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Out of the Morgue
Bicentennial celebrations punctuate the run up to elections in 1976
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Dentists wives of the Central District act as hostesses at the Monday noon luncheon in the Red Room of the Highland Manor," the caption stated in 1976 - 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.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, and overturned over 600 death sentences. While there were several reasons, the one all five Supreme Court Justices could agree upon was that sentences seemed to be doled out in an arbitrary manner, with Justice William Brennon proclaiming that decisions were “randomly made as if being struck by lightening.” It was also noted that in addition to being random, the sentences appeared to be discriminatory.
This week in 1976, it lifted its ban on the death penalty for convicted murderers. The State of Georgia had revised its death penalty statute to provide for bifurcated trials, consideration of mitigating circumstances of the defendant and the crime, and appellate review of capital sentences. The sentences were no longer arbitrarily discriminatory. Over the next four decades, the death penalty has repeatedly shown up for Supreme Court Review.
But the decision barely made mention in the Great Bend Tribune, where the presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford was being followed closely. Both candidates, it was reported, were “going into virtual seclusion in San Francisco as they prepare to argue foreign affairs in the second round of an election year debate triple header.”
With the second round of presidential debates for the 2016 election set to happen on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m., it would be great news to learn both candidates were following the examples of these past presidents.

Signs of the times
With election day nearing in 1976, the editorial comment in the Tribune this week was essentially a scolding towards those who would sabotage local politics.
“It seems that some people must be so worried about winning an election they are indulging in a petty game of tearing down or defacing the political signs of their opponents. Not only have signs been taken off private property, it has been reported that bumper stickers have been torn off cars.”
It went on to note that while most might guess it was the work of kids, there was “reason to believe that most of the vandalism to property is being done by adults.”
A plea for fairness and respect was made, noting that the actions of “some of the candidates and their henchmen” appeared desperate. This opinion would likely be unchanged 40 years later.

Dentist wives show patriotic leanings
In 1976, the Bicentennial theme for parties and events was tops, and even though the nation’s 200 year anniversary had already been celebrated in July, the theme continued to have play well into October. This week, area dentists’ wives hosted a social event for the Central Kansas Dental District Society. There was a Yankee Doodle Dinner on Sunday evening at the log cabin home of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Graves, followed by a Betsy Ross Breakfast Monday morning at the Highland Manor, with recipes from the era of President James Monroe. The Harrison Jr. High Belles and Beaus provided dinner entertainment. Harrison was later renamed Great Bend Middle School.
The days of the Highland Manor, as well as the Central Kansas Dental Society are done, but there are still advocacy groups, like the Kansas Dental Association, that have district chapters throughout the state. There are fewer dentists per capita in western Kansas now than 40 years ago too, but Great Bend is lucky to have seven practicing here. They include Dr. Mark Leiker, Dr. Marc Huslig, Dr. Larry Kutina, Dr. George Allison (our mayor), Dr. Tatum Dunekack, Dr. Chad Ohnmacht, and Dr. Ross Hildebrand.
The Highland Manor has changed ownership several times over the years, and is now named the Great Bend Hotel and Convention Center.

Albert bicentennial observed
The town of Albert, about 10 minutes west of Great Bend on K-96, celebrated the Bicentennial with a parade and celebration over the weekend in 1976. The parade was rather long, taking 40 minutes to pass the reviewing stand set up in front of the Farmers State Bank. Later, members of the Harrison Jr. High Belles and Beaus made another appearance, providing afternoon entertainment as they sang a variety of songs. More than 1,400 people went through line at the barbecue beef and pork dinner. Among all casually dressed audience watching the performance, captured in a photo by Tribune photographer Tom Van Brimmer, there appears to be one figure dead center, in the second row of audience members, who appears to be wearing a bonnet, surrounded by a whitish aura. Perhaps the photographer captured the image of a ghost from an era gone by caught up in the celebration of history.

Good sport and good citizen
Elsewhere at the Albert Bicentennial celebration, chances to dunk town celebrities were being sold for 25 cents. The proceeds went to support the Albert Businessmen’s Association. Van Brimmer captured the image of one businessman when he made his splash. That businessman was a young Bill Robbins, president of the Farmers State Bank.
In September, it was announced that The Kansas Board of Regents approved naming Fort Hays State University’s College of Business and Entrepreneurship the W.R. and Yvonne Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship. A section of the building will be named the Robbins Banking Institute. Robbins is a graduate of FHSU, and after purchasing the bank in Albert in 1971, he built his business to what it is today. It includes assets of about $775 million, nine locations and 110 employees. All this from its humble beginnings of $4 million in assets. Robbins is now the Chairman of Farmers State Bank of Great Bend. An official dedication of the college and its new name is scheduled for Oct. 20.