order and under control. For example, Layton was finalizing details with Yale University to which he would donate his correspondence with the writer Thornton Wilder – 150 letters from 1942 to 1973 (two years before the death of Wilder). He was also was finishing writing a play, “Don Quixote of Denmark Hill”, whose protagonist is the writer John Ruskin.

And, moreover, one of the cornerstones of his life, he was teaching drama at the Theatre Lab that he founded. During that interview I was informed that he was going to start to study “Uncle Vanya.” With this work, he said, he would close a circle, since it was the work with which he got his first big break.

Because of his personality, devoid of any desire for fame, his work has not had the widespread it should have had. So this article will serve to remind all the people who are not aware of his work and the high regard that he has earned for his contribution to the development of theater in Spain, which is evident in the good work of the professionals who are his students.

William Layton was an author, actor, theater director and teacher of the best Spanish actors and directors of the moment. Fondly named are the numerous actors and directors who trained with him and are successfully performing different functions and receiving recognition on the world stage, such as Juanjo Puigcorbé, José Pedro Carrion, Chema Muñoz, Ana Belén, San Segundo, Juan Margallo, José Carlos Plaza, Nuria Garcia, Alfredo Simon, Carlos Hipolito, Enriqueta Carballeira, Juan Pastor, Amparo Pascual, Antonio Valero, Carmen Elias, Julieta Serrano, Ana Marzoa, Berta Riaza, etc. He also encouraged people who have contributed to the development of theater in this country as Vicuña or Juliá, and who continue to work for it, such as the master choreographer and stage movement, Arnold Taraborrelli.

American by birth, living in Spain since the sixties, Layton received numerous awards for his work, including Best Director of the Year (1979) by Spectator and Critic for the Radio Spain production of “Youth Radio of Spain” (1979) and the 1990 Daedalus Award. In February 1989 he received the prestigious Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts from the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos de Borbón.

A life devoted to theater predates that time. What follows is a sketch of what he told me was roughly his life and career development.

William Hardesty Layton was born on December 23, 1913 in Osborne, Osborne County, Kansas, United States. His parents were Walter and Helen Olivia (Amos) Layton. William, together with his siblings (brothers Harold and Robert and sister Helen), was raised first in Osborne and later in Salina, Kansas, where his father served as mayor, and then in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1936 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Layton William birth announcement Osborne County Farmer Thursday Dec 25 1913 Page 4
William Layton’s birth announcement in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper of Osborne, Kansas, on Page 4 of the December 25, 1913 edition of the paper.

Layton traveled to New York where he began his training as an actor and made his first works. On a trip to London with his friend, writer Thornton Wilder, he was introduced to the European theater and there starred in a production of Wilder’s play “Our Town”. He took a break during World War II, where for four years he joined the Marine Corps of the United States, enlisting on October 19, 1942, later storming the beaches at Iwo Jima, and finally being discharged on March 15, 1946. The explosion of a grenade near him produced deafness with which he lived the rest of his life.

Layton William New York Passenger lists Roll T715 1897 -1957 1946
Record of William Layton arriving back in New York City from a second trip to London in 1946. Taken from New York Passenger Lists, Roll T715, 1897 -1957, National Archives.

Returning to New York Layton resumed his work as a professor at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and at the American Theatre Wing, and was a member of both the Alfred Dixon Speech Institute and the Neighborhood Playhouse. He worked as an actor in various theater productions such as “American Way” (1939), “Mr. Big” (1941), “The Duchess of Malfi” (1946), “Command Decision” (1947), “Summer and Smoke” (1948), “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “The Glass Menagerie”. After the war Layton could not readjust to life in America, and it was fortunate that during this time in New York Layton met Agustin Penón. This meeting changed Layton’s life, as he was introduced to the person who gave birth to his interest in Spanish culture. 

William and Agustin collaborated in performing a radio drama for the Quaker Oats cereal company which was called “Don Quaker”. For a time they toured South America, and Penón had the opportunity to share his fascination with Layton for the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. At this time Layton starred in the Brazilian television series Pancho and the Man. In 1955 Agustin Penón went to Spain and began research on Lorca and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the poet’s death. He convinced Layton to visit Granada and, from that moment, Layton began his interest in Spain to where it ended in transferring his residence to there.

Layton William with Agustin Penon
William Layton (standing) with Agustin Penon.

Upon Agustin Penon’s death in 1976 Layton received Penon’s personal archives, including all of his research regarding Federico García Lorca. Layton took this material and together with fellow writer Ian Gibson compiled the book “Agustin Penon: Diaries Lorquiana Search”, which was published in 1990.

Layton studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York in 1956. For a time he alternated his stays in Madrid and New York, until he permanently settled in Spain. In October 1960 Layton founded the Studio Theater of Madrid (TEM), where he taught along with fellow actor Miguel Narros. Layton was also present at the founding of the Independent Studio Theatre (TEI), the Little Theatre and Theatre Stable Castilian (TEC). He became known at that stage to Germán Bonin, the then-director of the Royal School of Dramatic Arts (ESSN), who invited him to work with him in Barcelona ​​at the Institute of Theatre, where he met Puigcerver Fabia, a man of great prestige in the Catalan scene. From 1968 to 1984 Layton worked as a teacher for the National Film School in both Madrid and Barcelona, Spain.

The most successful of Layton’s work in Madrid was the production of “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov with Castilian Stable Theatre Company (TEC). Also celebrated was his production of Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” which ran three times in his lifetime – 1963, 1971 and finally in 1991, starring José Pedro Carrion and Chema Muñoz, at the National Theatre Maria Guerrero.

In 1989, a month before receiving the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, Layton opened at the Spanish Theatre directing the play “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” It was a great success, as was his next play, “Zero transparent” by Alfonso Vallejo, an author for whom he felt a special admiration.

These plays were followed by a series of collaborations,  including “Hamlet”, “The Oresteia” and “The Merchant of Venice”, with his onetime student, José Carlos Plaza,  during the period when Layton led the National Drama Centre.

In Madrid Layton founded the William Layton Theatre Lab, where, as I said, were trained many of the best actors and directors Spain currently has. Through the success of the Lab and his many other efforts Layton is now considered to be the father of the modern Spanish theater.

In 1990 Layton published his book “Why? Trampoline Actor: A Way of Life on the Stage”. “For me, theater is experimentation, collaboration, reading, concept search,” Layton once explained. “No ‘test’ but play, experiment, try things in terms of what artistic reality is being created. I attend several times the first week to give notes to the actors, then I go less often. The best feature has to be the last.”

Let this article serve to remind the world that the teacher Layton is still alive in the memory and the work of many of us.




William H. Layton Movie and Television Roles:

1961             Siempre es domingo   Spain (uncredited)

1963             Confidencias de un marido   Spain

1966             Lola, espejo oscuro  [Lola – dark mirror]   Spain

Layton William H movie photo #1
William Layton in a scene from one of his 1960s movies.

1967             Las que tienen que servir    Spain

1968             Los que tocan el piano   Spain

1969             Esa mujer   Spain

1969             La vida sigue igual  Spain

1970             La Cólera del Viento [The Wind’s Fierce; also known as Wrath of the Wind]                              Spain, Italy

Layton William H movie photo #1 movie wrath of the wind 1970 b
William Layton in a scene from the movie Wrath of the Wind (1970).

1970             Transplant   USA

1971             A Town Called Hell [A Town Called Bastard]  UK, Spain (uncredited) 

1971             Man in the Wilderness   USA

1972             La Casa sin fronteras [The House Without Frontiers] Spain

1972             Travels with My Aunt   USA (uncredited)

1973             La Campana del infierno [Bell from Hell]  Spain, France

1973             Los camioneros (TV series)   Spain

1973             Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe [The Scarlet Letter]  Germany, Spain

1974             Apuntes para una tesis doctoral    Spain

1974             Cuentos y leyendas (TV series)   Spain

1974             Los pintores del Prado (TV series)    Spain

1974             Open Season      Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA

1974             The New Spaniards      Spain                          

1975             La adúltera     Spain

1975             Los pájaros de Baden-Baden    Spain

1977             Curro Jiménez (TV series)   Spain

1977             Hasta que el matrimonio nos separe   Spain

1977             La Gioconda está triste   Spain, Italy

1977             La saga de los Rius (TV series)    Spain

1977             Las locuras de Jane    Spain

1977             Hasta que el matrimonio nos separe [We did not separate . . . to divorce] Spain

1978             Memoria    Spain

1979             El juglar y la reina (TV series)     Spain

1979             Los mitos (TV series)     Spain

1980             F.E.N.    Spain

1983             Bearn o la sala de las muñecas [Beam or a room of dolls]  Spain

1984             La conquista de Albania     Spain

1989             Autumn Rain   Spain

2008            Heaven on Earth    Canada

                     (Nominated by the Directors Guild of Canada for 2009 DGC Team Award)




Mr. Layton (a conversation with Carlos Hipólito)

by Marcos Ordóñez

March 20, 2014

(Reprinted from the website:

I’m re-reading Why? Trampoline of the actor, the compilation of texts and theatrical exercises that William Layton published in 1990, and I realize that last December was the centenary of his birth. Professor, actor, stage director, translator and playwright, American, Kansas. He studied in New York, at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he trained in the teachings of Stanislavsky under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner, one of the heterodox of the Actors Studio. He arrived in Spain in the mid-fifties, with the help of his friend Agustín Penón, the first great Lorca researcher. In Mérida, he was dazzled by the way of listening to the scene by Mary Carrillo, who starred in La Alameda, by Anouilh. In that festival he discovered “that the Spanish actors were capable of titanic efforts but they got bored with the continued work”. In 1959 he settled in Madrid and created the first “laboratory of actors” of this country, along with Miguel Narros and Betsy Berkley. Forty years later, several generations of actors and actresses had deepened (and even revolutionized) their way of interpreting thanks to him. In 1995, suffering from an almost absolute deafness and with mobility difficulties, Layton committed suicide so as “not to be a burden,” as he wrote in his farewell note.

I want to know more about the American teacher. So I call Carlos Hipólito, who was his disciple from a very young age. He responds with his usual passion and cordiality.

Hipolito Carlos by
Carlos Hipolito

“I love talking about Mr. Layton! There are still people who do not know how important it has been for the theater of this country. I had the great luck that I was formed when I began to take my first steps as an actor, at eighteen, that is, at the best moment and with the best educator imaginable. Starting with him was a gift. I feel privileged, and I believe that everyone who has learned from him will tell you the same thing. You know that Layton, Narros and Betsy Berkley created the TEM (Teatro Estudio de Madrid), whose first promotion was presented in 1964 with Process by the shadow of a donkey, Dürrenmatt, directed by a very young José Carlos Plaza.


What comes now seems like a soup of letters. I began to receive classes ten years later in the TEI (Independent Experimental Theater), which was born in 1968 as a split of the TEM, and in turn would become the TEC (Spanish Stable Theater). These classes were somewhat itinerant. They began in the TEI room, the Little Theater of Magallanes Street, which had a capacity of seventy people, but the seats could be removed and thus expanded space. From there we went to the dance studio of Karen Taft, in Libertad 15, where she also taught movement with Arnold Taraborelli, American as Layton, of Philadelphia, and tried the functions of TEI. Later Layton Laboratory was created, which started, if I remember correctly, in the Spanish test rooms and then in Carretas 14, which was when I disengaged a little, for work reasons, but whenever I could go back to continue learning.

My professional debut was in So Five Five Years, directed by Miguel Narros, in 1978. Doing two daily functions seemed to me something extraordinary. At that time they were already the TEC, with a management team formed by Narros, Jose Carlos Plaza, Layton and Taraborrelli. Narros and Plaza used to sign the montages, and Layton and Taraborrelli always collaborated in directing. They were all great, but Mr. Layton, as we all called him, was extraordinary. He was a teacher and a sower. Now anyone is called a teacher, but there are very few who are really teachers.

The first thing that caught my eye was his appearance. Very elegant, with great authority. Eyes piercing, [like a] hawk. And a grave, precious, persuasive voice. Not only did it revolutionize the art of acting in Spain, but it made us see very clearly the links, the legacies. He showed us where we were coming from. He told us that there were a number of actors who were our elders: they had never stepped into a class, but they were the best teachers we could have. And that is not usual. The usual thing is to try to erase all of the above, especially if the person who says it is a foreigner. There are many schools that despise what others do, as if they were the only possessors of theatrical truth. And he was just the opposite, a man of immense generosity, constant. He would get excited and tell us, “You have to run to see what Berta Riaza does in that role. He is doing exactly what I ask you to do.” He adored Mary Carrillo, Berta Riaza, and Gutierrez Caba.

Mr. Layton taught me what I call the “fundamental principles”, beginning with the approach to the text. It made you discover, line by line, what the character was silent. He said: “If a text is well written, you will detect not only what the character says but what he decides not to say, which is much more important, because it is what defines him and makes him really interesting. But it’s not always easy to see.”

Another day he told us: “Many actors have the tendency to want to tell the whole character, to “illustrate” it, and then the interpretation becomes redundant. Do not “explain”, nor forget that the public also thinks. They not only have to listen to you but they have to be moved: they have to think with you, and wonder what you are thinking”. It combined in an incredible way to delve into the psychology of the character with an absolute practical sense of how to handle an actor on stage.

He had the pride of one who knows he knows, but deep down he was very humble: “There are many people who say that I am the one who has brought the Method to Spain,” he said. “They are wrong, because the Method does not exist. What is the Method? It’s naming common sense. The Method does not exist because there are so many methods as actors. Each of you will find your own method through what you learn here with me, what you learn in another school and, above all, on stage. Note that two actors who have studied in the same school never work in the same way. Even the same actor, by his vital circumstances, never prepares the characters in the same way: it depends on whether he does it in the spring or in the winter, if he has had an illness or is healthy . . . there are always a thousand variables.” He always taught to relativize everything, not to put big caps on things.

There was another startling thing about Mr. Layton. He had spent many years in our country and was fluent in written Castilian, because he did a lot of translations, but he still spoke a very American Castilian, a Spanglish that was not always easy to decipher. To finish it off, a grenade left him deaf in Iwo Jima. Many people asked me: “This man, how can he teach and direct?” They did not believe me when I told them that he had a capacity for observation and listening that touched the paranormal. He listened with his eyes. He studied the placement of the body and always knew if you were in the right tone. And what he said coincided fully with what the other directors of the team had warned.

As teacher and director he had an infinite patience. When an actor did not understand something, he went to the basics to help him get to where he wanted to take him. If the actor had not done the initial work on his own, he’d done the whole process with him from the beginning. Being patient is a way of being respectful. And he knew how to lead each one in a different way: that is one of the greatest qualities of a director.

There were two eras in my relationship with him. The first was in the classes; the second, on stage. In the TEC I did The Tartar Lady, of Nieva, the Don Carlos of Schiller and Long Trip to the Night, of O’Neill. They were directing Narros or Plaza but, as I said before, Layton was always there, and helping you to break down each scene. In the second stage a friendship was formed, because in the rehearsals there are many dead times and I was fortunate to be able to talk much with him about life and the trade.

He could be laconic, very cowboy. And hard; he had been a Marine and that marked him. Respectful always, but hard. He hated the sensibility. Under that initial layer of roughness was an emotional man and close.

He taught me to value discipline, respect for work, for the stage, for the public. To never yield to the easy, to demand of you. To overcome you always, but without comparing yourself with anyone. He said: “Never try to be more than another. That is absurd, it leads nowhere. You have to compare yourself with your previous work. If you try to be better than another you are bound to fail, because there will always be someone who says that the other is better than you, and that will sink you. You do not have to compete.”

He put me on guard against the facility: “There are actors to whom everything is very simple. The director tells them something, they catch him on the fly and they act for him. That’s great, but they run the risk of believing that resolving what the director asks them is worth it. You always have to be vigilant, because the search never ends”.

After a rehearsal of Long Trip to the Night he said something that I tried to follow strictly: “Carlitos, the best job is the one that is not noticed. I hope that the public that sees you acting never thinks “what a good actor he is”. You have to try that the stage does not leave the actor, but that the public always sees the personage and that they create it to him. When they finish, if they want, they think about how good the actor is, but not during the scene. Do not go out and make a show of faculties. You never have to “show” the job. The viewer has to think “how simple it is, how easy it seems to be,” however much it has cost you. If they tell you that, you have done well. On stage we play to be others, and when you play, even if you get tired, you get tired at ease. “

Many years have passed but I still think about him. He did not give me crutches to walk on stage: he gave me legs. Thank you, Mr. Layton.

Layton William Why Trampoline Actor
The cover of a modern reprint of William Layton’s 1990 book “Why? Trampoline Actor”.



In March 2017 a new book on William Layton and his work in the Spanish theater was released.

Layton William Implantation

William Layton: The Implementation of the Method in Spain

by Javier Carazo Aquilera (Editorial Fundamentos, Madrid, Spain, 2017)

The history of interpretation in Spain and, hence, the formation of actors, changed radically when in 1958 an American named William Layton decided to settle in these lands to teach a technique that until then was only known by actors and films American: the famous Method. But not the Actor’s Studio Method commanded by Lee Strasberg, but the one learned with Sanford Meisner. And with it Spanish theater resumed that modernizing current that had been cut off with the outbreak of civil war in the 1930s and the subsequent dictatorship, drowning the efforts of Cipriano de Rivas Cherif, Margarita Xirgu or Maria Teresa Leon.

From the first trip to Spain in 1955, Layton perceived the shortcomings of Spanish actors and the need for a long overdue renovation in the technique of interpretation. Beginning in 1960, with the successive founding of his own schools-theater groups, plus his teaching experience in public places and the adhesion of Miguel Narros and José Carlos Plaza, two key names in his career and in the Spanish scene, he managed to implant and develop a methodology for actors who today stand as a majority in dramatic art studies.

Among his contributions are the creation of one of the first private theater academies, the application of the Method in the stage montages and a dignification of the actor – a profession quite badly beaten in Spain. In adapting to the idiosyncrasy of the interpreter here, this teaching eventually drifted into the Layton Method – an own formula that has jumped to the dramaturgy (in the curricula, in the texts or in the scripts) and to the direction of scene, with the indispensable analysis of text and the table work. – by Editorial Fundementos.


William Layton

Because of his limitations with language, deafness

and humility, he was a team man

Marcos Ordóñez

27 April 2017

Among the great theatrical shocks of my adolescence was Edward Albee’s play Historia del zoo, in January 1974, in charge of the TEI (Independent Experimental Theater), directed by William Layton, with Antonio Llopis and José Carlos Plaza, in The Poliorama in Barcelona. I had not seen anything so intense as that, so full of truth. And Antonio Llopis seemed to me a unique actor, out of series. That is why I have fallen on the new book William Layton, the Implantation of the Method in Spain, by Javier Carazo (Editorial Fundamentos), perhaps the most complete text on the American master, and all those who by his side carried out one of the most exciting adventures of our Theater. I fear it is unknown to the younger generations.

To speak of the great Cowboy of Kansas is also to speak of the group formed by Miguel Narros, Jose Carlos Plaza, Arnold Taraborrelli, French Pillar, Paca Ojea, Begoña Valley, Francisco Vidal and a very long list of professors and interpreters who continue learning or spreading their teachings in The Layton Laboratory. Because of his limitations with Castilian, his deafness (because of a grenade in Iwo Jima) and his essential humility, Layton was, therefore, a team man. He always said: ‘I am a good director, though not very good; a regular actor and a great teacher.”

Javier Carazo’s book tells the story of “Mr. Layton”, his theatrical passion, and also shows the essence of his “fundamental principles”: how to bring truth to the stage, how to preserve the freshness of a text after a hundred or two hundred representations. In this book I have learned, for example, that the “table work” of History of the Zoo lasted two months.


SOURCES Robert Gaylord Layton, Englewood, Colorado; International Movie Database; Wikipedia; Marcos Ordóñez, “Mr. Layton (a conversation with Carlos Hipólito)” (, 2014); Marcos Ordóñez, “William Layton: Because of his limitations with language, deafness and humility, he was a team man” (, 2017);;;;