Progress MAIN STREET MATTERS â€“ SMALL TOWNS
March 27, 2016
The Hutchinson News
Page 4 March 27, 2016
The Hutchinson News
I wanted a quiet, peaceful place. I have loved it ever since.” Kim Bontrager, a Pretty Prairie resident and transplant from Hutchinson
Photos by Lindsey Bauman/The Hutchinson News
Above: Some residents gather for lunch at the Pretty Prairie Steakhouse on March 8. Top: Pretty Prairie resident Kim Bontrager says she enjoys the close-knit community that comes with life in a small town.
• From Page 2 the town has kept its school doors open and boasts 263 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. One of the town’s survival tactics is to keep the annual Pretty Prairie rodeo alive. The rodeo began during the Great Depression as a diversion for some of the community. According to its history, back in 1934 a few farmers got together and hosted a Thanksgiving Day rodeo on the farm of Henry Graber. Eighty-two years later, you can still find many Grabers helping at the rodeo arena located just behind the high school football field. It beckons thousands every July for four nights of competition. The entire town comes together to host what they call the largest night rodeo in Kansas. While driving for groceries might be considered a hardship for some, these hardy souls consider it a trade-off for living in Pretty Prairie. Kingman, 14 miles away, is the closest town, followed by Hutchinson (22 miles). The west side of Wichita is 35 miles away. Going out of town for supplies isn’t a problem for people like Kim Bontrager, who moved here from Hutchinson 10 years ago. “I wanted a quiet, peaceful place. I have loved it ever since,” said Bontrager. She recalled the huge welcome basket she received from the community when she moved to town. People honked and waved as she worked in her yard, they stopped by with meals. “They were welcoming immediately,” Bontrager said. “Everybody takes care of everybody.” She loved the town so much, her mother has moved here from Hutchinson. Hardy stock Pretty Prairie was built by people who had survival instincts. Pioneer women like Mary Collingwood came to what is now the town in 1872. The widow traveled from Indiana with eight of her nine children. Attracted by the free land, she supposedly said, “My, what a pretty prairie,” when she claimed her homestead on the southern side of what is today Pretty Prairie. Collingwood’s mother gave her $250 so she could build a house of wood rather than live in a “soddie” or dugout in the ground. However, a sod house would have been warmer. The first winter, the prairie winds whistled through the wood boards, which had no insulation or plaster. According to the Hutchinson Gazette, the family huddled next to the stove. And when buffalo hunters rode up to the house to get warm, they reportedly paid the youngest children to give them their places by the stove. Then the kids climbed into bed together to stay warm. There were many hardships, but Collingwood supposedly was discouraged only once, during her first Christmas on the prairie. The family had exhausted its fuel supply and everyone had to go to bed to keep from freezing. However, she read her Bible for encouragement and, come spring, her faith was renewed when she saw the fertile soil. Collingwood was a survivor and saw hope as far as the eye could see in the prairie she referred to as “fields of fortune.” By the spring of 1873, a stage route was established between Hutchinson and Medicine Lodge. Collingwood had a post office in her home, where travelers would stop for food, shelter and conversation. She bought 14 oxen and had her boys begin breaking prairie. The family knew only hard work. Some of her progeny went on to create Collingwood Grain Co., and others went into banking and farming. Small-town life While a group of volunteer citizens currently
See TOWN / 5
Ubuntu is a community-based thrift store in Pretty Prairie with an emphasis on refurbished furniture. The space has recently started offering yoga, bunco and painting classes.
Page 14 March 27, 2016
By Mary Clarkin
The Hutchinson News
By Mary Clarkin
Airport, USD projects facets of revitalization
The Hutchinson News
terling Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News
Downtown Sterling will undergo improvements, including street and intersection work, with curb, gutter and handicap ramps installed.
With K-96 plan, town aims to be ‘destination’
The Hutchinson News
TERLING – This Rice County community of about 2,300 residents is preparing for
growth. By mid to late 2018, a new K-96 bypass is scheduled to be completed and will carry traffic from Nickerson into Rice County and around Sterling. Currently, K-96 goes through downtown Sterling. The Sterling interchange for the new K-96 will be about a quarter-mile north of the city. Sterling’s strategy, said City Manager Taggart Wall, is:
“Let’s invest in our downtown infrastructure in advance of that project to make it business-friendly and accessible to customers. We want the downtown to be the best place it can be to do business.” Current improvements include street and intersection work downtown. The overall downtown improment project investment, including curb and gutter and handicap ramps, will amount to about $680,000, Wall said. In 2015, Sterling annexed about 35 acres for envisioned housing
development on the east side. A group of private stakeholders is involved, Wall said. More annexation likely will occur this year, stretching the city’s north boundary. “We know that there’s going to be some development up north,” Wall said. The proximity to the interchange will attract commercial growth. “There are things in the pipeline that we’ll see before long,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is find that balance,” Wall said, between future growth and Sterling’s
downtown area. Rice County Economic Development Director Jill Nichols praised leadership in the various sectors of Sterling, including government, education, business and the arts. “They’re ahead of the game,” she said, and are being “proactive.” “The goal is to make downtown Sterling a “destination,” Nichols said, bringing in people off the new K-96 bypass. Local events and festivals, as well as retail shops, will help be a magnet, according to Wall and Nichols.
YONS – Maps still show Lyons in the heart of Rice County and in the middle of Kansas, but the home to over 3,700 residents is really a city on the move. In March, city and county officials joined other dignitaries to break ground for an overall $2.176 million improvement project at Lyons/Rice County Airport. The extended runway will accommodate landings of ambulance airplanes, and that will raise the level of emergency care in Rice County. It also will serve businesses in Rice County. The groundbreaking occurred less than a year after Lyons USD 405’s new Lyons Middle School opened. The dedication of a complex housing Lyons City Hall, the Lyons Public Library and the local Chamber of Commerce took place in December 2014. The city, county and school district, as well as the state and federal government, are partners in various projects. Efforts to increase housing stock in Lyons continue, and USD 405 Superintendent Bill Day said about nine of the homes were bought by school district employees. City Administrator John Sweet has pursued grants to make improvements possible. Those projects range from the airport runway – the Federal Aviation Administration is paying 90 percent of the cost – to construction of new restrooms this year at a city ballfield and city park, with funding help through the state. Rice County is principally an agriculture-based economy, but it also has a varied manufacturing sector, according to
Rice County Economic Development Director Jill Nichols. JACAM Chemicals, KMW’s tractor center, Kansas Ethanol, Cal-Maine Foods, Lyons Manufacturing and United Industries operate in the county, and feedlots and salt mines also employ residents. Economic development also can be a restaurant or a store that pulls in customers, and Lyons draws visitors, particularly from the west, Nichols said. Fair on the Square, an annual vendor and craft show in August on the Rice County Courthouse square, attracts outsiders. The city’s annual Christmas parade is another Lyons tradition. Lyons USD 405 voters approved an approximately $14 million bond issue in 2013. The work is about wrapped up, Day said, and there’s about a half-million dollars left over. “It’s a nice problem to have,” Day said. There are discussions about possible projects, he said. At the new Lyons Public Library, Director Becky McBeth said she is seeing an increased use in wireless services. The library has five public computers, and MTC, a telecommunications provider, donated five iPad mini tablets. Also, people are bringing in their own electronic devices. “I believe people are staying longer,” McBeth said. Lyons Salt Co. donated money to get a coffee bar operational in the library. The mobile kitchen island offers coffee, as well as iced and hot tea, depending on the season. “We are proud of our many revitalization efforts,” Lyons Mayor Mike Young said at the airport project groundbreaking.
Photos by Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News
Downtown Kingman will be the site of the first-ever Fall Art Festival on Sept. 10.
Art fest to join fly-in as an event with ‘drawing’ ability
By Mary Clarkin
The Hutchinson News
INGMAN – Kingman will need a big welcome mat this year, preferably one visible from the air. The annual fly-in at the Kingman Airport attracted nearly 500 people last year. The event is scheduled for Sept. 24, and it will be preceded on Sept. 10 by the first Kingman Fall Art Festival. “It’s going to be down on Main Street,” Kingman City Manager Emily Graf said of the art festival. The festival will spread all the way to Glenn Stark Park, where sculptures dominate the park. “We have done a fall fest in the past,” Graf said, but the decision was made to host an art festival. Artists and vendors from outside Kingman will participate, she said. Kingman has over 3,000
Wheatlands Health Care Center is planning an expansion that could change the trend of the lack of senior-living options. residents and has seen some of its older residents leave because of the lack of senior-living housing options. Wheatlands Health Care Center, on the city’s west side, plans an expansion that could change the trend. When Wheatlands was started in the 1980s, the overall plan set aside land for duplexes. Costs delayed that component, but Wheatlands is preparing for
a construction start this fall. Phase 1 will consist of 10 duplexes or 20 residences, said Sherry Rinke, administrator at Wheatlands Health Care Center. Long-range, she said, there is land available for an additional 22 duplexes, or 44 residences, if the demand exists. For now, the focus is on the 10 independent-living duplexes. “We have had a lot of
Photos by Mary Clarkin/The Hutchinson News
Officials turn dirt at a ceremony marking the start of a runway expansion at the Lyons/Rice County Airport on March 9.
people that have moved out of Kingman for this type of environment,” Rinke said. Sedgwick County attracts a number of those moving to an independent-living facility, she said. The Wheatlands project not only could help Kingman retain residents, it probably will create five additional jobs – some part-time or seasonal – because grounds maintenance will be one of the services covered for the duplex residents. Currently, Wheatland employs about 92 people. A problem with the collapse of downtown buildings represents an opportunity for Kingman. “There are already developers interested in that property,” Graf said. Two speculative homes are being built and will be for sale soon on Kingman’s west side, and a new Sonic Drive-in is slated for 2016, she said. “We actually have quite a few things going on,” Graf said.
A new complex housing Lyons City Hall and library was dedicated in December 2014. The new building cost $1.7 million and is located northwest of the courthouse square at 201 W. Main St.
The Kansas Machine Works is one of several Rice County employers.
N The Hutchinson News
New YMCA should be both a fiscal and wellness aid to city
The Hutchinson News
Businesses, courtesy reveal a ‘go-to’ town
By Adam Stewart
ewton will see the culmination of nearly a decade’s work this fall when a YMCA opens at 701 E. Wheatridge Drive. Shelly Conrady, vice president for marketing and communications at the Greater Wichita YMCA, said a conversation about a YMCA opening in Newton started close to 10 years ago after a study of Newton residents’ needs and wants. Fitness and family activities rated high on the list, and the YMCA fit the bill, so a group of residents contacted the Y early. Conrady said the timing wasn’t right in 2007 because of a variety of construction projects the YMCA was undertaking in Wichita at the time. But Newton residents asked again as some of those projects finished. The idea gained a big momentum boost in 2012 when Newton Medical Center offered land for it to be built on the hospital’s campus. Newton Medical Center also has been one of the largest financial donors to the project, along with Mirror Inc. and AGCO, Conrady said. Todd Tangeman, chief operating officer of Newton Medical Center, said the hospital’s donation is part of a broader effort to promote health and wellness in Newton. He said the YMCA will augment opportunities already available and help fill unmet needs in the
March 27, 2016 Page 19
By Mary Clarkin The Hutchinson News
Rendering by SJCF Architecture
This rendering by SJCF Architecture shows what a YMCA in Newton may look like when it opens this fall. Coonrod & Associates Construction Co. Inc. is building the facility, which will be part of the Greater Wichita YMCA. community. Tangeman also said the YMCA will be an economic boon. Studies have estimated it will draw people from a 30-mile radius around Newton, who may also shop and make appointments while they are in Newton. “It serves as a catalyst for economic development,” Tangeman said. He also said the YMCA and hospital may be able to partner on a variety of programs. With a mix of large and small benefactors, Newton volunteers were able to raise about $5 million, and the Greater Wichita YMCA committed $10 million to the project. Amenities and programs The Newton YMCA will have an indoor lap swimming pool and a family recreation pool with a play structure and related facilities, two full basketball and volleyball
courts, racquetball courts, a wellness center with free weights, weight machines and cardio equipment, four studios for exercise classes and a one-tenth-mile indoor walking track, Conrady said. “But we’re more than just the building,” she said. The YMCA will offer many after-school, summer camp and other outreach programs, Conrady said. “Personally I’m not a big swimmer, but I can dogpaddle like nobody’s business,” Tangeman said of his plans to use the YMCA. He added he is looking forward to using the strength equipment in the wellness center. Eric Fair, a member first of the fundraising committee and now of the board of advisers for the project, said he thinks the location is important. The south part of Newton has seen quite a bit of growth in recent years, but kids in the area can’t reasonably walk to recreation centers
further north. Fair said he sees the YMCA as a possible source of stability for children who need it. “It’s so well-run,” he said. Fair said he is looking forward to the indoor walking track, while his three children are excited for the pools. This will not be the first YMCA in Newton. Conrady said one opened in the late 1800s or early 1900s, with ties to the railroad. Railroads and early YMCAs often had close ties, she said. That YMCA closed several decades ago. Conrady said construction is very nearly ready for structural steel to start going up. The timeline for opening is probably in late fall. She said the warm winter allowed construction to get ahead of schedule. Once opened, the YMCA will employ about 150 people, she said. It is planned to be able to serve around 20,000 people.
TAFFORD – Garden City resident Norma Nolte is in her 80s and found herself stranded in Stafford due to icy roads in January. Stafford, population around 1,000, treated Nolte so well – even a birthday cake! – she wrote a letter to the editor of The Stafford Courier that was a long thank-you note to the community. “I just kind of adopted her,” said Julie Lyon, who runs the Stafford Motor Inn. “Neat lady,” Lyon said. The motel is just one of the businesses that boosted the economy in Stafford last year. A beauty salon, a chop shop and a vehicle collision repair business launched last year, along with a new bar and grill. Ampro Products Inc. is using a facility that’s not in Stafford, but is nearby, according to Stafford County Economic Development executive director Carolyn Dunn. Keeping and drawing families is economic development, Dunn noted. Entrepreneurship is vital, and Dunn sees future growth from Stafford USD’s SEED Program. The Stafford Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Program encourages high school students to develop
business plans and implement them. The SEED Center’s students not only develop projects, they learn about marketing. If successful, the young entrepreneur can enjoy net profits even while still in school. The Stafford Motor Inn “needed a lot of attention” when the investment was made to the property, Lyon said. A new roof was a boost, along with new carpet and paint and improved ventilation systems. It now has “16 rooms up and going,” Lyon said. Highway travelers and area construction workers fill some rooms on any given night, but pilot car drivers also stay there. Safe delivery of wind turbine parts requires pilot cars, Lyon said. Nolte’s letter spoke of the friendliness of staff at Ampride – “urging me to top off my hot tea as often as I wanted” and offering the use of a phone to save her cellphone minutes. She enjoyed a “nice supper” at The Gathering Place. The next morning, Lyon scraped the ice off Nolte’s car windows and when Nolte arrived at the cafe for breakfast, Lyon announced, “ ‘Guys, this is Norma and it’s her birthday,’ ” Nolte wrote. “To top the morning off, my breakfast was paid for.” “You can be sure that I will be Stafford’s #1 ambassador,” she promised.
Cooler deal pushes plant to expand its workforce big time
Photos by Adam Stewart/The Hutchinson News
By Adam Stewart
Molds for Yeti coolers rotate on booms recently at GVL Poly in Hesston. Since making an agreement with Yeti to manufacture coolers for the company last September, the manufacturing company has grown from five to 60 employees, with more growth planned.
The Hutchinson News
ESSTON – A deal to produce Yeti coolers has allowed GVL Poly’s Hesston plant to expand from five employees in September to 60 now, with an even bigger hiring boom to come, Plant Manager John Carder said on March 9. GVL Poly started in 1992 in Litchfield, Minnesota, after its founder, a farmer, got tired of metal corn harvesting headers getting bent out of shape by rocks, Carder said. “A farmer had a better idea,” he said. So he began making his own plastic headers, an idea that caught on. The company was sold in 2006, and in 2014 it opened the Hesston plant as its first expansion outside Minnesota. Carder said the company inquired with many towns in the Midwest about opening
GVL Poly Hesston Plant Manager John Carder holds a Yeti 35-quart cooler in front of a 175-bushel seed hopper for a planter. The manufacturer in Hesston makes both products. The seed hopper has about 186 times the capacity of the cooler.
a plant, and Hesston was the only town that responded. Carder was the Hesston city
administrator at the time, preparing for retirement. When a search for a plant
manager was fruitless, the company offered Carder the job, which he accepted.
Orders were fairly sparse for more than a year, as the company made seed hoppers for planters, road barricades and parts for a handful of other manufacturers. The company’s workforce was five employees. Then along came a Yeti in September 2015. Yeti sells high-end, heavy-duty coolers, which are available directly from the company and from specialty outdoors retailers. Carder said Yeti was looking for a manufacturer in the middle of the country to make coolers, as it couldn’t keep up with demand.
GVL Poly took the job, which has seen the Hesston plant grow to 60 employees. That number will grow even more when several larger manufacturing machines are installed this year. “I would expect we’ll be at 150 to 200 employees at the end of the year,” Carder said. “We’re growing as fast as we can.” Yeti coolers already make up 80 percent or more of the Hesston plant’s business. Carder said the plant makes about 1,200 coolers a week now, and the new equipment will quadruple that capacity. Understandably, that kind of rapid expansion brings with it some growing pains. While GVL Poly has been able to fill job openings, it’s been tougher to fill them with the right people, Carder said. Part of the ongoing expansion will be the hiring of a full-time human resources director.