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
Thirty years ago this week, one of the pioneers of the film-industry who called Great Bend his adopted home town, was honored and recognized for his life and accomplishments by the community where he was buried in 1951. The man was Oscar Micheaux, a black man and a filmmaker from the early days of American film.
The Sunday, Oct. 9, 1988 Great Bend Tribune featured the front-page story by then Tribune Area Reporter Dale Hogg, “Headstone allows Micheaux to go gentle into that good night.” We feature it here. It should be noted that it is due to the work of two Barton County genealogists that an extensive genealogical history of Oscar Micheaux exists. Juanita Neuforth, now deceased, and her daughter, Barton County Historical Society Museum researcher Karen Neuforth, spent countless hours researching to preserve this bit of local history.
“Local officials, film industry representatives and family members of Micheaux huddled around the small gravesite in the Great Bend Cemetery Saturday afternoon for the ceremony to mark the previously unmarked burial plot.
“Born in Illinois in 1884, he was buried in Great Bend, one of his adopted homes, in 1951. Micheaux had several family members in the area.”
“The placing of the headstone was the culmination of months of work for people both in Great Bend and Los Angeles, Calif. Micheaux’s cousin Harley Robinson, Los Angeles, said he felt it was about time the site was marked.
“Mr. Robinson called me when he was in town,” said Juanita Neuforth, who handled the local arrangements. “He took care of the Los Angeles end and I took care of the local end.”
“Once an interest was shown,”it really mushroomed from there,” she said.
“Micheaux has also been adopted into the Black filmmakers Hall of Fame, Oakland, Calif. “It’s sad. After the great ones pass, then we pay attention to their contributions,” noted James Shabazz, special projects coordinator for the hall of fame.
“Shabazz said Great Bend could be proud for its positive part in the history. “He (Micheaux) portrayed blacks in a positive light.”
“One of those attending the ceremony was actor, comedian and director Robert Townsend. “Oscar Micheaux has been my idol. He inspired me to do my first film” Micheaux was involved in all aspects of the industry from writing to distribution and this impressed Townsend.
“It’s a part of history. This gives me an opportunity to meet some of his family.”
“The actor is on a vacation of sorts. “I’m beginning to work on my next film. We start back in production in about two weeks.”
“Later Saturday, some of the late director’s films were shown at Barton County Community College.”
Dale Hogg, today the editor of the Tribune, was a recent college graduate back in 1988. According to him, it was his second year writing for the Tribune. While the event was probably not a major one to the majority of the local public, it was very important to the people involved, he recalls. He also recalls that while some of the relatives at the ceremony were from out of the area, there were some locals too.
Since then, there have been a couple film festivals featuring the work of Micheaux. In 1998, Barton Community College students remembered Micheaux once again with a ceremonial laying of a wreath at his grave. But, they did this in February as a Black History Month exercise.
In 2010, Martin J. Keenan posted this on the website Destee.com :
“Ultimately, Oscar Micheaux is not a black American hero, but simply an American hero. He successfully pursued his impossible dreams against steep odds. Micheaux is an inspiration to anyone - black or white - who has the courage to make their crazy dreams come true. Micheaux, the pioneer, writer, filmmaker and salesman was an American original.”
Keenan’s article is worth a read if you have a mind to. Find it here.
Also this week in 1988, Tribune staff writer Mike Wilson reported on Bob Behrens’ return to Great Bend after a 190-day hike along the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada. He arrived home tanned, lean and muscular, bearded and with long hair. He appeared with his hiking boots tied and hanging from his shoulder.
It was his second attempt. The first happened a year earlier, but ended abruptly with a sprained ankle three weeks into the trek.
“During the trek Beherns’ wife (Ruth) would send food and equipment parcels to post offices along the way.”
This meant days between food drops. There were 22 in all.
“Behrens has a son, Jason, 15, and a daughter, Jennifer, who is 12. “They understood (his trip). They missed me like I missed them (but) didn’t complain. Every time we hit town I’d call.”
They dodged lightning at Vasquez Peak, Colo. It rained and snowed 73 days of the trip. He ate 4,000 - 6,000 calories a day but still lost weight. They travelled 10 to 20 miles a day depending on terrain and weather. He put about 25 rolls of film through his camera.
He must have had a great time ultimately, because he is quoted having said,
“To be honest, I’d like to still be out there -- except with the family.” Behrens added “Maybe I could talk Ruth into getting a job near the mountains.”
We did our best to locate Behrens to find out what other hikes he may have taken since then. We’ll let you know if he responds.
This week, Beta Sigma Phi members attended a 50’s themed sock hop, and sent photos to the Tribune. We searched and found that “Beta Sigma Phi is an International Women’s’ friendship network. We are the largest organization of its kind in the world”
Great Bend High School Girls Tennis traveled to Garden City for a tournament over the weekend, and Desa Marmie and Julie Zorn grabbed first place in No. 2 doubles to help their school to a third-place finish.
Judy Reed, a third grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary, used a three-dimensional model city exercise to teach social studies in her classroom.
And three Barton County men were arrested this week in 1988, and 35 pounds of marijuana confiscated after a witness notified the BCSO that they were harvesting plants.
“This is the normal time for marijuana harvesting and (BCSO Detective Jim) Polly stressed that any activity in marijuana plots should be reported. People who think they have marijuana growing wild on their land may contact the sheriff’s office.
“We have had numerous people call in to the sheriff’s office about fields of marijuana,” Polly said, adding that officers have picked and destroyed about 30,000 plants this year (1988).