Emmett was born September 14, 1889, on a farm in the Twelve Mile community in southern Smith County. One of three children born to James and Mary (Sutton) Kissell, Emmett’s education began in the Stone School in Lincoln Township. He later attended grade and high school in Portis, graduating as the county valedictorian. He then studied at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas, where he lettered in five sports.
On June 14, 1911, Emmett married Ina Spencer at Soldier, Kansas. The couple had two children, Helen and Max. In 1913 Kissell joined the Portis Independent as a co-editor with C. N. Akens. He bought the newspaper in October 1913, and served as editor and publisher until the paper’s last issue on July 22, 1943. He was a highly successful and respected newspaperman who in 1932 earned national recognition when the Independent was cited as one of the seven best small weeklies in the United States.
Kissell was an active community and business leader in Portis. He was a member of several organizations: the Portis Board of Education; Order of the Eastern Star; Modern Woodmen of America; Portis Methodist Church; Masonic Lodge; Portis Community Band (he played trumpet); and sang baritone for a barbershop quartet. He served as city clerk for nearly forty years and was secretary of the Kansas U.S. 281 Highway and Kansas State Reclamation Associations. He also served on the National Reclamation Resolutions Committee and was a captain of the Kansas State Guards during World War I. From 1918 through the 1930s he was manager of the renowned town basketball team the Portis Dynamos.
Kissell was president and director of the Portis State Bank for twelve years until his death. He was listed in the 1933 edition of Who’s Who in the Midwest, and that same year Emmett was given life membership in the Kansas Illustriana Society. He passed away May 23, 1959, in Portis and was buried in the Twelve Mile Cemetery in southern Smith County.
REMEMBRANCES OF JOHN EMMETT KISSELL
“I remember J. E., or ‘Emmett’ as he was called by family, as a ‘go and get it done’ type of person. Once he took on a cause there was no slowing down or stopping him.
My uncle, John Emmett Kissell, visited our home in Topeka [Kansas] quite often as my mother was his only sister. In the 1930s on his way to Lawrence to visit his daughter, Helen, at Kansas University, he would call ahead and Mom would have a meal on the table when he arrived. It was not unusual for him to return to our home for the next meal of the day and then go back to Lawrence. Apparently he loved Mom’s cooking. Many times I would ride with him to Lawrence in his Model A Ford with everything wide open. It was usually a wild ride.
J. E. Kissell was a teetotaler and disliked tobacco, but otherwise was an intemperate man in most things. With a passion he loved good food, politics (Republican), quartet singing, the Portis Dynamos basketball team, KU basketball, the Portis Methodist Episcopal Church, family, and any cause that he could be involved to better his community he pursued with great fervor. In the 1940s and 1950s he was active in promoting U.S. Highway 281 improvements and also the Kirwin Dam to furnish water for irrigation.
J. E. Kissell was the owner and editor of the Portis Independent newspaper for a number of years. After it was no longer published he wrote weekly descriptive letters about where he went for meetings, what happened, who was there and what they had to eat. Copies of these “travelogue letters” were sent to all members of the family. The letters also included news about relatives, friends and church. Even though my parents, Roy and Goldie Bell, left Portis in 1918 to live in Topeka, the letters were a great way to get news after Emmett stopped publishing the Portis Independent and we could still know what was going on in the community until the late 1950s.
J. E. served on many boards and committees. He was opinionated and stubborn, but you knew where you stood with him as he could be very outspoken. J. E. had a chance to work other places as a newspaperman. Whether it was a fear of the unknown or whether he just wanted to stay in Kansas, he chose to stay in Osborne County to write and work for the good of the community. It is a shame we do not have more J. E. Kissells to stand up for a cause and go to no end to get a change made – ’go and get it done’ type of people.
Our family is proud of his induction to the Osborne County Kansas Hall of Fame.” — Rex K. Bell, January 1996.