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.
This week in 1986, Congress grappled with a bill nicknamed Graham-Rudman, the movie “The Breakfast Club” was released, and the nation waited in anticipation of the first non-astronaut visiting space. A high school social studies teacher from Concord, N.H., Christa McAuliffe, won an essay contest, the Teacher in Space Project, sponsored by NASA, and won her spot on a mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The voyage into space offered a perfect foil for schools all over the country to talk about space travel, careers in the fields of science and math, the importance of teachers in society, and more.
The launch, originally intended to happen on a Sunday, was delayed, it was reported in the Great Bend Tribune, due to a “comedy of errors” caused by a hatch bolt that had to be removed by hacksaw as well as high wind speeds.
“...gusts of more than 30 mph built up and swept across a runway here where the shuttle would land if an emergency occurred within minutes after liftoff,” in retrospect foreshadowed what would occur the next day.
The delay to Monday afforded teachers around the world the opportunity to allow students the treat of watching the launch live. Televisions were wheeled on carts into classrooms as the 11:30 a.m. launch time neared, and children gathered to watch as the countdown ensued.
Then, according to the Associated Press report that headlined the Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, “Space shuttle Challenger exploded into a gigantic fireball moments after liftoff today, apparently killing all seven crew members, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.
“There was no announcement of the fate of the crew but it appeared there was no way they could survive. The shocking spectacle was seen by millions of people around the country who were watching the launch on televison.” This included all 1,200 students at Concord High School who were cheering the launch and quickly quieted when it appeared something went wrong.
Then Tribune staff writer Jennifer Schartz reported on local reaction the next day. Jefferson sixth grade teacher Karen Nicholson, one of the over 11,000 teachers that competed for the spot McAuliffe was awarded, watched with her class and other sixth grade students that fateful morning.
“The classes watched the television reports until it was pretty positive there was no hope, she said. Throughout the day they returned to the set for any new information.
“Nicholson said her students were very sad about the shuttle explosion and she discussed their feelings with them.”
At Eisenhower School, students watched replays of the explosion in the library--watching the launch had not been a planned activity. Sixth grade teacher Pam Emahizer noted it was a chance to watch history in the making, and that students understood what had happened and talked about the tragedy and how it affected the families of the astronauts and others personally touched by them.
Shartz also interviewed Lance Werth, an eighth grade student at what was then Harrison Middle School, (now GBMS).
“I was in the library at school and saw it on the noon report. I couldn’t quite believe it. Nothing like that had happened before and I didn’t think it would . The shuttle is supposed to be really safe. I felt ill to my stomach,” he said.
WEth “was a member of the “original 30” future-astronaut class held at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center in Hutchinson. It was one of two in the country at the time. He hoped to be in the running for the first kid in space in the future. The explosion did not change his mind about going up if the chance came, and the same was true for Karen Nicholson.
We learned Lance went on to graduate from Hays High School in 1990. He has since gone into aviation, and lives and works in Johnson Lake, Neb. with Johnson Lake Flying Service, and is a member of the Nebraska Aviation Trades Association.
According to Wikipedia, McAuliffe, “was buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery in her hometown, Concord. She has since been honored at many events, including the Daytona 500 auto race in 1986. The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord and the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Education and Teaching Excellence at Framingham State University are named in her memory, as are the asteroid 3352 McAuliffe, the crater McAuliffe on the Moon, and a crater on the planet Venus, which was named McAuliffe by the Soviet Union. Approximately 40 schools around the world have been named after her, including the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Local history published
In the annual run-up to Kansas Day, it was announced that Albert historian Linda Richardson would be releasing her book “Sunshine in the Valley,”a history about the Barton County community, later in the year. 1986 would be rail road town’s centennial anniversary.
“This is Richardson’s first book. She is learning about famous floods that threatened the town, the first city election, free outdoor movies, open air dance pavilions and The Albert News, a weekly newspaper that started in 1926.”
Family histories were still being accepted for the book, up to the end of February. There would be no charge to be included in the book. It was noted in the story that Richardson believed the most likely candidate for who the town was named after was Albert Kraisinger, whose great-grandson would be attending the centennial parade Aug. 9. Other popular guesses were Albert Heizer and Al Campbell.
The book is part of the collection at the Kansas Room of the Great Bend Public Library. It includes a brief history of Albert Kraisinger, who settled south of Albert on a 160 acre homestead in 1979 with his wife Barbora. They came from Prague, and spent many years helping people from his homeland get a foothold in the new world. After selling his store in Albert, he and his family moved to Timken and he is buried in the National Bohemian Cemetery south of Timken.
Gas price complaints
It seems the price of gas has been a perennial concern here in Great Bend, mostly due to consistently higher prices than in other communities. The complaints are nothing new, it turns out. A letter to the editor of the Great Bend Tribune this week in 1986 included details provided by one long-time citizen who was particularly incensed with paying $1.32.9 for a gallon of gas here, compared to the 89.9 cents paid in Dodge City at the time. The writer, J.W. Wiggs, noted even in towns surrounding Great Bend , like Kinsley, Garfield, Larned, Hays, McPherson and Lyons, the prices were significantly less.
“If it’s lower in every direction on the compass from Great Bend, how the hell can the cause be for any other reason than it’s arbitrary.The distributer sets a high price and the retailers protect each othe with identical high prices, BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH IT: THERE’S NO COMPETITION.”
The letter prompted Susan Thacker to follow up with a story about local gas prices. Vernon Skolaut, of Skolaut Phillips 66 Service Station in Hoisington, said he set his prices based on the margin of profit needed to stay in business. Prices over the next week continued to gradually go down in response to lower wholesale costs nationwide. Still, stations in neighboring towns continued to be less.
Update: The Tribune received an email from Lance Werth, who provided a correction. It turns out, we provided information about the wrong Lance Werth, who happens to be a distant relation of the actual Lance Werth interviewed by Schartz in 1986. Please check out the Feb. 11, 2016 Out of the Morgue (here) to get the full story.