Katie's Victory | Topeka SR 2016 vol 2

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Fall/Winter 2016-17

Katie's Victory Meet Kathleen Sherrow: a real-life Rosie the Riveter who helped win WW II

+Being Santa, Naturally +Retiring with Alpacas +Preserving Trojan History

Topeka SR is a biannual publication of Sunflower Publishing, which also releases Topeka Magazine. For questions regarding distribution, editorial stories or advertising, please contact Sunflower Publishing. TopekaSR@sunflowerpub.com

Welcome to the fall issue of Topeka SR, a magazine from Sunflower Publishing and our sister publication, Topeka Magazine. This is a new direction for the magazine we have published for the past four years, JAAA SR, a joint publication with Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging ( JAAA). Though we continue to highly endorse JAAA as the first-stop service agency for all aspects of senior life in Shawnee, Douglas and Jefferson counties, this publication focuses exclusively on the Topeka region. Concentrating on Topeka allows us to draw more extensively from our award-winning lineup of Topeka-based photographers and writers, and to present their profiles of people and groups that share our life in the capital city. We hope you enjoy their work in this fall issue and look forward to bringing you more stories in the spring. —Nathan

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Art Director

Nathan Pettengill Jenni Leiste

Photographer Bill Stephens Contributing Marsha Henry Goff Writers Carolyn Kaberline Cale Herreman Susan Kraus Barbara Waterman-Peters Copy Editor Leslie Andres



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Anna Newman (417) 237-0047 Ad Designer Shelly Bryant Jenni Leiste

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645 New Hampshire St. Lawrence, KS 66044 (888) 497-8668 www.sunflowerpub.com

Fall/Winter 2016-17

Katie's Victory Meet Kathleen SherroW: a real-liFe roSie the riveter Who helped Win WW ii

+Being Santa, Naturally +Retiring with Alpacas +Preserving Trojan History

On the cover Kathleen “Katie” Sherrow shows the muscles that helped her contribute to the war effort during World War II. Photograph by Bill Stephens



Topeka SR

Retired with Alpacas

One area couple trades the standard golden years for fiber shears and a field full of “pronking”


Santa Mike


The Real Life Rosie the Riveter!

For some, life’s best calling comes only with age, after retirement, and once the grey beard sets in

She shoots badgers, wields a mean weed trimmer and once helped win a war with her rare mechanical skills


Ms. Reunion


Reconsidering the Expat Life


Senior Artists Gallery

When it is time for graduates of Topeka High School to come home, Joan Barker is the one to get them there

Award-winning travel writer Susan Kraus loves to be abroad, but urges caution in embracing the trend of full-time international retirement

The visual treat: senior artists and their work

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Story by Cale Herreman Photography by Bill Stephens

About the writer Cale Herreman is a writer in Topeka. He enjoys pizza and cookies, which helps him get along with his children.

Retired with

Alpacas One area couple trades the standard golden years for fiber shears and a field full of “pronking�


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arcia and Joel Fish live a few miles north of Topeka on Orchard Hill, a hilltop farm where they keep some chickens, a couple of rabbits, cats, guard dogs and fuzzy, long-necked creatures with a curious and alert look about them. “They’re preyed-upon animals,” Marcia says, “so they get spooked by things that could eat them.” But nobody has arrived this day to eat Marcia and Joel’s herd of 23 alpacas. Instead, a small crowd has converged to shear them. Alpaca fiber—which is harvested each year— is warm, fluffy and highly valued by some knitters for its soft texture and hypoallergenic properties. Most years, the Fishes have employed a New Zealander named Paul Smith to head up the annual shearing of the animals. “Paul can shear an alpaca in seven minutes,” Marcia says. “It would take us a lot longer, and that’s more stress for the animal.” Members of the Potwin Fiber Artisans and veterinary students from Kansas State University also join the shearing, which doubles as medical injection and vaccination day so that the animals, and the human hands holding them down, do not have to repeat the process more often than necessary. As the shearing proceeds, the fiber from each alpaca is placed in a separate bag labeled with the name of the alpaca who provided it. Released from constraining hands and the blades of the shears, the alpacas trot off sporting a less-startled look and nothing else but a topknot of hair. Alpacas are a South-American species related to llamas and camels. They were imported into the United States in the 1980s and 1990s as alpaca farms spread across the nation. Alpaca ranching became a popular, relatively lowkey agricultural industry based on quiet animals that don’t eat very much and don’t smell bad. The Fishes started their alpaca business with only a pregnant mother with a baby, or cria. “I worked at Southwestern Bell,” Marcia says, “and I knew I was going to be retiring within a couple years. We had all this land, and we didn’t really do anything with it.” Since she didn’t want to raise pigs, cows or horses, she started researching other animals. Joel, an engineer who was a few years from retirement, says, “I was going to make a greenhouse, but she told me she wanted alpacas.” So Marcia searched the market and found a cria and mother with excellent fleece and bought them for some $14,500—a steep price by current market standards. The investment, however, paid off. “She’s Maya, she’s my favorite, she’s been my main foundation,” says Marcia.

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The Business of Alpacas The alpaca business has changed in the years that Joel and Marcia Fish have run their ranch. “It used to be everyone wanted the animals, and it was a breeding business,” says Marcia. “Any female that could produce cria (baby alpacas) was worth $10,000 or more.” But that changed, she says, around 2008. “When the housing market went down, right then there was hardly any sales, at least for us small farms.” Since then, the market has focused on fiber. “Even though the animals aren’t selling as well nowadays, the product still sells wonderfully,” Marcia continues. Adding up her costs, hay and feed and everything, she worked out that it costs her $2 per ounce of alpaca fiber. “And that’s not counting my labor!” says Joel impishly.


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Soon after they bought her, the Fishes took Maya to an alpaca show, and she won the championship. “I was on cloud nine from that,” Marcia recalls. This was the beginning of a winning streak as Maya gathered blue and purple ribbons at championships across the region. Joel says that since they were so new to the business, the Fishes and their beautiful alpaca made a stir. “Everybody came up and they were going, who are you guys?” Marcia continues, “because we just kind of appeared out of nowhere, you know?” After those early victories, the Fishes pulled back from the expenses of traveling with show animals and entry fees. Though the ribbons never came with cash prizes, they did help establish the farm’s reputation. The years of alpaca ranching have had an effect on the retired couple. Joel says he has learned a certain peace of mind from being around the alpacas and handling them. “You have to be very calm. I always sing or whistle. You don’t want to grab them,” he notes. In their own way, the alpacas offer other commentaries on life, such as some evenings when they unexpectedly begin “pronking”—a trot that culminates in jumping around on all four legs. “Nobody really knows why they pronk,” Marcia says, “but they look happy.”

Story by Carolyn Kaberline Photography by Bill Stephens

About the writer Carolyn Kaberline is a Topeka-based educator and freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in numerous publications such as Topeka Magazine and KANSAS!



For some, life’s best calling comes only with age, after retirement, and once the grey beard sets in


JayhawkSR Topeka Area Agency on Aging SR


ilo D. “Mike” Fultz began his path to Santa-hood— appropriately enough—in Santa Fe. Fultz had worked in the southwestern city for 39 years, growing from a young man to an older man, slowly and unintentionally cultivating a resemblance to a certain bearded holiday hero. By the early 1990s, Fultz’s beard and jolly demeanor were noticed by the Ladies Club of Santa Fe, who asked Fultz to play the role of Santa for a group of underprivileged children. Fultz agreed, and though he had little training, he cheerfully put on a rented suit and took on the persona. “They had each kid come up to me, sit on my lap and tell me what they wanted,” recalls Fultz. All was going as planned when a young boy named Brian came up to him. “He was wearing a blue sweater with his name stitched on it,” Fultz remembers. “His face was misshapen, and he was wearing thick glasses, but there was a big smile on his face. I asked him what he wanted, and he said ‘I have everything I want. I just wanted to tell Santa I love him.’” It wasn’t long after this experience that Fultz and his wife, Leona, visited Branson to take in Tony Orlando’s show. Even though their seats were in the last row, they were escorted to much better seats in the second row. They soon found out why: Tony Orlando had spotted him, and while the show’s Santa sat on the edge of the stage visiting with kids, Orlando told Fultz they’d have some fun. The next thing he knew the stage Santa greeted him with “Cousin John, where have you been all my life?” After singing “White Christmas” with Orlando—or trying to—Fultz was invited backstage where the star

encouraged him to get into the Santa business. Fultz took Orlando’s advice to heart. After retiring from his work as a manager of deeds and contracts in April 1995, Fultz began Santa stints with Branson stage shows and discovered some Christmas magic of his own— and the reward of providing something for children such as Brian. “There were 2,000 people in the audience cheering for me, and I then knew what performers really work for,” Fultz says. It was also at one of these shows that an audience member told Fultz about a Colorado organization run by Billy Gooch called “Naturally Santa.” Fultz, who had kids living in Denver, decided to pay them a visit and set up a meeting with Gooch while he was in the state. When the meeting took place, the two talked for an hour about the training system and the work. The organization places an emphasis on working with Santas who looked the part with natural beards and hair; it avoids the customary red suit in favor of overalls and a shirt; and most of all, it promises its clients that its Santas would be safe, appropriate and deserving of children’s trust. For the Santas, the group has three strict rules: no smoking, no drinking and no chasing women. Fultz recalls that these standards of conduct and excellence attracted him. He also liked that Naturally Santa was quick to bestow praise and quick to take action if a Santa did not live up to its standards. Fultz left the training program wise in the ways of Santa-hood, and bearing a new name he prefers to use to this day: “Santa Mike.” Santa Mike’s first assignment with Naturally Santa was at a mall in

Naturally Santa Founded in 1992, Naturally Santa and its jolly representatives have been featured in some of the nation’s largest and most popular malls. They have been part of the NORAD Santa Tracking site and have also visited the White House. Because Naturally Santa believes that the traditional red coat is somewhat gimmicky and the traditional white gloves remind some children of a doctor’s visit, its Santas dress in workshop-type clothing: red overalls and a bright shirt. In addition to refraining from smoking, drinking or womanizing, these Santas also avoid the typical “Ho, ho, ho” which the organization believes might scare some young children. The organization’s Santas must have natural beards, good teeth and fresh breath so that each visitor has a pleasant encounter. Each year, Naturally Santa rewards one of its Santas for outstanding service with the peer-selected “Grandfather” prize. In 2007, Santa Mike won this award. “It was one of those feel-good moments,” he says. “Any time you can get 50–70 people to agree on something, you know you’ve done well.”

OPPOSITE: From the beard to the twinkling eyes, all aspects of Santa Mike are genuine. ABOVE RIGHT: Santa Mike, front row far right, with his Naturally Santa colleagues.

Topeka SR


Kalamazoo. Over the next decade, he took extended Santa stints in Greeley, Houston, Oklahoma City, Salta Lake City and Palm Beach. Assignments usually began in midNovember and lasted until late Christmas Eve. Leona frequently accompanied him on assignments, often acquiring a part-time job while her husband worked. In his role as head holiday elf, Santa Mike listened to wish lists, wished everyone a “Merry Christmas” and posed for photos. He also oversaw four marriage proposals in Salt Lake City. Perhaps the most memorable of those came with an expensive engagement ring he was entrusted with by young man who said he and his fiancée would return later that day. When they arrived and sat down near him, Santa Mike knew just what was expected of him. “When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she looked lovingly at her fiancé, and I gave her the ring,” Santa Mike says. “Her family and friends were there, making the proposal perfect.” Another happy occasion occurred during the Iraq War when a set of grandparents were standing in line with four kids ranging from a baby to a boy of about 8. “Their dad was behind a curtain and word had gotten around to others that he was there,” Santa Mike says. “When I

asked the kids what they wanted, the oldest three said they wanted their dad home. I told them to ‘close your eyes and think real hard.’ When they opened their eyes, there was Dad, and everyone cheered and applauded.” Despite the joyous occasions there were also many sad ones, Santa Mike notes. “One family came through with two kids and a baby that was only a few days old,” Santa Mike reminisces. “The baby had many abnormalities and wasn’t expected to live. I was asked to take a picture with all the kids. I gave the baby a kiss on his forehead for the photo.” “Then there was the little blind girl in Greeley—maybe 9 or 10—who wanted to feel my face so she could ‘see Santa,’” Santa Mike says. He also tells of the severely handicapped boy who couldn’t communicate verbally, but “his eyes said it all.” Perhaps one of his most touching memories concerned a “little girl of five and her grandmother in Greeley,” Santa Mike notes. “She was all dressed up in her Christmas outfit. They’d been to Penney’s for a Christmas photo, and the girl wanted to see Santa. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she wrapped her arms around my neck and sobbed as she said ‘I just want Mommy back for Christmas.’ I

didn’t know if her mom was dead or had left or was in prison. I asked the Lord ‘what do I do next?’ I got the impression I should just hug her as she sobbed, and I said ‘Santa loves you. Your grandmother loves you. God loves you.’ “There was a long line and I became aware of how quiet it had become—you could have heard a pin drop,” Santa Mike says. “The little girl just hung on to me as I told her how much we all loved her. Her sobs finally died down, and her grandma came and put her arms around us and sobbed with us. When she was finally quiet, grandma told her it was time to go. Grandma placed a kiss on my bald head. I never found out what happened to her mother, but it was the most emotional experience I ever had. I will never forget her, and I will carry that memory to my grave.” Though formally retired from holiday obligations, Santa Mike still makes occasional appearances as Santa around town for charity events. “Overall it was the experience of a lifetime,” Santa Mike says. “If we had planned our retirement we could have never imagined the places we’ve been to or the people we’ve met. No matter how beautiful the places have been though, we’ve found it’s the people that really count.”

Leona and Mike Fultz decorate their home for the holidays with figurines that have an uncanny resemblance to Mike.


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Santa Disasters:

The Epic, the Near and the Avoided Everyone loves seeing Santa, but some people seem to love watching him fail. Just take a glance at the “likes” on various online Santa fail videos. There’s one cringe-worthy incident (you can see it by searching for the equally cringeworthy misspelling “Santa Fail—The Repel” on YouTube) that Leona Fultz witnessed in person. Memorialized in clear resolution, the video shows Santa’s rappelling-rope descent abruptly halted by his fake beard and hair that became dangerously entangled in equipment, causing Santa to gracelessly flail in mid-air as an announcer tries to cover for him by pumping up the volume of a Christmas-song sing-a-long. Even the elf who put Santa on the ropes appears to abandon him when trouble strikes. Ho-uh-oh! A true professional, Santa knows that despite all the holiday cheer and goodwill, disaster and derision are always just around the corner. Making entries on fire trucks and stage coaches and twinkling his way around failure, Santa Mike has seen his share of dicey moments. Here are three case studies of his most memorable potential pitfalls.

Potential Pitfall: The crying youngster Outcome: Disaster avoided Santa Power Applied: Surprise scream Summary: Crying children are common, but some are so scared they become hysterical. One time, a youngster began squalling so loudly and strongly that neither Santa nor the people with her could console her. So Santa Mike used his magic—he started to mimic the screams. The startled youngster stopped in mid-squeal and looked at Santa with a somewhat shocked expression, calm enough for a holiday photo to be snapped. Potential Pitfall: The saucy sister Outcome: Rendezvous rebuffed Santa Power Applied: Devotion Summary: Once in Palm Beach, Santa Mike was visited by two adorable sisters, ages 88 and 90. When asked what she wanted for Christmas, one of the sisters said she wouldn’t mind having Santa Mike for the next ten years. “Mrs. Claus is up there,” responded Santa Mike as he pointed to Leona who was standing on a nearby balcony. The sister, not missing a beat, replied, “I’d be willing to share.” Potential Pitfall: Slithering, slobbering creatures! Outcome: Harmony … mostly Santa Power Applied: Patience Summary: Most shopping malls that hired Santa Mike would offer special nights when people could bring in their pets to pose with Santa. Many Santas dread these nights: pet parents can be very demanding, and there is always the potential for bites, scratches and slobbering. Santa Mike, however, enjoyed these nights. He fondly recalls his largest canine visitor, a bull mastiff who was extremely well-mannered, and Santa Mike even has nice things to say about the snakes who were handed to him. Cats however … well, they never seemed to take to Santa Mike because they were usually spooked by all the commotion or simply had better things to do.

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The Real- Life Story by Marsha Henry Goff

| Photography by Bill Stephens

Kathleen “Katie” Sherrow points to a projected image of “Rosie the Riveter,” the archetype figure used in government promotional posters to honor women’s industrial labor contributions during World War II.


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Rosie the Riveter! She shoots badgers, wields a mean weed trimmer and once helped win a war with her rare mechanical skills Her name is Katie, not Rosie, but Kathleen Sherrow is indeed an authentic “Rosie the Riveter,” one of the skilled women who worked in the U.S. aircraft industry during World War II. For Katie, it was a transformative experience that allowed her to explore interests she had developed as a teenager, enabled her to join her brothers in serving her nation and shaped the rest of her life. Following graduation from high school in 1939, Katie worked for the Agriculture Adjustment Association in Maryville, Missouri. In this work, she used a micrometer to follow map lines and ascertain the amount of acreage in each farm’s fields in order to determine the amount paid to the farmer for planting or leaving certain acreages idle. She also encountered and became fascinated by the low-flying airplanes that took photos of farmers’ lands and crops. But for Katie and countless other Americans in those years, the usual daily routines were cast aside by one day that remains clear in their minds.

On December 7, 1941, Katie learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “I know exactly what I was doing when I heard the news,” she recalls. “I was playing a pinball machine, attempting to gain enough points for a free hamburger at the Lunch Box in Maryville, Missouri.” That attack led to America’s entry into the World War II and transformed the nation. Katie’s life would never be the same. Within months, she and Winnie Berg, her friend and fellow softball teammate, responded to an ad for Morton Aircraft School in Omaha that promised employment to its graduates. It offered better pay and, just as importantly, the opportunity to join her brothers in fighting the war. “My four brothers were all in the service—the twins went right out of high school at 17 and Mother had to sign for them—and I wanted to do something to help,” Katie says. At Morton Aircraft, Katie and Winnie were partners in learning blind riveting, a technique that binds metal to the aircraft in a way that hides the

rivet heads and creates a stronger, more streamlined surface. After graduating, the two friends were placed with United Airlines in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they repaired aircraft damaged in combat. “Sometimes, as you viewed the blood stains and bullet holes, you felt very close to the war zone,” says Katie. “One B-17 Flying Fortress was estimated to have 500 bullet holes.” Living quarters were not available in Cheyenne, so the women lived in Fort Collins, Colorado (a distance of some 50 miles), and paid 25 cents each workday to commute in an old school bus. Shortly after that bus broke down in a blizzard one day, they learned that Lockheed Aircraft was hiring women on the mechanized line at Burbank, California. Deciding to try their luck in a warmer climate, Katie and Winnie answered an ad from a woman who was driving to California and wanted to share expenses for the trip. “The tires on the lady’s car were almost without tread, and going over the mountains created an experience I never desired to repeat,” Katie recalls.

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caring for the Children In late 1942, as mothers of young children joined the workforce, Uncle Sam established and subsidized over 3,000 childcare centers throughout America. According to research reported by The Atlantic magazine, an estimated 600,000 children received childcare in communities that supported the country’s war effort between 1943 and 1946.


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On December 7, 1942, the friends from Missouri were two of the first women hired on Lockheed’s mechanized line. Their reception was chilly, and they were given some tough assignments: attaching tail assemblies on B-24s and fitting heavy cabin doors. Because they had experience riveting as a team, they were able to complete their assignments and won the respect of their supervisors, particularly once Katie and Winnie helped build a Constellation, a large four-propeller transport craft—the biggest plane that Lockheed constructed at the time.

As Allied forces were taking over Germany and winding up the war in Europe, Katie received news that her father suffered a serious stroke. She resigned from Lockheed on May 3, 1945, one day after the fall of Berlin, and rushed home to help. Worried about her father, she did not think about asking for a leave of absence. She was making $1.10 an hour when she left Lockheed and had purchased a home for her parents. Her father died in June, but her mother would live in that home for the next 50 years.

“We didn’t complain because we wanted that job and it wouldn’t have done any good anyway.”

Rosie the Riveter i n N u m b e rs When Katie Sherrow joined the U.S. industrial force in 1943, women were already contributing greatly to the war effort. Government records indicate that by the end of the war skilled women workers had become an even more crucial—yet undervalued—part of the fight. Number of women who entered the workforce during WW II:


– Kathleen Sherrow

“The men didn’t accept us when we went there,” Katie explains, “but when they had a deadline on that Constellation and they knew we could blind rivet, we got pulled to that plane to work. We could have asked for the moon and they would have brought it to us to make us more comfortable.” Previously, in order to reach their work, the women—who were much shorter than their male counterparts and unable to reach the working area—were forced to stand for eight hours a day on the rods of scaffolding that surrounded the planes. “We didn’t complain because we wanted that job and it wouldn’t have done any good anyway,” says Katie. However, for the Constellation project, Lockheed gave the two star riveters special standing stools to reach the craft. After the Constellation was completed, Katie was given a job on the P-38, a fighter plane, where she brought rudder controls into the cockpit. She wrote her name and address in one airplane and the pilot found it and wrote her. They corresponded until he said he was coming home to Southern Missouri and she quit writing.

With her mother settled, Katie found a job at Pratt-Whitney in Kansas City where she sharpened drill bits until the war ended. She then served as deputy circuit clerk in Maryville, Missouri, for 17 years, during which time she held nearly every court position—including judge when she was sworn in to hear one condemnation case— but never bailiff. During her years with the court, Katie resumed playing softball as catcher for a St. Joe ball team sponsored by Getz Beer. She met and became friends with Pat Martin, who played for a Topeka ball team. Although Pat was a dozen years younger than Katie, they sat together after the games because neither drank the beer that Getz provided. They became such fast friends that Pat’s step-father, who raised greyhounds with Pat’s mother, was instrumental in finding Katie a job in Topeka with the Shawnee County treasurer. Katie, who lived with Pat’s parents, said they became like parents to her as well. “They almost adopted her,” Pat says.

Percentage of working-age women in workforce during war: appro x imately

Women workers as percentage of aircraft-building industry workers during the war: appro x imately

Total number of women in military aircraft industry:

Percentage of wage difference between women workers and their male counterparts: appro x imately

Source: Our Mothers’ War, Emily Yellin, 2004; Bureau of Labor Statistics; “Women” in America’s World War II in Color, PBS.

Topeka SR


The Specialized Art of Blind Riveting The Process Blind riveting—as performed by Katie and her partner Winnie—fused two thicknesses of metal with the head of the rivet being flush with the outer skin of the airplane. Katie operated a pneumatic gun that propelled the rivet into a predrilled hole. Just before she shot the rivet, she gave a signal tap so that Winnie, inside the airplane, would be ready with the metal bar that would flatten the rivet and lock it in place. Rare Skill During her entire time at Lockheed, Katie and Winnie were the only female riveters working their shift on the mechanized line. The fact the other riveters were male indicates the skill was rare enough that many of the men who knew it were not sent off to war. Crucial contribution Repairing planes damaged in combat and building new ones were essential to the war effort. Fighter planes that Katie and Winnie repaired, such as the P-38, protected fleets at sea and troops on the move. Bombers that they helped return to the front, like the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29, also served as the most important weapons delivery method, including the atomic bombs dropped on Japan that ended the war in the Pacific.


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When the two women took over the greyhound breeding and training business, Pat moved back to the farm. They would get up each morning at 4 a.m., muzzle the dogs and train them by allowing them to chase the jackrabbits for which they paid $5 each. Then they would go to their respective jobs: Pat to the accounting department at Santa Fe, and Katie to her new work at Topeka’s Department of Forestry, Parks and Recreation. Katie and Pat sold the last of their greyhounds in the mid-80s and live on 12-acres with the big landmark barn painted bright blue. “It’s a lot of work keeping up this many acres, but we enjoy it,” Pat says. Both she and Katie are avid Jayhawk fans as evidenced by the large wooden Jayhawk with spinning wings that decorates the yard. At 95, Katie is still fearless—she once shot a badger in the greyhound pen—and tireless when she turns on her weed trimmer and begins trimming. “She’ll go until dark,” Pat complains. “To get her in to dinner one day, I went out and unplugged her Weed Eater.” When a B-17 came to Topeka in 2014, Pat insisted that Katie call and tell them she was a Rosie the Riveter. They gave her a free ride. The pilot of the B-25 that visited the city had her sign its bomb bay doors as “Rosie the Riveter.” And the captain of the Constellation that flew into Forbes put Katie in his seat. For Katie, it was another bonus to a life already well lived. “The Lord has been good to me,” she says, “all these added years, too.”

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Story by Carolyn Kaberline Photography by Bill Stephens

About the writer Carolyn Kaberline is a Topeka-based educator and freelance journalist whose writings has appeared in numerous publications such as Topeka Magazine and KANSAS!


Reunion When it is time for graduates of Topeka High School to come home, Joan Barker is the one to get them there


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ost Trojans—graduates of Topeka High School— will return to their school for a reunion at one time or another. Some return for several reunions, others for only one or two gatherings. But when they do return, it is often with the assistance of Joan Barker, the executive secretary of the Topeka High School Historical Society. Barker, a 1971 THS graduate, first encountered the historical society when she was helping to organize a class reunion and asked the society for help in researching the class. Impressed by how much the thensecretary seemed to enjoy the work, Barker eagerly accepted the post when it opened in 1993 and began working at first 10 hours a week. Later she began working full-time to assist increasingly larger classes organize their reunions, preserve the THS Hall of Fame and document the school’s 145 years of history. “We help with anything having to do with the historical preservation of the school,” Barker explains. “We’re here to support the school and projects that focus on historical preservation.” Numerous artifacts in Barker’s office on the second floor of Topeka High School testify to the range of themes and events that encompass the school’s full history. A 1962 prom dress stands in one corner near drill team boots and gloves that sit on a bookcase containing copies of all the school’s yearbooks. There is also a clay model of a Trojan head and numerous photos of Topeka High as well as photos of famous alumni and special events. Other aspects of the school’s history are less glamorous, but in great demand—databases. Each year, Barker assists approximately 12 classes with reunion planning and uses the society’s records to provide class lists and contact information for classmates. The office, Barkers says, will also “assist with class gift questions, provide venue suggestions, act as a liaison between the classes and school personnel, and provide tour guides and hosts when they visit Topeka High during their reunion weekends.”

Barker and her staff, of course, provide equal support to each reunion group. But they do have their favorite gatherings. Barker describes one of these as the “ultimate reunion,” the 1997 gatherings that also celebrated the school’s 125th anniversary. “We even shot fireworks from the Tower,” she says, adding that planning has already begun to celebrate the school’s 150th anniversary in 2021. September and October are the busiest months for reunions because most classes tend to hold them in the weeks leading up to homecoming. After this rush season, the office has more time to focus on preservation and on selection of new inductees to the Topeka High School Hall of Fame. “We organize the selection committee and all involved in producing the recognition ceremony,” Barker says, adding that planning the ceremony includes working with the inductees and creating press releases, invitations and the program for the ceremony. The society also puts together the reception and provides event hosts and portrait framing as well as anything else connected with the induction. Inductee portraits are hung in the Hall of Fame Room located across from Barker’s office. Those portraits include such notable graduates as the co-founder and later head of the Menninger Clinic, Dr. Karl Menninger; legendary basketball coach Dean Smith; Kansas Supreme Court justice Kay McFarland; artist and educator Aaron Douglas; business executive Ned N. Fleming; United States vice president Charles Curtis; former Topeka mayor Charles W. Wright, Jr.; and awardwinning actor Jayne Houdyshell. Barker gives much credit for the historical society’s success to its numerous volunteers who help keep up with the large reunions and the frequent queries via email and social media. Although her own workload has increased tremendously from the 10 hours a week when she started, Barker says she continues to view the work of reconnecting Trojans to their school as “a joy.”

Top Tips for a Successful Reunion Joan Barker has seen good and bad reunions over the years in her work as the executive secretary of the Topeka High Historical Society. Here are her top three tips to make any reunion better—and to help the class look forward to the next gathering. 1. Keep the details simple. 2. Keep the reunion affordable. 3. Provide some fun for the committee that organizes the event.

Topeka High Historical Society You can find more information about the Topeka High Historical Society and alumni events on the official THS website: thsweb.org/alumni2.

Joan Barker preserves the history of Topeka High School and assists graduates of all ages prepare for their reunions. Topeka SR


Story by Susan Kraus Photography by Bill Stephens

About the writer Susan Kraus is an award-winning travel writer and former Menninger Clinic staff member who believes that travel itself is a type of therapy.

Reconsidering the

Expat Life Award-winning travel writer Susan Kraus loves to be abroad, but urges caution in embracing the trend of full-time international retirement


Topeka SR

Popular expat retirement destinations include Granada, Nicaragua; San Jose, Costa Rica; Panama City; Playa Maderas, Nicaragua.


etirement. It’s a word that seems terrifically distant when we’re young, and terrifically appealing when we’re not-so-young. But the appeal of retirement has changed over the years. My parents retired long before they were the age I am now (which is 66) and then, after a few years, packed up and moved from New Jersey to Florida. That is just what people did back then. That was the dream. For me, the dream has always been different. I love to travel, both internationally and in the U.S. I had dreams of retiring somewhere warm, beachy and foreign. And I wasn’t alone. Over the past decade, expat retirement communities have boomed. “Expat,” short for “expatriate,” which Webster’s defines as “to withdraw from one’s native land or allegiance to it,” has become less about allegiance and more about lifestyle. The expat approach has become a popular and viable retirement option, particularly for spots in Central America. Seniorage Americans are moving for financial reasons and out of a desire for a culturally different life experience. I thought I would be joining them. But that was before … before I grasped all that I’d be leaving behind (like friends … people I want to invite over for dinner once I get the time); before I appreciated how much stuff can be accumulated living in the same house for over 25 years; before I meticulously listed what I want to be able to experience beyond the “warm, beachy and foreign” draw of expat retirement. There are dozens of reasons to choose to retire overseas … and an equal number of reasons to decide against it. Here are some steps I suggest to take in reconsidering the expat trend.

1) Start research early. Google variations of “Retiring abroad,” such as “retiring abroad concerns” and “retiring abroad nightmares” and “retiring overseas challenges.” Be sure you read from sources that are not just the upbeat or promotional-sponsored blog sites. One of these sites is internationalliving.com. The site definitely has a bias (and apparent financial interest) in supporting the expat lifestyle, but it is a useful clearinghouse of information. That said, International Living sponsors overseas retirement workshops packed with speakers, connections and guidelines, from how to choose a country matches your needs to tax implications and medical care options. If you are considering a particular country, you can examine it carefully through country-specific workshops held in that country (such as Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Thailand). Here, you can meet locals and get a better sense of the culture and challenges. These workshops are not cheap, but if you can’t afford the workshop, you can’t afford the move. 2) Know what keeps you content. A beach feels idyllic when you get to one for only a week a year, but beach bliss may wear off after six months. Unless you absolutely love a beach, it cannot compensate for culture, music, restaurants, film, friends and family that you would leave behind. 3) Master the language. Some popular expat destinations are Englishspeaking areas and some cater to English speakers, but living abroad full-time means you will need to master the local language—and for

Begin Here: Suggested online reading internationalliving.com Very “pro expat” but will send daily articles and info on countries and towns that are drawing Americans overseas. Sponsors useful workshops and trainings.

retiredbrains.com Site on diverse retirement issues, but with an extensive “Retire Abroad” section that rates popular retirement destinations by categories such as infrastructure and climate.

expatinfodesk.com An excellent relocation guide, but weak on retirement issues.

expatexchange.com Another all-age site, but the forum section provides excellent on-the-ground assessments of locations.

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Popular Destinations Retirement organizations and media based in the United States tend to look south for the best expat retirement destinations. But with the growing strength of the dollar versus the Euro, European destinations are becoming more affordable. For Americans, it is interesting to note the recommendations of England-based daily The Telegraph. Its three top picks are more Euro-centric (Malta, Portugal and Spain), but then it taps Barbados for fourth choice and makes a surprising recommendation for fifth place: the United States. The Telegraph notes America’s cheap housing, cheap gasoline, cultural diversity and a rich geography compensate for high health care costs to make the nation a mustconsider retirement option. Here is our top-10 list based on composite reports. 1. Panama 2. Ecuador 3. Belize 4. Portugal 5. Nicaragua 6. Colombia 7. Malaysia 8. Costa Rica 9. Mexico 10. Spain (Sources: TheStreet.com, The Telegraph, liveandinvestoverseas. com, “The Global Retirement Index� by International Living, AARP and investopedia.com)


Topeka SR

the majority of locations, it is not English. Sure, you can master enough of a new language to buy groceries and get directions. But the level of communication that is the foundation for deep friendship and intimacy? The ability to respond quickly and coherently to all types of emergencies from medical to plumbing? That can take years to develop. So, unless you’re planning to reside in an expat mecca and spend most of your time with other Americans (and if you want to spend most of your time with Americans, then why not stay in America?), you owe yourself an honest assessment of your fluency in the destinationcountry’s language. 4) Be prepared to miss Kansas. Homesickness is inevitable. There is comfort in the familiar, from favorite foods to transportation to having things run on time. It’s nice to have electricians come at almost the same time they promised (even more basic, it is nice to have predictable electricity—something not guaranteed at every popular expat retirement spot). Cultural differences that seem charming on vacation might annoy when they are a part of daily life. 5) Say “bye-bye” to some safety nets. Unlike Social Security, which can follow you anywhere (and is taxed regardless of where you live), Medicare does not travel. Some countries have good health care for very low costs, but you may need to live close to a major hospital. What we take for granted, such as ambulances arriving promptly for emergencies, might not exist. (Having a woman die down the hall from me in a pricey Panama high-rise last February—and waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance—made that particular issue appallingly clear.) Yes, some countries have national systems that cover foreign residents—but do not just assume that is the case. Know how you will be covered and what the coverage entails before you relocate. 6) Gauge affordability. Living overseas, once the move is accomplished, can certainly be less costly than living in the U.S. And domestic help may be much more affordable. But the fantasy often exceeds the reality, and a drastic move to save $500–$1,000 a month can end up costing more than budget-trimming measures could accomplish. Read up on the experience of current expats in the area you are considering before you evaluate the costs of relocating. 7) Try before relocating. The best advice? Try it out first. Rent a furnished place to start. Do nothing permanent until you’ve lived somewhere for a full year, through all the seasons. What you may discover is that you love a particular place, but seasonally. And where am I now in the retirement conundrum? I look forward to having the time to savor and experience all that living in Kansas has to offer. But I still want to live in, not just visit, other countries and cultures. I want immersion, and I want to come home. So I guess I’m going to be a part-time expat. If and when I finally get to retire, of course.

Topeka SR


Story by Barbara Waterman-Peters

About the writer Barbara Waterman-Peters writes, paints, exhibits, teaches and manages Studio 831 in the North Topeka Arts District (NOTO).

Senior Artists

gallery The visual treat: senior artists and their work


arbara Waterman-Peters, the visual arts correspondent for our sister publication, Topeka Magazine, began her career as an artist in the early 1970s, but returned to school for her master’s of fine arts later in life—a move that propelled her career as an acclaimed and award-winning painter. Waterman-Peters says there were certain advantages to starting her art and continuing it in her senior years. “I was deciding that at age 50 or 51, I was old enough that if I wanted to paint figuratively, by God, I was going to do it. I had paid my dues.” Writing about other Topeka artists over the past year, Waterman-Peters identifies and champions young talent, but also celebrates the work of senior artists who have “paid their dues”—some lifelong career artists and others who returned to or began their professional artist careers in their senior years. Here is a short gallery of Topeka senior artists and their works profiled by Waterman-Peters over the past year. Look for their shows at upcoming First Friday events and in local galleries.

Patricia Nobo An inspired and accomplished artist who studied languages and philosophy before settling on printmaking, Patricia Nobo creates works with beautifully textural effects.

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Kathy Koch An award-winning quilter who creates variations on traditional patterns, Kathy Koch ensures that her works of art are up to her standard of being comfortable nighttime covers for friends and family members. Janet Bailey An artist who creates paintings in beautiful, translucent layers that reflect her own life of depth and experience, Janet Bailey is known for her plein air watercolors and her interpretations of images transmitted from the Hubble Space Telescope. Anne Kufahl A keen proponent of drawing from life, Anne Kufahl’s approach to art informs her paintings and provides an immediate response to the small details of life that unfold around her.


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