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Out of the Morgue
Murals, movies, and moving verdicts in 1997
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The mural on the Brentwood building at 16th and Main is 20 years old this year. This week in 1997, mural project organizers were presenting plans for its painting later in the spring. - photo by Veronica Coons, Tribune staff

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 1997, the national news spotlight was once again fixed on O.J. Simpson as the verdict from a civil court action brought for the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson, which were the subject of the criminal trial two years earlier. This time, the prosecution did not have to prove Simpson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which they failed to do in the criminal trial. They only needed to prove his guilt by a preponderance of evidence. With physical evidence including blood, hair, fibers and gloves, as well as “31 pictures purportedly showing Simpson wearing Bruno Magli shoes, the same type that left bloody prints near the bodies.”
“In the verdict announced late Tuesday, jurors unanimously found Simpson liable in the killings of his ex-wife and her friend and awarded Goldman’s mother and father $8.5 million.”
Tribune Managing Editor Daren Watkins weighed in with his editorial, “What Justice? Murders still remain unsolved mysteries.”
“It seems justice has not been done because nobody has been criminally convicted in the deaths. Sure, most will agree O.J. “did it,” but again, he was “found” innocent. Fred Goldman and his family didn’t receive any justice Tuesday night. They just received a bunch of money... This case will go down in history as a defining moment in the history of justice in this country. How sad.”
Tribune Reporter Susan Thacker later added her editorial commentary, noting that TV networks “were in a quandary” the night of the verdict, because it broke at the same time President Bill Clinton was delivering his State of the Union Address.
“Which was more important? I know more about Bruno Magli shoes than I do about balancing the budget. I’m not saying which one I care about more, but the president wasn’t going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. We’d been waiting for the “end” of the O.J. story for two and a half year’s.”

Mural project outlined
In Great Bend, mural artist Dave Loewenstein was preparing to present a program on the design for Great Bend’s first community mural. It was part of the Great Bend Mural Project. Lowenstein would go on to work with local high school students on designs in preparation for the work that would begin in the spring. Murals would include the one painted on Brentwood’s, 16th and Main. According to “Mural planners paint bright future,” by Tribune editor Chuck Smith in the Feb. 2, 1997 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, the members of the mural project were also working on applications for a second year grant from the Kansas Arts Commission to help continue the local effort.
“A great deal of support has come from Great Bend High School, she said. Two art classes are helping with the project and are designing a three dimensional mural to honor the zoo as well as a mosaic mural which will feature tiles that are made by the students.”
Since then, both these murals were completed and continue to be an attractive part of Great Bend’s public art. The Kansas Arts Commission, however, no longer exists. In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback used the line-item veto provision to cut funding to the Kansas Arts Commission, and in doing so also eliminated the state’s ability to leverage any matching grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, and making the state the only one in the nation without an arts agency.
His thinking was essentially that private donations, not taxpayer money, should fund arts and culture in the state. In 2012, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission was created in the backlash, but required grant seekers to propose projects that create jobs and grow the Kansas economy. It brought back matching from the NEA, but not for long. As the Kansas budgetary woes increased, there was no money to devote to the new commission, so the NEA determined commitment was not strong enough to qualify for federal dollars in 2015. In 2016, the state lost out on up to $800,000, and it doesn’t look any better for 2017. Luckily for Great Bend, these mural projects have endured, and continue to brighten our city and are a lasting tribute to the talents of Great Bend’s arts community and our students.

‘Asteroid’ features local
Occasionally the Tribune features “stand alones,” essentially a photo with a headline and brief caption. One such standalone this week in 1997 was of former Pawnee Rock resident Paula Keener, who was set to appear in a made-for-TV movie, “Asteroid,” which was scheduled for Feb. 17 on NBC.
According to the Wikipedia entry for the movie, it was billed as a miniseries about the United States government trying to prevent an asteroid from colliding with the Earth.
The movie should not be confused with “Armageddon,” which was released in 1998, starring an ensemble cast including Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Owen Wilson, Will Patton, Peter Stormare, William Fichtner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Keith David, and Steve Buscemi. That movie was about...”a group of blue-collar deep-core drillers sent by NASA to stop a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with Earth.”
Paula Keener is the daughter of Rowena Keener of Great bend, and at the time had siblings in La Crosse, Hoisington and Great Bend, according to the photo caption. We looked her up on facebook, and found Paula Keener from Pawnee Rock who now lives in La Crosse. We were unable to make contact prior to press time, but if we hear back from her, we will keep readers posted.