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Barbie makes the scene in 1959
Out of the Morgue
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The Original Teenage Fashion Model Barbie Doll made her debut this week in 1959 at a New York toy show. She has been turning heads ever since. - photo by COURTESEY PHOTO

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

Toy maker Mattel’s Barbie doll was introduced to the world 60 years ago Friday. She appeared at a New York toy show, according to the Barbie History Foundation, but many buyers there didn’t think she had much of a future. Dressed in a black and white swimsuit and pony tail, she was so different from the baby dolls that were popular at the time. According to her creator, Ruth Handler, co-founder of toy company Mattel, she created Barbie to provide her daughter with a toy that allowed her to think of herself in a roll other than mother. The first television commercial for Barbie was aired during the Mickey Mouse Club, but we couldn’t find any in print in the Tribune this week. The predicted flop turned fantastic doll was a success, with 350,000 sold the first year. Since then, many iterations of Barbie have portrayed a wide range of careers. But in recent decades, she has often been criticized for idealizing an unattainable, even unnatural shape, and for portraying women in all too traditional female career roles.

According to a report this week appearing in many of the nation’s newspapers (we found it in the Salt Lake City Tribune first), as Barbie turns 60, far from retiring, “She’s being strategically reinvented to reflect today’s increasingly diverse world.”

Today, there are 40 new Barbie and Ken dolls, several body types including original, tall, petite, slim, curvy and broad, 11 skintones, and 28 hair styles. 

Yes, Barbie was hardly a news when she made the scene. The nation was more concerned with the possibility of a summit to be attended by U.S. President Eisenhower, other western leaders and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

“Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev challenged the West today to come up with concrete ideas for a summit conference to blunt the threat of war over Berlin and Germany. The Soviet Union is ready, he asserted.”

After some negotiation, the U.S. and Britain agreed to offer the Soviets their summit conference, sometime that summer. Reports throughout the week reported on wording of the agreement, what diplomats had to say, and how various powers disagreed with one another. 

All of this led up to Khruschev’s visit to the White House in September of that year, reported to be the first time ever a Soviet leader visited the U.S. 

AP photo Nikita Khrushchev, right, with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower riding in car in Washington, D.C., September 15, 1959. - photo by AP Photo
Unique three generation photo

In 1959, it wasn’t uncommon for photos of people admitted to the hospital to appear in the Great Bend Tribune. We found a round-up of photos of children who had been injured in playground fights and falls one day. There were also routine hospital news notices that included names, addresses and reasons for admittance. Today, with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in effect, it feels like an intrusion to read these reports. But there was one photo this week that the family clearly was excited to have taken. Mrs. Mary Brack, 84, of Otis, had the pleasure to meet her 57th newborn grandchild at St. Rose on the morning she and her mother were being discharged from the hospital. The little baby was identified as Rhonda White. We couldn’t find any further information about Miss White. If you know of Rhonda White, be sure to wish her a happy 60th birthday this week. 

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1959 Tribune file photo: Mrs. Mary Brack, 84, Otis, tells her 57th great grandchild Rhonda White, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert White, 1412 Broadway, to be a good little girl when she gets home. Mrs. White and daughter left St. Rose hospital Tuesday morning but stopped by to visit their grand and great grandmother. Mrs. Brack is recovering from a broken hip. She also has a great-great grandchild and 29 grandchildren. Mrs. Brack has eight children, seven - photo by Tribune file photo
Easter week

This week marked the final week of Lent in 1959. The week started off with Hoisington’s Easter Egg hunt, and ended with Great Bend Jaycees egg hunt. Then, groups boiled and dyed real eggs and wrapped a select few in gold foil, with the lucky finder eligible for prizes. The religious season was widely observed, even n the secular world of commerce in Great Bend. The Thursday, March 26, Tribune reported the following”

“Most Great Bend businesses will close from noon until 3 p.m. Friday in observance of Good Friday services, according to the Chamber of Commerce Thursday. 

The Chamber’s retail development committee recommended the hours for closing in a recent meeting. 

The Barton County court house will close at noon Friday and remain closed the rest of the afternoon. The court house will be open regular hours on Saturday. Great Bend’s three banks will close at noon for the day.”

Today, Good Friday is not recognized as an official holiday in public schools, or by banks or governmental institutions.  Still, the holiday is widely observed by many faiths in Great Bend and around the county.

Farm Bureau coffee 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Farm Bureau. In 1959, this week the Barton County Farm Bureau hosted Thursday morning Chamber of Commerce coffee. Yep — they were still sipping coffee and sharing important information 60 years ago. 

Alvin Otte was the president of the organization then. He explained the functions of the organization, from securing farm legislation to selling chemicals, renting out seed cleaners, and operating a credit union. 

“Otte said that the organization was founded in Barton County in 1918, with Milton Bosse, now of Ellinwood, as the first president. 

“Farm Bureau was organized in the county as a part of a nationwide movement to gain recognition for agriculture and as an organization to sponsor agricultural extension work in the county.

“As sponsor of extension work, Farm Bureau helped to finance activities in the county until 1951, when the state legislature separated Farm Bureau from extension work. The Farm Bureau is wholly supported by membership dues now. 

This year, as the organization marks it’s centennial, we’re certain to be hearing and seeing more historical information and news about what the future holds.