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Out of the Morgue
Looking back at 2004, holiday lights, prison, clean ups and eBay
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Former Great Bend Mayor Bob Parish and current Great Bend Mayor Mike Allison light the live Christmas tree at the Courthouse Square in 2010. Since then, the tree has died, to be replaced by a much taller artificial tree in 2012. - photo by Tribune file photo

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.

Three weeks before a devastating Tsunami occurred in the Indian Ocean, there was little of historical note happening in the national and international news.  The lull before the storm, so to speak.  According to Information Week, it was the year online shopping for holiday buys really took off.  The December, 2004 story said it indicated a shift to more last-minute holiday shopping, and higher than ever before use of credit cards.   

Sold on eBay
One man bought himself a really big gift online. While eBay, the auction website, was no longer an infant in 2004, selling real estate online was still a pretty novel concept.  When Susan Randa of La Crosse managed to sell a school in Timken, vacant for two years,  to an out of state buyer through the site, it was front page news in Great Bend.  It wasn’t the first time she’d been successful with it either.  She’d sold the McCracken High school building the year before for $49,500 to an eBay “power seller.”
The Timken school was sold to a retired California peace officer, Ed Raley, and his daughter  for $28,501-- a comparably small price considering he couldn’t even buy a garage in California for the amount.  He had plans to live at the building and start a business too.  
We couldn’t find any information about how the California retiree fared in his new home, but we did learn Timken is the location of The Timken Hill Bar and Grill, and home to Hot Rods on the Hill, an annual gathering of race car enthusiasts.  The bar and grill is on our list of places to try on the weekend, and perhaps we’ll learn the rest of the story when we go.

Opening the new jail
Nothing welcomes the holiday season like the opening of a new jail.  All joking aside, according to a story this week ten years ago, hundreds of people waited in line for up to an hour on an early December Sunday to take a peek at the inside of the new wing of the Barton County jail.  County Administrator Richard Boeckman dedicated the wing at a ceremony that day, and a ribbon cutting was held by the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce.  
“The recently completed addition includes cell blocks for prisoners, a control room for detention officers and a kitchen that got its first workout when staff baked thousands of cookies and cinnamon rolls for the weekend visitors,” Susan Thacker wrote.
It may be time to look into another wing.  In an October story in the Tribune, Barton County Sheriff Belendir opened up about the need for more space.
“As of Monday morning, there were 103 inmates in custody at the Barton County Jail. That’s making finding room for more a problem.
“We’re at capacity,” Sheriff Brian Bellendir told the Barton County Commission during its meeting Monday. The facility is rated to hold 115, but that includes utilizing unused juvenile and booking cells.”
While it didn’t sound as if there are imminent plans to build a new wing yet, it can’t be denied the jail has seen significant growth in customers in the past decade.
“Leading to the crowded conditions are increased sentences, longer times for inmates awaiting trial, and an uptick in criminal and law enforcement activity, Bellendir said.
A decade ago, he said the jail averaged 50 to 60 per day. “But that has changed over time. I don’t see it ending at any time in the near future.”
Further more, there tend to be more criminals in custody in the winter, he said.
“We’re seeing this all over the state,” Bellendir said. New jails are built and, before long, they are full.”

South Hoisington clean up begins
In addition to some of the prisoners at the Barton County Jail, Hoisington city crew workers and volunteers began cleaning up the illegal trash dump that South Hoisington had become ten years ago this week.  To this day, it is actually considered the largest illegal trash dump in the history of the state.   First on the list of tasks was removal of old tires, which the city had stepped up to take on as its part of a $250,000 grant issued by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  Volunteers included then Barton County Commissioner Kirby Krier and South Hoisington land owner Tom Thalmann.  One landowner, George Goddard, had to be convinced a second time to give permission for the cleanup, but agreed when he was assured that scrap metal on his land would be delivered to another location so he could sell it for salvage.  In addition to the scrap metal and tires, household and commercial trash including barrels with residue from various chemicals was found and disposed of.  
In 2014, the Barton County Historical Society Museum completed a history of the South Hoisington community, which shed light on what the forces were that drove the area to be abandoned gradually, and finally turn into the illegal trash dump it had become.  Today, South Hoisington is marked by a flat area south of Hoisington where a few north-south dirt roads travel for the equivalent of a few blocks.  There is no marker to identify where South Hoisington, which was never truly an incorporated town, was located.  

Why no lights?
Last weekend, people gathered in Great Bend for the 2014 Sunflower Diversified sponsored Home for the Holidays parade and the annual Christmas tree lighting at the Courthouse Square.  But ten years ago, there were no lights, and this was cause for concern by many in the city.  
According to a story by then City Editor Chuck Smith, Public Lands Director Mike Cargill said it was because of a lack of funding.  
In prior years, temporary flood lights were set around the courthouse to throw light onto the walls, and a large lit wreath adorned the front entrance.  By 2004, it was deemed unsafe to use the temporary lighting arrangement, and the wreath had deteriorated, and Cargill said it would take $5,000 to replace it.  
According to a Public Forum letter on the editorial page, there was more.
“The tree that was planted especially for decorating with lights is not lighted.  We have such a beautiful courthouse square, I was just wondering what has happened.” said Phyllis Fischer of Great Bend.  The letter prompted Smith to look into the situation.
Today, according to the city website, Great Bend has one of the premiere lighting events in the Midwest.  City Parks Department employees have built the lighting displays that are on display all over town, and most years, there is something new added to the mix.  The dark days of 2004 continue to fade into the past.