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Robots, refugees, and good ole’ boys in 1979
Out of the Morgue
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In the Tribune’s television schedule, this head shot of John Schneider appeared this week in advance of the premiere of the television show “The Dukes of Hazard.” “John Schneider plays Bo Duke in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” a new comedy-adventure series recounting the adventures of three cousins who fight corruption in the rural South, Fridays on CBS.

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.

In the category of strange history, the first documented case of a robot killing a human in the United States happened on Jan. 25, 1979. According to the online magazine Wired,  the incident occurred in a Flat Rock, Mich., casting plant. A 25-year-old assembly line worker, Robert Williams, was killed when a robotic arm “slammed him as he was gathering parts in a storage facility, where the robot also retrieved parts.”

In a 2014 New York Times article, As Robotics Advances, Worries of Killer Robots Rise, more than 33 workplace deaths caused by robots have been reported since then. A partial list is included in the article, indicating that you can’t be too careful around robotic arms! 

The Williams family was eventually awarded $10 million in damages, the jury having determined that the lack of safety measures made it possible for the incident to happen. That hasn’t stopped scientists and engineers from inventing new robots. Consider the robotic car... or don’t.

This week in 1979 is also the 40th anniversary of the premiere of the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” featuring the characters Bo and Luke Duke. There’s two who we can’t imagine giving up control of the steering wheel to a robot! 

The Tribune’s television guide that came out in the Friday edition each week (many readers remember that feature fondly, we’ve heard, and no we have no plans to bring it back at this time) included a head shot of the actor cast in the role of Bo Duke, John Schneider. 

The show ran for six and a half seasons, the final episode airing in February, 1985.

According to the series teaser, “Bo’s sidekicks are played by Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach; Denver Pyle, James Best and Sorrell Booke co-star. Grammy Award-winner Waylon Jennings will introduce the stories in ballad style and also provide music for the series.”

In the summer of 2005, the film version of “The Dukes of Hazzard” was released by Warner Bros., with none of the original television cast members. It was poorly rated, but it launched the film career of pop-singer Jessica Simpson who played Daisy Duke. .

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‘Boat people’ — The family of Thap Dang has been in the United States less than a week, after a 10 month ordeal escaping from Vietnam. Top row, left to right are: Luong, 17; Hien,16; the Rev. William Vogel, and Grace and Joe McLaughlin, sponsors of the family. Seated left to right: Tuyen, 12; Thap, father; Thanh, mother; and Lien, 14. Held by her father is Phoung, 10, and held by her mother is Cam, 4. Son, 8, is kneeling on the floor. - photo by Tribune file photo
Great Bend welcomes refugee family

The Wednesday, Jan. 24, 1979 edition of the Great Bend Tribune included a feature story by then Tribune staff writer Jennifer Schartz, introducing the Dang Thap family, recently arrived in Great Bend filled with hope and the promise of a new life after fleeing Vietnam 10 mos. earlier. 

In the late 1970s, many Vietnamese and Cambodian people fled their countries in an effort to escape communist rule by despots like Pol Pot who turned people out of their homes and businesses and forced them to labor for wages paid in rice. 

“Injustices to the people were so many, Thap said, that he couldn’t begin to relate all of them,” Schartz wrote. 

The family was sponsored by Grace and Joe McLaughlin and Rev. William Vogel. The family of nine included Thap, his wife Thanh, and seven children ranging in age from four to 17 years old. In order to secretly leave the country, the family left behind two family members, Thanh’s mother and sister, who would take charge of the family’s house. They fled Vietnam on a small boat, along with about 40 other passengers, which brought them to an island off the coast of Malaysia, where they waited in a refugee camp with thousands of others until they learned the United States had accepted them for repatriation. Many other countries were not accepting large families, Schartz wrote. They were housed for a time in the guest house of the Immaculate Conception Convent. 

An attempt to find more information about the family was unsuccessful. The McLaughlins passed away some years later, Mrs. McLaughlin in 1999 and Mr. McLaughlin in 2011. Both were interred in the Great Bend Cemetery. Rev. Vogel also passed away in 2000. 

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“Gay Finger, Larned, took advantage of the few days of sunny weather to continue her flight instructions Wednesday (January 1979) at the Larned - Pawnee County airport. Mrs. Finger is one of the three women student pilots in the Larned area.
Larned woman spreads her wings

Women were pushing boundaries in big ways back in the 1970s and 1980s, with more entering the workforce, stepping into traditionally male-centric professions, striving for higher levels of physical fitness and expertise in a variety of sports, and much more. Still, even as they did, the language used to describe their efforts was not keeping pace. When we ran across the headline “Larned housewife a pilot,” we had to pause and read. 

The feature spotlighted the efforts of a Larned woman, Gay Finger, who had just finished her dual cross- country, one more step on her journey to getting her private pilot’s license. Flying instruction was offered at the Larned Municipal Airport. She began lessons in September, and planned to get her license by March.  She wasn’t alone. Beverly Peters, a certified flight instructor based in Larned commented in the report that she had instructed many women during the past several years. It was also part of a national trend of more people in general flying, because planes were becoming safer and simpler to operate. In actuality, the story had nothing to do with the fact that Finger was a housewife, and everything to do with her and others’ efforts to grow and fly. 

“Flying is a peace of mind,” asserted Mrs. Finger. “The country is beautiful from the air and you get a great feeling of appreciation of the land.” 

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The image of an alien appeared in a book by author L.H. Springfield. A Great Bend woman, J.J. Williams, was in communication with Springfield in 1979, and based on their conversations she created a UFO Information Center, encouraging others to share their stories and photos with her.
UFO Information Center announced

Tribune staff writer Marlene Nordman interviewed a Great Bend woman, J. J. Williams, about the UFO information center she planned to coordinate in hopes of alleviating the stigma those who claimed sightings experienced from the general public. 

After personally experiencing three positive encounters herself, Williams claimed, she knew others with similar experiences often kept information to themselves. 

“About five different people have told me within the last month or two that have seen a UFO and didn’t have anywhere to go with information,” she said. 

She read “Situation Red,” by Leonard H. Stringfield, and finding the work fascinating, reached out to the author. Over the course of their telephone conversation, the two concluded they would create the center which would be similar to about a dozen privately-owned UFO Information centers located throughout the United States. A post office box was secured, and readers were told they could send their information to UFO Ground Watch Information in Great Bend. Photographs were also welcomed. 

Williams maintained contact with Stringfield, and he sent her a manuscript he’d presented orally the year before, “Retrievals of the Third Kind -- a Case Study of Alleged UFOs and Occupants in Military Custody.” 

We couldn’t resist Googling the title, and found this on the internet, so we know it has to be real. 

To be fair, Williams willingness to keep an open mind was admirable. According to Nordman’s report, “Williams said she wants to remain objective in hearing about other people’s experiences involving UFOs.

“I don’t care if people believe in UFOs,” she said. “I only care that people have a place to go to tell about their experiences without being laughed at.” 

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“Wow! It’s as long as King Kong” was the headline for this photo in the Thursday, Jan. 25, 1979 photo. “That’s one big icicle!,” these two youngsters seem to be thinking. The extra large ice block accumulated from a drain pipe in a downtown alley. The two boys are Chris, 4 and Michael Mazouch, 2, sons of Eugene and Mary Ann Mazouch of Great Bend.
Just for fun

Perusing the pages of the Tribune, we ran across an adorable photo of two boys standing next to a huge icicle they’d found in a Great Bend alley. These are the experiences memories are made of. We had to share that photo here. Stay warm this week.