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, top national headlines included reports about the Iran-Contra affair, as the nation learned of secret arms deals made by President Reagan’s administration. This, after Lebanese magazine Ash Shirra revealed secret US arms sales to Iran on Nov. 3. Reports from the Associated Press appeared on the front pages of the Great Bend Tribune daily. Briefly, arms were sold to Iran, who were under embargo, in order to secure the release of U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon, and the proceeds of the arms sales were secretly funnelled to anti-Sandinista and anti-communist Nicaraguan rebels. In the end, no evidence was found that the Reagan had knowledge of the depth of the affair, and all who were indicted and convicted were eventually pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, who served as Vice President during the Reagan administration.
For families without a standing “no politics” rule for dinner conversation, there’s a good chance this was a hot topic of conversation over many a Thanksgiving meal.
Wetlands importance recognized
Two years before Cheyenne Bottoms was designated a RAMSAR Wetlands of International Importance, concern was expressed about the future of the unique stop on the flyway. A conference was held at Barton Community College this week, where representatives from the Kansas Geological Survey, the Kansas Fish and Game Commission, the Kansas Biological Survey, scientists, engineers, and legislators weighed in on the importance of conservation and enhancement efforts for the health of the Bottoms. All this leading up to a presentation of the study to the Legislature, where it would be determined then what funding would be available or restoration efforts.
Today, with the RAMSAR designation in place, and the establishment of the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, ongoing efforts to maintain the Cheyenne Bottoms continue to enjoy widespread support.
On a Redwing and a prayer
There are places we take for granted until they are gone. The Redwing General Store is one of those places. In the Sunday, Nov. 23, 1986 edition of the Great Bend Tribune, a photo documents a sale at the Redwing General Store, where there were no takers for the familiar sign. According to the very brief caption, the only information accompanying the pic, the sale of the store and the grain elevator (the only two businesses in town) was held up due to a title problem. However, the contents were sold as scheduled.
According to a Kansas Agland story by Amy Bickel which appeared online in May, 2015, the store and the grain elevator must have eventually continued to operate for a few more years. The elevator was torn down in the mid-1990s, and the store permanently closed shortly after.
Today, only a handful of houses still remain standing along K-4 between Claflin and Hoisington, marking the location of the little town that never quite thrived, but is remembered fondly as a place to stop and buy the little necessities of life on the weekends in a time gone by.
Hot fundraiser through the years
A Thanksgiving time tradition in Great Bend for many years was the Fireman’s Ball. In 1986, the name had already changed to the Fireman’s Thanksgiving Benefit, but that year the Fireman’s Charity and Social Fund was taking a long look back to 1886 when the city organized its fire department.
“In 1874 the town tried to start a fire department, Fire Chief Harold Walter said, giving a brief history. It didn’t work for several reasons, including a lack of equipment.
“The first big fire in Great Bend was in 1879 on Maggie Street, which is now Forest, Walter said, explaining several buildings burned. It was after that fire, the chief said, that the town became more serious about having a fire department. After several years of working at it, the department was reorganized in 1886.”
Today, Great Bend’s Fire Department Social and Charity Fund holds an annual spaghetti feed to further its community outreach.
Just for fun
Santa’s Workshop returns
When Great Bend had a Gibson Discount Center, the arrival of Santa Clause in Great Bend was a much bigger deal than it is today. That’s because Gibson’s featured a holiday telecast every weekday evening starting Dec. 1 and running up until Christmas. A Great Bend charity was chosen each year to benefit from the program, and in 1986, the Barton County Food Bank was tapped. Participants in Santa’s Workshop were encouraged to drop off canned goods at the store.
Guest speakers on the telecasts that year included Great Bend Tribune Area Editor Chuck Smith, who told all about Christmas at Fort Larned many years ago. Others included Extension Agent Barbara Lilyhorn, who spoke about crafts and decorations, and Great Bend Fire Chief Harold Walter with Sparky, who talked about holiday fire safety. Today, Gibson’s is a memory, but Santa still remembers to visit Great Bend, and will make his appearance Saturday evening during the Home for the Holidays parade on Main Street.
The 1986 free community Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by the First Church of God drew 439 people.
“Over 100 businesses and professionals contributed money and food for the project, noted the Rev. Dick Ogle of the church.
“Although the dinner is aimed at those who are alone on Thanksgiving, it is for everyone, Darlene Creacy, general coordinator of the dinner said, adding that one woman brought people to the dinner because they were unexpected guests. Food was also taken to the inmates at the Barton County Jail.”
Fast forward to 2016. This year, a similar meal is being offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 1600 19th St. in Great Bend.