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.
In 1986, the Golden Belt was in the midst of recession. Farmers faced wheat prices of less than $2 a bushel, prompting many not to sell. The price at the pump had dropped to around $.50 a gallon, and the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce switched its focus from trying to promote the town to outside businesses to helping existing businesses to grow.
Still, the community of Great Bend came together to celebrate July 4 together with a good time that included fireworks and fun in the park, courtesy of the City of Great Bend, local businesses and the Great Bend Jaycees. The Great Bend July 4th Lake Festival was an all day event held at Veteran’s Memorial Park.
“Sandwiched into that time was something for almost everyone, including several new events that were well received. New events included a 5.5 mile bike sprint, a tug of war and a dance. Other popular events that centered on the lake at Veteran’s memorial Park included the canoe races and the Anything-That-Floats race, both which grew over last year.
“The highlight of the day was the huge fireworks display, sponsored by Kummer Wholesale Beverage and the Tribune.”
More than 200 entrants participated in the canoe races. In the Mayor’s Cup final race, the cup changed hands for the first time in three years, it was reported. Randy Olson and Larry Shumaker won the cup with a time of 4:50. They took it from the team of Larry Komarek and Steve Stegman, two-time consecutive winners, after they tipped over trying to get into their canoe.
The ATF race included paddle boats, waterbeds, irrigation pipe, and most original, the Alligator Man, who attempted to ride a plastic alligator across the lake. He fell off in the middle, and had to hitch a ride on the waterbed after the wind grabbed his alligator and blew it across the lake.
In recent years, the city has battled blue-algae blooms in the heat of summer that have kept people out of the lake. Chemicals have been added to the lake to coat the bottom, and efforts are continuing to discourage Canadian geese from spending too much time there. Other events have taken the place of the Lake Festival, among them is Party in the Park, which happens the weekend before school is back in session. Even though the lake is still off limits, the City of Great Bend has gone to great lengths to provide plenty of fun for all ages, and yes, there are fireworks to top it all off.
Nationally, the spotlight was on the Statue of Liberty and New York City. It was the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of Lady Liberty, and after being closed for an extensive period of time, the National Park Service was ready to reopen the monument to the world. First in was First Lady Nancy Reagan with a select group of children who presented her with a bouquet of red roses as she led them across a red, white and blue carpet and into the statue where she and two of the children rode an elevator to the statue’s crown.
Back in Great Bend, interest in the Statue of Liberty was high, and prompted a feature-length article by Retired Extension Home Economist Mae Weaver. Read it in full on page 11 of the Great Bend Tribune Sunday, July 6, 1986 edition, which you can find on microfilm at the Great Bend Public Library.
“During the past year I have given the program, “The Statue of Liberty — Her First 100 Years,” to a total of 823 people in 29 different groups,” Weaver wrote. “We’re far from New York City, but I found the interest in the statue more intense than if we lived close enough to attend the current festivities in the Big Apple.”
While the Barton County Fair of 2016 starts this week, in 1986, it was held at the end of July. Even a few weeks later, there was enthusiasm for Lady Liberty. 4-Hers created a replica out of what appears to be aluminum foil, and draped her in cloth. Julie Frank won grand champion ribbons in both clothing construction and modeling at the Barton County 4-h Fashion Revue that year, and was photographed for the paper by it. The theme that year was “Liberty with Style.” She won with an ensemble that included a loose-fitting pullover dress with contrasting sleeves and cowl and a flared skirt with inset pockets.
Liberty, however, was not in the cards for several hundred, maybe more than 1,000 chickens. That year, the 30th annual chicken barbecue was held at the fairgrounds, made possible by the efforts of workers like Paul Feist, Rob VanSkike and Todd Kintigh, who helped prepare the 108-foot-long pit barbecue the birds would be roasted on. Today, Barton County 4-H wraps up with a barbecue, but it features barbecued pork and beef sandwiches instead of chicken. Serving starts Sunday at 11:30 a.m., and runs until 1:30 p.m. at the Expo Complex.
Creating the first generation of personal computers
Around that time, personal computers were the latest thing, and not many people had them yet. Not many people knew what to do with them if they did get one either. In fact, this reporter’s family purchased a Commodore 64 around this time for Christmas, and no one in the family could figure out what to do with it. It turned out to be essentially useless, and a waste of money that we kids agree would have been better used for an Atari game system. Or skis.
Computer Camp at Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich was underway this week in 1986. Students ages 9-17 spent the week learning word processing, database operations and how to make spreadsheets.
They also learned how to check for computer breakdowns in non-technical ways like learning to clean plug contacts and make chip substitutions and clean the keys. “If they are still having trouble they can go to the computer shop for repairs,” instructors said.
Earlier this year, the college reopened Camp Aldrich, which was closed after the main building caught fire and was destroyed a few years ago. The new facility is now available for events, so who knows. Maybe someday there will be a new version of computer camp.
By the way, the kids at computer camp also got to ride horses and swim, eat ice cream, watch movies, and attend a barbecue and a dance — without those activities, could you really call it a camp?