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Great Bend’s Great White Way in 1950
Out of the Morgue
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As excitement built for the White Way lighting, the Tribune did it’s part. The Feb. 21, 1950 edition carried this photo with the caption that read, “The camera snaps a view of the White Way looking west on Broadway. One of the old-style posts in the foreground offers a striking contrast between the old and new. This part of the system is the only one that has double “luminaries” or light fixtures.”

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.

In early February, 1950, U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy (R-Wisc.), announced that he had found over 200 “communists” in the U.S. Dept. of State when he delivered his infamous “Enemies from Within” speech in Wheeling, West Virginia. 

According to the website, McCarthy capitalized on the collective fear and paranoia Americans felt for communists. He claimed that “only he could save America from Russian spies. Because of the tense political atmosphere and the Cold War, his claims were taken seriously, and thousands of individuals were brought before the court and asked about their affiliations with the Communist Party.”

According to,  his antics were tolerated by his party because his attacks focused mostly against the Democratic administration of President Harry S. Truman. But when President Eisenhower took office, McCarthy started to publicly attack the U.S. Army, calling it “soft on Communism.” The public began to lose patience with his tactics, and began to see there was no substance to the investigation. 

In 1954, he was condemned by his colleagues. He eventually spiraled into alcoholism and died while still in office in 1957. 

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This map of the city’s new White Way shows where lights were “spotted” throughout the city. Additional lights were added after the map was drawn. Lighting was extended south on Main Street past the Santa Fe tracks, across the Arkansas River bridge, between Baker Street and Kansas Ave. and Lakin Street and Broadway, in the city park and further west on 10th Street.
Great Bend’s Great White Way

It took some time, in the beginning, for McCarthy’s momentum to build. There were no reports in the Great Bend Tribune throughout the months of February or March about him or his investigations. Local attention instead focused on the much anticipated lighting of Great Bend’s White Way. 

Today, street lighting is a mundane talking point at best, but in 1950, a complex grid of street lights meant progress. For several months, Western Light & Telephone Co. had been hard at work installing modern street lighting along Broadway and Main Street, as well as the residential streets for a handful of blocks on either side . 

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This advertisement for Western Light and Telephone co. appeared in the Great Bend Tribune on Feb. 21, 1950, two days before the city officially ignited a newly installed “white way,” a series of street lights that signified technical progress and modernization for the city.

The event was worth capitalizing on, and the Great Bend retailers eagerly embraced the occasion. In order to make sure it was a success, all the details were taken into consideration. The Feb. 2 Tribune reported the retail sales committee of the Chamber of Commerce that morning had decided to change the date of the official lighting by a day, when it came to their attention that the original date fell on Ash Wednesday that year. With that business attended to, they went on to firm up the details of the evening’s program, and leaked it to the paper. 

The plan was for all retailers would put out their lights, and the public was asked to take part in a “voluntary blackout” at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22. Then, a portable platform would be placed at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street, and the mayor, Joe A. Mermis, would close the connection from the platform at 7:30 p.m., illuminating the city. Retailers planned special sales and promotions, planning to stay open until 9 p.m.  A free movie for children would be shown at the city auditorium from 8 - 9 p.m., and from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. there would be a free dance for grown-ups. 

otm_vlc_old meets new.jpg
As excitement built for the White Way lighting, the Tribune did it’s part. The Feb. 21, 1950 edition carried this photo with the caption that read, “The camera snaps a view of the White Way looking west on Broadway. One of the old-style posts in the foreground offers a striking contrast between the old and new. This part of the system is the only one that has double “luminaries” or light fixtures.”
New high school proposed

With excitement about progress palpable, it is no wonder the Great Bend school board was eager to strike while the iron was hot. The Tribune published an aerial photo of the north and northwest sections of Great Bend indicating the proposed location for a new high school on land belonging to the school district, and an area designated as the most desirable location of a much needed new grade school. That school, based on the photo, is Park Elementary School. 

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Locations for the proposed new high school and elementary schools appeared in the Tribune in 1950. “A” indicates where the high school would be built on school district land. “B” indicates where Park Elementary School now stands. The district planned to take that land through condemnation.

Bids were already being accepted for construction of the high school, and would be opened in March. Getting hold of the land for the elementary school was proving to be a little more difficult. The school board’s attorney had sent letters to all 12 of the property owners on that block in an effort to purchase the property. Only one had responded with a price. 

“He listed his selling price at $6,000 which Diets (the attorney) labeled exorbitant. The school board has ordered abstracts of title and as soon as the attorney has hand time to examine them he probably will institute proceedings to acquire the property for the school district by condemnation.” 

Diets felt the titles in that block were clouded because “the property was acquired by present or past owners many years ago through old tax deeds issued by the county clerk under an outmoded legal procedure that has long since been changed by the state legislature. Even if the property owners are willing to sell to the school board, which apparently is not the case.”

He implied the condemnation proceedings “would probably be necessary in order to give the school district a clear title to the property.” 

Our humble editorial opinion is, it sounds like Diets felt he could bully long-time property owners into selling cheap by putting public pressure on them. The Tribune could have provided more balance by at least reaching out to the property owners to get their side. It was certainly a different era. 

In contrast, the Tribune of today has endeavored to provide a clear picture for readers about the modern school district’s efforts to convince taxpayers of the need to make upgrades to the district’s properties. We will continue to provide dependable reporting until the issue is finally decided. 

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This photo was taken during the final pay ceremony that took place at the Great Bend National Guard headquarters in February, 1950. After that, guardsmen of C Battery of the 130th Armored Field Artillery Battalion received their checks in the mail. In the picture Lt. Roy Evans, Jr., temporary commanding officer, hands his check to Sgt. Jack Baldwin while Lt. Thomas Carrnoes down the transaction. In line are Sgts. George Ledbetter, Virgil Sillin, Billie Shepherd, J.R. McLaughlin, Bob Leiker and D - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo
More progress

Progress was everywhere, it seemed. Even the local National Guard unit was moving ahead into the future. A photo this week in the Tribune shed light on how tradition was changing. 

“Members of the Great Bend unit of the National Guard line up for their last pay day at the guard headquarters here, located at the municipal airport,” the caption read. “In the future guardsmen will receive their checks by mail.” A pay ceremony took place at the armory one night that week following a weekly drill period.

Today, rather than a check in the mail, the military makes direct deposit into service member’s bank accounts. 

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The Feb 2, 1950 caption read, “Stevie Brooks, 2 1/2-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Steven Brooks appears very disgruntled over the fact that Mr. Groundhog came out today and got a good look at his shadow in Great Bend, Kansas, even if he didn’t at Punxsutawney, Pa. A UP dispatch from Punxsutawney quoted Dr. F.A. Lorenzo, president of the Groundhog club, as saying that the groundhog came out there at 10 a.m. and couldn’t see his shadow, “so there will be an early spring.” - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo
Just for fun

It’s Groundhog Day! We hope you enjoy the photo we found on the front page of the Feb. 2, 1950 Tribune as much as we did. We hope any of the groundhogs you may encounter today fail to see their shadow, and the promise of an early spring brings a smile to your face.