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Charles Curtis loved Kansas, and he should be remembered as Kansas is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a state.
Even after he’d had a successful career in politics and the law in Washington, D.C., he willed that his body be laid to rest at home, in Kansas.
Curtis was our nation’s 31st vice president in the Herbert Hoover administration.
He was the last vice president to sport a moustache.
He came from very humble beginnings and a difficult childhood. Known as “Indian Charley” because of his Kaw ancestry — he was also related to the Osage and Pottawatomie — he was the first non-white executive officer in the history of this nation.
Curtis was raised speaking Kansa — Kaw — a language that is all but lost today.
As a youth, he was a horse racer, hard worker, very much a product of working-class Kansas culture.
Later he “read law” and continued his education. He was admitted to the bar in 1881, and he was the prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County from 1885 to 1889.
If you aren’t particularly into history, or Kansas heritage, or the development of ethnic representation in American government, you could be asking, so what?
Charles Curtis isn’t just a bit of old-time Kansas lore.
He is part of what we accomplished as a state.
So are Amelia Earhart, Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech and Walter Chrysler.
Or if you’re not into transportation, Mary Bickerdyke, Carry Nation and Drs. Karl, Will, and C.F. Menninger, if you are more interested in social development.
William Coleman, whose gas lamp has provided lifesaving light around the planet, Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet, Pluto, and our own Jack Kilby, who helped bring the world the modern computer, all contributed hugely to the world of science.
Not to mention Omar Knedlik, the inventor of the frozen carbonated drink machine that made history by making the ICEE possible in the early 1960s.
That doesn’t even touch on Bob Dole, Dwight Eisenhower, Charlie Parker, William Inge, Hattie McDaniel, Zasu Pitts, Damon Runyon, Vivian Vance, George Washington Carver, Glenn Cunningham, John Steuart Curry, Gordon Parks, Oscar Micheaux ... the list just keeps on growing.
Of course, there is no way to list all those Kansans who made this world a better place due to their life’s work.
One we do know about is Father Emil Kapaun, the Army chaplain who ministered to his men in a North Korean POW camp until the brutal treatment and abuse finally cost him his life.
Kansas takes a lot of abuse from much of the more worldly parts of our nation, and the occasion of our 150th anniversary won’t change that.
But we should pay attention to what we have given to this culture, whether it recognizes our contributions or not.
Our legacy is our people and so is our future.
Kansas has been the breeding ground of greatness and it will continue to be such if we remain true to our heritage and to our motto:
Ad Astra per Aspera — To the stars through difficulties.
— Chuck Smith