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.
On Monday, Aug. 14, 1944, people came home from work and were greeted with the news: “Allied flags fly over part of Paris as Montgomery says end of war in sight.”
“American tanks had thrust into sectors on opposite sides of Paris today and Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery told Allied troops the enemy in northwestern France had suffered a defeat, ‘definite, complete and decisive,’ with the end of the war ‘in sight’.”
The wire story went on to offer in-depth details of the Allied soldiers learned from travelers of the violence stemming from the French underground forces confrontations with the Germans.
“Allied flags were reported already flying over parts of the capital as the resistance forces anticipated the hour of liberation.”
Meanwhile, a report from London’s wire narrated how “RAF Mosquitos and Mitchells raced up and down the Seine river all last night, bombing and strafing Nazi river bank troop concentrations and barges struggling across the 200-yard water barrier which impedes Germans fleeing Allied armies in France.”
For the families in Great Bend with loved ones fighting in the European theater, the news had to have brought a mix of emotions; fear for the safety of their people, and excitement that the enemy was on the run.
Conservation effort led by future clerk and businessman
The people back at home did all they could to support the war effort too. In the article, “65,860 pounds of waste paper in drive,” it was clear the local effort was committed to reaching their share of the national quota of 8 million tons of waste paper to be collected by year’s end.
“The recent campaign for waste paper in Great Bend, Claflin, and Ellinwood netted 65,860 pounds of paper, according to Ralph Murphy, one of the leaders in the drive. From this amount, $329.30 was realized.”
In addition to explaining how the collected paper could be used by children in prisoner of war camps to use for construction materials to create toys for themselves, a February, 1944 column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, reads, “I imagine it has taken a long time for people to reach the point of constant thought about salvage which this represents. Nevertheless, we must and can think a great deal more about it than we have in the past, because lack of manpower makes the shortage of pulp wood greater than ever before and we must rely on salvage paper to take its place. 1500 pounds of waste paper corresponds to one cord of wood.”
Trying to find out information about Ralph Murphy was a little confusing, because in some Tribune articles, he is referred to as Ralph “Pat” Murphy, but in legal notices and obituaries he was referred to as Ralph M. Murphy. Luckily, he was in the paper often, so we were able to determine this is likely one and the same man.
He was married for 45 years to Selenah, who left him a widower in 1966. In the early 1950s, he served as the County Clerk, until he purchased what became Murphy’s Liqouor Store. He must have enjoyed working for the county, however, because in 1956, he was nominated by the Democratic party to run for County Commissioner. But the liquor license got in the way, and he chose to withdraw his nomination when it was determined he would have to relinquish his liquor license in the event he was elected. Two years later, it was announced he sought to return to the office of County Clerk, having turned over the operation of the store and the license to his wife.
The couple’s two son’s were highlighted in the Oct. 5, 1965 Tribune’s page 2 column, Town Talk. One son, John Murphy, had sent for his wife and children in September to join him in Sumatra, Dutch East Indies, where he was working as superintendent of equipment for Caltex Oil Co. “They arrived in Djarkta, Indonesia, recently for the next leg of the journey to Sumatra.” later, they would move to Puerto Rico, and back to Great Bend. Mike Murphy served in the U.S. army in Germany and Vietnam during that time. The couple’s two daughters, Margaret and Colleen, remained in the area. He died in 1968 and one serving with the U.S. army in Germany, as well as two daughters, Margaret Smith of Hoisington, and Coleen Murphy of Great Bend.
Today, Great Bend has a need for more apartments and mid-priced housing, and efforts are under way to to fill that need in the next year with plans for a multi-unit apartment complex and several single family homes approved. But this isn’t the first time Great Bend has has ever weathered a shortage of housing which jeopardized important functions in the city.
Only a few weeks before the start of school, Superintendent of Schools Homer Scarborough was scrambling to find homes for incoming teachers. In the article “Appeal for housing: rooms or apartments are needed for 15 woman teachers,” it was reported that the city schools required full-time services of 85 people, and only 32 owned their homes in Great Bend. The other 53 would need to live in rented houses, apartments or rooms.
“Since schools are among the most vital of community institutions, the superintendent is hopeful that the response to his appeal for housing facilities will be good. He asks that persons call his office if they have rooms or apartments to rent.”
At the city council meeting, a petition signed by 136 businessmen and others was presented urging the council “to purchase at once the 50 acres upon which the airpark (directly north of the Country Club) is being built, in order that sufficient funds will immediately become available for the completion of an airpark that is so vital to the welfare of the City of Great Bend, Kas.”
In the 1930s, the original airport was near this location. But early in the 1940s, Great Bend built a new airport about a mile north of the current location. But then, the U.S. army built the the air base and B-26 plant, and the new airport was sold and closed, providing the city with what was considered a tidy profit of nearly $25,000 at the time. Now, people with private planes needed a place they could take off and land at and hangars to store their aircrafts, prompting the second look at the area north of what was then Great Bend’s Gateway Country Club.
According to historical documents at the Barton County Historical Society museum, The airpark was created and enjoyed a brief existance until after World War II ended. The U.S. Army closed the base, and a new airport was built there, making the airpark obsolete and ultimately leading to its closure.
Also, the Gateway Country Club burned down, and a new country club was built, which became what is today the Stoneridge country club.