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Community Connections: Friendship brought Roger Kaufman to Great Bend
Roger Kaufman is a regular visitor at the Great Bend Senior Center. - photo by photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Roger Kaufman didn’t move to Great Bend until he was in his mid-80s, coming from New York, but he’s fallen in love with his new home.

“I like it here,” Kaufman said during a recent interview at the Great Bend Senior Center, where he regularly eats lunch with his new friends. He especially enjoys “the diversity of the architecture — and the trees.” The well-maintained lawns and rock gardens in this Tree City USA community have caught his eye.

“The architecture on the houses is very diverse and beautiful, interesting,” he said. “For instance, some of the houses are almost 100 years old.

“An interesting cultural institution in town is Radio Kansas. They’re based in Hutchinson. They have some really interesting concerts, mainly classical music, but they have jazz and folk music. I compare it to the radio stations in New York.”

He also enjoys being a member of the Golden Belt Community Concert Association.

Kaufman says he is “88 years young,” and has lived a rich life.

Born in Kansas City, Kan., Kaufman has lived in Lawrence, Mass., Washington D.C., and in Switzerland. While he was living in Brooklyn, he made friends with another New Yorker, Scott Thein, an artist who lived both there and in Great Bend. Thein’s art was featured at Barton Community College’s Shafer Gallery in 2016.

“I came here because of Scott,” Kaufman said. “I met him at a senior center like this. He said rents were low here so I followed him out, and I have no complaints out here.”

Recalling the senior center where he met Thein, Kaufman added, “As a matter of fact, Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart came to visit that same senior center. It’s a small world.”

Through Thein, Kaufman got to know another Great Bend resident, Frank McKinney, who met him when he arrived in Kansas at the Hutchinson Amtrack station around 2 a.m. one morning about two years ago. Kaufman loves to tell the story of how McKinney once sold a Saab to a Swede, in Sweden, where the cars were manufactured until 2016.

“Roger is a fun, interesting character,” McKinney said. “He doesn’t act 88.” Noting Kaufman’s outgoing nature and his ability to make new friends easily, McKinney said he’s popular at the Senior Center. In fact, when he didn’t show up for a few days, they called McKinney to see if he knew what was going on.

It turned out that Kaufman said some health issues and was at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. McKinney called to check on him.

“The nurses said, ‘He’s fun! We like him.’ When the nurses like you, that says a lot,” McKinney said.

Chatting with friends at the Senior Center, any topic that comes up is likely to remind Kaufman of a story. When asked about his family, he said he has a brother in Joliet, Illinois, and a sister in Rockville, Maryland.

“That’s an interesting story if you’re familiar with ‘The Great Gatsby,’” he said. The grave of author F. Scott Fitzgerald lies next to a major thoroughfare for commuters between Rockville and Washington, D.C.

“It’s a small world,” he said. It’s a phrase he uses often as he finds common ground with new friends or is reminded of another story.

Some history

Before the turn of the century, Kaufman was a graphic designer and said he was the typesetter for the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. “I was doing work for the League of Arab States,” he said. “Oh my goodness, memories.” 

He said he retired about the same time that desktop publishing took off.

In this century, his jobs have included being “both a home health aide and a paper shuffler for visiting nurses in New York.”

Kaufman has a daughter in Detroit, Mich. a mechanical engineer who had seven children. “When your kids are retiring then you know that you’ve gotten to be old,” Kaufman said.

Enjoying Great Bend

“There’s plenty to do here,” Kaufman said. He reads the Great Bend Tribune regularly, he’s joined the Silver Sneakers fitness program and he also sends emails to a friend in Wuppertal, Germany, “to refresh my memory of German.” That required switching from the standard American keyboard to the German keyboard, which is adapted to include umlauted vowels.

Kaufman, who once played the violin in the Kansas City Philharmonic, said that by next year, he would like to start a Heart of America Music Festival in central Kansas featuring contemporary classical music. He’s not sure there’s a big following for that here, but he expects it would draw music students from Barton Community College and Fort Hays State University.

Editor’s note: At the time Kaufman was being interviewed by the Great Bend Tribune, his good friend Scott Thein was living at Aster Estates in Great Bend and was battling cancer. Thein died last week.