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.
During the summer of 1976, the GOP was having a difficult time deciding who would be the nominee for president. President Gerald Ford, the incumbent, was challenged by former California Governor Ronald Reagan.
“Don’t go breaking my heart,” by Elton John and Kiki Dee was enjoying a month-long run at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100. ‘Futureworld,” the movie, stole the top spot from “The Omen” at the box office after four-weeks as the top grosser.
Dole picked as Ford running mate
What dominated the pages of The Great Bend Tribune this week was Gerald R. Ford’s successful presidential nomination at the Kansas City convention. Part of what made it so important for this area was the subsequent nomination of Russell native Robert Doll as his running mate.
Earlier in the week, a confrontational convention had some wondering if President Ford would clinch the nomination. In the end, he did, and challenger Ronald Reagan reunified a once-split GOP after Ford’s acceptance speech. Ford Called Reagan to the podium, and, according to the AP account of the moment, “the hall grew silent.”
“The former California governor referred to the “erosion of freedom that has taken place under Democratic rule.”
“He told the delegates that although they belonged to a minority party, their actions could significantly affect the course of American history.
“We must go forward from here united, determined,” Reagan said.
On August 20, President Ford and Robert Dole left Kansas City to make a stop at Russell, Dole’s hometown.
Tom Van Brimmer, Tribune reporter and photographer, was there to capture the moment when Dole addressed his friends, family and neighbors at the Russell County Courthouse. He reported emotions had overcome the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
“Little did I think that when I was county attorney in this same courthouse that one day I would be standing here in the position I am today,” he said. “Any success is due to you people here, and I never forget where I came from.”
He went on. “President Ford said he wanted to start the campaign today and that he wanted to start in the heartland of America. I told him I knew of such a place.”
“Not only does Kansas produce wheat, cattle and energy, but Kansas also produces great statesmen,” Ford said. He referred to Cong. Keith Sebelius, Sen. James Pearson and Dole. All three were on the podium.”
It was truly a great day for Kansas. For Tribune Publisher Mary Hoisington, it was a special day too. The Russell native recalls it was the birthday of one of her younger brothers. While her older siblings were allowed to stay in town with her dad, and observe the festivities, she and her younger siblings were sent to grandma and grandpa’s house in Liebenthal. Still, a new baby brother had to be worth the trade off.
Many of our readers will recall that Tom VanBrimmer recently passed away in Hoisington. It was noted by his family that he felt particularly proud of his time working at the Tribune as a staff photographer and reporter. Those who work for local newspapers in cities like ours rarely have the opportunity to cover stories of such national importance. Tom did a great job, and truly captured the excitement of Dole’s supporters and the depth of its meaning to Dole himself.
In November, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter won the presidency. He served only one term, defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan.
Twenty years later, Dole would make an unsuccessful run for the presidency. Since then, he has written books, consulted, and advocated for good causes including ending hunger. He celebrated his 93rd birthday in July. He remains a well respected former statesman both at home and abroad.
Camp Aldrich rumors
Tribune Staff Writer Sherry Spitsnaugle reported early in the week about a rumor that the Unification Church had its sights set on purchasing Camp Aldrich. The campground, which belonged to the Central Kansas Council of Girl Scouts, was in financial trouble. The Kansas Council of Girl Scouts had been unable to meet a $500,000 development debt held by a Great Bend savings and loan association. Scheduled to go on public sale Aug. 23, the rumors were flying that the church would buy it.
The truth was, the rumors were unfounded. The Southern Baptist Church was interested in buying the camp, however, and hoped to be able to do so before the public sale. Many thought they became interested as a result of the rumor, but Rev. Doyle Smith of the First Southern Baptist Church in Great Bend said it was not the case.
But many who believed the rumors were grateful. The Unification Church was and is considered by many to be a cult, referred to as “the Moonies.”
The day before the anticipated public sale, a brief ran stating that the public auction had been postponed for 60 days, to allow the Girl Scouts time to arrange financing in order to purchase the camp. “The Council expressed appreciation to Peoples Savings and Loan Association for working with them in possible arrangements for private sale of the camp.”
A week later, Spitsnaugle shared her memories of attending a weekend retreat the previous summer as a K-State Collegian to formulate an inside story on the activities of the Unification Church. Her impressions were not earth shaking, describing a friendly and inviting house, but noting that the lecturers all taught in the same way, as though they had been trained to do so, and having little time to think as information was given. As far as questionable fundraising methods, “members said everyone in the movement works very hard. They spend weekdays raising funds to pay bills such as postage and electricity...to lay a foundation for programs they want to establish in the future, such as drug education centers and prison reforms.”
So, what did happen to Camp Aldrich? Well, about a week prior to the 60-day extension deadline, it was announced in the Tribune that Barton Community College had secured a grant to buy the camp.
“Barton County Community College has been allocated $188,554 for the acquisition of Camp Aldrich. The funds were part of a $2.5 million allocation in federal lands and water conservation funds for 38 outdoor recreational projects in Kansas.
Earlier this year in April, the college celebrated the grand reopening of the camp which had been closed following a fire in 2014.
Another bizarre story
This week in 1976, a Manson clan member escaped from a federal prison. Susan Murphy was a fringe member of the Charles Manson clan, of which he and three women followers were convicted of slaying actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969. “Miss Murphy, nicknamed “Heather,” lived in Sacramento, Calif., with Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme at the time Miss Fromme pointed a loaded gun at President Ford. Miss Fromme is now in prison, convicted of attempting to kill the President.”
Murphy, along with another clan member, Sandra Good, were convicted of conspiracy to send threatening letters through the mail in 1975. Good received 15 years, and Murphy got five years.
She and another prisoner “overpowered a female prison guard, beat her and escaped in her car, which they later abandoned, authorities said.”
We were unable to determine if she had ever been returned to custody.