Wednesday, 12/09/09, Public Square

I found this story about Preston, Kansas at NPR and thought it was interesting.  Preston is located on Hwy. 61, a little north and east of the town of Pratt, in Pratt County.  Here’s a bit of information about Preston, Kansas.

The tiny town of Preston, Kan., once boasted a very active Main Street with two grocery stores, a post office, a cafe, a drug store and a filling station. But now they are gone — along with the town’s high school and church. In fact, only 170 people live here. Boarded-up buildings line either side of Main Street. A City Hall and senior center remain within view of two towering grain elevators.

This Arizona man, Ken Stanton, who is an undertaker, plans to revive this town by catering to the dead!  “The 53-year-old mortician with a warm and easy smile has been in the funeral business for 18 years. He is no stranger to Preston. For 35 years, he and his wife, Donna, have come here to visit relatives. Donna Stanton’s father dreamed of a revitalized Preston, and Ken Stanton embraced that dream.”  More than 30 family members and friends plan to move to this tiny town and make it their home.

Although Preston is tiny, Stanton plans to draw funeral business from a 50-mile radius. He also wants to encourage others to give small towns a second look.  “Metropolitan communities are getting so packed with people,” he says. “So many people are out of work. People are starting to gravitate farther out, where housing and things are a little bit less expensive. So I think there’s an opportunity for growth and things to happen in small communities and small towns, if people will just be willing to be ready for some change.”

What do you find interesting to discuss today?



Filed under The Public Square

33 responses to “Wednesday, 12/09/09, Public Square

  1. My mother’s biological mother, whom I don’t consider to be my maternal grandmother (that “honor” goes to my mom’s adoptive mom) always wanted me to be a mortician when I grew up. I thought that sounded like a very creepy idea when I was a kid, and I still do. I’m sure undertakers provide a very useful profession, but not for me, thank you.

    Thanks. This thread helped stimulate some infrequently visited memories…

    This was one very creative Public Square introduction. They are all good, but this one was excellent! I could personally relate to it, so maybe my bias is showing. Thanks for all you do…

  2. Although not born in Kansas, my family moved here when I was four years old so I’ve lived here many years. I’m always surprised when I read of a place in Kansas I’ve never heard of before, yet it happens often.

    How many small towns are barely hanging on in our state? How many will make it?

    Sounds like Preston, Kansas, has a new chance. I’ve read articles that say people from both coasts are finding the inexpensive living in the middle of our country, coupled with a slower pace and ease of travel, to be attractive. Do you think our state will always have people or will at least parts of it become ghost town after ghost town?

    When I think of the many places in my home state I’ve never visited and the many surprises that might be waiting to be discovered I always remember my one and only visit to PrairiePond’s home. The consummate hostess, she not only prepared a feast but also drove us around showing us the beauty and recounting the history of the county she calls home.

    I have stood on the Cliffs of Mohr and I promise that standing on the cliffs of Cedar Bluff reservoir is no less beautiful or awe inspiring! Right here in our state, a few miles away, at a much lower cost of travel.

    How many other places and bargains have I missed right here in my own home state?

    • tosmarttobegop

      “Although not born in Kansas, my family moved here when I was four years old so I’ve lived here many years“

      Quickly STONE HER, she is not one of us… She is not an inbreed!.

  3. Reading about Pratt County made me think of JWink at the other place. He posts often about Pratt County and the Ninnescah river. In far southwestern Sedgwick County, my parents live not too far from the Ninnescah.

    The Indian word Ninnescah means “sweet clear water” – thus the name of the town, Clearwater, KS.

    Kansas is an under-appreciated state and most under-appreciated by those of us who live here.

    • JWink is a smart man, and he knows Kansas! I always enjoy talking with him. Nowadays we visit occasionally by phone.

    • tosmarttobegop

      I have to admit some times I would agree and some time I am just as guilty.
      I use to love Kansas and thought so well of the people.

      When I worked on the Rice county bridge crew I got to spot where it had not changed in a hundred years.
      I would look out on the prairie and think how wonderful Kansas is.

      I was proud and thought that Kansans had a common sense that led them to make sound and realistic conclusions. I guess that all was reconsidered with the marriage amendment, it was a wake up call.
      One of my co-workers was shocked that I was shocked, he was from here but had done twenty years in the Navy and had lived on the East coast for quite some time.

      Returned when his mother became ill and he asked me just what State I thought I lived in?
      The final straw was coming back from North Carolina, I could tell when the plane was over Kansas.
      The green and light had faded and was replaced with dirt and plainness.

      Kansas is function, so are the people not pretty or inspiring just what is needed to survive.

    • I think they have a very narrow focus, aren’t thinking beyond their prejudices and accept whatever their preacher tells them too often (without even realizing s/he is human too).

      I’ve told you before that my Mom voted against gay marriage in Missouri. When she and I talked about it, she admitted she voted exactly the way her pastor told her to without further thought. To this day, she wishes she could take that vote back!

  4. PrairiePond

    I’ll have to give this some thought.

    I’ve spent my life’s work on this subject and how it related with real people and workforce issues.

    I could write a book 🙂

    I probably should… but it’s a very painful subject for me. After almost thirty years in the economic development and people development worlds, my conclusions are not positive.

  5. PrairiePond

    Just FYI, because this is the open thread and I feel like whining….

    I’m snowed in. As Little Feat said, “six feet of snow”.

    Ok, maybe it’s only a foot of snow, but it will be days before I get out of here. My friend says a tractor will be on the way to dig me out, but that could also take a couple of days.

    And to top it off, I’m sick with some kind of stomach bug. Dammit, I HATE being sick on days off!!!!!

    • I hate you being sick any time! Wish I could prop you up on some pillows and fetch 7-up and chicken soup!

      Let’s see, upset tummy calls for the BRAT diet — bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Is that still true today or like most of the things I learned as a mother this too is now obsolete? It’s a wonder I was able to raise children as many things as I did wrong. 🙂

      • PrairiePond

        Heh Fnord, I wish you were here too. I have 7-up but the only other thing on the list that I have is toast. And raw rice too, I guess I could cook.

        Right now, I’m thinking toast. Summer agrees, but she wants hers with an egg, over easy, por favor!

    • tosmarttobegop

      A thought came to me yesterday about you saying you would have to get the truck out and the ice. I wonder if you had a 4X4? I miss mine and I am such a scared cat in the winter with ice and snow. I would not have been able to get my truck out of the driveway if not for being a 4X4. Pretty good down grade and trees covering the drive the ice never seem to melt.

      • PrairiePond

        No TSTBG, I dont have a 4×4. I know. Living out here on these roads without a 4×4 is just dumb. But my truck was new when I moved here, and is still in great shape, so I cant see trading it or buying another one.

        I’ll just rely on the kindness of strangers 🙂

        I didnt even TRY to get out today. I’ll run out of coffee cream by Saturday, so maybe I’ll try then!

  6. lilacluvr

    I’m not a Kansas native either but I have lived in Chanute, Larned, Rose Hill, Wichita and now Bel Aire (we just bought a house).

    While Rose Hill and Bel Aire are suburbs of Wichita, the towns of Chanute and Larned are both both in the little towns category.

    We were first transferred to Chanute in 1985. My husband was taking over the nursing home there and we had two small children. We lived there for 4 years. The townspeople were very nice – after they got to know you – but those first few months we were constantly asked who our family was, and exactly why did we choose to move there. Well, as I stated above, we were transferred into Chanute by the nursing home corporation.

    There seemed to be alot of skepticism by the townspeople about ‘newcomers’ but once we got into the community and made friends – we were fine. In fact, we often hear from folks in Chanute at Christmas time sending us updates on their family news, etc.

    Now, Larned was a different story. For some reason, those people never did warm up very much. We lived there for 3 years (we were transferred there also) Our children were in grade school.

    I even worked for the only tax/accounting firm in town so I worked for two tax seasons in that office. I was the one that inputted all these people’s tax information – so I knew ALOT about their personal lives – their finances and my co-workers filled me in the on the rest of the history (LOL).

    To me, the people in Larned were not only skeptical but cynical. These people hated the fact that the nursing home was sold to a corporation and they saw it as a threat – but they were more than happy to take the taxes being paid by the nursing home and for providing employment for alot of their townspeople.

    But, then again, Larned was the only town I’ve known that also fought the McDonalds when they decided to put a restaurant in there. That fight was awful and got downright ugly – but the McDonalds did come in – eventually – but it was a modified building – not the full restaurant that they wanted.

    So, why the difference between these two towns? Perhaps Chanute was more open to new things and Larned were hanging on to the old ways?

    I don’t know – but we never hear from anyone in Larned and we still get those Christmas cards from Chanute.

    It’s the people that makes or breaks small towns.

  7. PrairiePond

    Hey lilaclvr, the people in small towns regard their own folks who come home with the same suspicion.

    After a successful life and career in the city, I decided I wanted to come back to the farm. You wouldnt believe how many people said some variation of “what happened to you that you HAD to come back here”?

    WTF? That’s an economic development director’s nightmare!!!!!

    They must live here because they think they have no choice, and that no one else would live here either if they had a choice.

    Sigh. That’s a damn tall mountain to climb just to get to the place where they welcome strangers.

    PS–They also used to think anyone who came here “unattached”, without a reason or family or something to bring them here, was in the witness protection program.

    Only witness protection people would “choose” to live here?

    Jesus wept….

    • lilacluvr

      That sounds like Larned. We were told by the mayor when we moved in that “‘Larned is a place to be from rather than a place to be moving to”.

      The best thing I liked about living in Larned was the fact that I did work in that tax firm for two tax seasons.

      Talk about learning the dirty little secrets of Peyton Place. – and believe me – it was a Peyton Place.

  8. lilacluvr

    Did anyone watch Rachel Maddow last night when she interviewed Richard Cohen?

    This Cohen guy has to be the biggest dufus wingnut. He sat there and literally took no responsibility for anything he has done or said.

    And every time he uttered the words that his practice teaches people how to love everyone, I just wanted to throw my shoe at his pointed head. (taking a little tip from that Iraqi guy).

    I am just amazed at how these religious wing nuts can do all their damage and then sit back and take no responsibility.

    He even had the balls to claim to be a victim of a hate crime. I was halfway expecting God to reach down and grab this little dude by his pointy head and smack him silly.

    Now, that would be my fantasy. LOL

    • tosmarttobegop

      LOL I was tickled that he said he is a reformed Gay man and his solution was to cuddle with another man to cure the man of the Gay!

      Ahh isn’t that kind of how he started being Gay in the first place?

  9. PrairiePond,

    Do you think this man opening his business in Preston, Kansas will be successful?

  10. PrairiePond

    Chances for what?

    Bringing back the schools or grocery store? Zero.

    Increasing the town’s population by 30 people? Slim to even odds.

    Sustaining long term growth?

    Less than zero.

    I’m not saying he isnt doing a good thing. And good on him. But I’ve seen it too many times. Eventually, he will burn out or go broke. Or both.

    I’ll wait to see the actual increase in population. Because it is ALL about population.

    And, believe it or not, the number of people dying in western Kansas is declining.

    Fewer total people=fewer deaths.

  11. It’s more serious than I was aware of. Are the rural people leaving the state or just the rural areas?

  12. PrairiePond

    I’ve made this mistake myself, and seen countless others do it too.

    There is some very cool real estate going to waste and falling down out here. We, outsiders and homecomers, look at those wonderful buildings, beautiful farmsteads, abandoned schools, and think:

    What a treasure! This shoudnt go to waste! I could do SOMETHING with this!

    And they believe it. And try their hardest. And do everything right.

    The problem is, population sustains population. Population sustains communities, not the other way around.

    And frankly, there just arent that many people willing to live out in the boonies. They may think they do, and try it for awhile. But eventually, they go back to the cities. It’s just too hard over the long term.

    But as a Kansas Dept. of Commerce report once said, we have just enough economic development success to think we really have a chance, but not enough to really sustain progress.

    Every now and then even a blind pig stumbles over an acorn. And that’s what keeps the pig in the hunt. But eventully, the pig has to be fed. He cant sustain himself with the hunt.

    I find one of the ultimate ironies out here is that these small and dying communities are made up of wingnut repuke voters who think gummit is bad and all gummit spending should be stopped.

    But try to close their local FSA office, like in Gove, and they raise holy hell about how their town will die without that federal office that serves 20 people each year. The epitome of wasteful gummit spending. But when it’s THEIR ox….

    Same with schools. They piss, moan and sigh about taxes and too much government spending, but expect a huge fight if you try to close THEIR school that had 10 seniors and 8 eighth graders last year. THEN they whine that without that school, their town will die so the rest of the state should subsidize it.

    In case you cant tell, the people out here make me crazy 🙂

  13. Well at least you have an excuse! I’m crazy without much help.

    It is a different life to be miles away from supplies, entertainment, doctors… It wouldn’t be for everyone, no matter how peaceful it is.

  14. PrairiePond

    “Are the rural people leaving the state or just the rural areas?”

    I dont know the answer to that, and I’m tempted to say it isnt a problem because people are “leaving”. Like a mass exodus.

    It’s more like death by a thousand cuts. It’s a war of attrition, and rural areas are losing every battle. Even our nursing homes are now only half full, where 5 years ago, there was a waiting list to get in.

    Eventually, all those who live there die. And there arent even enough elderly in the next wave to keep the nursing homes open.

    It used to be that when Ma and Pa retired and/or got old, the “kids” came back when they retired and took care of the folks, took over the business, moved into the family home, etc.


    Ma and Pa will go where the kids are, instead of vice versa. When folks retire now, they move to KC or Denver or Dallas or wherever their kids and grandkids reside. When they need care, they will go to nursing homes THERE, not here.

    Hence, even the elderly population is declining here.

    Yeah. It’s grim. I’m convinced we have fallen below the low water mark where any recovery is possible. We as a state, and even we as rural residents, would be better off admitting that and formulating a plan going forward that acknowledges this is the end game.

    Instead, we deny ’till we die.

    How’s that workin’ for us?

  15. PrairiePond

    “It wouldn’t be for everyone, no matter how peaceful it is.”

    And that’s exactly the point. Not everyone is equipped to live 40 miles from the nearest wally world, or 25 miles from the nearest grocery store. Or 50 miles from the nearest doctor or hospital. And as we age, we become even less equipped to do so. Especially if our “kids” live elsewhere and there is no one to drive us to the store or the doc or wherever.

    Not everyone can cope with the isolation, reduced employment opportunities, and certainly, not everyone can cope with the narrow minded bougeois. That’s what I mean that things get too difficult over the long term, and so they go back to what they know.

    It’s a great place to visit, but veeeery hard to stay.

  16. PrairiePond

    I had a friend visit from Austin, a masters in social work from UT. She saw all the empty houses and farms and buildings and wondered why the welfare families and homeless couldnt be relocated here.

    I just laughed out loud. It takes certain skills to live here, and if you dont have them, or a car, or truck, or can cope with the cold and culture shock, it will be a miserable life. They would soon be clamoring to go back home.

    It’s a mismatch of resources. We have the infrastructure with excess capacity. But we dont have the population to put it to use.

    Cities have the population, but inadequate infrastructure. So they keep building infrastructure in the urban areas while our excess capacity deteriorates without use.

    Sigh. If I wasnt sick before, I am now just thinking about the sad irony of it all!

    • tosmarttobegop

      LOL when I moved to Sterling I sure suffered culture shock. First small town I lived in and first time really dealing with small town people.

      The FBI should be as good as small town people for finding out the information about others!

  17. tosmarttobegop

    My friend lives in Zenda and the first time I got a look at down town I was saddened and amazed!
    Such lovely building and all empty, they seemed so out of place for a town in the middle of nowhere.

    Then my dad who spent some time in Medicine Lodge told me at one time Zenda was a main turn-a-round for the railroad. Funny how society can flow and eddy like that.

  18. tosmarttobegop

    I am interested in finding out the final poop on this compromise in health care.
    When I heard about lowering the age one could buy into Medicare.

    My first thought is how that idea has another give-a-way to big insurance.
    Take a group that is at the age where they have more claims and are suffering more illnesses.
    Move them to a public program and out of the risk pool of the insurance companies.

    Man if this was a burglary not only would Big insurance have it finger prints at the scene they would have dropped their damn wallet!

  19. Out of respect for our blog and all our bloggers, I want to tell everyone something.

    Today, for the first time, I didn’t “approve” a post. It was from a blogger who wanted to criticize another blogger. I would do it again if the same was posted.

    We are a moderated blog and do have rules for participation. So, to the blogger who uses the nic ‘Ape’: your posts weren’t approved and won’t be approved as long as you choose to post about other bloggers. If you choose to blog in a civil manner, no matter what political opinions you may hold, you and anyone else is welcome.

  20. I’ve no doubt that ‘Ape’ had no intent to follow the rules fnord, although I thankfully haven’t seen the post(s).

    To ‘Ape’: this blog isn’t a governmental agency, so don’t be crying about your ‘free speech rights’. They haven’t been infringed by anyone prohibited from doing so under either the Kansas or United States Constitution. If you want to engage in the conduct fnord describes, buy your own microphone and knock yourself out.