Clarice Grace Towner – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall.

And so on this date, May 13, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the ninth – and last – inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

Clarice Grace Towner was the daughter of Homer Z. and Eveline (White) Towner.  Grace’s birth on September 11, 1883 in Delphos, Kansas, was duly noted in the local newspaper:

“Mr. and Mrs. Homer Towner will please accept the congratulations their numerous friends over the safe arrival of their infant daughter.” – Delphos Carrier, Delphos, Kansas, September 21, 1883.

By 1891 Grace’s parents had moved to Osborne, Osborne County, Kansas.  There Grace attended the primary schools and graduated from Osborne High School in 1902.  She taught at least one year in the rural Mount Hope School, District #6, near Osborne in 1904-1905 before enrolling in Washburn College, at Topeka, Kansas, where she graduated with a B.A. degree in 1909. She taught a summer term in the Eureka, Kansas school system before heading to Alton, Kansas, in August 1909 to take over the assistant principal position at Alton High School.  Just a month later Grace was appointed the Alton High School principal upon the sudden resignation of the previous principal.  

In September 1911 Grace left for Chicago, Illinois to enter the Congregational Training School for Women, from which she graduated in may 1912.  The following August she received her appointment to the mission board at Adana, Turkey to teach there in the mission school that served the Armenian Christian population in the city.  This was the start of Grace’s career as a missionary teacher in the Near East Congregational Mission (1912-1951) under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Her forty years as a missionary occurred at (1) Adana Girls’ High School, 1912-1932; (2) Tarsus Amerikan College, 1933-1945; and (3) Uskudar American Academy for Girls, Istanbul, 1946-1951.

Grace started as the playground director at the Girls’ School in Adana and slowly worked her way up the educational ladder.  For the first five years she saw the school grow in numbers and scholastic standing.  And then came World War I and the reality of America and Turkey being on opposing sides.

*  *  *  *  *

“Miss Grace Towner of Osborne, who has been engaged in the mission field at Adana, Turkey, the last four years, has been heard from through the mission board of the Congregational church. She has left Turkey and is likely on her way to Switzerland, according to reports, which are indefinite and unsatisfactory owing to war conditions in Europe, censoring of letters making it almost impossible to obtain news from people over there in whom Americans are interested.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, July 19, 1917.

*  *  *  *  *

“Word was also received from Miss Grace Towner, a missionary in Turkey. The schools have been closed and the building used as a hospital and Miss Grace is a nurse now.” – Minneapolis Better Way, Minneapolis, Kansas, May 23, 1918.

*  *  *  *  *

Word From Miss Grace Towner.

“The Wm. Wales family have heard from Miss Grace Towner. Miss Towner was a missionary in Turkey when the war broke out and all communication with her was cut off. This is the first direct word from her in a little over two years. She was heard from indirectly a year ago last July. She had written to a friend in Switzerland and the latter in turn wrote the Osborne relatives. Miss Towner says she is well and all right, but that the suffering there is terrible. The Armenian refugees are coming in there in a starving condition and things beggar description. She is at Adana, Turkey. She will start for home in April. Miss Towner is a niece of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Wales, a graduate of the Osborne high school and has been in Turkey about seven years.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, February 20, 1919.

*  *  *  *  *

Miss Towner Has Sailed.

“The William Wales family last week received a letter from Miss Grace Towner stating that she had sailed for the United States. The letter was written from Port Said, Egypt, under date of May 5th. She left Turkey the first of May and is going by way of the Mediterranean and will land in England and come from there to New York. It is not likely she will reach this country before the first of July. She stated in her letter that traveling was very slow over her route. She will come from New York direct to Osborne.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, June 12, 1919.

*  *  *  *  *

“A reception was given Tuesday in the Congregational chapel in honor of Miss Grace Towner, who has been engaged in mission work in Turkey for the past seven years and who returned to Osborne some days ago, having been granted a furlough of a year by the mission board. About a hundred of Miss Towner’s friends were present. She gave a most interesting talk on her work and experiences in Turkey. A social hour followed, during which a number of musical selections were given and refreshments were served.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, August 28, 1919.

*  *  *  *  *

Upon her return to the United States Grace secured a teaching position in the Woodston, Kansas school system.  She taught there for two years while she awaited word on being able to return to Turkey.

*  *  *  *  *

Returns to Mission Field.

“Miss Grace Towner, who completed her school term at Woodston two weeks ago, and has since been with homefolks, Mrs. Wm. Wales and Mrs. S. B. Young of Penn township, left Saturday evening for Niles to spend a few days with her sister before starting on her long journey overseas to the mission field in Turkey, where she served before and during part of the World War. She sails from New York about the 22d of this month and will be stationed at Adana, Turkey, for the nest seven years under the auspices of the Congregational church. Adana is a city of about 100,000 population.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, June 9, 1921.

*  *  *  *  *

Grace did return to Adana, but continued unrest in Turkey led to more troubles for her and her school:

TRY TO LOCATE MISSIONARY

Governor Allen Will Aid in Search for Miss Grace Towner.

“Governor Allen will aid in trying to locate Miss Grace Towner, a Congregational missionary, who has apparently disappeared in Armenia. Letters which have been sent to Miss Towner, a former high school teacher in Woodston, Osborne County, have been returned. Miss Towner is well known in Osborne County. Several years ago she went to Armenia as a missionary teacher. Recently the French evacuated the district in which Miss Towner was located and forty thousand Armenians fled. Miss Towner wrote to friends and relatives in Kansas regarding abandonment of the school. Since that time letters which have been addressed to her have been returned with notation that postal service was interrupted and mail could not be delivered. Governor Allen will try to locate the young woman thru federal departments in Washington.” – Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, March 10, 1922.

*  *  *  *  *

MISS TOWNER IS SAFE

Kansas Missionary Teacher Flees Before Turks, But Not to Desert.

“Miss Grace Towner. Kansas missionary girl and teacher, has met with no mishap in Asia Minor, Turkey, but most of her girl students were forced to flee from Adana recently in advance of the terrible Turks, according to Mrs. May L. Flickinger, 1326 Lane Street, state secretary of the Woman’s Board of Missions of the Congregational Church, under whose support and direction Miss Towner is serving the cause of the Armenians.

Mrs. Klickinger is in receipt of letters from Mrs. Lucius O. Lee of Chicago, foreign secretary of the women’s Board of Missions of the Interior, who says the reports sent out in February to the effect that Miss Towner and 200 of her girls had been driven upon the desert, were not true, as regards Miss Towner. Mrs. Lee, who is in daily communication with the foreign work by cable, has given the information to Mrs. Flickinger for the benefit of the Kansas board, and also to Mrs. G. E. Denio, of Niles, a sister of Miss Towner.

According to this information, Mrs. Flickinger says the entire Armenian population of Adana, amounting to about 40,000, did forsake the city in advance of the Turks several weeks ago, including more than 200 girls in Miss Towner’s school. The Turks did not. however, molest Miss Towner in any way and she still has about twenty girls of other nationalities in her school. Instead of being forced upon a desert, Mrs. Flickinger says the Armenian refugees were allowed to scatter to six different centers, but on account of having no work their situation is desperate. The Armenians were forced to leave when the French evacuated the town, allowing it to fall in the hands of the Turks.

Miss Towner has been doing missionary work and supported by the Kansas Congregational Woman’s board for several years. She was recently in Kansas on a year’s furlough, which she spent at her home at Woodston, but returned to Turkey last August.” – Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, March 18, 1922.

*  *  *  *  *

CHURCH NEWS

Miss Grace Towner

“An outstanding American missionary was somewhat impatiently cooling his heels in the outer office of prominent Turkish official in Adana, Turkey. Time passed and an audience seemed no nearer than it had at the start. Casually the name of Miss Grace Towner was uttered. A miraculous change took place. ‘Are you a friend of Miss Towner?’ demanded the guard of the inner portals. Almost instantly the waiting missionary was whisked into the presence of the man he wished to see.

For 17 years Grace Towner, daughter of the Kansas plains, has been at the helm of the Adana Girl’s School, through the war and the greatest exchange of populations known to history. She has seen the school, which at first ministered principally to Armenian girls, closed by war and reassemble, and then almost overnight become decimated – but she never gave up. In 1917-18 the Turkish Government took over the buildings while Miss Towner and her associate teachers gave private lessons until 1919.  Then returning to America Miss Towner for two years studied and taught, waiting for a chance to go back. This came in 1922 when she returned to Adana and threw herself once more into the work of building up the school. She found the Turkish people after four or five years without educational opportunities, eager to have the institution reopened – so eager, indeed, that the girls furnished their own beds, bedding and eating utensils.

Miss Towner will be here at the Congregational church Friday night at 8 o’clock, and will tell us something of the work she has been doing conditions there and the progress being made in this larger field of the church. Miss Towner is being accompanied by Rev. Ludwig Thomsen of Osborne and is representing the larger work of the churches in the homeland. Mr. Thomsen is one of the strong men mentally and spiritually, of the state, and will be well worth hearing.” – Lenora News, Lenora, Kansas, April 24, 1929.

*  *  *  *  *

Turkish Courts to Rule on Alleged Insult by Teacher

“Adana, Turkey (AP)—Within the next few days the Turkish courts are expected to hand down a decision in the case of Grace Towner of Boston, director of the American Girls school here, who is charged with insulting the Turkish Nationalist government.

Miss Towner was accused of the offense after several students at the school protested that they had been forced to wear red, white and blue uniforms and that the American teachers were carrying on a campaign of ‘Christian propaganda.’

The directress replied that red, white and blue uniforms were chosen after a student competition for suggestions which was held at the school and that the complaint against her was made by students who suggested other designs and failed to win the contest which, she said, was decided by the students themselves.

During the last of two hearings on Miss Towner’s case the Turkish judge congratulated students who spoke in Miss Towner’s defense for the clearness and logic of their testimony. A prominent Turkish lawyer, whose daughter was a student at the American school, volunteered to defend the American teacher, and the Turkish government’s educational inspector at Adana went to the school personally and upbraided the students who opposed Miss Towner. The Turkish government did not close the school.

American educational circles here believe that Miss Towner will be acquitted. If convicted she would be subject to both fine and imprisonment under the Turkish law.” – Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, April 4, 1931.

*  *  *  *  *

Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts,
April 11, 1931, page 9.

*  *  *  *  *

In 1932 the decision was made to close the Adana school.  After 21 years Grace was transferred to Tarsus in 1933 and taught in the Amerikan College there until 1945.  At Tarsus, it was said, “a lift of her eyebrow and a glance over her glasses silenced the most disruptive class of boys.”  In the summer of 1945 Grace took a brief furlough to make a visit back to the United States.

*  *  *  *  *

Mission Trio Saved from Lifeboats

“BOSTON (AP)—Three Congregational missionary teachers enroute to the United States from Turkey were forced to take refuge in Athens, Greece, when the boat on which they were traveling hit a mine, caught fire and was put out of commission. The incident was reported in a cablegram received here by the American Board of Foreign Missions (Congregational). The three missionaries were Miss Edith L. Douglass, sister of Mrs. J. W. McKay of Shreveport, La.; Miss C. Grace Towner, sister of Mrs. George Denio of Eureka, Kan., and Mrs. Cyril H. Haas, sister of Mrs. Robert D. Cox of Hemingway, S. C. They and other passengers took to lifeboats and were picked up, unharmed, many hours later.” – Burlington Daily News, Burlington, Vermont, July 23, 1945.

*  *  *  *  *

In 1946 Grace was sent to the American Academy for Girls in Uskudar, where, as in Tarsus, she was associate principal and taught English and English literature.  In 1951 Grace expressed her wish to retire, which was granted.  After visiting relatives in Kansas, Grace settled down in 1952 at Pilgrim Place, a retirement home for missionaries of the Congregational Church located in Claremont, California.  She spent her remaining years giving lectures on her time as a missionary and educating audiences on the country of Turkey and its people.  

*  *  *  *  *

FORMER TEACHER IN TURKEY WILL TELL ABOUT COUNTRY

“Firsthand Information about Turkey will be offered by Miss Grace Towner, recently returned from 40 years of teaching in that country, for the International Relations Section, Pomona Valley Chapter, American Association of University Women, at 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, in Abernathy Hall, Pilgrim Place, Claremont. The talk is open to the public. Miss Towner taught in a girls’ school for 20 years and then in Tarsus College, located in Tarsus, birthplace of St. Paul. A lot of her students were Mohammedans. The speaker notes that she has witnessed the Turkish womens’ transition from veiled figures in the background to today’s cultured women who take their places in community affairs with dignity and skill. The rapid changes which have been made in Turkey under the present regime will form the basis for her talk. A question-and-answer period will follow the speech, according to Miss Etta Agee, chairman.” – Pomona Progress Bulletin, Pomona, California, November 5, 1953.

*  *  *  *  *

After a lifetime of service and sacrifice Clarice Grace Towner quietly passed away on August 28, 1968 at Claremont, California, where she was laid to rest in Oak Park Cemetery.  The Osborne County Hall of Fame is privileged to welcome Grace into the Hall and so honor her memory. 

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts – April 11, 1931, page 9.
  • Burlington Daily News, Burlington, Vermont – July 23, 1945, page 6.
  • Delphos Carrier, Delphos, Kansas, September 21, 1883, page 3.
  • Downs Times, Downs, Kansas – September 21, 1911, page 3.
  • The Journal Times, Racine, Wisconsin – April 20, 1938, page 4.
  • Lenora News, Lenora, Kansas – April 24, 1929, page 2.
  • Lincoln Star, Lincoln, Nebraska – April 24, 1938, page 25.
  • Manhattan Mercury, Manhattan, Kansas – November 10, 1928, page 1; April 4, 1931, page 1.
  • Minneapolis Messenger, Minneapolis, Kansas – May 23, 1918, page 3; March 16, 1922, page 1.
  • Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California – April 8, 1931, page 21.
  • Olpe Optimist, Olpe, Kansas – March 8, 1922, page 10.
  • Osborne County News, Osborne, Kansas – August 12, 1909, page 5; May 20, 1912, page 3.
  • Towner, Grace. Passport Applications Roll 0233 Certificate 399, 1912.
  • Towner, Grace. Passport Applications Roll 0233 Certificate 48857, 23 January 1915-28 January 1915.
  • Towner, Grace. Passport Applications Certificate 85517, August 1920.
  • Personnel card for C. Grace Towner an employee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

George Edward Rody – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall.

And so on this date, May 12, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the eighth inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

George Edward Rody was born on October 7, 1899, in Atchison, Atchison County, Kansas.  The local Atchison paper noted his arrival:

The son of railroad engineer / conductor Henry Rody and Mary (Richey) Rody, George moved with his family when he was a year old to Downs, Osborne County, Kansas.  He grew up in Downs and excelled in sports and in theater, graduating from Downs High School in May 1917. 

George enrolled the following fall in Wentworth Military Academy at Lexington, Missouri, where he served as a Second Lieutenant in Company B.  George lettered in baseball and basketball, leading the basketball team to a 9-4 record and a conference championship, and graduated from the Academy in May 1918.  He then accepted a position teaching military science at the Academy, which he took up after attending a summer course at the State Normal School in Emporia, Kansas.  George resigned from the Academy in November 1918 in anticipation of being called to military service in World War I.  However, the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, and so ended those plans.  

George Rody’s World War II Draft Registration Card.

George enrolled in the University of Kansas in January 1919. As a pitcher on the baseball nine, he helped the team to Missouri Valley Conference championships in both 1921 and 1922.  As a senior forward and basketball team captain in 1921-1922, Rody led the Jayhawks to a 16-2 record and the Missouri Valley Conference co-championship, playing under legendary Hall of Fame coach Forrest “Phog” Allen. That season, Rody led the team and conference in scoring with a 14.7 average (a conference record that would stand for the next 15 years), and was named first team All-Missouri Valley Conference.

Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri, January 11, 1922, page 8.

George was given the “first team captaincy” of the all-Missouri Valley Conference team, the forerunner of the conference Most Valuable Player award. George was described as “the high point scorer in the Conference, combining goals from the field with shots from the foul line. The Kansas captain was a speed flash, a good shot, a brilliant dribbler, a shifty dodger, side-stepping, pivoting and out-witting his guards frequently. Also, Rody is ‘one of the finest and cleanest players in the Valley,’ quoting the coach of a rival team. Rody led the Kansas team through a strenuous schedule and held up his play nearly all the way. He is worthy of the honor in every way.” 

* * * * *

“He was the greatest set shot I ever saw on a basketball court,” stated coach Forrest “Phog” Allen of the University of Kansas in 1944.  “We played St. Louis University one night on their floor and George was doing a great job of eluding his guards.  He shot 11 times and hit 11 consecutive baskets.  The fans forgot about the score of the game and started keeping score on Rody.”

* * * * *

The 1921-1922 Kansas Jayhawk team was retroactively awarded the national championship by the Helms Athletic Foundation, the first such national basketball title for Kansas.

George Rody (middle row, third from left, was captain of the first
Kansas Jayhawk national championship basketball team.

From 1923 to 1925 George played basketball for the then-famous St. Joseph Hillyards in St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the top Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball teams in the United States.  In March 1923 the team lost in the national tournament finals, 31-18, to Kansas City.  In 1925-1926 the Hillyards won the AAU national championship and George was named to the National AAU Basketball Team.

On June 14, 1924 George married Kathleen Jessie Barrow in St. Joseph, Missouri.  They had one daughter, Jessica “Kitty” Rody.

In 1926 George was hired to be the head baseball coach for one year and basketball coach for three years at Oklahoma City Central High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  During his three years as basketball coach the Central High Cardinals won 90% of their games.  His 1928-1929 team finished second in the state tournament and competed in the national high school tournament.   

In 1929 George was named as head basketball and baseball coach of the Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical Aggies (now the Cowboys of Oklahoma State University). Rody led the baseball team to a 9-3 record in 1930 before the sport was discontinued for the 1931 season due to financial concerns. His first two basketball teams had losing seasons, with a 1-15 record in 1929-1930 and a 7-9 record in 1930-1931.  However, the 1931-1932 team’s 5-3 record earned them a Missouri Valley Conference co-championship.  In 1932 George accepted the head basketball coaching position at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Tulane Green Wave under George sported a 6-10 record in 1932-1933 and improved to an 8-5 record in 1933-1934.

In 1934 George left basketball and took a position with the Goodrich Silvertown, Inc. service station in St. Joseph, Missouri as manager of the budget department.  He then joined the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, working for them first in Kansas City and then in St. Joseph.  In 1941 he joined in a business with his father-in-law William Barrow operating a chain of canteens at army bases in support of the war effort.  

In 1942 George moved to Vancouver, Washington.  He then worked as a salesman for maintenance tools and later traveled the Northwest selling hearing aids.

George became ill in March 1956 and never recovered.  He died after three weeks in the Vancouver hospital on September 13, 1956.   George lies at rest in the Park Hill Cemetery at Vancouver.  

The Osborne County Hall of Fame is privileged now to include among its membership George Edward Rody, the legendary first national champion captain of the Kansas Jayhawks.   

Sources:

  • The Daily Chronicle, Centralia, Washington, May 25, 1955, page 3.
  • The Downs News and The Downs Times, Downs, Kansas – May 31, 1917, page 1; September 13, 1917, page 1; May 30, 1918, page 1; June 13, 1918, page 3; November 14, 1918, page 5; January 19, 1922, page 1; March 22, 1923, page 1.
  • Greenleaf Sentinel, Greenleaf, Kansas, October 12, 1899, page 1.
  • Kansas City Times, September 14, 1956, page 38.
  • Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri – April 3, 1941, page 12; January 11, 1922, page 8.
  • Kirwin Kansan, Kirwin, Kansas, March 15, 1922, page 1.
  • The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, July 8, 1996, page B04.
  • Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas, February 14, 1918, page 6.
  • Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, July 17, 1954, page 14.
  • St. Joseph News-Press, St. Joseph, Missouri, May 11, 1924, page 21; December 22, 1935, page 6; June 15, 1924, page 17; March 14 1934, page 6; February 28, 1937, page 11; September 18, 1944, page 13; September 13, 1956, page 5.
  • St. Joseph Gazette, St. Joseph, Missouri, April 6, 1924, page 21.
  • University Daily Kansan, Lawrence, Kansas, March 17, 1921, page 4.
  • Wichita Eagle, Wichita, Kansas, June 20, 1929, page 19.
  • 1918 Wentworth Military Academy yearbook. Pages 47, 70-72.
  • 1921 Jayhawker yearbook, published by the Senior Class of Kansas University. Page 57.
  • 1922 Jayhawker yearbook, published by the Senior Class of Kansas University. Pages 136, 141, .
  • 1931 The Redskin yearbook, Published by the Student Association of Oklahoma A&M. Pages 351–363.
  • Kansas Historical Quarterly – Some Notes on College Basketball in Kansas, by Harold C. Evans. May 1942 (Vol. 11, No. 28). Pages 199–215.
  • Spalding’s Official Basketball Guide. 1922. American Sports Publishing Co. New York. Pages 74–75.
  • The Golden Age of Amateur Basketball: the AAU Tournament, 1921-1968. By Adolph H. Grundman. page 10.
  • 1900 United States Census, Atchison County, Kansas.
  • 1924 Buchanan County, Missouri, Marriage Licenses, page 209.
  • 1956 Washington State Death Certificate.  Rody, George Edward.
  • 1918 World War I Draft Registration Card.  Rody, George Edward.
  • 1950 Clark County, Washington Marriage Registration.  Rody, Kitty

William Harrison Norvas – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall.

And so on this date, May 11, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the seventh inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

William “Bill” Harrison Norvas was born in March 12, 1920, at Downs, Osborne County, Kansas.  He was the son of Bernard M. and Ethel (Houtchens) Norvas, who had moved to Downs from Leoti, Kansas only two months prior to Bill’s arrival in the world.  Sadly, Bill’s mother Ethel suddenly died just six weeks later, leaving a grieving father with three very young children.  His father remarried on August 1, 1921 in Osborne, Kansas to Sarah Hirst, who became Bill’s true mother.  The family moved to Luray, Kansas, near to where Sarah had grown up on a nearby farm.  

Bill’s career in show business had its start in June 1931, when his family went to see the Orton Brothers circus perform in Luray.  The local Luray newspaper put the story on their front page.

*  *  *  *  *

Lad Joins Circus Troupe

Billy Norvas, twelve-year old son of B. M. Norvas, has taken up the circus life.  A week ago a circus company was in Luray and the lad lingered around, did some tricks of performance that drew the attention of the manager and as a result the arrangements were completed and Billy is on the road learning the hum-drum of this profession.  The excitement may wear off and again he may stay with it and be one of the future sensations in this performing.  Billy is a little acrobat and with proper training can make himself into a star.  He joined the troupe with his father’s consent.  Folks of his acquaintance wish him luck and hope to hear of his progress now and then.  So long as there’s people there will be a demand for entertainment and thrills and the higher the quality the better the influence. – Luray Herald, Luray, Kansas, June 18, 1931.”

*  *  *  *  *

Bill was actually only eleven years old at the time.

After a year or so of traveling with and working for two circuses, a carnival, and for a time in burlesque, Bill then went in for straight acting, crisscrossing the Midwest with a stock repertory company.  In 1934 he started high school in Luray and then finished his nearly three years of high school at Wauneta, Nebraska, before leaving during his junior year to work in nightclubs in Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois.  Bill then worked in vaudeville in both Montreal and Ottawa, Canada, prior to becoming master of ceremonies and entertainer for Rollo Sissell and His Orchestra in Omaha, Nebraska, working as a first-rate scat-singer and tap dancer. He did the same job later for the Bennett-Gretten Orchestra, where he started writing musical arrangements.   

Newspaper advertisement, Grand Island Daily Independent,
Grand Island, Nebraska, March 7, 1941.

In July 1942 the 5-foot, 10 ½-inch tall, 169-pound Norvas was drafted into the U.S. Army Infantry, 25th Division, at Minneapolis, Minnesota.  At first he gave recruitment speeches and later served as an entertainment director in the Pacific theater.  Bill worked at a radio station in New Caledonia alongside Jack Parr, improved his studies on the piano and arranged music for the bands of Ina Ray Hutton and Lionel Hampton.  And he began writing songs.   Bill received his discharge from the Army with the rank of sergeant on November 4, 1945.

Bill then went to New York, where he was hired on a retainer to write music and lyrics and sketches for several possible musicals.  In 1948 Bill formed the first incarnation of Bill Norvas and the Upstarts in Long Beach, California.  The Upstarts were a theatrical troupe who were a top vocal group as well as expert dancers and comics, and they quickly gained bookings across the country from January 1949 to Washington, D.C., in April 1949, where they garnered national attention from an appearance at the Crossroads. 

Newspaper advertisement, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 6, 1948. The “Pete Marshall,” seen here as one of the Upstarts, gained fame later as Peter Marshall, the host of the popular game show “Hollywood Squares.”

*  *  *  *  *

NEW SONG, DANCE TEAM ADDED TO COPA REVUE

Bill Norvas and the Upstarts, a new act making their New York big time debut, opened last night at the Copacabana in support of star comedian Joe E. Lewis. It’s a youthful vocal, comedy, dance team (three men and two girls) which was organized. last February and caught on quickly, touring some of the nation’s leading night clubs and theaters. Norvas, in addition to being lead man for the group, writes material for all five in the troupe and also directs. Others are Dee Arlen, Ronnie Edwards, Larry Kert and Phyllis Cameron.  Average age is 21.  The act replaces singer Kay Starr.” – Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, October 7, 1949.

*  *  *  *  *

Broadway Hard Work Counts Most in Top Night Club Act

By Mark Barron

“Youngsters are continually trying to find a wedge into the door of Broadway fame such as young Bill Norvas and his fledgling Upstarts have brought into the swank Copacabana.

The youngsters, two girls and three boys, are a good case history for kids to study when they get ideas they may have the talent to put their names in lights.

Their case history shows that youngsters don’t just spring to fame overnight or that they are born with an extraordinary gift denied to others.  Bill Norvas says it is native talent combined with hard work . . . and hard work is the most important part.

‘We started when we were all students at the University of California in Los Angeles,’ Norvas said between sessions at the Copacabana. ‘I had been in show business and had an idea for an act and began looking around for talent.  I not only found talent but I also found a wife.’

So here is how a top night club act is born:

Norvas first found Phyllis Cameron, a 20-year-old telephone operator working in a Beverly Hills furniture store.

Then he found Larry Kent [Kert], a student at UCLA who was on the same gymnastics team with him in college. Then he found Ronnie Edwards, a 20-year-old mechanic in a Los Angeles garage, who was a singer.

Then he found Dee Arlen, an 18-year-old UCLA student. He took her into the act and then married her when they stopped over in New Orleans where they played at the Hotel Roosevelt.

‘That made up the act, but I knew that for an act with five people in it we had to be versatile. We had to sing, dance and act,’ he said. ‘And we had to be individual entertainers at the same time. It’s much tougher with five people in an act than if you tried to do a single, because we have to have precision timing, and do our individual bits without intruding upon one another.’

Norvas is a triple-threat man for he writes, directs and acts in this group act which presents comedy, song, pantomime, acrobatics and hilarious and harmonious confusion.

‘I was born in Downs, Kansas,’ Norvas said, ‘and it has taken me 26 years to get to Broadway. I’m an old man, because I consider I only started when I got this this act to Broadway.

‘I write the material, stage it and I write most of the songs we use because they must be special, original songs which fit in with our personal characteristics and method of delivery. I write them just for our own use. I can’t think of any other singer being able to use them.” – News-Journal, Mansfield, Ohio, October 30, 1949.

*  *  *  *  *

Bill and Dee were married on July 26, 1949 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. They became the parents of two children, William Jr. and Laurie. 

Bill Norvas and the Upstarts co-starred in the 1950 stage play Tickets, Please!, a musical revue that ran for 245 performances at the Coronet Theatre in New York City and throughout the northeastern United States.  

Tickets, Please! 1950 cast tryout playbill.

That same year the Upstarts performed on the television show The Arthur Murray Party.  By 1952 the Upstarts had performed on television in The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Kate Smith Show, and The Milton Berle Show.  Also in 1952 Bill co-wrote the lyrics to one of the decade’s biggest pop hits, “Make Love to Me” by Jo Stafford.  Tennessee Ernie Ford had a Top 100 hit with Bill’s 1957 composition “The Watermelon Song.”  Under his own name, as well as under the aliases “Bill Eustrom” and “Friday Breedlove,” Bill – who never had any formal training in music – either composed or co-composed in his career around 160 copyrighted songs and commercial recordings.

Newspaper advertisement, Los Angeles Evening Citizen,
Los Angeles, California, January 17, 1957.

From 1953 to 1955 Bill and his wife Dee performed together as a duo; they would later divorce in January 1960.  In 1955 Bill and a new version of the Upstarts toured nightclubs across the American West.  In 1958 a new version of the Upstarts performed nationally that included Jim Pike and Tony Butala, both of whom soon left to form their own soon-to-be hit pop group, The Lettermen. Bill wrote two episodes for the television series Hawaiian Eye, “Father, Dear Father” and “The Comics,” in 1961.  In early 1963 Bill Norvas and the New Upstarts cut some recordings for Capitol Records.  That same year he wrote an episode of the television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  The next year Bill created the stage show “Holiday in the Orient” as well a musical review called “Tobacco Road.”  In October 1965 his musical “Shindig on the Ranch” debuted in Nevada. 

In 1966 The Swingin’ Generation, a versatile and upbeat group of youngsters led by Bill, debuted on the Las Vegas Strip and had a very successful run through early 1968. 

*  *  *  *  *

Bill Norvas at His Best in “Swingin’ Generation”

By Dick Alexander

“Bill Norvas, triple-threat entertainer, has had some very impressive musical groups in his few years in show business – like the Upstarts and New Upstarts.

And now he has come up with his best: The Swingin’ Generation, which is playing a one-week engagement at The Spanish Trail this week.

Norvas, singer-leader-arranger, recently took six young musicians, added two good-looking girls and tied the package together with his own arranging talents. The result is what hopefully will be a return by this country to musical sanity from the abyss of rock ‘n’ cacophony.

Herb Alpert, with a new sound in his immensely popular Tijuana Brass, probably started the trend back to the big sound, and it’s up to guys like Bill Norvas to add to the impetus.

It would be more than an understatement to say that the Swingin’ Generation is being well received at the Trail Room. The audience welcomes this group like New Yorkers would welcome a National League pennant from the Mets.

The show is so well-paced and closely knit it is over too soon. At least, it must be about the shortest 45 minutes in show business.

Space usually doesn’t permit, but this time it is worth mentioning all the names: Jim Price, trumpet and trombone; Eric Fickert, baritone sax; Jay Petricini, trombone; Barry Louis, all reed instruments; Lyn Hamm, drums; Stan Jay, piano; Toni Ingram and Merril Joy, voices; and, of course, the maestro, Norvas. All sing in addition to playing.

Did you notice there isn’t a single twangy guitar in the line-up? Norvas does, however manage to intersperse a couple rock-style tunes in good taste

It is one thing to have the material, but a good outfit needs teamwork and hours of rehearsing. It shows here.

Not to single out any one performer for particular praise – they are all outstanding – we list some of the repertoire, done in modern and standard arrangements.

There is a little bit of Kenton, some Modernaires, and a smattering of Tijuana, but we believe the sound of the Swingin’ Generation will be recognized soon in the wilderness on its own merits – and for the Bill Norvas touch.” – Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona, July 14, 1966.

*  *  *  *  *

In 1968 through 1969 Bill worked for Red Skelton and wrote sketches for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.  During the 1970s he concentrated mainly on writing both plays and scripts, and would take the odd job to sustain his writing.  Bill worked for a time in both Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee in the 1970s and 1980s writing music, and primarily lived off the money he regularly received from royalties on his songs.  In 1994 Bill wrote a song, “Snap, Crackle, Pop” for the episode “Confessions of Sorority Girls” in the television series Rebel Highway.

William Harrison Norvas died on September 19, 1996, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and his ashes were scattered by his family in the Pacific Ocean.  A tombstone for him was placed next to his mother and sister in the Cheyenne Cemetery in Jackson Township, Osborne County, Kansas.  [Unfortunately, the birth and death years given on the stone, 1915–1998, are incorrect.]

A largely self-taught circus performer, vaudevillian, entertainer, lyricist, musician, playwright, and sketch comedy writer, Bill Norvas was a one-man tour de force who now takes his rightful place as the latest member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.  

*  *  *  *  *

The following list are some of the performers and musicians that Bill Norvas worked with during his career:

Steve Allen

Les Baxter

Ken Berry

Sid Caesar

Ray Conniff

Alan Copeland

Dennis Day

Jimmy Dean

Frank DeVol

Phyllis Diller

Tommy Dorsey

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Lionel Hampton

Ina Rae Hutton

Gordon Jenkins

Tom Jones

Danny Kaye

Peggy Lee

Tony Butala & Jim Pike (later became The Lettermen)

Liberace

Peter Marshall

Jaye P. Morgan

Jack Parr

Nelson Riddle

Dick Shawn

Red Skelton

Rip Taylor

Fred Travalena

Andy Williams

Joanne Worley

*  *  *  *  *

45 RPM record images featuring some of Bill Norvas’ compositions:

1954

1955

1957

1960

Date Unknown

Sources:

  • Bill Norvas, Jr., Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Billboard Magazine, April 23, 1949, page 44.
  • Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona – August 5, 1962, page 22; July 14, 1966, Page 40.
  • Austin American, Austin, Texas, October 21, 1962, page 63.
  • Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, April 2, 1950, page 128.
  • Bradford Era, Bradford, Pennsylvania, April 16, 1949, page 11.
  • Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, October 7, 1949, page 11.
  • Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, Chillicothe, Missouri, March 4, 1941, page 7.
  • Dayton Daily News, Dayton, Ohio, February 28, 1954, page 67.
  • Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Michigan, September 27, 1954, page 18.
  • Downs News and Downs Times – May 13, 1920, page 7; May 3, 1951, page 1.
  • Grand Island Daily Independent, Grand Island, Nebraska, March 7, 1941, page 2.
  • Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 6, 1948, page 4.
  • Kansas City Times, Kansas City, Kansas, April 27, 1951, page 23.
  • Leoti Standard, Leoti, Kansas, April 29, 1920, page 10.
  • Los Angeles Evening Citizen, Los Angeles, California – January 17, 1957, page 5; May 3 1953, page 117.
  • Miami News, Miami, Florida, October 29, 1949, Page 4.
  • Natoma Independent, Natoma, KansasJune 25, 1931, page 2; June 25, 1931, page 2; January 10, 1935, page 1.
  • Natoma-Luray Independent, Natoma, Kansas, June 23, 1955, page 1.
  • Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, February 9, 1963, page 19.
  • New York Daily News, New York, New York – May 7, 1950, Page 115; August 31, 1950, page 362; October 17, 1951, page 75.
  • News-Journal, Mansfield, Ohio, October 30, 1949, page 34.
  • Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas – August 4, 1921, page 1; September 1, 1966, page 7.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 14, 1949, page 16.
  • Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno, Nevada – November 8 1952, page 2; December 10, 1958, page 10; August 21, 1959, page 23; February 8 1963, page 26; October 30, 1965, page 24; February 18, 1966, Page 34; March 11 1966, page 33.
  • Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas, August 25, 1966, page 3.
  • San Bernadino County Sun, San Bernadino, California, November 10, 1966, page 50.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri – November 7, 1950, page 35; November 8, 1953, page 41.
  • St. Louis Star and Times, December 1, 1949, page 40.
  • The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 27, 1950, page 15.
  • The Times, Shreveport, Louisiana, February 8, 1953, page 20.
  • The World, Coos Bay, Oregon, June 13, 1955, page 3.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen, Tucson, Arizona, March 25, 1965, page 46.
  • Valley Times, North Hollywood, California, July 16, 1964, page 23.
  • Department of Justice, Arriving Passenger Lists, S.S. Hawaiian Farmer, January 1949, from Hawaii to California.
  • U.S. Army, 1941 World War II Draft Registration Card.
  • United States District Court, Southern District of Nevada. William Norvas, Plaintiff, versus Bob Banner Associates, a California corporation; Al Massini; Telerep, Inc., a Delaware corporation; Nick Vanoff, and Sanford Wernick, Defendants. Deposition of William Norvas, taken on Wednesday, March 25, 1987, Las Vegas, Nevada.  Copy courtesy Bill Norvas, Jr.  
  • Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015
  • https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/26334083/person/ 27579401209/facts?_phsrc=i96-2130160&_phstart=successSource

Minnie Jane King – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall. 

And so on this date, May 10, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the sixth inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

A beloved schoolteacher in her time, Minnie Jane King sets the example of how to lead a rich rewarding life by giving back to one’s family, community, and profession, a life more than worthy of inclusion into the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

Minnie Jane King was the daughter of Thomas W. and Elizabeth Goodwin King, and was born March 27, 1891 in Delta, Ohio.  She came to Kansas when a young girl with her parents, who settled south of Portis on a farm in Bethany Township which her father purchased as a timber claim, the place known dear to her all her life as home. 

Minnie attended the Portis schools, graduating from high school with the class of 1912, and entered the teaching profession.  She taught at the following Osborne County schools:

Summit School, District #41, 1913-1915

Fairview School, District #21, 1915-1916

Portis School, District #19, 1916-1954

Portis School, District #19, 1956-1957

During these years Minnie also advanced her education by college attendance at Hays and Emporia, Kansas and at Boulder, Colorado.

Minnie gave her best to the teaching profession, serving in the classroom a total of 42 years.  Men and women who much later were engaged in various activities of livelihood over a wide area still remembered with pride of having been one of Minnie’s pupils.  She enjoyed orderliness and neatness, and parents and friends sensed a feeling of quiet repose when they visited her classroom.

Minnie was a devoted member of the Portis Methodist Church, having been superintendent of the primary department for many years. The activities of the church profited greatly from her work and interest, where again she exhibited her sterling qualities of loyalty, promptness, sincerity and thoroughness.  In 1957 Minnie was presented the coveted Women’s Society of Christian Service pin in recognition of her many years of faithful service to the church and Sunday School.  She had also devoted much time and research to compiling a history of the Methodist Church of Portis.

Minnie’s life was centered around the activities of the King farmhome south of Portis.   Minnie lived here with her brother Thomas and his wife Alberta, a fellow teacher.  In the community, in the church, in civic activities Minnie had been active and energetic. She was a lifetime member of the National Education Association; a member of the Auxiliaries of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars; the Daughters of the American Revolution; a charter member of Gamma Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international teachers’ society; and of numerous local organizations, including the Portis Alumni Association of which she was president, and for whom she started compiling a history of.

Minnie retired the first time in May 1954.  Later that summer she married William L. Farnsworth on August 31, 1954 in Portis.  Unfortunately, the marriage did not go well, and sometime after April 1955 Minnie and Will Farnsworth separated and then divorced.  Minnie went back and taught one more school year at Portis before she truly ended her teaching career.

*  *  *  *  *

Retiring Portis Teacher Honored by City, Pupils

“PORTIS—Minnie J. King is retiring at the end of the current school term, but to her it’s just a change of work. 

She was been a teacher for the past [42] years.  She taught three years in rural school at Summit and Fairview, and has been a grade teacher here for [39] years.

She was honored recently at a special community meeting.  A program, given by former pupils and associates, was one of School day memories in song, readings, and skits.  Miss King was given a plaque by the 1957 Portis school staff, a PTA memory book with the entire list of her 741 pupils printed in gold, along with names of school officials, and an electric clock by the community.  Telegrams and a large packet of letters were received from pupils and friends, and presented at the meeting.

Other guests at the meeting included Miss King’s brother and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas King, Portis; her sisters, Mrs. Edna Forrest, Wichita, and Mrs. Sarabelle Kaup, Manhattan, and Bessie Perry-Nichols, Harlan, a teacher on the faculty with Miss King during her first year at Portis.

She plans to travel, visit and work in her flower garden.

‘When the school bell rings next September, I will relive the happy memories of past years of service in this great profession,’ she said.” – Salina Journal, May 7, 1957.

*  *  *  *  *

In 1957 Minnie, “Pat” [Alberta] and Tom [King] completed together their beautiful new home on the King farm south of Portis.  There the three of them enjoyed sharing their hospitality with their many friends in the community.   Their happy time there together, however, was sadly to be all too brief. 

*  *  *  *  *

“Two elderly women were killed on Wednesday of last week in a highway collision on US-81, five miles south of McPherson. 

The dead: Mrs. Alberta J. King, 67, and her sister-in-law, Miss Minnie King, 66, both of Portis, State Trooper Bernia Hill said.

Mrs. King’s car went out of control and spun into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer truck, then was struck from behind by a car driven by 22-year-old Richard Fox of Wichita.  Both women were thrown from their car.

Fox and his sister Nina and truck driver Jacob Yutzy, 35, of Kolona, Iowa, escaped injury.

All hearts were filled with sadness in the community last week when news came of the sudden tragic death in an automobile accident of two dearly beloved and well-known Portis ladies, Minnie J. King and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Alberta King.  The ladies were enroute home from Wichita when the tragedy occurred.  Of these two beloved teachers it can be said that they encouraged, inspired and stimulated those about them.”— Downs News, February 6, 1958.

*  *  *  *  *

Minnie Jane King unexpectedly passed away on January 29, 1958 in McPherson County, Kansas.  A sorrowing community came together to mourn as she was laid to rest in the Fairview Cemetery, southwest of Portis in Bethany Township.  The Osborne County Hall of Fame will continue to honor her memory.

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • Downs News and Times, Downs, Kansas, September 9, 1954, page 4; February 6, 1958, page 1.
  • Osborne County Farmer Journal, Osborne, Kansas, February 6, 1958, page 8.
  • Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas, May 7, 1957, page 9.

*  *  *  *  *

Eugene Franklin Jemison – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall. 

And so on this date, May 9, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the fifth inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

Eugene Franklin Jemison was the son of George Franklin and Emma Mae (Scott) Jemison.  He was born on May 16, 1916, in Alton, Osborne County, Kansas.  When Eugene was five years old his family moved onto the old Jemison homestead located four miles east of Osborne, Kansas in Penn Township.  His father and two uncles were balladeers and had toured the Midwest playing and singing ballads in the late 19th Century.  Eugene learned his music playing the family organ.  He had an art easel set up in the same room with the organ, and whenever he tired of playing, he turned to drawing and painting.  His first drawings growing up were of old buildings, farms and rivers near his home.  Eugene then learned to sketch relatives and friends. He attended Baker School, District #12, and graduated from Osborne High School in 1934. 

From June 1934 through September 1937 Eugene worked for the Blair Theatre in Osborne.  He entered KMMJ Radio’s “Home Talent Broadcast” in April 1937, singing an old ballad that won him the first prize of $20.00, beating out 81 other aspiring performers from 50 towns in the four-day broadcast.  That September Eugene entered Washburn College, but his college life was interrupted by his induction into the armed forces in December 1940 during World War II.  Listed as being 6 feet tall and having blue eyes and blond hair, the 154-pound Eugene served as the director of the Special Service School of Art in U.S. Air, Ground, and Service Forces from 1942 through 1946 in California and Texas.  While in the service he painted a 320-foot historical mural called “The Dream of Flight” in California.  Eugene was discharged with the rank of Staff Sergeant in January 1946.

After his service Eugene returned to Washburn, where he studied ballad, music, voice and guitar.   He graduated Washburn College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in May 1946.  In the fall of 1946 Eugene enrolled in the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City and the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design.  He also studied with John Jacob Niles at the University of Kansas City.  Eugene graduated from the Art Institute in 1948 with a Masters of Fine Arts degree and began teaching at the school.  That same year he held his first one-man art show at the Institute. 

On September 8, 1950, Eugene married Louise Burton at Fort Scott, Kansas, and they had a daughter, Jeannie.

From 1959 to 1964 Eugene was department chairman of the Institute’s Graphic Arts Department, Photography and Printmaking.  In 1949 Eugene graduated from the Mexico City Institute of Art, and during the next two years he studied at Hunter College in New York City.  He received a Doctor of Fine Arts Education degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 1952 and then taught a course at Columbia University called “Folk and Primitive Music” in 1952-1954. 

In 1954 Eugene recorded for Folkways Records an album of ballads entitled “Solomon Valley Ballads.”  Eugene’s songs about the life of Kansas settlers in the Solomon Valley included adaptations of ballads brought to the prairie from back East, as well as locally-composed songs about the plight of the Plains tribes. His unaffected style conveyed the trials and joys of frontier life with honest grace.

Cover for the album Solomon Valley Ballads, by Eugene Franklin Jemison (1954).

From 1958 on Eugene earned a national reputation as a scholar and accomplished singer in the field of folklore and folk music.  In 1965-1968 Eugene lived in New York City to be nearer the burgeoning folk scene.  It was around this time that he married Soja Imbery. In 1969 he became a professor of art at Lake Superior State College (LSSC) in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, and was a teacher there for seventeen years.  For twelve years he was an artist-lecturer with the arts program sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and the Danforth Foundation and visited about twenty colleges a year giving lectures and performances concerning folk music.  In all Eugene conducted over 300 art workshops from coast to coast, and was a member of both the Museum of Modern Art Education Committee and the New York Art Students League.  He further studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology (1962-1963), the New School for Social Research in New York City (1950-1951), and in 1965 researched in England, Wales, the Netherlands, and Scotland.

In the field of fine arts Eugene is nationally known for a drawing technique he developed and called “Imaginative Processes of Graphic Visualization,” as well as “Objective Realism through Psychic Automatism.”  Eugene retired in 1986 as full-time head of the School of Art at LSSC.  He then spent two more years at LSSC, teaching painting and drawing classes part-time and helped to plan a new Fine Arts building.  Eugene’s paintings, drawings and prints have been exhibited in museums and college/university galleries throughout the entire country.

Once I Courted a Handsome Wench, print illustration by Franklin Eugene Jemison.
Illustration for the song “The Ocean Burial,” From the album Solomon Valley Ballads liner notes, by Eugene Franklin Jemison (1954).
Eugene Franklin Jemison, “Hard Working Couple.” This work was recently donated by the Jemison family to the Osborne County Genealogical & Historical Society and can be seen at the Carnegie Research Library in Osborne, Kansas.
Eugene Franklin Jemison, “Strike Two” – baseball-themed abstract.

In 1988 Eugene moved to Florida and entered permanent retirement.  He died on January 17, 2000, at Port Charlotte, Florida, and was laid to rest in the Osborne Cemetery at Osborne, Kansas.  As a lifetime educator in the arts Eugene Franklin Jemison has few peers in the annals of Osborne County, and he rightfully takes an honored place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame. 

Eugene and Sonja Jemison enjoying retirement. Image courtesy of saultareaartscouncil.org
Osborne Cemetery, Osborne, Kansas.

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • Clay Center Sun, Clay Center, Nebraska, April 22, 1937, page 1.
  • Evening News, Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, November 12, 1966, page 6; August 13, 1969, page 22.
  • Herald and Review, Decatur, Illinois, March 2, 1958, page 23; March 7, 1958, page 3.
  • Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri, November 7, 1947, page 43; September 16, 1948, page 21; March 19, 1954, page 13.
  • Longview Daily News, Longview, Washington, March 12, 1965, page 7.
  • Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, June 5, 1941, page 2; June 12, 1941, page 4; April 22, 1954, page 13.
  • San Antonio Express, San Antonio, Texas, January 5, 1946, page 1A.
  • Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, March 4, 1962, page 11.
  • 1934 Osborne High School “Swan Song” yearbook, page 15.
  • 1942 Washburn College yearbook, page 139.
  • Jemison, Eugene Franklin. “Solomon Valley Ballads”.  <https://folkways.si.edu/eugene-jemison/solomon-valley-ballads/american-folk/music/album/Smithsonian&gt;
  • Jemison, Eugene Franklin.  2009.  saultareaartscouncil.org

*  *  *  *  *

Charles William Crampton – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall. 

And so on this date, May 8, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the fourth inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

Charles Crampton newspaper advertisement, The Truth Teller, Osborne, Kansas, October 31, 1879, Page One.

Charles William Crampton was born on June 11, 1830, Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut.  When he was but two years of age he moved with his parents to Troy, New York.  Charles married Mary J. Harris on September 11, 1850, and together they raised three children: Stephen Palmer, Charles H., and Jessie A.  When he turned twenty-one years old Charles started in the hat, cap and fur business.  He also worked as an engineer and a clerk through the 1860s.

During the winter of 1869-1870 the Manning Colony was formed in the Troy-Albany, New York region, and Charles signed up his family as members.  In April 1870 the colony headed west, and on May 31st of that year began claiming lands along the South Fork Solomon River near the mouth of Covert Creek and on west in what would become Penn and Tilden Townships of Osborne County, Kansas.  Charles took up a homestead located in the southern half of Section 25, Township 7 South, Range 13 West, and to go to Junction City, Kansas, at the time the nearest land office at which to file his homestead papers.  He then spent the next two years concentrating on farming. 

Charles was an important figure in early Osborne County administration.  In 1872 he was elected the second ever Osborne County Clerk, serving a total of six one-year terms through 1877.  In 1873 Charles was appointed Osborne County Register of Deeds to fill a vacancy, serving one year.  In 1878-1879 he was appointed Osborne County Clerk of the District Court to fill yet another vacancy, and served one two-year term.   Charles became a commissioned notary public in 1875.

Letting his children oversee the farm, Charles moved into Osborne and worked through this time as a salesman for the agricultural firm of Hays & Wilson until the fall of 1881.  On June 9, 1882, he was appointed postmaster of Osborne City, Kansas, serving until 1886.  In July 1887 Charles bought an interest in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper, spending his time working in the financial side of the business.  He sold out his interest in the paper in January 1890 and bought a local hardware store, which he was operating when he suddenly died on October 19, 1896, at his home in Osborne.   All commercial enterprises in the town closed down for the duration of his funeral, as a large crowd of family, friends, and citizens escorted Charles William Crampton to his final resting place in the Osborne Cemetery. 

Newspaper Advertisement, Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, July 14, 1887,
Page 6.

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas, edited and compiled by L. Wallace Duncan, Charles F. Scott, Iola, Kansas: Iola Register, Printers and Binders (1901), page 771.
  • William G. Cutler’s History of Kansas, Part 3 (1883).
  • Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas – October 22, 1896, page 1.
  • US Draft Registration Record June 1863, Rensselaar and Washington Counties, New York, #58.

Homer Lynn Clark – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall. 

And so on this date, May 7, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the third inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

Homer Lynn Clark was born on December 26, 1909 to Jesse M. and Sadie E. (MacGibbon) Clark in Osborne, Kansas.  He was the youngest of seven children.  In April 19010 the family moved to a farm located five miles northwest of Osborne in Tilden Township.  Homer attended Valley View School, District #29.  He then graduated Osborne High School.  He continued to help his father run the family farm following school.

Music was a joy to Homer.  For years he directed the Osborne Municipal Band and was himself a drummer.  In July 1934 Homer was elected President of the North Central Kansas Band Association, an organization that he helped to form and participated in for several years.  Homer also taught twirling classes, with many of his students going on to compete in state meets.

By February 1939 Homer had taken a job working at the Peter Pan store in Osborne in addition to his farming activities.  Around 1950 he began to collect antiques and stored them on the farm.  With his granddad as an auctioneer, Homer began to learn the auctioneering trade.  He soon picked up some consignment sales and by December 1956 Clark’s Auction Service was being advertised far and wide.  For nearly thirty years Homer’s rambling antique store at Second and Main in Osborne was the headquarters for Clark’s Auction Service. 

Homer’s business philosophy was firmly rooted in the motto on the hand-painted sign in his store window: “Buy, Sell, or Trade Anything of Value.”  Name it, and Homer usually had it.  Despite the seemingly obvious confusion to the place, Homer could always lay his hand on the article specified by the customer.  His mind and memory were far advanced of any modern computer.  It was always great entertainment to watch Homer and a customer haggle over the price of a particular item.  You got the feeling that Homer never took a loss on anything that left his store.

Homer collected everything – especially iron banks – and his inventory spilled over in his two large store buildings, with barely room to walk in the aisles.  Homer’s legendary store drew hundreds of collectors each year from as far away as New York and California to come and see for themselves what treasures they could discover. 

In additional to the store and the auction trade Homer continued to work the family farm northwest of Osborne where he had spent most of his life.  This changed in 1966 when the Clark family sold the farm and Homer moved into Osborne.   

In the early 1980s Homer’s health began to fail, and in January of 1982 he knew he had to give up the auctioneering business.  He then hired others to run his antique store.  When Homer died in Osborne on June 24, 1982, and afterwards was laid to rest in the Osborne Cemetery, it was acknowledged as the end to an era of success in the business climate not only of Osborne but indeed the entire region. 

The Main Street scene won’t be quite the same following the death last week of Homer Clark,” eulogized the Osborne County Farmer in its July 1, 1982 issue.

The coda to Homer’s long career in antiques came when Main Street in downtown Osborne was closed to traffic to accommodate the crowds filling the street while attending the two-day sale of Clark’s Auction, held on October 9 and 10, 1982.  Hundreds of bidders came from across the entire country.  Nothing quite like it had been seen before nor since.   It was a Hall of Fame moment in total character for the newest member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame, Homer Lynn Clark.

A scene from the two-day auction of Clark Auction Service held on October 9-10, 1982. Image taken by the Osborne County Farmer newspaper and courtesy the Osborne County Genealogical & Historical Society, Osborne, Kansas.

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • Osborne County Genealogical & Historical Society, Osborne, Kansas.
  • Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas – July 14, 1934, page 1; May 21, 1936, page 1; February 9, 1939, page 7; October 20, 1966, page 4; July 1, 1982, page 9; July 1, 1982, page 11; October 14, 1982, page 1.
  • Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas – October 3, 1982, page 11.

*  *  *  *  *

Harriet D. Chace – Spring 2021 Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall. 

And so on this date, May 6, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the second inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

Harriet D. Chace, the youngest of six children, was born on February 16, 1888 in Alton, Osborne County, Kansas to a Pennsylvania father and an Irish mother, William L. and Anna A. (Maguire) Chace.   

Harriet grew up in Alton.  She attended the county normal institute and received her teaching certificate.  Harriet’s first term of teaching was in 1906-1907 in the rural one-room Fair Play School, District #73, located in Grant Township north of Alton.

In the fall of 1907 Harriet started teaching in the grade school in Alton.  She would become a familiar sight and a fond memory to the hundreds of students who filled her classroom over the next 35 years – a full generation of young minds educated by this one dedicated teacher, who also taught many of the next generation as well. 

During this time life was often not easy for Harriet.  She cared for both of her physically frail parents for many years until their final illnesses, her mother passing in 1922 and then her father and a brother both dying only a few months apart in 1924.  Harriet was a member of the Alton Evangelical United Brethren Church, whose membership provided a great comfort for her during these years.

Harriet Chace with the 1st and 2nd grade classes at Alton Grade School, 1941-1942 school year.
Image courtesy of Deanna Roach.

In July 1942 Harriet resigned her position with the Alton school system and settled down in Alton in apparent retirement.  In the fall of 1945, however, she accepted the teaching position for a year at at the rural one-room Potterville School, District #49, located in Winfield Township, Osborne County, 25 miles southeast of Alton.  Harriet did not work the next year but in 1947-1948 she taught at the rural one-room Riverside School, District #R-18, located in Penn Township, Osborne County, fifteen miles southeast of Alton.  This would be her last year in the classroom after a career of 38 years.

Harriet filled her retirement years with community and church activities, and time with her nieces and nephews and their families.  She passed away at the hospital in Smith Center, Kansas on February 25, 1967, and was buried in the family lot in the Sumner Cemetery near Alton.

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • Deanna Roach, Alton, Kansas.
  • Alton Empire, Alton, Kansas – November 29, 1884, page 4; November 16, 1922, page 1; June 12, 1924, page 1; October 2, 1924, page 1.
  • Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas – March 2, 1967, page 10.
  • Carnegie Research Library, Osborne, Kansas – Osborne County teaching records.
  • http://www.familysearch.org
  • http://www.findagrave.com

Elizabeth “Beth” (Hodgson) Nadi Carpenter Berkowitz – 2021 Spring Inductee

With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall. 

And so on this date, May 5, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the first inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.

Elizabeth “Beth” Berkowitz and her husband Ralph Berkowitz. Image courtesy of Bennett Hammer.

Elizabeth “Beth” (Hodgson) Nadi Carpenter Berkowitz was born on October 2, 1917, in Downs, Osborne County Kansas.  Beth’s father was Osborne County Hall of Fame member Dr. Jarvis E. Hodgson, and her mother was Ida (Somers) Hodgson. 

Beth Hodgson at age 11 in Downs, Kansas. Image courtesy of Bennett Hammer.

Beth grew up in Downs and graduated Downs High School in 1935.  She then graduated in 1938 from the University of Missouri with a degree in Journalism that she earned in just three years, instead of taking the usual four to do so.

After her graduation from college Beth moved to Istanbul, Turkey and started a job as the news correspondent for the newspaper London News Chronicle.  At the time the 21-year-old Beth was the youngest news correspondent in the entire Middle East.  She lived in Istanbul from 1938 to 1941, becoming the Middle East foreign correspondent for the following British and American news organizations, newspapers and magazines, covering Turkey, Persia, Syria, and other Near East Territories:

1)         the Associated Press

2)         British News

3)         The Daily Herald

4)         London Express

5)         London News Chronicle

6)         U.S. Newsweek magazine

7)         British United Press

8)         French newspapers

9)         Several London magazines

In December 1940 Beth was working on a story for the London News Chronicle and United Press International when she was suddenly expelled from Turkey.  The incident made international news.  She first went to Greece and from there was transferred by her employers to Bulgaria, where she then contacted family and friends as to what exactly happened. 

The story of Beth Hodgson’s expulsion, as published in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper, Osborne, Kansas, December 12, 1940, Page One.

The apparent reason for her expulsion, it turned out, was that she had started a romance with the editor-in-chief of the largest newspaper in Turkey, and this liaison had made someone in the Turkish government very nervous.  The incident was smoothed over and on May 26, 1941, Beth Hodgson married Dogan Nadi Abalıoğlu (1913-1969), editor/publisher of Cumhuriyet (“The Republic”, pronounced Djumhuriet), at the Beyoglu Municipal Marriage Bureau in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Dogan Nadi Abalıoğlu.
Marriage certificate for Beth Hodgson and Dogan Nadi.

Beth Nadi’s marriage as the wife of a Turkish citizen offered her some protection in her work as a news correspondent while World War II raged on everywhere.  Until the war’s end in 1945 she was perhaps the most important news source for Western news organizations in the Middle East. That year Beth came home to Downs to visit her parents and friends for the first time in seven years.   Later her talent for fiction writing was recognized when her story “The Haunting Years” was published in the March 1948 issue of Ladies Home Journal

Beth’s marriage had fallen apart by July 1951, and that year she spent some time in France, Spain, Portugal and the Isle of Capri as the correspondent for several French newspapers and British magazines.  In 1952 Beth married a second time, to Scott Carpenter, and the following year the Carpenters were living in New York City where Beth found work as a television scriptwriter. 

Beth and Scott Carpenter divorced in 1956 and Beth moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she continued her work as a journalist and also published some fiction writing.  On June 17, 1965, she married Ralph Berkowitz (1911-2011), a noted painter, composer, classical pianist, and then the director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, who throughout his long and busy career collaborated with some of the 20th Century’s most notable musicians.  Their marriage would last 32 years.

Beth at home with her canine friends. Image courtesy Bennett Hammer.

On November 12, 1997, Beth Berkowitz died in Albuquerque.  Her remains were cremated. 

*  *  *  *  *

In February 1998 Beth had a last surprise gift to her hometown of Downs:

Downs News and Downs Times, Downs, Kansas, February 19, 1998, Page One:

Downs Public Library receives bequest of $50,000 from will of Beth Berkowitz

The Downs Carnegie Library is the recipient of a generous bequest from the will of Beth Hodgson Berkowitz.  Mrs. Berkowitz is a former Downs resident.  She was the daughter of Dr. Jarvis Edward and Ida Mae Hodgson. Dr. Hodgson was a longtime Downs physician and Mrs. Hodgson served as postmaster for a number of years.  The bequest is for $50,000 which, as stipulated in the will, must be invested and the principal amount never used. The will also states how the interest funds are to be used.  Forty percent of all interest money will be used to purchase books for the library.  The remaining sixty percent may be spent at the discretion of the Library Board of Trustees.  The library is very fortunate to have such a generous bequest. The library and its patrons will benefit for years to come from Mrs. Berkowitz’s goodwill.

*  *  *  *  *

Sources:

  • Bennett Hammer, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque, New Mexico – May 23, 1965, page 16; June 4, 1972, page 20; November 14, 1997, Page 51; September 1, 2011 page 19.
  • Arizona Republic, Phoenix, Arizona – March 22, 1949, page 11.
  • Downs News and Downs Times, Downs, Kansas – December 5, 1940, page 1; December 12, 1940, page 1; January 16, 1941, page 1; June 12, 1941, page 1; July 12, 1943, page 5; September 20, 1945, page 1; July 26, 1951, page 1; December 24, 1952, page 1; June 16, 1955, page 4; December 20, 1956, page 1; March 6, 1969 page 1; November 2, 1997, page 3; February 19, 1998, page 1; March 5, 1998, page 2.
  • Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas – December 12, 1940, page 1.
  • American Consular Service, Istanbul, Turkey, 1941 Hodgson-Nadi marriage certificate #133
  • 1945 United States Citizens departing Passengers and Crew Lists Haifa to New York
  • 1948 United States Citizens departing Passengers and Crew Lists New York to Naples
  • 1950 United States Citizens departing Passengers and Crew Lists New York to Naples

*  *  *  *  *

Kevin Vaughn Saunders – 2020 Inductee

(On this date, December 23, 2020, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the seventh and final inductee of the OCHF Class of 2020.)

Kevin Saunders is an American Paralympian, author, and is considered to be one of the Top 100 motivational speakers in the world. He is the first person with a disability ever appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.  Through sheer will and a motivation to achieve Kevin rose from a catastrophic personal experience to live a full life of athletic success, strong moral values, and inspirational leadership by example.

 

Born on December 8, 1955 in Smith Center, Kansas, Kevin was the last of the three sons of Donald H. and Freda (Schoen) Saunders.  He attended school in Downs, Kansas.  Kevin and his brothers loved sports of all kinds from a very early age.

*  *  *  *  *

Story by Kevin Saunders:

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Wiese, had a big paddle with sixteen holes in it and was a real strict lady with weathered skin and deep wrinkles. But what I remember best about this class was “the train”. It had a picture of everyone looking out the windows. The student’s grades determined what position they were at in the train. If you were in the caboose, you were down to the bottom. Of course, no one wanted to be in the caboose. I wasn’t exactly a Rhodes Scholar back then, but I at least managed to stay out of the caboose—most of the time.

We also had a chameleon in that class. It changed color to adapt to its environment. Funny, I still think about that chameleon, as if it had something to with my own later need in life to adapt.

It was in the first grade was that I first met Jack Myers. The Myers’ family farm was two and a half miles east of our farm. The two of us would remain life-long best friends. But after the first grade, whenever possible, teachers put Jack and I in separate classes. We raised too much hell while we were together.

In second grade I remember, apparently for the first time, the sight of “big kids” throwing the football around next to the school gym.

They could throw it so far—or so it seemed at the time. That made an impression on me. I wanted to do that, to throw that football so far until it looked like it disappeared in the Kansas sky. I liked the pads and the uniforms. I liked the idea of belonging to a team. When I saw the big guys playing football, that’s what I wanted to do.

Jack Myers claims that even as early as the second or third grade that I enjoyed the limelight and was telling tall tales (like the time I shot a buffalo on the farm) even back then.

My third and fourth grade classes were combined. My music teacher was Margie Colburn, who later married Bob Schoen and became the Schoen family historian. It was during that year that my friends Dan and Dave Renken, and Don Koops and myself followed a time-honored tradition among Kansas farm boys and got involved in 4-H. I took part in the club’s usual activities like growing vegetables or raising animals for competition, but found that these things did not satisfy my restless, animated personality.

By this time, the family farm was running itself to such a degree that Donald Saunders could get more involved in his son’s extra-curricular activities, including 4-H. He often accompanied me on various 4-H trips. But even then, my free-spirited nature must have driven me to distraction.

When we went on 4-H tours and shows, I just wanted to keep running around. Even so, I was successful in 4-H. I was good with animals and had the grand champion bull three years out of four. One year I had both the grand champion and the reserve champion. Freda said that Donald, my father, was inordinately supportive of my 4-H efforts, and would stay up at the fair with me while he showed his steers, perhaps because he wanted me to stay and run the family farm.

Kevin with his Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion steers.

I believe that it was during Mrs. Ivy Woodward’s class in the fourth grade that I first became obsessed with team sports. I remember Jack Myers running and being faster than the rest of the boys. We all played tetherball a lot at recess. Some kids played with those big trucks and different toys like that. Not me—I couldn’t stand not to feel the wind at my face. Recess always was the most important part of the day for me.

In the fifth grade, I began to play Little League baseball, but it was never a passion with me like football and track, partly because Duane had excelled at the sport.

I found that I didn’t like the expectations people had developed about me through their comparison of me to my brother. I wanted to do my own thing— be in my own limelight, not in the shadow of my brother’s—and therefore focused my energies on football and track.

I finally got to play organized football as a seventh grader at Downs Junior High. Still whippet-thin and undersized, I was the team’s center.

We got our butts kicked when we were seventh graders. I remember guys pulverizing me, just great big guys. I was still just a little bitty guy when I was a seventh grader. All I remember about that team was these big monster guys hammering me into the ground, game after game.

But for some reason, I loved it!

I went through my growth spurt between seventh and eighth grade. I began both place-kicking and punting for the football team, as well as playing tight end. I also participated in basketball and track.

The ninth grade was my first year in high school and I was a little dog in the Big Kennel. My school had the second-ranked football team, in class 2-A, in the state my freshman year. The team had a lot of tough boys, but I really enjoyed it, liked getting right in the middle and scrapping with the toughest of them. I even got to play some on varsity and the kickoff team as the kicker, as I could kick the ball into or near the end zone. It was a good year for me, learning what it takes to be a champion. Even then, I realized that you’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be able to endure whatever it takes to be a champion.

Kevin Saunders (left) was the kicker & punter for the Downs Dragons football team all four years of high school. His best punt was for 76 yards and his best field goal was 46 yards.

I also participated in basketball as a starter and track. In track, I was a member of the team and won the freshman mile relay, and had a fifty-eight second quarter mile as a freshman, which was impressive for my age group. Even in the biggest track meets with over 30 schools we never lost in the mile relay. It always helped to have an anchor runner like my friend Jack Myers who could run a 52-second quarter to finish for the win. I started to put on weight in my freshman year (up to 160-170 pounds) and grew close to six feet tall.

One memory in particular of my sophomore year stands out in Jack Myers’ memory. While Jack was on his way to a track scholarship, I was just a little over average as an athlete, except in the discus. One raw April evening, the Downs track team traveled to a popular high school invitational track meet, held annually in Lincoln, Kansas.

“About ten minutes before the 440-yard dash — probably the hardest quarter of a mile in sport because you don’t know if it is a sprint or a long-distance run — they ask Kevin to run it for Downs,” Jack recalls. “Kevin doesn’t have track shoes, he doesn’t have spikes, all he has are soccer shoes, but he says, ‘Sure, why not?’”

“When it starts, I’m sitting right in the middle of the field, and Kevin takes off like it is a 100-yard dash. He’s ahead of some pretty good runners. That’s the way he’s always been. If he runs it, he’s going to go for it. At the 220-yard mark, he’s still leading it, still running all out. At the 330-mark, he’s still leading it, still running full throttle. Then, it was like a big monkey jumped on his back. He just died. But he gave it everything he had.”

“Of course, Kevin didn’t know how to run that race, but that wasn’t going to stop him. He hadn’t trained for it, he didn’t have the stamina. But he said he’d do it and he gave it all he had, which is what he’s always done. And I really admired him for that. He wasn’t that fast of a runner, but he always gave it all he had.”

Jack has a host of similar Kevin Saunders stories, mostly illustrating my intrepid and determined spirit.

By my sophomore, junior and senior years, I was moved from end on offense and defense as a sophomore to playing full back and defensive end as a junior and finally quarterback and defensive end on the football team as a senior. I was on the varsity on our basketball team my sophomore, junior and senior years. My friend Jack Myers always said jokingly that I always seemed to score the most points when we played a team that would write up the game in their paper in a bigger town! Ha!  The Saunders family scrapbook is filled with articles from all four years of high school.

Donald Saunders, however, had mixed emotions about his sons’ athletic pursuits. Duane played baseball at Kansas State and Gerald ran track at Emporia State. My father never did support athletics.

He let my brothers play athletics, but he told them they ought to be working.

I got up early each morning on the farm, drove the tractor around and around, fed the cattle, herded cattle here, herded cattle there, fed the chickens, fixed the fence, etc. — only then could I play sports.

When I graduated, I had a few scholarship offers to play sports in college, so I ended up taking a few. As in high school, I played all kinds of sports in college from soccer, football, track & field and rugby through all four years – two years of Junior College Community College, and then my last two years at Kansas State University where I joined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and played rugby (like football with no pads). I graduated in 1978.

I then took a job as a Federal Inspector for the USDA and was based in Corpus Christi, Texas.

*  *  *  *  *

Kevin Saunders was just like any other young man from the Kansas countryside. Fresh out of college and starting a family – his son Steven was born in 1981 – he worked long hours as a Federal grain elevator inspector. Touring facilities day after day in the heat, he knew the job wouldn’t be easy – but he didn’t know it would nearly take his life.

But then, on a busy afternoon – April 7, 1981 – like any other, Kevin heard the sound he would never forget . . . it sounded like an earthquake.

The government building that Kevin and his supervisor Albert Trip were in was rattling and shaking; things were falling off the walls. Kevin glanced out the window and saw chunks of concrete the size of a vehicle, some weighting more than a ton, being blown hundreds of feet through the air.  And it was all coming right at him.

The experts said that there were twelve explosions that ripped through the grain elevator at 1,500 feet per second. So, as Kevin saw those two-foot thick concrete walls of the grain elevator being blown apart like paper coming right at him and his supervisor, in a split second the earthquake-like rattling grew with so much intensity that the cracking and popping grew so loud he thought it was going to split his head wide open.

At the same instant Kevin caught a glimpse of his supervisor Albert Trip out of the corner of his eye and all the blood had drained out of his face and he had turned pale white and he had this look of absolute terror on his face. Kevin’s supervisor didn’t utter a word; his eyes his eyes said it all: “We’re not going to make it!”  And before Kevin could even take another breathe, the biggest and final explosion blew out where Kevin and his supervisor were. That last and most powerful explosion completely destroyed the government building he and his supervisor Albert Trip were in – there was nothing left of that government building but the concrete foundation.

Kevin saw his supervisor Albert Trip hit the floor just before the wall of that government building blew out in Kevin’s face and Albert was one of those lives that were needlessly that day in the worst explosions in Texas history. Kevin was knocked out when the wall blew out in his face and he was blown through the roof of the building.  He was thrown over a two-story building over 300 feet through the air onto a concrete parking lot. Kevin hit the concrete parking lot hard, first with the back of his head, and then his shoulder blades hit and were shattered in pieces.

The above picture was taken from across the ship channel over ¾ of a mile away by a person who heard what was happening and grabbed the box camera of the dash of his truck. You can see how the this explosion came out at a 45% angle and the silos of the largest most modern grain elevator at the time had silos that were fourteen stories high and the flame that looks like a blow torch is coming out of the building looks like it is probably well over fourteen stories and you can see the ring of smoke at above the fire blast that looks like it is about twice as tall of the white silo to the left. We don’t know exactly how high that explosion went as the guy who took the picture just had one click on and old box type camera so it was probably even higher at its peak. If it wasn’t the last blast that blew the wall out in Kevin’s face, killed his supervisor Albert Trip and completely destroyed the government building Kevin was in, it looks like it was pretty close.

The force of the blast blew his legs over his torso and broke his ribs, collapsed his lungs and severed his spinal cord at chest level. When the paramedics found Kevin lying in a pool of blood with blood and cerebral spinal fluid oozing out of his nose, ears, and mouth, and his body broken over at the chest like people bend at the waist, and after the paramedics took his vital signs they black-flagged him because they didn’t think he would survive the ambulance ride back to the ICU unit at Memorial Medical Center.

Kevin was unconscious and would have died in that parking lot, as no ambulances or stretchers were available while rescue personnel scrambled to get the injured to hospitals. However, a paramedic who didn’t want to leave him recruited a fire and rescue guy, and together they found a door lying in the debris, which they used as a makeshift stretcher and carried him to safety. Kevin knows that he owes them his life.

After a month in a coma, Kevin finally woke up in the hospital. He was in excruciating pain, facedown in a hospital bed with massive internal and external injuries. His doctors told him there had been an explosion, and while he was injured, ten of his co-workers were dead. The explosion and landing severed his spine at chest level. The doctors thought these injuries would kill him, but somehow he survived. However, he would be paralyzed for life. Kevin’s faith in God helped him to hang on when others may have given up.

*  *  *  *  *

Two years after his injury, Kevin Saunders was persuaded to enter his first wheelchair race, the Peachtree Road Race 10K in Atlanta, Georgia. Lacking the proper equipment and training – he attempted to complete the course in a hospital wheelchair unsuitable for racing – he was disqualified from the event for failing to maintain pace with other competitors. Despite the early setback, however, he continued to enter competitions, finding success at the regional, and then national levels.

In 1984 Saunders won the bronze medal in the National Wheelchair Athletic Association’s Track and Field competition. He would go on to win hundreds of medals in both domestic and international competitions, including:

  1. Gold medal, 1986 (pentathlon) World Track Competition, Adelaide, Australia.
  2. Bronze medal, 1988 Paralympics, Seoul, South Korea.
  3. Gold medal (pentathlon), 1990 Pan American Games, Caracas, Venezuela.
  4. Gold medal (pentathlon) and set a world record, 1991 Track and Field Championships, Stoke Mandeville, England.
  5. Gold medal (pentathlon) and set a world record, 1992 Paralympics trials, for Barcelona, Spain.
  6. 1996 qualified for (pentathlon) the Paralympics and competed in 1996 Paralympics Trials, Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1985 Kevin donated a new track to Downs High School and the Waconda Unified School District #272. When Kevin had attended Downs High School and had been on the track team there, He trained on nothing more than a dirt track. He was convinced that the new track would help the student athletes improve and become more competitive, and just four years later the Downs High School track team went on to win their school’s first State track & field championship.

At the dedication of Saunders Track at Downs High School in 1985.

In 1989 Kevin worked alongside Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone as a principal actor during the filming of the Academy Award-winning film Born on the Fourth of July. He has also been featured in over 50 television commercials promoting fitness, education, and wellness.

After winning the World Track & Field Championships in England in 1989, Kevin was declared “The World’s Greatest All-Around Wheelchair Athlete”. At the 1992 Paralympic Trials in Salt Lake City, Saunders broke the pentathlon world record.

Kevin became a motivational speaker and consultant shortly after the Paralympic portion of his athletic career. He is considered to be one of the top 100 motivational speakers in the world.

In 1991 Kevin was appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. He remains the only person to serve two consecutive terms under different administrations, first under George H. W. Bush, and later reappointed by President Bill Clinton.

Kevin Saunders meeting at the White House with President George H. W. Bush, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, and Kansas Senator Bob Dole.

In 1991 Kevin spent time at his alma mater, Kansas State University, researching improved wheelchair performance with the school’s engineering departments. Mutual friends introduced him to football Head Coach Bill Snyder, who was impressed by Kevin’s story and asked him to serve as a motivational coach to the team. Kevin remained in that role with the team from 1991 through 2005, during which time the team went from being one of the worst football programs in the country to one of the most consistent winners, including a run of 11 straight bowl games. The change in the program was later dubbed “the greatest turnaround in college football history.”

In 1993 Coach Bill Snyder created the Kevin Saunders Never Give Up Award for the Kansas State football team. The award was given to the player who displayed the most courage, determination, dedication, and perseverance in the pursuit of team goals. Many of the award winners have gone on to NFL careers.

In 1993 Kevin was chosen as the Outstanding Alumnus and given the award from Pratt Community College in Pratt, Kansas.  In 1995, he was recognized as Distinguished Alumnus from Kansas State University, College of Agriculture. Kevin was recognized in 1995 among Kansas State’s 30 most famous alumni. Kevin had attended Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas where he earned and an Associate’s Degree in Kinesiology and acting, and in 2000 he was nominated by Del Mar College and received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Washington, D.C., which oversees the 1,500-member community colleges across America.

Kevin being interviewed by ESPN Sports.

Kevin in his handcycle at Paris, France.

Kevin and his wife Dora at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany.

Kevin and his wife Dora at the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany.

Kevin was inducted in 2016 into the Paralympics Hall of Fame.

Saunders is also the author of five books:

  1. There’s Always a Way, published in 1993
  2. CENTAUR, the first comic book featuring a wheelchair hero, published in 1997
  3. Mission Possible, published in 2003
  4. Conversations in Health & Fitness, published in 2004
  5. Blueprint for Success, published in 2008

One of the highlights of Kevin’s life occurred on February 17, 1996, when he married Dora Ortiz in Nueces County, Texas. 

Aside from his athletic victories, Saunders has received more than 100 commendations, proclamations, and awards for his work to improve health and fitness and education, including the Torch of Freedom Award given to the year’s Outstanding Sports Figure, and the Distinguished Service Award presented by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Each time [I encounter him] I’m more impressed with his perseverance and courage. [But] what fuels my admiration [about Kevin] is the knowledge that the most frightening moments of my life – and I was shot down twice in World War II – are not equal to what Kevin experiences on a regular basis.” – President George H. W. Bush.

“You have inspired me with your positive attitude and determination. You continue to raise the bar for everyone, to show people of all ages that you can turn dreams into reality. Thank you for teaching the rest of us what it means to be a real winner in life!” – From a letter written to Kevin by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

*  *  *  *  *

Kevin and Dora Saunders currently live in Downs, Kansas.

“May the thought of taking it easy, never enter your mind.” – Kevin Saunders.

*  *  *  *  *

Truth be told, Kevin was apprised of his Hall of Fame honor three years ago.  We humbly apologize to him and his loved ones for why it did not publicly occur until now, but this is truly the moment at last.  It is a distinct honor in according such an individual with a place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.  Welcome to the Hall, Kevin Vaughn Saunders.  We are all richer for the life you’ve led.  

*  *  *  *  *

The Following Is A Detailed List of Kevin Saunder’s Athletic Achievements, 1983-2014:

To Present: Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalist. Over 700 races run and track and field competitions in U.S. and around the world.

1986 to 1992 – Kevin was considered to be either the Best All-Around Wheelchair Athlete in the World or World’s Greatest Wheelchair Athlete.

1986 to 1992 – Kevin amassed over 10 World Records and several Paralympic Records in the Pentathlon and other events.

99

1983

Kevin ran his first wheelchair race (in his old hospital chair), the Peachtree 10K Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia. He got pulled from the race course before he got to the finish line.

1984

Wheelchair Basketball – Chosen to All Star 1st Team, Texas Lone Star Conference.

Finished 3rd in the National Wheelchair Athletic Association (NWAA) in the Pentathlon.

1985

Wheelchair Basketball – Chosen to All Star 1st Team, and also as the Outstanding Athlete, Lone Star Basketball Conference.

Silver Medal in Pan American Games – in the Pentathlon, where he won silver in the Discus, bronze in the 200-Meter Race, and gold in the Javelin.

1986

Gold Medalist in the Wheelchair Pentathlon, at the World Track and Field Championships in

Adelaide, Australia.  Kevin set a World Record point total, which lead to Kevin being named the “World’s Greatest All-Around Wheelchair Athlete.”

1987

Presented “Outstanding Athlete of the Games” award at the Wheelchair Track & Field Championships.  Kevin won the silver medal for lifting over 300 lbs. in the weight lifting competition; he weighed in at just under 155 lbs. Kevin also always won medals in the World Games in swimming as well as all the other events he competed in.

At the World Games in Rome, Italy Kevin won the following: the gold medal in the Pentathlon; silver in the 200-Meter Race; silver in the 400-Meter Race in swimming; Silver in Air Guns Pistol and Rifle and in the field events and relays.

At the National Games in Pennsylvania, Kevin won every race he entered: 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, and 1500 meters. Kevin also won the Pentathlon, the Javelin, Discus, and Silver in the Shot Put. Kevin also won the gold medal in the Pistol shooting and silver in Air Rifles.  He then then finished gold, silver and bronze in the different swimming events. Kevin also won the silver medal in Weight Lifting Bench Press with a lift of well over 300 lbs. while weighing in less than 155 lbs.

1988

At the Paralympics Trials in Edinburgh, Scotland Kevin won multiple gold medals.

Kevin won the bronze medal in the Pentathlon at the World Paralympics Games in Seoul, South Korea.  He was awarded the Austrian Crystal Sculpture, that only a few people in the world have the ability to make, for being named the “Outstanding Athlete” award of the World Games.

1989

Won the gold medal as the winner in the Capitol 10,000 10K Race in Austin, Texas, one of the largest 10 K’s in the world.

World Wheelchair Games, Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain Gold and world record Pentathlon, Silver discus.

1990

Kevin was the gold medalist in the Wheelchair Pentathlon at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela. In doing so he set new World and Paralympic records in the event.

Gold medalist in the Wheelchair Pentathlon in World Record time at the World Track and Field Championships in Essen, Netherlands.

1991

Kevin won multiple gold medals and was awarded a plaque for the “Outstanding Athlete Award” at the National Wheelchair Games.  He won the most events of all the competitors.

He won the gold medal at the Wheelchair Pentathlon in the “Victory Games” Paralympics Trials in Long Island, New York.

He won the gold medal in the Wheelchair Pentathlon at the World Track and Field Championships in Stoke Mandeville, England, with a World Record point total.  In the event Kevin won the silver in the 200-meter dash, the gold in the 1500-meter race, the gold in the discus, the gold in the Javelin, and the silver in the shot put.

At the World Paralympic Games in Assen, Netherlands, Kevin set the World and Paralympic record in the Pentathlon, as he won silver in the discus, silver in the 200-meter race, and bronze in the 400-meter race.

1992

Gold medalist in the Pentathlon in the Paralympic Trials in Salt Lake City, Utah, setting the World, National, and Paralympic records, and was the featured athlete of the Games by Fox Sports in Salt Lake City.

Gold medalist in the Wheelchair Pentathlon at the Paralympics Games in Barcelona, Spain.

1993

Presented the Torch of Freedom Award, given to the year’s “OUTSTANDING SPORTS FIGURE OR TEAM WITH A DISABILITY.”

1994

Gold medal winner in the Woodlands Marathon at Woodlands, Texas.

1995

Top 10 finish in the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia.

1996

Kevin was a gold medalist at the Paralympics Trials in Staunton, Virginia, and qualified for the World Paralympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

1997

Top 10 finish in the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia.

1998

Earned gold medals by winning 5-mile and 2-mile races.

1999

Earned gold by winning the Corpus Christi Marathon in Corpus Christi, Texas.

2000

Earned gold by winning the Midwest 10K Championships.

2001

Earned gold medals by winning 5-mile and 2-mile races.

2002

Earned gold by winning the Corpus Christi 10K in Corpus Christi, Texas.

2003

Earned gold medals by winning 5-mile and 2-mile races.

2004

Pushed over 2,500 miles across America on the USA Health & Fitness Tour.

2005

Earned gold medals by winning 5-mile and 2-mile races.

2006

Pushed through portions of five countries in Europe promoting Health and Fitness as an international Ambassador for Fitness & Health appointed by President George W. Bush.

2007

Earned gold medals by winning 5-mile and 2-mile races.

2008

Earned gold medal by winning Chevron Aramco USATF Half Marathon in Houston, Texas.

Earned gold medal by winning Conoco Phillips Rodeo Run 5K in Houston, Texas.

2009

Earned gold medal by winning the Conoco Phillips Rodeo Race 5K in Houston, Texas.

Earned silver medal by winning Chevron Aramco Half Marathon in Houston, Texas.

2010

Earned gold medal by winning Chevron Aramco USATF Half Marathon in Houston, Texas.

Earned gold medal by winning Conoco Phillips Rodeo Race 5K in Houston, Texas.

2014

Earned gold medal by winning Chevron Aramco USATF Half Marathon in Houston, Texas.

Earned gold medal by winning Miracle Match Half Marathon in Houston, Texas.

*  *  *  *  *

SOURCES:

Kevin Saunders, Downs, Kansas.

Corpus Christi Caller Times, Corpus Christi, Texas, April 8, 1981, Page One.

Health and Fitness