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.
With the arrival of Valentine’s Day, 1998, people all over the world remembered ‘Queen of Hearts,’ Diana, Princess of Wales, who died months earlier in a car wreck resulting from evasive maneuvers by her driver from a high-speed pursuit by paparazzi through the streets of Paris. Earlier in the month, on Feb. 3, 1998, stamps commemorating the beloved princess went on sale in Britain, and on Feb. 11, the lyrics to Elton John’s song “Candle in the Wind 1997” were auctioned for $442,500. The song, which was originally written in 1973 for Marilyn Monroe who died 11 years earlier, was rewritten by John as a tribute to Diana, with global proceeds from the sale of the song going towards Diana’s charities. According to the BBC, as of September 2017, it was certified the best-selling single of all time in the UK, with 4.94 million copies sold. On Feb. 24, Elton John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London.
Here in Great Bend the same week, students of Barton Community College observed Black History Month by honoring black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux with a ceremonial wreath laying on his grave.
“Micheaux became the first black American filmmaker. He lived part of his life in Great Bend and claimed it as one of his adopted homes. His parents and many relatives spent the remainder of their lives in Great Bend. Micheaux left at a relatively early age and went on to establish his own book and film company,” according to a report in the Tribune. The article went on to note Micheaux authored several best sellers. He specialized in making films casted by black actors and actresses, about the lives of black people. He died March 25, 1951 at the age of 67 in Charlotte, N.C. while on a promotional tour.
The Barton County Arts Council is planned an “Oscar Micheaux Golden Anniversary Celebration” on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of Oscar’s death — March 24-25, 2001. Out of the Morgue will revisit the Micheaux story in October this year, to mark the 30th anniversary of the dedication of his tombstone.
Teacher to a star
Native Kansan Martina McBride, born in Sharon, was heading to the Grammy’s. Her duet with Clint Black, titled “Still Holding On,” had been nominated for Best Country Collaboration. As it turns out, one Great Bend teacher, Rita Adams, would be watching the Grammy’s with considerably more interest than most because she was both McBride’s kindergarten teacher and her first music teacher. And this week in 1998, she was also the feature on the front page of the Tribune’s Sunday B section.
“Adams, now a Reading Recovery teacher for USD 428, taught in Sharon from 1969-’79 ad was privileged to have Martina, then Schiff, in her classes, she said.
“I don’t claim any credit for her success, Adams said. “She walked in with that voice...I could give her any piece of music and she could sing it,” Adams recalled. “She walked in with stage presence. It was clearly her life.” The article noted the Schiff family were talented musicians already, and by age 7, Martina was playing with the band professionally.
“I knew that was where she was headed,” she said, noting she has lost all personal touch with the “little girl with big blue eyes -- those are real, not contacts -- and straight, straight hair that hung to her waist.”
She has, however, followed her professional career with a great deal of interest.”
Adams shared a story about the sixth-grade Christmas program she directed that spotlighted Martina at the top of the living Christmas tree.
“Scaffolding was built to resemble a tree and all the children were put into position holding lighted candles. Martina was at the top because of her size and because she had a solo. Adams was playing the piano at the base of the tree when she noticed a commotion at the top. Someone had set Martina’s hair on fire.
“It didn’t go up in flames, but it did singe it pretty badly,” Adams said noting it was the last time the school district allowed open flames at a Christmas concert.
1998 would be McBride’s fourth Grammy nomination. She would go on to be nominated 10 more times, but has never won.
The population and activity of the Internet has changed in 20 years. The Dot-com boom was heating up, Amazon.com was a book and music seller, and many people still did not spend much time on the internet. Access required people to purchase and add a modem to their personal computers, if they had them, and most people still used dial-up connections for access. It was pretty slow compared to today.
Many more people than today relied on libraries to use computers. Featured in a Progress insert in this week’s Tribune, Central Kansas Library System Director Jim Swan pooh-poohed rumors that soon books would be a thing of the past with the advent of this new technology. Instead, he said, it would make it easier for more books to be published because costs would go down, lowering the risk for publishing houses.
Access was expensive then, but the Great Bend Public Library prided itself, then as it does today,on providing the public what they wanted.
“The GBPL is ahead of similar-sized libraries in Kansas by both the quantity of computers and the free access to the Internet. People doing research no longer have to travel to bigger libraries to get information, they just need to travel the electronic highway in their own hometown library,” Swan said.
He cautioned, however, it was important to teach students proper researching techniques. That’s sound advice, even today.