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Fate took Kilby from Kansas blizzard to Nobel Prize
new slt kilby-plaques
Jeremy Guthrie, from Marks Custom Signs, installs bronze plaques to the Jack Kilby Memorial Plaza at Kilby Square in downtown Great Bend on Wednesday afternoon. The monument will be completed when the sculpture is set this week, in time for the evening unveiling ceremony on April 28. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Unveiling ‘The Gift’

Great Bend will celebrate Jack Kilby Day on Saturday, April 28. Kilby, who graduated from Great Bend High School, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000.
The Barton County Historical Society will host a reception at 9:30 a.m., with a discussion at 10 a.m. by Dr. Donald Walters.
The unveiling ceremony for the Jack Kilby Plaza sculptures, “The Gift,” will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Barton County courthouse square. The bronze figures will be unveiled around  9 p.m., so that viewers may see them under the lighting that was designed for this memorial.

Early in April 1938, a massive snow and ice storm knocked out most of the telephone and power lines in Western Kansas. With communications down, the electric, gas and oil companies were scrambling to make contact with their distant offices and crews. Amateur radio operators came to the rescue and inspired a young high school student named Jack Kilby.
 At the time, Jack’s father, Hubert S. Kilby was in charge of the Kansas Power Company, a corporation formed in 1929 by the consolidation of Great Bend Water & Electric Company and several others. With telephone lines down and snowdrifts of eight or more feet in height, Mr. Kilby and other businessmen turned to local amateur radio operators to make contact with outlying facilities.
 According to the Great Bend Tribune of April 8, 1938, “There are six amateur stations in Great Bend but those operated by J.R. Evans, 12th and Monroe, and Richard Livingston, 2717 Forest, have been handling the bulk of the work. However, the operators of the other four stations have been cooperating by offering their services after their regular working hours and loaning some of their equipment to Mr. Evans and Mr. Livingston.” Then, as now, these radio operators worked free of charge, donating their time and the use of their equipment for this emergency.
 Mr. Kilby worked most closely with J.R. (Roy) Evans Sr., whose services allowed him to check on the condition of KPC power lines through Concordia, Jetmore and several other towns. It was while accompanying his father to Mr. Evans’ electrical shop that Jack Kilby became fascinated with “ham” radios. As Jack wrote in a letter to Roy Evans’ grandson, Dr. Donald L. Walters, in 1997, “This was a major influence on me. I became interested in ham radio, got a license and built a transmitter and began to operate. This was certainly the beginning of my interest in electronics. Roy and the other older hams such as Charles Larkin and Charley Girton were very helpful – and tolerant of a young high school student. It convinced me that I wanted to study Electrical Engineering …”
 Growing up in Great Bend, Jack and his younger sister Jane were both well acquainted with Mr. Evans’ children, the late Roy Evans Jr., Virginia (Mrs. Cleat) Walters of Great Bend, and the late Dr. William R. Evans. Mrs. Walters’ son, Dr. Donald L. Walters, still owns the 1933 National FB-7 short-wave radio receiver that was used by his grandfather during the 1938 blizzard, as well as a Hallicrafters Sky Champion like Jack Kilby himself later used. Both will be on display at the Barton County Historical Society Museum & Village for the Kilby Celebration and dedication of “The Gift” on April 28th.
 Like Jack Kilby, Dr. Donald L. Walters, too, has obviously been inspired by family traditions and careers. After earning his PhD from Kansas State University in 1971, Walters worked with the U.S. Army Atmospheric Sciences Laboratory and, since 1983, has taught and conducted research at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. As a professor in the Department of Physics & Space Systems Academic Group, he specializes in research into atmospheric optics, laser propagation and measurement, and modeling of the adaptive optics of atmospheric turbulence. He also serves as a member of the Atmospheric Working Group for the USAF Airborne Laser and with the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology) Joint Committees on High Energy Lasers/Atmospheric Propagation and Beam Control.
 The Barton County Historical Society will host a reception honoring the Evans-Walters family starting at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 28th. At 10 a.m., Walters will discuss Jack Kilby’s influences and accomplishments and tell the story of how a Kansas blizzard led to the Nobel Prize in Physics.