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
Johnson announced he would not run
This week in 1968, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not run for a second term. According to the United Press International story appearing in the Great Bend Daily Tribune Monday, April 1, this “rocketed Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey today into the front ranks of Democratic White House contenders along with Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene J. McCarthy.”
Basically, Johnson hoped to bring an end to fighting in Vietnam and unify the country with is decision.
“The President invested his peace efforts with greater authority by removing them from the political arena as far as his own future is concerned. And his order to American commanders to halt virtually all bombing of North Vietnam should strengthen the U.S. position with many foreign nations include a number of allies who have found the bombing the most objectionable part of American operations,” a related report stated.
“The initial reaction to his decision not to run, both at home and abroad, was stunned disbelief.”
The Tribune gauged reaction locally, including photos and quotations from a wide swath of ages and occupations in Great Bend.
H.P. Thies, President of the American State Bank, said “I believe President Johnson recognized the friction in the Democratic Party and he felt that his refusal to run was one way to pull the party together. However, I am not so sure Johnson would not run if the war in Vietnam is terminated before November and an attempt to draft him is made.”
Pam Starbuck, senior at Great Bend High School, said “I was very shocked when I heard the President say he would not run again on the radio last night. No, I don’t think Mr. Johnson has a health problem. I think he just felt he didn’t have a chance if he did run. I still believe Nixon will win the election, mostly because Jean Dixon predicted that the Republicans will win in 1968, but also because Kennedy is too young.”
(Jean Dixon was a celebrity astrologer and psychic, but her accuracy was questionable.)
Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated
Following what was intended to be a non-violent march in Memphis, Tenn., on March 28, 1968, that instead erupted in violence, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. returned to that city this week in 1968, in hopes of proving he could indeed lead a non-violent protest. On April 3, he gave the last speech of his life.
The next day, after receiving the news that the march planned for Monday, April 8, was okayed, he was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
Reports the following day in the Tribune, picked up from UPI, carried headlines and content that today we would call inflammatory at best and racist at worst. In many cities throughout the U.S., riots broke out, but in other cities, people were in a state of shock, or organized peaceful marches. In Wichita, it was reported there was a presence of young black people, but “police said little coercive action was necessary.” Classes were dismissed at some high schools and colleges, and special worship services were held in honor of King. Memorial services were reported at Wichita State University and Sacred Heart College, and Kapaun High School dismissed classes after morning mass.
Locally, the National Guard planned to conduct riot training including all local and county law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol Troopers, firemen and civil defense officers that weekend.
“The purpose of the exercise, according to Capt. Joseph McLaughlin, is for an exchange of ideas between the various groups to provide for a coordinated unit in the event of riots.”
The local batter had received 32 hours of riot training previously, the report said, and was not prompted by the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the day before.
Science Fair winner
On a lighter note, an Olmitz girl, Mary Ann Axman, made the front page this week in 1968. She was the grand prize winner at the Barton county Science Fair that was held at the Harrison Junior High School.
Her project was a comparison of plant growth in different soils. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Axman, she shared the spotlight with Douglas Reinhardt, the grand runner-up from Lincoln School.
Mary Ann graduated high school and soon after became engaged to and married Gene Mazouch. She worked for a while at CKMC and Fuller Brush before becoming a mother and raising five sons.
“The contest was a good confidence builder,” she said. “I learned I could accomplish something like that on my own.”
She remembers visiting a nursery business on North Washington St. with her mother, and talking to the owner about plants and soil. The plants she chose ere coleus, she remembers. She was surprised to win, and made a point of visiting the nursery so she could thank the owner and show him her trophy.
Mary Ann entered the science fair the next year with an ammonia crystal-growing experiment, and won the runner-up prize then.