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.
Seventy years ago today, the US Supreme Court ruled in McCollum vs. Board of Education that religious instruction in public schools is unconstitutional. It is today considered the prevailing precedent in public school law.
The suit was brought by Vashti McCollum on behalf of her son, Jim. The McCollum’s reluctantly allowed their son to attend religious education classes offered during “release time” in his elementary school. But, after reviewing the curriculum, they chose to opt out of the voluntary program.
Sadly, that left Jim the only student not attending, and Jim was required to sit in the hall by himself, resulting in targeting and bullying on behalf of his classmates. Teachers and administrators pressured the family to let Jim return, but instead, Vashti filed suit, claiming a violation of the First Amendment.
The District and Appeals courts found in favor of the schools, but Vashti appealed it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she won an 8-1 victory for the separation of church and state.
In his concurrence on the case, Justice Frankfurter stated, “Separation means separation, not something less. Jefferson’s metaphor in describing the relation between Church and State speaks of a ‘wall of separation,’ not a fine line easily overstepped.”
Vashti McCollum went on to write a book about the challenges the lawsuit brought, “One Woman’s Fight,” and later, her son Dan McCollum wrote his book “The Lord is Not on Trial” which later was turned into a documentary, “a little-known story of a woman, a court case and a movement that changed American society forever,” according to a description on the Public Broadcast System website.
The case marked the beginning of a time of great changes in the spirituality of the United States. Not only did nationwide church membership grew at a faster rate than the population, from 57 percent of the U.S. population in 1950 to 63.3 percent in 1960, according to a 1997 essay by Carrol Tucker, University of South Carolina, it was also a time when many new ideas concerning religion became mainstream. All this, as young people returning from the war sought to create a “normal” life.
Blizzard results in milk famine
In Great Bend, winter was making its presence known with a vengeance. The March 10, 1948 headline “City, County Snow-Bound By Fierce Blizzard” filled the entire top of page 1, and lasted two days, affecting most of western Kansas, and parts of Oklahoma. Roads were blocked, ploughs struggling to keep them open. One unusual result of the storm was a “milk famine.”
“Ed Fuller, manager of the Sunflower dairy, said he had only about 1,000 quarts of milk left and that it might be necessary to impose rationing of milk to families with babies. No milk was coming into the city and home deliveries were greatly reduced. Fuller said that he attempted , without success, to get three or four hundred gallons shipped in by train to handle the emergency. He said that the first efforts of his company will be to assure that the hospital and families with small children receive milk.”
An advertisement for Sunflower Dairy read, “We regret that we cannot make delivery of milk to our customers. Because of the severe snow storm it is impossible for us to reach our producers. As soon as this condition clears up we’ll be back on our job of serving you.”
Schools in Great Bend remained closed for the rest of the week at the request of the Kansas Power and Light company. Some communities the company served were nearly or completely out of natural gas, and some without power.
The Friday, March 12 Tribune shared the story of six oil men including Dan Cook of Crown Oil, who had been marooned on a rig south of Ellinwood for three days. They camped out in what they called the “doghouse,” some sleeping in their cars until the gas ran out.” Later, after the snow abated, they hiked to a farmhouse where they convinced a farmer to drive them to the highway in his tractor, and paying the driver of a Jeep $5 to drive them to Great Bend.
Helium, it's a gas
In 1948, the world was still switching over from a war-time economy into what would become the 1950s years of prosperity. It was reported in the Tribune March 8, 1948 that a helium plant in Otis that was opened in 1943 to provide gas for blimps and dirigibles but was shut down after the war ended, would remain shut down.
“The Otis gas field is giving out. But there are some smaller fields in the area and these are being connected with pipe lines,” the Interior Department reported. “Thus there will be helium available if the government wants to open the Otis plant again.” Three employees were kept on to keep an eye on things in the meantime.
According to the website Legends of Kansas, during the war, the Otis plant was “the of the largest of its kind. An entire community was developed south of town to house the plant workers. Ultimately it would be dismantled and the houses sold and moved off the site.”
The Legends of Kansas entry went on to say, “In 1962, the privately owned Kansas Refined Helium plant began operation, built by George Angle. According to Angle’s wife Jean, he hired Messer-Grieshiem of Germany and Sultzer, a Swiss company which developed the world’s first helium liquefier for the Otis operation, making it the first liquid helium plant in the world.”
Now, we don’t profess to know much about how corporate agreements work. The LOK page indicated Angle sold the company in 1981, but in our research, we learned in 1964, the British industrial gases company purchased the company, and in 1968, they set up a joint venture with Linde, AG of Germany. In a 20015 article celebrating the 40th anniversary of purchasing the Otis plant, it was noted, “Otis’ production capacity accounts for about 16% of global helium demand and remains the “backbone” of the company’s helium business, BOC said. In 2006, the Linde Group acquired BOC.
Today, from what we found on the internet, that helium plant is now owned by a large company called Linde, which sells industrial gases. Linde Global Helium in Otis is just one of many subsidiaries around the world the company controls. According to Linde’s website, the Otis plant is one of the world’s largest.
Girl Scout Week
In 1948, the Girls Scouts celebrated their 36th anniversary this week. The Tribune ran troop photos, and retailer Lischesky’s Department Store, the authorized Girl Scout equipment dealer in Great Bend, shared the story of Girl Scouts in their advertising, and their window display spotlighted Girl Scout projects that week. .
“You can tell by her uniform -- she’s a Girl Scout. There’s a note of pride in those words, which denotes she is of great importance to her community. We here at Lischesky’s salute the 324 girls and 114 adults in Great Bend who have given so much of their time and untiring efforts for their part in making it the World’s Largest Organization for Girls.”
Today, there are far fewer Girl Scouts in the area, and each troop is celebrating in their own way. There’s still time to support Girls Scouts through the annual cookie sale -- Thin Mints forever!