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Out of the Morgue
High waters and Hi Steppers in 1987
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The original captions for these Great Bend Tribune file photo read: Reflections in the water - The town of Albert is reflected in flood waters on the west edge of town Thursday afternoon. The water which surrounded Albert continued moving towards Great Bend, filling the Wet Walnut Creek to its limit. Barton County officials monitored the creek throughout Thursday night and today to evaluate water levels and watch for weak areas along the dike. Officials are concerned that additional rain may add to the already dangerously high water. - 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.

This week in 1987, author August Wilson received a Pulitzer prize for his play “Fences.” If that sounds familiar, that’s because the movie, “Fences,” was in the spotlight in February of this year when Viola Davis won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. Davis made headlines with her heartfelt acceptance speech, stating, “I became an artist — and thank God I did — because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
According to Wikipedia, the film also was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of 2016, and has been nominated for numerous awards, including four Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Denzel Washington), and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for Washington and a Best Supporting Actress win for Davis.
Wilson died 10 years before the movie was made, but it had always been his wish for it to be adapted to film. However, he had insisted on a black director. Denzel Washington not only starred in the film, but directed it.

High water
This week in 1987 was very wet in Barton County. Several inches of rainfall which began on Saturday, April 11, continued on and off throughout the week. The result was flooding throughout Barton County, though Great Bend for the most part was spared flooding. A panoramic photo at the top of the Friday, April 17, edition of the Great Bend Tribune showed the town of Albert, reflected in the floodwaters on the west edge of town. Luckily, the water was only up into the yards and roadways, and had not flooded homes.
Hoisington residents, too, were monitoring the levels of Blood Creek, Shop Creek and the Wet Walnut. March rains had saturated the soil, so as new rain fell creeks swelled. Water draining from Rush County would eventually cause some families that lived in South Hoisington to evacuate their homes.
Elsewhere, it was reported in the Tribune, flooding had almost killed a rural mail carrier in Concordia, two hours north of the Golden Belt area. But thanks to the quick actions of one young farmer, the man was saved. Donald Hutchinson, 64, was substituting for a sick mail carrier. He had just finished talking with farmers David Walker and Greg Thoman when he took a wrong turn and ended up in a precarious position that swept him into the creek.
“I tried to back out and just went in the ditch,” Hutchinson said. “The water was so strong it just pulled the whole car down. Walker dived into the creek and swam about 20 feet to the truck which was quickly sinking. Thoman threw Walker an ax to break the rear window, and Walker reached in the murky water inside the vehicle.
“All of a sudden I just felt his arm,” Walker, 25, said. “It was moving back and forth. I just grabbed it and pulled him out.”
According to the story, heavy rain sent floodwaters to their highest levels since 1951 on the Saline and Solomon rivers that week, so clearly this was a statewide event. Back in Barton County, by the end of the week, floodwaters were beginning to drop, but more rain was in the forecast for the following week.
It is the effects of big rain events like these that engineers consider when they map floodplains. These maps help determine if a property owner should consider purchasing flood insurance. Recently, the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked together to remap the Cow Creek floodplain in Barton County. A draft map was on display for public comment earlier in April, with some properties coming out and others going into the floodplain. The area of South Hoisington is still in that floodplain. Today, most of the homes that made up South Hoisington no longer exist and the residents of that area, for the most part, have moved away, tired of dealing with floodwaters and snakes, according to interviews with former residents that are archived at the Barton County Historical Society Museum.

Hi Steppers EHU
In the 1980s, Extension Homemaker Units were groups of women who met as a club to share information and hear speakers on topics that helped them to manage their homes and families better. The names for these groups evolved over the years, with earlier iterations called Community Clubs, Farm Bureau Units or Home Demonstration Units. Today, they are called Family and Community Education. Barton County Extension no longer has FCE units, but some members who have been part of these units still meet unofficially.
This week in 1987, the Hi Steppers EHU was in the paper because members celebrated their 15th year as a club. The photo in the paper included only founding members, but there were several other members at the unit’s anniversary meeting: Elleen Pike, Nancy Sundahl, Lois Ball and Vicki Roussel. Other current members listed included Barbara Beahm, Jill Eliason, Cindy Goetz, Jill Johnson, Jan Keeley, Geralyn Kelly, Rita Krause, Phyllis Marsh, Lena Penney, Kathy Pike, Donna Rusco, Nancy Schukman, Jan Spatz, Karen Watkins, Marcia Westhoff and Caroline Hedrick.
Wow! So many of those names we still see today, associated with good causes and community development and commerce.
In 1987, the program was about microwave cooking, still considered new and innovative at that time, though today its use is far more common among the under 40 crowd than the traditional oven. The talk described how microwaves react with sugars, fats and liquids, which explains how foods cook differently in microwave ovens. Newer recipe books had better recipes and instructions, and the speaker noted that even in 1987, the microwave was then considered one of the safest appliances in the kitchen.