The history of Kansas is one replete with humble but aspirational men and women. Our state has raised many national leaders who, over the years, have helped Kansas and the nation overcome many obstacles. Yet, our state’s true legacy has been built by the farmers, factory workers, teachers and parents who work hard every day to improve our communities and state for the next generation. These unsung heroes have made Kansas such a special place to live. In them, the spirit of the pioneers who settled our state 155 years ago lives on.
At no point in the past century have Kansans had it easy – our state’s motto, “To the stars through difficulty,” reflects this truth. Our motto, though, captures a central feature of Kansans’ character: an innate drive to innovate, support one another, and leave behind a stronger, freer and more prosperous state and nation for the next generation. I witness these ideals time and again as I visit communities across our state.
Tradition of Innovation
Kansas has always been home to innovators – individuals who are willing to risk their livelihoods to pursue their dreams. From Amelia Earhart of Atchison to Nobel Prize winner Jack Kilby of Great Bend to Walter Chrysler of Ellis, Kansans are not afraid to break new ground in order to improve American lives. In Overland Park, lifelong Kansan and entrepreneur Chris Costello continues this legacy of innovation with his company Blooom, Inc. A rapidly-growing online financial service provider, Blooom helps people maximize their retirement investments. It was recognized as the winner of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s “One in a Million” competition in November 2015 – a national event that awards grants to start-ups each year – and the company has received significant praise for its low-cost approach to both innovation in personal finance and for encouraging financial literacy. The Kauffman Foundation’s statistics confirm that entrepreneurial ventures like Blooom are a critical component of economic growth, creating an average of 3 million jobs each year. The creativity and tenacity entrepreneurs bring to their work are traits that have made Kansans successful throughout history.
Communities Coming Together
This past year, the Department of Defense was tasked with reducing troop totals at military bases across the country. Initial reports were that Fort Riley could be significantly impacted. Members of the Junction City, Manhattan and Fort Riley communities responded by organizing a listening session attended by the Army’s then-Director of Force Management, Major General Roger Cloutier, which would give the community an opportunity to demonstrate its support for the base. The turnout was unparalleled – more than 4,200 Kansans attended to show their love and support for our service members and their families – and it was the largest listening session audience for any session the Army held. The Big Red One at Fort Riley sacrifices for our nation to make certain that those who follow us, our kids and grandkids, are able to grow up with the same freedoms and liberties we enjoy today. The February 2015 listening session was, in my view, the perfect example of Kansans coming together for a greater cause.
Remembering the Past, Honoring the Future
It’s been eight years since the Greensburg community was destroyed by an F5 tornado. In the storm’s aftermath, we saw the very best in people all across the state as rescue crews, volunteers and donations from communities near and far flowed into the city in an outpouring of support. Greensburg residents refused to let this great tragedy define their community. The reopening of the Twilight Theater last Spring is a testament to their courage to persevere in spite of enormous challenges. The theater originally opened in 1917 and has a long history as a gathering place for Greensburg residents, serving as both a movie theater and auditorium space over the years. Fortunately, what was old is new once again. The theater has entertained more than 1,000 Kansans each month since its opening and is now used as an auditorium for Kiowa County schools. I have visited Greensburg a number of times since the tornado, and each time I walk down Main Street and see the progress made I think of the modern-day pioneers who overcame difficulties in order to build a better future for their community.
Pioneers like the entrepreneurs at Blooom, those who came together to attend the Fort Riley Listening Session, and the resilient residents of Greensburg are who make our state such a special place to call home. Because of folks like them, bright days lie ahead for Kansas. I will continue to do all I can to make certain we leave behind a stronger, freer and more prosperous place to call home. May God continue to bless the great state of Kansas.