Back to Kansas from the Land of Oz

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OK ya’ll. I’m going to travel back in time and to another culture.

The place is Kansas where Dorothy and Toto originally made their way to the magical Land of Oz via a tornado. Imagine that I am Dorothy, but I don’t have Toto the dog (I do have a cat, however, as my colleagues and students know). I clicked my heels and went back home for a high school class reunion and the annual Labor Day Celebration in Hoisington, Kansas.

Certainly a different cultural scene than Houston, Texas.

This, my friends, is a big deal. Hoisington, Kansas has had a Labor Day Celebration and parade for 119 years.

Yes, 119 years!

The festivities begin on Friday evening with BBQ and high school football and end on Monday with a 5K/10K run and a major parade. In the middle of the weekend various groups of high school classes gather for reunions. My group enjoyed an informal BBQ, but other older groups I observed that gathered during the weekend decided to play bingo. And then…there are the amusement rides, helicopter rides, pageants and turtle races. Yep…turtle races. Only in Kansas.

This year’s parade had 160 entries. During the course of the weekend officials estimate that thousands of people participated in the various festivities. Anyone running for political office in the state of Kansas makes it a point to attend. If you graduated from Hoisington High School and have a reunion you make it a point to attend. If you run 5K/10K races you make it a point to attend.

Hoisington is unique. It is situated in almost the geographical center of the continental United States. While now small (the estimated current population is 2,706), it was founded in 1886 by a group of businessmen to draw the Kansas and Colorado Railroad to Barton County. The town was named after one of the most prominent businessmen, Andrew J. Hoisington who actually lived in Great Bend, a larger town south of Hoisington. It became a major railway hub, and then the economy grew even further with the discovery of oil and natural gas.

Some historians believe that U.S. Senator John James Ingalls (1873-1891) had Barton County in mind when he said that “Kansas is the nucleus of our political system, round which forces assemble, to which its energies converge, and from which its energies radiate to the remotest circumference…. Kansas is the core and kernel of the country, containing the germs of its growth and the quickening ideas essential to its perpetuity.”

However, as Dorothy and other Kansans know, tornadoes can change its history. On April 21, 2001, an F4 tornado roared through the middle of Hoisington taking my grandfather’s house with it (and I imagine it looked like a scene from the Wizard of Oz movie…although I must confess I was observing it on CNN while at a conference in Virginia). F4 tornadoes have a wind estimate speed of 207-260 miles per hour. They inflict what is defined as “devastating damage”. Thankfully, the population and the town recovered rather quickly from this storm. However, you can still see the path of the tornado if you view it from the air. Trees are smaller. Lawns and houses are bigger. Some landmarks are gone. However, it is still my hometown and thankfully it continues to thrive.

In conclusion, I must say it was great to see family and friends. It was also awesome to reconnect with the history of my hometown. And riding on float number 30 in the parade? PRICELESS. 🙂

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