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Out of the Morgue
Feel-good stories of 1997
otm vlc Titanic poster
The movie Titanic was released on Dec. 19, 1997. It is one of the highest-grossing films to date, and brought international fame to stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. - photo by COURTESY 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.

Earlier this month, Paramount Pictures and AMC Theaters marked the 20th anniversary of the 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic,” an ill-fated love story about a girl, a boy, a necklace, and a sinking ship, by re-releasing for a week. A 3D Version was presented in 20 locations.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the film won 11 Academy Awards. It grossed a record breaking $2,18 billion worldwide, and the Oscar-winning score, considered by some to be the best-selling classical music album of the last 25 years, has been called the “gateway drug to classical music.”
DiCaprio was already a rising star, having started in a number of television commercials, soap opera and sit-com roles and a few movies including the 1996 version of “Romeo + Juliet.” His role in Titanic helped him to become an international star, and he went on to appear in several high-grossing dramas . He also founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998, and has promoted environmental awareness through a variety of activities since then, most recently joining forces with Mark Ruffalo in North Dakota in support of the Standing Rock tribe’s opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline and later promoting and taking part in the 2017 People’s Climate March.
Winslet, too, was a rising British star, having gotten her start in stage productions , and appearing in several BBC productions. She also achieved global stardom after the Titanic role. According to her Wikipedia entry, she had to plead with director James Cameron for the role. He was considering Claire Danes or Gwyneth Paltrow for the lead, but she was persistent. She recently appeared as the villain in the Divergent films. Still, today she continues to prefer independent productions. She promotes awareness of autism through her Golden Hat Foundation.

‘Decent proposal’
A love story of another kind was what people in Great Bend witnessed this week in 1997. The Sunday, Dec. 14 edition of the Tribune carried a photo of GBHS assistant boys basketball coach Jim Wagner on bended knee, proposing to Amy Lamb during halftime at the Friday night game. The story, “A Decent Proposal,” by Sports Editor John Mesh gave the details.
“In the guise of a halftime promotion, Wagner, a 1986 GBHS alumnus, took control of the public address microphone.
Lamb though her ticket had been called to shoot a shot from halfcourt. When she bent down to pick up the basketball at the half court circle, she saw the ring case on the floor.
Wagner then went through the old-fashioned formality of getting down on bended knee to make his pitch.
The Great Bend student body went wild.
Lamb couldn’t say no (or could she?).
Fortunately for Wagner, she accepted.
Wagner and Lamb will be married next Aug. 1 in Great Bend.
“We’d like to give a special assit to Jeff Langrehr (head boys basketball coach at GBHS),” said Lamb. “He’s the one who introduced us.”
It’s risky, spotlighting a proposal like this in today’s day and age. But happily, we were able to find Amy Lamb-Wagner on facebook, and found the couple’s union is the lasting kind. They celebrated their 19th anniversary this past summer on the sunny beaches of Florida. Amy is listed as a language arts and special education teacher, and Jim is listed as a math teacher. The family now lives in Topeka.

Chess Champ
This week in Great Bend, attention turned to a young chess prodigy, John Stang. Okay, perhaps “prodigy” is going too far, but the young man had a knack for the game of kings. In “Searching for John Stang: 7-year-old chess whiz has ‘game’,” reporter Carol Ferguson wrote,
“A first grade student from Eisenhower elementary is offering some fierce competition to area chess players. John Stang, the 7-year-old son of Cathy and Patrick Stang of Great Bend, has been forced to pit his wits against high school students and even adults due to a scarcity of chess players his own age.
In addition to playing against members of Ellinwood High School Chess Club, Stang, who plays a game of chess every day, has made showings at several tournaments. He took first place in a tournament in the K-second grade competition at Independence. He also placed in a tournament held in Newton for first through third graders.
Once his parents could no longer beat him, John Mohn, the chess club sponsor at Ellinwood High School, invited him to play there.
“Since none of the high school students relish the idea of being beaten by a first grader, members of the EHS Chess Club are reported to be paying much more attention to their skills.”
Sadly, in the past 20 years, interest in chess has waned, and there is no longer a chess club at Ellinwood High School, or at any of the other Barton County High Schools for that matter. With so many apps and electronic games to choose from, perhaps it simply got lost in a sea of choices?
While we were unable to reach Stang before publication, we were able to learn this: according to his facebook profile, Stang went on to work as a clerk at Mitchell’s Bakery in Great Bend , graduated from Great Bend High School, and studied history at Roanoke College. There, he wrote for the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper in 2014. A 2015 post on his page indicated he had ceriously contemplated entering the priesthood, with plans to return to Great Bend for the summer before entering St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He is listed as a seminarian on the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary website, as well as a 2017-2018 Seminarian at the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City on the diocese website. We offer our congratulations to John Stang on exploring this potential vocation.

Miracle doctor
Earlier this month, Hoisington’s Dr. Robert Frayser decided to pilot his Piper Comanche 400 plane to Topeka. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in a field, the wing torn from his plane, groggy and disoriented. It turns out, he survived not only the crash, but carbon-monoxide poisoning. The Wednesday, Dec. 10 edition of the Tribune carried the story. Somewhere past Lindsborg, and Herrington he set his radios for arrival at Topeka.
“I woke up at 9:30 a.m. near Cairo, Mo.,” Frayser said. Fully aware of how odd that sounds. “I woke up so confused. I thought I was still in the air. I thought I had fallen asleep and automatically started by emergency checklist.
“I increased the power, but nothing worked. I looked out the window and could see I wasn’t moving.” He was sitting in a hay field. Still, things only began to make sense after he exited the plane, and he began to take in oxygen. He began walking towards a farmhouse a quarter mile away, his head bleeding. Looking back at his plane, it realized he had crashed.
The Dec. 14 Tribune followed up. Frayser had overnight found himself in the national spotlight.
“It’s really wearing me out,” he said, noting that ever since the story was picked up by the associated Press,” It’s been a big pain in the buns.”
“Frayser has been interviewed by countless newspapers, radio and television stations, including MSNBC and CNN. He has been called by TV programs such as “American Journal,” “Extra magazine,” “David Letterman,” “The Today Show,” and the 700 Club,” not to mention the BBC in England, reporter Jennifer Schartz wrote. Frayser had to decline many of the offers because as the only family doctor in Hoisington, his patients needed him. Frayser was relieved his patients had been so understanding.
In 2001, reporter Susan Thacker reported on Frayser’s travels to Guatemala and El Salvador where he worked with DO CARE, similar to Doctors Without Borders. Today, it appears Frayser’s practice is located in Lawrence.