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.
It was 80 years ago this week that Adolf Hitler reneged on the Munich Agreement and Nazi troops occupied and annexed Czechoslovakia. An opening appeared when the German minority Slovaks began agitating for an independent Slovak state, according to the Associated Press report in the March 13, 1939 Great Bend Tribune. The Slovak separatists looked to Hitler, who they believed “holds his protective hand over the Slovaks.”
The next day, German troops were on the move to the Czech-German border.
“Czecho-Slovakia fell apart today under pressure from Nazi Germany,” according to the March 14 report by the AP. “The Prague government formally dissolved the federal state a few hours after Slovakia, with Adolf Hitler’s support, withdrew from the republic created by World war treaties out of the old Austro-Hungarian empire.”
Britain and France both considered the movement “none of our business.”
On March 15, “Adolf Hitler entered newly-absorbed Bohemia today as his armies and those of Hungary divided up the remains of shattered Czecho-Slovakia.” One German general proclaimed authority over all of Bohemia in Hitler’s name. Britain’s Prime Minister Sir Neville Chamberlain “bitterly regretted Germany’s move.”
“France was informed by Germany that Bohemia-Moravia had been taken over with an implied warning that France must keep hands off the central European crisis.”
The United States wondered if it should scrap its reciprocal trade agreement with Czechoslovakia. The lead concern at the time was how Germany’s absorption of Czechoslovakia was going to play out in the arena of trade. What sort of tariff duty should now be placed on the anticipated increasing shipments of shoes from Czechoslovakia?
By March 16, “Europe wondered anxiously where next German expansion would be felt. Only the man -- Hitler-- knew the answer.”
By the following week, Jews began fleeing German occupied Memel, Lithuania March 20, and on March 22, Lithuania was forced to give that territory to Germany.
The war in Europe certainly felt a world away, and how it would play out would take years to determine. In contrast, here’s what was happening in Great Bend this week:
Secret marriage announced
A photo of Mrs. Winnis Becker ran above a story about the surprise announcement to the Great Bend woman’s and her husband’s friends and family that the couple had been married for several months. The former Miss Evelyn Guion and Mr. Winnis Becker had taken a trip to Carlsbad, N.M., with friends Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Opie in July of 1938. While there, they were married at the Methodist church in Carlsbad, their friends attending.
“Although their friends suspected that last evening’s dinner was to be an announcement party, they were surprised to learn that the wedding had already occurred.”
“Yellow jonquils and green carnations formed an attractive centerpiece for the St. Patrick’s Day table. The announcements were written on tiny scrolls hidden in favors of the yellow roses on a silver base at each place.”
In addition to the list of those attending the party, it was reported both had graduated from Great Bend High School, she in 1933 and he in 1934. She worked at Gates Drug Co., and he at the Kansas Power company.
“Both Mr. and Mrs. Becker are popular members of the younger set here. They are at home to their many friends at their apartment 1500 1/2 Lakin.”
We found obituaries for both Evelyn and Winnis at FindAGrave.com. They were members of Great Bend’s First United Methodist Church, and had two sons. Evelyn lived to age 86, and was grandmother to five and great grandmother to seven. Winnis lived to age 98. He served in the Army Air Force during World War II, stationed in Panama.
‘Kindergartners await Biddy’s blessed event’
First, for newcomers to the area, there used to be an E. E. Morrison Elementary School in Great Bend. It was located about where the Great Bend Rec Activity Center is located today.
It’s not unusual for kindergarten classrooms to have small hand pets that live in the classroom throughout the school year. And many have taken part in incubating eggs to observe the miracle of life when chicks hatch. But in 1939, Miss Mary Ann Rarick arranged for a unique experience for her 45 Kindergartners at the Morrison school. Sometime in the next two weeks, it was reported, the students would witness “a composite blessed event in the form of the expected hatching of a dozen eggs which is being supervised directly by a hen loaned to the group by a local woman.”
The hen was named Biddy, and was housed in an 8-foot square pen made of 2-foot chicken wire.
“Straw has been placed in the bottom of the pen and Biddy makes her nest in a bushel basket.”
A week earlier, according to the report, Biddy had been placed on the eggs. The hen and the children were “taking the display in stride.” We did not find a report about the result. We can only hope the eggs did indeed hatch. We shudder to think about the alternative.
A photograph of the newly remodeled Barton County Courthouse courtroom appeared in the paper, taken during the first trial of the March 1939 term of court. The defendant, A.L. Lesan was acquitted on a charge of false representation, it was reported.
The position of the jury box and the defendant’s stand were moved during the remodel. The jury box used to be in the northwest corner, but was moved to the northeast corner. The witness stand was moved from the west to the east side of the judge’s bench. Venetian blinds were added to the windows, and a “rubberized tile floor in cream, light red and dark squares of approximately 12 inches in dimensions” was laid in both the courtroom and the judge’s chambers.
“Attorneys describe the court room as one of the most beautiful in Kansas,” the report stated.
Point of interest
This week in 1939, the Kansas House passed 75 to 6 and sent to the Senate a bill to create a state bureau of investigation, called in debate “a Kansas FBI,” but “shots were directed at a $100,000 appropriations measure to pay for it.”
The money would pay for the first two years, with $26,000 for salaries and $24,000 for expenses, equipment and supplies. The initial force would consist of 10 crime investigators, to be paid between $1,200 and $2,400 a year.
“Alfred H. Harkness (R-Ellis) co-sponsor, said the bureau was aimed largely at quelling activities of modern “streamlined” cattle rustlers and other gangsters.”
According to the KBI website, the bill passed in 1939 and the KBI was established. Today, the KBI has nearly 200 employees and is headquartered in Topeka. It has a lab and offices here in Great Bend.