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Birthdays and blizzards in 1979
Out of the Morgue
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On Friday, Jan. 12, a record blizzard descended on the Midwest. It was the second major storm to hit central Kansas in two weeks. That morning’s paper featured this photo. “Farmer-rancher Dave Koralek, 36, Ellsworth, prepares his 9-year-old mare, Clancy, for a chilling ride with his 100-year-old “One horse cutter” sleigh. The sleigh, the only one of its kind in the Golden Belt area, is in excellent shape.” - photo by Great Bend Tribune file 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.

This week in 1979, President James “Jimmy” Carter declared he would support legislation to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. 

The Jan. 10, 1979 edition of The Great Bend Tribune included an Associated Press report concerning protests by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for proposed social welfare cuts by the Carter administration. 

The president was scheduled to attend an observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 50th birthday that coming Friday, and receive the Martin Luther King Non-Violent Peace Prize at nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church, presented by the King Center. 

At the appearance that weekend, Friday, Jan. 14, Carter promised to fight for new funds to educate disadvantaged children, for Head Start, for the handicapped and “all those to whom America’s promise has not come.” 

It was also at that appearance that, 

“Carter announced that he would support legislation to make King’s birthday a national holiday.

“Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said on Friday at the church that he would introduce legislation to accomplish that.” 

According to a historical synopsis we found at, the bill was defeated by five votes in the House of Representatives in November, 1979. Still, efforts continued, and on Nov. 3, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the third Monday in January Martin Luther King Jr. Day, beginning in 1986. !7 states had already adopted the holiday, but it took a few more years after that for all 50 states to get on board. Today, closures are still common in observance, but according to, “Recent federal legislation encourages Americans to give some of their time on Martin Luther King Day as volunteers in citizen action groups.” 

This year, MLK Day is Monday, Jan. 21. 

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From the Sunday, Feb. 14, 1979 edition of the Tribune: “Up to four inches of snow and winds gusting to 45 miles an hour left hundreds of motorists, including the owner of this car, stranded in the area Friday night and Saturday. Doors were locked on most Great Bend businesses, and city streets were closed Saturday.” - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo
Multi state blizzard hits Midwest

On Friday night, Jan. 12, 1979, a severe blizzard descended across several Midwest states including Kansas. Later, the storm was determined to have caused more than 100 deaths. In Kansas, Gov. John Carlin called out the National Guard to assist law enforcement. Even KDOT vehicles were reported stuck in snow drifts, some of which topped 10 feet. Shelters for stranded motorists were set up throughout the state. Thousands were without power. Law enforcement advised citizens to stay home. 

It continued into Saturday, with many local businesses closed for the entire day. This was partly due to the fact that before the storm, there were already nine inches of snow on the ground from the previous week.  

The Sunday, Jan. 14 Tribune included several local and regional reports. Members of the Great Bend High School debate team may remember taking part in an eight-team Class 6A regional high school debate tournament that weekend. It was reported to be one of the only activities taking place that Saturday. 

“The tournament began Friday at Great Bend High School but was moved to the Highland manor Saturday because the out-of-town debaters were snowbound there. The tournament was to end Saturday night, and GBHS was leading at mid afternoon, according to the GBHS Debate Coach Gene Specht.”

Crews fought to keep highways open, but they were packed with snow and ice. 

“Two citizens from hays were reported missing during the Friday night storm while en route from Great Bend to Hays. The Barton County sheriff’s department confirmed that the two, Allen Windler and his 2-year-old son, later were located at a Liebenthal farm house, unable to make telephone connections because of downed telephone lines. 

Three women form Burlingame spent 12 hours stranded in their car after it slid off the left side of US 56 a mile west of the Kansas Turnpike. For several hours they intermittently ran the engine to keep warm in below-freezing temperatures until it finally died. They kept their spirits up talking and joking, and sat on each other’s feet to keep them warm. When the women did not arrive at work, and it was determined their employer was closed, family members began looking for their vehicle. They were finally rescued by the National Guard.  

Unfortunately, two Stafford County men weren’t so lucky. Their names were not immediately available. They too were found in a snowbank in rural Stafford County.

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It would take several days to remove snow from city streets with temperatures continuing to hover below freezing. By Tuesday morning, “City Administrator Ken Carter said many of the residential streets range from being slightly snow-packed with signs of travel to impassible.” - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo

The fact there weren’t more is amazing considering many area families headed out Friday afternoon to attend basketball games throughout the region. Many, according to the Tribune’s Maggie Lee, did not realize it could be more than 24 hours before they would return home. Many stayed overnight in high school gymnasiums or were invited to stay in private homes. 

While the storm was very bad, it didn’t make the top 10 list of Worst Blizzards in the U.S. we discovered at

If you are missing snow, check it out and you’ll soon find yourself content with clear skies and over-40 degree weather once more, even in January. 

Days after the storm, snow removal efforts resulted in towering piles of snow in parking lots throughout town. “Twelve-year-old Mark Schindler of Great Bend found the snow pile in one of the downtown parking lots good material made for a fast ride on the round sled he got for Christmas. The motion caused by the fast ride served to move Schindler several feet past the bottom of the snow pile.” - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo