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Out of the Morgue
Education and crime in 1967
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JUCO Groundbreaking - More than 100 persons were on hand Tuesday afternoon for the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Barton County Community Junior College at the college site on Bissells Point. Featured speakers included Senator Frank Carlson, BCCJC President Dr. Otis Robinson and Trustee President Joe Mermis Jr. Pictured here: Mermis (L) and Senator Carlson join forces as they turn a shovel of dirt. Construction is to start immediately with the first classes scheduled for September, 1969. - 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 1967 that President L.B. Johnson signed the bill establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s mission is to ensure universal access to non-commercial, high-quality content and telecommunications services. From the CPB came the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). And thanks to these services, recent generations have grown up watching Sesame Street and listening to All Things Considered.
Education was becoming increasingly important, so it’s no wonder that the Great Bend Daily Tribune this week announced that later in the month, a groundbreaking would take place for the new Barton County Community Junior College at its site on Bissell’s Point. We flipped through our archives to Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving, and have included the photo from that day’s paper here.
While building a new college was certainly a worthy enterprise, there were others in Great Bend interested in far less noble pursuits.
Another stunning photo series featured on the front pages of the Tribune this week in 1967 was the demolition of the Parrish Hotel. That Main Street Hotel caught fire Oct. 8, 1967. Five weeks later on Sunday evening, Nov. 12, the burned-out shell was leveled. C.C. Parrish was in Washington D.C. on a business trip the night the hotel burned down. He was later convicted of burning insured property. He paid two men $5,000 to do it.

Check “artists”
What is it about November? The approaching holidays have historically seen an uptick in crimes like theft, burglary, check fraud, etc. Fifty years ago, Great Bend merchants were taken in by a rather old-school sounding scheme operated by a former Burdett resident, a Mrs. Robert (Sharian) McHodgkins.
“A bank account opened with only $2 has cost Great Bend merchants more than $1,100 in bad checks with other checks possibly still out.”
Was McHodgkins a criminal mastermind, or simply uneducated about how checking accounts worked? This, we can’t say, as we were unable to locate any follow-up reports that would indicate she was ever caught and made to answer for her actions. From the sounds of it, as soon as she received her checks, she went on a shopping spree that continued in a trail that followed her and her family across the state and likely into Nebraska or Missouri.
“Most of the checks, Weese said, were passed in Great Bend the latter part of last week. By the time they had been returned from the bank as insufficient, the McHodgkins family had left Burdett. A trail of bad checks has been found and it appears the family was in Junction City Sunday and in Lawrence on Monday. Numerous small checks were also cashed en route to the two cities.
Mrs. McHodgkins, Weese said, usually had two small children with her when cashing the checks everywhere from exclusive men’s and women’s stores to discount stores. Some places were defrauded more than one time.
State alarms have been broadcast to other cities and states in an effort to locate, stop and apprehend the McHodgkins family They reportedly are driving a 1956 pink-and-black Dodge with Colorado Tags.
We were unable to determine if they were ever apprehended.

The Great Bend Chamber of Commerce retail committee and the Great Bend Police Department sponsored a free shoplifting prevention clinic that week at the Knights of Columbus hall.
“Sgt. Marchio of the Kansas City, Mo. police will be the guest speaker and review price changing, how to detect a shoplifter, prevention and cure among other topics.” Also, there would be a film. We found one typical of what might have been featured at YouTube. (
We can only hope raising awareness helped to lessen the success of those predisposed to dishonesty.
Many of the same techniques continue to be employed.

...and other rats
While shop owners and police dealt with one kind of rat, the Great Bend City Council considered an entirely different type of rat.
“Rats really aren’t crowding automobiles off the streets of Great Bend, but they’re of some concern in the areas near the edge of the city limits, according to Galen Ewing, city-county sanitarian.”
The report, “No Great Rat Problem, Just Annual Occurrence,” noted that rats in the field were beginning to look for warm places to overwinter. “...only this year they seem to be tamer and children can pick them up.”
From the sounds of it, the Hutchinson paper had learned of reports of a couple children being bitten by rats, and had blown the issue up into a “grave crisis.” Imagine.
“Ewing said that several weeks ago a child was reportedly bitten by a rat, and there was also a report that a child in the area near the Drive-In Theater was bitten, and another case was reported in a different section of the city. (Yes, it’s a little obvious that the report is not disposed to mention what area of the city that was. Likely, however, that was the one rat that was captured and sent to Kansas State to determine if it was rabid and it was not, according to the report.)
It must have been a pretty good year for farming.
“‘Because these rats are apparently better fed this year, the younger ones especially are not afraid of people and children have been able to pick them up,” Ewing said. It was for this reason that he issued a warning late Thursday afternoon that parents should tell their children not to get near any rats that they might see.”
Ewing concluded that it was possible to see rats running across the country roads at night in great numbers, but, he added, he “didn’t want to be sensational about this thing.”