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Simpsons, singers, Santa and more in 1989
Out of the Morgue
Homer Simpson
It’s been 30 years since The Simpsons first appeared in their own full animated show on Fox television.

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. 


It was 30 years ago this week that cartoonist Matt Groening’s “The Simpsons” premiered as a stand alone full animated series on the Fox television network (then 7:30 p.m. on Channel 4 in Barton County). Prior to that, it was a featured spot on the Tracey Ullman Show beginning in 1987. The world never looked at Santa quite the same way again after watching “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” 

A truly dysfunctional Christmas story, Bart Simpson gets a tattoo, and the family is forced to use the money saved to purchase presents to get the tattoo removed. Dad Homer Simpson then learns he won’t be receiving a holiday bonus, so he becomes a mall Santa in order to save Christmas. The pay, needless to say, was not great, but Homer and Bart head to the dog track where bet all his pay on the seemingly good omen, “Santa’s Little Helper.” The dog loses. Later, broke and dejected, Homer and Bart find “Santa’s Little Helper” abandoned by its owner in the parking lot, and bring it home to the family, saving Christmas after all. 

Since then, The Simpsons have become embedded in American culture, like them or not. 

Currently in its 31st season, The Simpsons will celebrate Christmas Sunday, Dec. 15 on Fox. The new episode is titled, “Bobby: It’s Cold Outside,” and features Sideshow Bob as — you guessed it — the mall Santa. Coincidentally, someone is stealing Christmas packages off people’s front porches. 

Choral concert

One tradition that still holds strong in Great Bend is the High School Choral Department Christmas concerts. A vespers concert was presented in the Great Bend High School Auditorium on Sunday, Dec. 17, featuring the A Cappella Choir, the Madrigal Pops Singers, the Mixed Chorus and the Sophomore Choir, as well as the First United Methodist Church’s Festival Ringers handbell choir. The candlelight program consisted of the Christmas story being narrated and sung. 

Then, on Monday, Dec. 18, the high school groups performed again in the evening , with harpist Ayren Dudrey providing pre-concert music, and a Madrigals-hosted reception in the cafeteria following the concert. 

A photo taken during the choir’s dress rehearsal that Friday was featured in the Tribune. It was a close-up of Wendy Briel, who remains in the area and today teaches elementary school in Larned. 

The community vespers concert for 2019 was held Sunday, Dec. 8 at the high school. 

Wendy Briel rehearses with other members of the Great Bend High School Choir in preparation for their annual Christmas Concerts in 1989. Today, Briel, now Wendy Sundahl, teaches elementary school for USD 495 Larned.

Santa letters

Every year, the Tribune features letters to Santa, written by youngsters in Barton County and submitted through the mail and through elementary schools in the area. In 1989, 5 1/2-year-old Lindsay Friess asked for a Barbie car, Little Miss Dress Up, a robe, music keyboard and clothes. Her brother, 2-year-old Chad, wanted new trucks, tractors and fire engines. Both reminded Santa to have some goodies before their dad ate them. 5-year-old Trevor Maneth asked for a remote control car, racing trains, a mousetrap game and cologne. He claimed to be “kinda good”, and informed Santa “Reindeers can’t go faster than Dirt Bikes.” 

Ninja Turtles and Nintendo were big that year. The Tribune is still accepting Words of Christmas and Letters to Santa, and they will be published in a special Tuesday edition on Dec. 24. 

911 comes online

Along the Christmas theme, Barton County provided a lifesaving gift to its citizens this week in 1989. It may be hard for some to believe, but services like 911 emergency calls are actually fairly recently established services for many small towns and rural areas. It wasn’t until 1989, in fact, that the service was available in Barton County. The Tribune reported it had been years of planning and months of work that would culminate in the first Barton County 911 emergency calls to be accepted at 8 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 18, 1989. At first, the only exchanges that could use the service were 792 and 793 in Great Bend, and 982 in Pawnee Rock.

At the time, dispatchers relied on callers to be able to tell them where they were located.  

Southwestern Bell Community Relations Manager Linda Langston reminded customers it was really important that party-line subscribers stay on the line with dispatchers. Customers needed to return their locator cards to the communications office, either in person or through snail mail, to be added into the system. They were also urged to post their locator numbers at the drive to their home as soon as possible. 

Langston said there were still about 500 people in the county on party lines (more than one customer shared the same phone lines, and knew the call was for them by the pattern of their ring) and in those cases an address would not be available through the dispatcher’s computer. Rural patrons were assigned emergency locator numbers and were encouraged to keep that number near each of their telephones so it could be provided to dispatchers. For our younger readers, these were not mobile phones. In order to make the call, you had to go to the phone — something we all take for granted in this modern era. 

“The more information you have, the better they can respond. You have to give them enough information to get there.” 

This one service we take for granted now is a wonderful example of how technology has made our lives better and safer. Since then, 911 addressing has been required, and some people have had to change their addresses. The system helps responders determine where an emergency is in the city or county based on a designated center point on the map, and side of street based on even or odd numbers. 

Some locations are even set up now to determine where an emergency is happening based on the signal from a mobile phone, and in some instances, emergencies can be reported by texting, which can be really beneficial for those who fear for their lives. In 2016, this became possible in Barton County when it transitioned to Next Generation 911 service which allows users to text messages to 911. 

Muscovy duck
Muscovy duck
Just for fun

Muscovy ducks attach

For some, ducks are an iconic image associated with the holiday. For others, they are a traditional part of their Christmas feast.  

But in Port Richey, Fla., a flock of hefty Muscovy ducks terrorized residents of a quiet retirement community “nipping at their heels, chasing them to their doors and chewing on one woman’s dress,” the Associated Press reported in the Dec. 18, 1989 edition of the Tribune. 

The woman was Lena Piemonte, and she was scared to leave her home after she was chased to her doorstep by one of the ducks when she ventured out to get her mail. 

“He chewed on my dress,” she said. “I was trying to get away and I took a terrible fall.” 

One person needed a tetanus shot after being bitten on the finger. The animals showed no fear of people after being fed by them for some time. And, the Florida Game Commission had no jurisdiction to remove the non-native species. 

According to the website, Muscovy duck attacks aren’t uncommon where flocks congregate. Their saving grace is, they eat an awful lot of flies, spiders and mosquitoes. With this in mind, don’t feed the ducks — they do a pretty good job on their own.