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 1999, The Great Bend Tribune published three multi-page sections focusing on defining Generation X, as well as the generation we refer to today as the Millennial generation.
The 1998 Grammy Awards were televised this week, and Gen X musician and singer Lauryn Hill( Lauryn Noelle Hill, born on May 26, 1975, in South Orange, N.J.) won five Grammys: Best New Artist, Album of the Year and Best R&B Album for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Best Rhythm and Blues Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Doo Wop (That Thing). She was also nominated for five other awards that year. Over the course of her career, she has won 8 Grammys and received 19 nominations, according to Grammys.com. Here’s another bit of Grammy trivia from the website: “With her five solo GRAMMY wins for 1998, she became the first woman to win five or more awards in a single night. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is also credited as the first hip-hop album to earn Album Of The Year.”
Coincidentally, it was also this week that 27 year old Gen X musician Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers III, born on Oct. 17, 1972, in St. Joseph, Mo.) released what in 1999 would be his Grammy award winning rap album, “The Slim Shady LP”, featuring his first Grammy Award winning rap song “My Name Is,” the video of which featured references to President Bill Clinton and late night talk show host Johnny Carson, television personality Robert Young as Father Knows Best, and the opening credits of the 1970s television sitcom, The Brady Bunch.
Since then, Eminem has received 15 wins and 44 nominations.
Black history spotlight
This week in 1999, Tribune Staff Writer Jennifer Schartz’s feature about GBHS graduate O. Gilbert Brown appeared on the front page as the paper’s Black History Month effort. Brown attended elementary school at Park in the early 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement was making headlines and beginning to be recognized not only in the deep South, but throughout the country, even in rural Kansas. He recounted to Schartz how in elementary school he struggled, but at Roosevelt Junior High, he identified with the book “A Tale of Two Cities,” and from there his love or reading and research blossomed.
Brown is a 1972 GBHS graduate who began his post-secondary career at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, receiving a Bachelor’s of General Studies, majoring in Political Science In 1977, and went on to receive a Master’s of Science in Counselor Education from Emporia State University, a second Master’s of Science in Student Personnel Administration from Miami University at Oxford, Ohio, and a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs from Indiana University at Bloomington in 1992. He was the Associate Dean of Student Affairs at the College of Education at Bloomington at the time Schartz interviewed him.
He recalled how his Junior High English teacher, Pat Montgomery, encouraged him, and his performance in her class became the expectation he was inclined to live up to when he attended her husband, John Montgomery’s history class.
“Teachers can place boundaries on students or they can set them free,” Brown said in the interview. He also acknowledged that he “had to migrate to the city for better job opportunities (but) he realizes it was his beginning in rural Kansas that helped to make him who he is.”
Today, Brown is part of the faculty of the Counseling Leadership and Special Education department at Missouri State University.
Rare spotlight on Gen X
At the Great Bend Tribune, February has for many years meant “Progress.” In 1999, the Tribune’s theme for it’s annual Progress edition was “Generation to Generation.” At the time Generational Studies was still a young field of demographic research, but thanks to author historians William Strauss and Neil Howe, the field was on the radar of media and advertising organizations all over the country. It was in the late nineties that generations of people began to be referred to as “The Greatest Generation,” “The Silent Generation,” “The Baby Boomers” and “Gen X,” all identifiers created by Strauss and Howe and widely accepted in the mainstream media.
Courtney June Boltauzer weighed in on Generation X from the perspective of a true Gen Xer with her story, “Generation Now.” Then in their 20’s and early 30’s, maturity had not yet arrived for Generation X.
“Generation Xers are commonly stereotyped as lazy underachievers. The truth is that my generation has been handed the world on a silver platter, but each time we got close to touching it, something happened and it has been taken away.”
MTV and cable television contributed to a whole generation “knowing too much too soon,” Boltauzer wrote. She recalled seeing President Ronald Reagan being shot and witnessing the Space Shuttle blowing up on live television as two of the widely shared memories of her peers. Less positive, more skeptical, she noted divorce rates skyrocketed, dual earner families were on the rise, and the term “latchkey kid” was coined to describe how many of her peers came home to empty houses--something that up until then had not been the norm in America. But, computers and video games had arrived. That was pretty cool. Still, “hoping for the best but expecting the worst,” was how Boltauzer summed up Gen X.
Over the past 20 years, generational studies have continued to gain momentum. Now, generational advertising has become mainstream. Gen X is still out there. According to Angela Woo, writing for Forbes magazine in 2018, “Many of us are homeowners and have families of our own. So, here we sit in this powerful time with money, resources and influence, and we still aren’t in the mainstream conversation. We’ve watched the culture interest shift from boomers to millennials like we’re a flyover state.”
The Tribune’s Progress edition also looked at what today we refer to as the Millennial generation. At the time, they were called “Echo Boomers,” or “Generation Y.” They were just graduating from high school and entering college in 1999. They were the kids that grew up with computers, cable, the internet, and more. Girls now grew up expecting to be well educated and to put off having their first child until their mid-20s. USA Today reported Millennials would be the “most entrepreneurial generation ever,” but also willing to move home after college if opportunities were available.
“Echo Boomers have seen the worst of things -- guns in school, drugs of all sorts,” and that had not stopped their optimism. “They are the new breed of teenager, the leading edge of a generation that promises to be the richest, smartest and savviest ever.”
Today, they are a force to be reckoned with. No one, not even the skeptical Gen Xers, can deny the Millennial generation have a lot going on. Just don’t try to take away their cell phones.