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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gorham, Delphos and...Rock City!

"Just off of the black top..."

Oh hi!  So glad you could join us again after an absolutely EXCITING week of traveling!  Not only we were able to take in the history of two co-ops, we were also able to visit one of the 8 wonders of Kansas, Rock City.  But I should probably tell this story in chronological order! :)

First stop:  Gorham, Kansas.  Rebecca and I met in this small town and met up with Mr. John Lapka, the general manager of United Ag Service.  We did get a wonderful interview with Mr. Lapka, but other than that we were slightly unsuccessful in our search.  They will be celebrating their 100th year this October and are in the process of doing exactly what Rebecca and I are doing.  They are shuffling through past minutes and photographs in order to create a picture of their co-op from the past.  So, plans have been made to return at a later date to retrieve a centennial booklet and some photos!  Mr. Lapka was a very good sport, helping us understand things about a co-op that we're struggling to wrap our minds around.  So, Thank you, John!  We really appreciate your help and we will see you later this year!  Happy 100th!

After staying the night at the Chesney farm (my house) we woke up early, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (not so much on this end) to drive to Delphos, Kansas for a visit at the historical society.  Once there, we were greeted by Billye Yowell, Roger Yeager, and C.J. Ballou.  Roger and C.J. took Becky and I out to the Lord/Cain Elevator that was donated the the historical society.  They explained to us how it was used as a grain company.  As we continued to chit-chat, C.J. informed us that his father was on the board of directors for many years, and that he remembered when the concrete elevator was built.  This lead to a vault of information that you can only find if you chose to listen to the stories of those who came before us.  It was an absolute pleasure to listen to C.J. and Roger tell stories from their pasts.  After looking around and catching some video footage, we returned to the historical society where we scanned some photographs and spoke more about the history of Delphos in relation to the co-op.  Delphos Co-op is over 100 years old, having been chartered in 1901.  This is the oldest co-op we have been to, and frankly, it was pretty cool.  After we were through getting what information we could, we took a mini tour through the museum.  We peeked at ration books from the 1940s, a respirator from 1912 (scary business!!)  and a dentist chair, probably from the 1950s.  We knew it was from before our time because it really gave Becky that "horror show" feeling!  Billye was just as tickled to have us so interested in the museum as we were to be in it!  One cool little piece I'd like to share, is that Delphos was home to Grace Billings (Bedell).  She was 11 when she wrote a letter to President Lincoln telling him why he should grow a beard.  Would ya know it, I think he actually took her advice!

After leaving Delphos, Becky and I decided we wanted to visit one of the 8 wonders of Kansas-Rock City.  It has some seriously unusual-looking rocks that geologists have to theorize about how they were created.  We were allowed to climb on, jump on, and have a mini photo shoot with the rocks.  Becky and I really needed that brain break!

Not only is is fun to do our required research, it's also fun to learn more about our great state and the people who live here.  It's an absolute blessing.  We hope you're enjoying our trips thus far, and will continue to follow us as we head east for the next week and a half.  I will be leaving for the Manhattan area in a few short days, and am excited to get out of MY comfort zone.  The west is my home, where I know the people and the way they conduct their day to day lives.  The bigger cities are new territory for me, so this will be an adventure!  

Thank you to John, Billye, C.J., and Roger for all of your help this past week.  It was a pleasure to learn SO MUCH and have fun doing it!  God Bless!

--Go State!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stops Two and Three: Osborne and Beloit!

"..They started from the grassroots.."

Rebecca and I met up in Osborne, Kansas, in Osborne County last Tuesday, June 4.  Osborne's Midway Co-op is one of the oldest Co-ops in Kansas, having reached the 100 year mark like Stockton, only its charter was passed four years earlier in 1907.  We met with Mr. Dell Princ, the General Manager of Midway.  He explained to us how mergers with surrounding co-ops helped them create a strong bond with surrounding communities (13 including Osborne) and patrons.  We spent time going through many years worth of minutes, and were very pleased to find bits and pieces of how WWI and WWII affected the different commodities going in and out of the system, including steel for new machinery and produce for the co-op owned grocery story.  As a military buff, Rebecca certainly enjoyed finding that type of information!  Pretty sweet stuff!

Becky stayed at the Chesney Farm with my family again that week, only to find that my middle sister and her two children had taken over!  London, age 5, was a show off and gave Becky show after show entitled, "Watch This!"  Halle, age 18 months, gave Becky mean mug after mean mug.  Strangers aren't exactly her thing, but we all still had fun anyway!  It made for a good brain break.

Our next trip was to Beloit's Farmway Co-op headquarters a few days later.  Beloit is also on our 100 year list, launched by a Mr. Weinmeister.  After beginning Beloit, he took off to "carry the cause" to other counties.  Like a traveling preacher, he was out to spread the word of farmer's unions.  We we'ren't able to speak with the general manager, but we got the next best thing.  Miss Mallory Wittstruck works in communications at Farmway and was able to share so much with us about co-ops in general.  She is the former advisee of K-State's own Dr. Jason Ellis.  Small world, huh!  We are looking for historical information, but it's super helpful to learn about how co-ops are currently run.  I figure, when you understand the current systems, questions rise about how they came to be that way.  What led to mergers?  Why did you use concrete instead of wood?  How have government policies affected your business?  Mallory helped us shed a little light on these questions, and gave us access to shelves upon shelves of info, including actual papers from 1915, and telegrams!

One thing I found so interesting, being a Master of Beef Advocacy graduate and an Ag student, was how the perception of agriculture has not changed much since the early 20th century.  I read an article in a Farmway newsletter from 1970 about how the consumer needs to be informed.  They don't always know how their dinner, as well as many other products they use daily, came to be.  Groups were striving to let them know how little farmers made for how hard they had to work.  The consumer's needs and the methods of agriculture have changed over the years, and it is absolutely interesting to see how these co-ops have addressed the needs of farmers and ranchers to help them have a solid relationship with their consumers.

Third week in, and Becky and I are hopeful that we can create something informational that will better help others understand rural cooperatives.  We really enjoyed our week in Osborne and Mitchell Counties, and it was nice to get some cool goodies from Farmway.  Thanks Mallory!  It was also nice to stop and have dinner with our good friend Kathy, who we met in our lost Kansas Communities class Fall 2012.  Thanks to you as well, Kathy!

So, Thank you to Midway and Mr. Prince, and Farmway and Mallory.  We truly appreciate your help and can't wait to share our results with you. :)
We'll see you next week after our next trip!

--Go State! (And Go Big Red!...For Mallory!) :)