Category Archives: #IHeartHutch

A Tribute to Prairie Dogs

To be honest, I am not certain when I first saw a prairie dog, but I am pretty sure it was love at first sight. More than likely, it was one of the many trips between Iola and Kinsley to see my grandparents when someone pointed out the cute little critters. After all, I still remember many times of being glued to the window and looking for prairie dogs once we had made it far enough west to reach the places where they would call home.


However, it may very well have been at the Emporia zoo too when they first came into my life. While that memory from my early childhood may have been lost, there was another that has lasted from a time in Emporia during my youngest years. My sister and I had wandered into a pet store in the Emporia mall, and there high above me and out of reach was prairie dog in a cage. Needless to say, that led to many ideas forming in my toddler mind, but my mother resisted each request for a new pet to join our household. Plus, that said prairie dog wasn’t for sale either. Still, I can remember it to this day.    

Since those early years of my life, prairie dogs have come in and out of my world. During another Kinsley trip, my Grandpa Feldman took my grandma, mother, sister, and me to Dodge City out to eat and then to Wal-Mart. Right next to the parking lot was a prairie dog town. Needless to say, I wanted to go back every time we were back in that part of Kansas, but I don’t recall our ever doing so.

In Deep Meditation

Then there was the one and only time for me to ever touch a prairie dog. During my days at Emporia State University, I served as a docent at the Emporia Zoo. While my hopes of getting to pet one of their lemurs never came true which may or may not have first motivated me to take on that volunteer job, I did get to have many other great experiences. Just a few of the stories would be Lucy and Ricky the ball pythons helping me overcome my fear of snakes (although that was short lived thanks to Spartacus, another ball python, who was my roommate for a while (about equal months of my not knowing and knowing about his being in the apartment) and put the fear right back in me), Karla the Kinkajou wrapping her tail around my arm, the gay ducks at a zoo open house, and an evil chinchilla who used its razor-sharp teeth on my poor, defenseless finger. Those are all stories for another time though. The one relevant to this post was one time when I was in one of the employee-only buildings, and I met a recently acquired domesticated prairie dog. Hungry for attention, it would climb the side of its cage wanting someone to pet it. The zoo keeper warned me the adorably cute prairie dog could possibly bite; however, she still let me scratch its little belly through the cage, causing the little guy to make sounds of pure bliss. The look on his face of such happiness is one I will never forget, and truth be told, a similar look probably was on mine as well.

Another happy time with prairie dogs was when my great friend Ben from Australia spent some weeks with me in 2007. On a road trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota, we made a quick stop near the Badlands after I noticed a prairie dog town near the road. It was there Ben saw for the first time the cute little critters. Later, he told me they were one of his favorite parts of his American adventure, and that too also makes me smile.


There have also been some close calls with prairie dogs. I received a lecture one time from Mormon John on our way back from Colorado when I may have swerved to miss a prairie dog who had wandered out onto I-70. The prairie dog and we were all safe, so all’s well that ends well. Thankfully, I also missed a Utah prairie dog who had scampered out onto the road my mother and I were taking on our detour to have lunch in Telluride on our journey from Moab to Monument Valley back in May. They were all over along parts of that highway, and they were adorable, and they were traffic hazards, but we made it past them A-Okay. Keep in mind, I am also the guy who tries his best to dodge butterflies.


Then for the last eleven years, I have been living in a place where I get to see prairie dogs on a regular basis, especially after Target closed which then in turn increased my trips to Wal-Mart. The prairie dogs are one of the many reasons why I love Hutchinson. It has also been fascinating to watch their expansion too. When I first arrived back in 2007, they were largely hanging out in a completely useless piece of land at the corner of Highway 61 and 17th. However, the city of Hutchinson attempted to rid themselves of the prairie dogs for some unknown reason. A giant vacuum cleaner was brought in and the prairie dogs were sucked up. Then came the PR nightmare when the relocation of said prairie dogs was to a home of many badgers who were pleased with the dinner delivery. Some of the prairie dogs managed to escape that fate, and they expanded to another spot nearby. They too were marked for relocation several years later, but still some of the prairie dogs managed to stay behind and expand their town once again.


Now relatively large, the prairie dog town has become quite the colony on both sides of 17th, north of Wal-Mart and around, rightfully so, Petco. Plus, there is another colony south of Home Depot too. The prairie dogs are not without their controversy, but they are also a source of delight for many as I have found many times when I have been spending some evenings watching them eat, play, and simply be highly amusing. Often times, other people will park their cars and watch the prairie dogs for a while. I have seen people bring food to one of the unofficial observation parking stalls to have the prairie dog antics serve as a dinner theatre of sorts. Just the other evening while I was taking photos of the prairie dogs for this post, there was a car with a California license plate and a van from Alabama that were both parked to allow their owners to take in the same sight I was enjoying. Plus, the people were all friendly as we talked about the prairie dogs and how much fun to watch they are. The same held true with the truck driver originally from the Ukraine who stopped and chatted for a while as he asked me what exactly they were. He too smiled as he looked out at the town.


This fascination with prairie dogs, I think, is rightfully so, for they are indeed fascinating little creatures. With that said, a negative campaign has also been launched against them with many viewing them as pests. The three biggest pillars of that said campaign are 1. Cattle break their legs thanks to the prairie dog holes, 2. Prairie dogs carry the plague, and 3. They are horrible for the land. Well, it turns out that while some cows and horses have been brought down from time to time thanks to a prairie dog burrow, it really is not a common thing at all according to different studies. This problem may have been more prevalent during the days of cattle drives, but cows just hanging out in a pasture tend to be smart enough to avoid the holes from what I could find online. In fact, some ranchers have found prairie dogs and cattle can live in harmony just like bison and prairie dogs had done for many years before the United States was conquered by Europeans (if you want to read more about that set up, click here and here for tales of different ranches that have embraced both prairie dogs and cattle). As far as the plague goes, prairie dogs are susceptible; however, scientists have also found ways to vaccinate them, including through peanut-butter flavored vaccine-loaded blocks.

Now when it comes to prairie dogs being horrible for the land, that could not be further from the truth. Sure, they may not create the kind of land a developer or a rancher wants, but looking at what they do from an ecological point of view, then prairie dogs are fantastic. For starters, they control the growth of weeds like sagebrush and mesquite that are noxious to livestock. Their turning up the soil allows for aeration, and they also provide fertilizer through their waste, which leads to the grasses being higher in both protein and nitrogen, thus making the area better for wildlife like deer, bison, and antelope to graze. Furthermore, they help keep down the grasshopper population.


The presence of prairie dogs leads to the presence of other animals. In addition to attracting the previously mentioned grazing animals, their burrows can also become homes for the burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, and swift foxes. Furthermore, thinking about prairie dogs in the Circle of Life mentality, they are an important food resource for many animals and birds too.  

IMG_0667 (2)
A Burrowing Owl Who Also Calls the Hutchinson Prairie Dog Town Home

All of these things come together to lead scientists to describe prairie dogs as a keystone species. Basically, if one removes the prairie dogs, one removes all of the benefits they bring and the other animals too, which then accounts for endangered status of the black-footed ferret thanks to the eradication of prairie dogs. Places have found out the hard way the negatives that come with wiping out prairie dogs. For an example, former Mexican prairies have become deserts filled with mesquite after the poisoning of the prairie dogs who had once kept that invasive weed at bay. The hope is by reintroducing them to the area, the prairie ecosystem can return, but needless to say, tons of damage that may not reversible was done to a land once rich in life thanks to the shortsightedness of handling the wild prairie dogs.

Along with being great for the land, prairie dogs are just amusing to watch, and I think much can be learned from them too. For starters, their communication is rich. Northern Arizona University’s Professor Con Slobodchikoff has studied their language for over 30 years and found that the noise they make not only identifies the predator (coyote, hawk, human) but also describes them too. One could easily argue prairie dogs have one of the most complex languages in the animal kingdom.


This complex language goes hand-in-hand or paw-in-paw with the social nature of prairie dogs. Spend some time watching them, and it is easy to be delighted with watching them interact with each other whether it be wrestling around or watching for each other when possible predator appears. If you have never spent the time doing so, here is a video I took last Friday night:

Without a doubt, prairie dogs demonstrate the importance of a community. They seem to watch out for each other, including giving signs to those in their colony through the extremely adorable jump-yips the black-tailed prairie dogs will do when they leap onto their back paws and throw their front ones into the air (watch the video to get full appreciation).


Furthermore, prairie dogs are remnants of a world that once was before the rise of towns, cities, and other developments throughout the former Wild West. Prairie dogs have found, when not poisoned, ways to try to adapt with the changing landscape, and along with it, they create a tie for others to follow suit. In a way, they seem to symbolize the spirit of the Frontier Strip is still alive in these parts with its finding a way to survive among the domestication of the Great Plains.  


Last but definitely not least, the prairie dogs in Hutchinson are a good reminder to take some time and take in the little things. It would be so easy to drive right by them and not notice the whole ecosystem in between a road and a parking lot. However, by looking over to their town, watching them frolic, and seeing one maybe throw its paws in the air to then have another join him or her, we can all be reminded about how something so small can be so crucial to the lives of so many others. After all, everything plays a part in the bigger picture, and as those prairie dogs dig their burrows and keep the weeds at bay, they are playing an important role in the grand scheme of things.



Lessons Learned from the Solar Eclipse

Eclipse 2017 – In case you missed it, it happened on Monday, but given the hype, I am not sure how anyone could have not realized it was going to occur. Needless to say, it was quite the sight to be seen. Memories from my first solar eclipse are still with me as I can remember standing outside on the grassy field right to the east of Gas Elementary School with a pinhole projector made out a piece of paper and cardboard box while hearing my teacher tell us whatever we do, we can’t look at the sun. Despite the temptation, I listened.

Many decades have passed since then, but an intrigue had remained within me with eclipses of any kind. Now looking back at last Monday and everything leading up to it, there were quite a few good takeaways and lessons learned with my new memory made of catching a glimpse of a disappearing sun.

#1 Timeliness Is Vital to Not Miss Out on So Many Opportunities

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for this year is to improve my timeliness, and, well, the eclipse shined light on the fact I am not doing the best with it.

The eclipse was first brought to my attention last November when a good friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join her and some of her friends for an excursion to Northeast Kansas to watch it in its totality. I checked the calendar, saw it was on a Monday, knew I would be teaching a class that afternoon, and thanked her while also giving her my regrets about my not being able to join that adventure.

I continued to read articles about the eclipse, saw displays of glasses in many, many stores, and talked to tons of people about it. My office is even less than a five-minute walk from the Cosmosphere. Did I pick up a pair of glasses? Nope.

Flash forward to a week before the eclipse, and I was living proof solar eclipse glasses could be found nowhere. I stopped by stores, searched the Internet, called people – the findings were always the same – a very sad and genuine – “I am sorry, but we sold out last week.” A solar filter for my camera couldn’t be found either, nor could a Shade 14 welding lens. Sure, I wasn’t going to be in the path of totality, but over 90% of the sun was going to be blocked here in Hutchinson. If I saw a lead of any kind about glasses being in any stores in Reno County, I was soon there, and I would leave empty handed and kicking myself.

Eventually, a pair of ISO-approved glasses did come into my possession, and more on that will come in a bit. However, between the missing out on the glasses and my not replying to an email that came last spring in time that was going to lead to my missing out on another nifty event, I was not a happy camper with myself, but the solar eclipse was the wake-up call definitely needed.

So often, we can get trapped thinking about the short-term, and that is what had happened to me. Throw some procrastination into the mix, and that all led to my spending so much more time, time that I really needed to be using for some other projects, searching for glasses that would have taken me less than a minute to have purchased just weeks previous. The glasses ultimately, though, became a metaphor of sorts for so many other things, including a good reminder to think and put myself on the right path for not only the immediate but also distant future.

#2 – Do One’s Best Not To Overlook The Truly Magical That’s All Around Us

Like many, when it came time for the solar eclipse, my focus was on the sky. Sure, I also noticed the cooling of the weather too, especially given the fact I was wearing a black suit in a shadeless area right to the south of the Cosmosphere, but what I caught during that time that thankfully fell during my lunch break were the sights eye-level and above. What I missed out on were all of the nifty shadows others posted of the sunlight coming through the leaves of the trees and leaving a magical sight to be seen. I even walked right under some trees on my way back to campus that would have been perfect to see these, and I am sure I walked right on top of them, but being wrapped up in the moment, never did they catch my attention, which led to my regret for that day and also this important lesson to be learned.

A great photo of the shadows taken by my great friend, Jennifer Forker

#3 Humanity Is Capable of Some Acts That Are Truly Beautiful

So often, all we hear about are negative things. Sometimes I play the game when looking at Google News to see how many positive stories I can spot – the sad answer is not many. However, the solar eclipse brought forward the fact that humanity can truly be great.

First, back to my search for solar eclipse glasses.

Well, searching on Facebook early Saturday morning led to another lead about glasses being available at a Dillon’s store I hadn’t checked but had heard previously they had sold out on their supplies. I had questioned the validity of this person’s comment, but I figured I would quickly stop by there right before I met up with a group to take to Buhler for Second Saturday Cycles (August is on the third Saturday though), a community bike ride I help coordinate every summer. Sure enough, they had no glasses, and the topic of my searches throughout the week as well as the solar eclipse were one of the first we discussed as we pedaled towards the home of the tasty Mustard Seed restaurant. David Inskeep, a fantastic man for many reasons, including his being an excellent Hutchinson city council member who truly cares about making Hutchinson better for future generations, let me know he may possibly have an extra pair. He was going to count to make sure after the bike ride. And sure enough, he did. I offered to buy them from him because he could have sold them for quite a bit, but he wanted no money at all. Instead, it was truly an unselfish act of his helping out another in need.

While I may have missed out on the shadows under the trees, what I did see at the Cosmosphere’s solar eclipse event was something even more beautiful. The area was full of people from so many different backgrounds. There were adorable babies and youngsters to senior citizens who had arrived via small busses from their assisted living places they called home. Religions, political parties, races, and so forth were all over the place, but we all came together during that time. If people didn’t have solar eclipse glasses, complete strangers would offer their own to make sure everyone had a chance to see the solar eclipse. When Venus appeared shining bright in the day sky, tons of people starting helping others see it. Even on my way back to work, there was this huge football player from out of state who saw me attempting to take a photo of the eclipse with my iPhone and offered his glasses for me to see it. To say it was extremely nifty would be an understatement; it was truly a fantastic reminder that so many people are genuinely good hearted, and that should never be forgotten.


#4 Everything Works Out Eventually But Definitely Learn from the Past to Create a Better Future

As I rode my bike from Dillon’s to DCI Park, I had accepted defeat in finding a pair of glasses and had come to the fact I would likely be missing out on seeing the solar eclipse. I wasn’t happy with myself, but I was okay with that. However, thanks to Dave, that turned out not to be my fate, and also thanks to Dave, I was able to loan that pair to many others so they too could see Solar Eclipse 2017. Even the morning of the eclipse, the lightning, thunder, and rain that came from the sky over Hutchinson led to my thinking the eclipse was going to be hidden behind clouds; however, those clouds parted later that morning to create a beautiful day to be shared by many. Plus, as I was leaving that area that was transformed from a space to a magical place during the solar eclipse event, everything once again aligned thanks to perfect timing and a conversation that happened while I was waiting to cross 11th street gave me a second chance at that other event I was kicking myself about missing thanks to my bad misstep with timeliness. Now in less than an hour, I will be heading to it to enjoy everything under the stars all while continuing to contemplate, learn, and apply these lessons from this last week’s solar eclipse.


My Time as a Talk20 Presenter

The eighth edition of Talk20 Hutch is going to be on July 21 at 7:00 PM at the Hutchinson Public Library. The line up looks like it will be another stellar night as 9 Reno County residents share their stories by presenting 20 images and talking for 20 second about each one. There will also be a tribute to Patsy too.

What Kari Mailloux and Patsy Terrell created with the help of Gregg Wamsley is something truly magical. The powerful energy that forms is unreal and leads long into the night. If you haven’t been to one and will be in the Hutchinson area that evening, definitely don’t miss it, but be sure to get there early for over 300 people usually attend with even a line forming before the library doors open.


Talk20 is, without a doubt, one of my favorite things that takes place in Hutchinson (and was the subject of one of my first entries for this blog too). Ever since the first Talk20 back in 2014, I have been in awe of it, and each one after has been amazing. Happening twice a year (January and July), the Talk20 talks have ranged all over the place from autographed handkerchiefs (one of my all-time favorites) to extrovert problems (by the great Bailey!) to an adventure as a male model to writing an editorial that went viral (a shout out to the great writing of Jason Probst) to so many other fascinating topics.

With the exception of one thanks to a previously planned trip to see my bucket-list destination of Banff National Park, I have attended all of them. Last January, I even had the chance to go from attendee to presenter. I have been meaning to write about my Talk20 experience for quite some time, but time managed to get away from me last spring, so in honor of the next one coming up, let’s jump back to December when Kari and I had the following text conversation that started it all:

Kari: Are you in for Talk20 on Jan. 27 to tell the story about your resolutions? Or to use resolutions to tell your story?
Ryan: About being a failure with my resolutions?
Kari: About setting resolutions and the process of keeping them or not.
Ryan: One year of success and two years of failure?
Kari: Yes
Ryan: And presenting myself to 300 people as a failure. Yay for self-deprecation.
Kari: You’re not a failure! You set the resolutions for yourself!
Ryan: How was the rest of your day? True. I only failed myself.
Kari: The fact is you set these high expectations for yourself. Not just in resolutions but in everything. The process around that is the story, I think.
Ryan: And I do need a story for my life. A new story. Reading all about it now.
Kari: You said so just today. 😊

And it was true. I had thanks to my reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. The end of the year was also nearing, and all I could think about was all of the resolutions that never happened, so I did what I guess I may normally do as I sent the next text:

Ryan: So the rest of your day?
Kari: You’re so good at deflecting from questions about you. How was your vacation day?
Ryan: There seems to be deflection taking place there too.

For the next fourteen days, the thought of giving a Talk20 bounced around my head as I did my best with a few resolutions from 2016 that were yet to be accomplished like learning how to draw. Then finally, I sent a text to Kari letting her know I would do it unless, of course, she had found someone else; she hadn’t, and just like that, my fate was sealed. Soon after the beginning of the year, an email arrived with a welcome to Talk20 Hutch that included a few notes and deadlines, thus making it official.

Over the next couple of weeks, I hunted through photos and read through previous blog posts to try to find a way to assemble a story out of the New Year’s Resolutions all while constantly looking back at the email Kari had sent me and reading over Tim Urban’s take on doing a TED Talk for pointers. Photos were found and then discarded. Then there were repeated practice run-throughs again and again to make sure I was keeping everything within 20 seconds.

The night of the Talk20 was a blur, and I remember taking in a deep breath while listening to Patsy’s introduction, looking out into the audience to see my proud mother who had driven several hours just to be there to hear me, and then walking up to the podium extremely nervous about what was about to happen. Through it all, my hands shook as they held onto my notes, and they were still shaking long after I had finished and worked my way back to my seat in the audience. Then came the really nifty part after the final presentation had been given when others shared with me resolutions they had set through the years. There was a neat passion that lit up their eyes, and I saw a passion even brighter at the after-party at Carl’s Bar in the eyes of Patsy as we talked for quite some time about her first experiences as a legislator. That night was filled with so many memories that I will continue to hold very close to my heart.

Now as a way to wrap this up, let’s go with five take-aways from my Talk20 Experience:

1. Reflection Is Important
As you likely caught through the text message exchanges, my view about my New Year’s Resolutions at the end of 2016 was not a positive one. All I could think about were my failed attempts with time management and my not carrying on Positive Campaigns for really no reason besides bad time management and follow through. Post-election, that haunted me greatly, and my focus were solely on those failed resolutions. Everything else vanished from my mind until I started to revisit the other resolutions. The draft of the novel sure enough was finished, and the second readable draft is well on its way. The 15 minute (phone) conversation in Spanish with John on a late night drive to Lincoln brought a smile to my face, another check in a box and a good memory. The 10% body fat goal has continued to evade me, but the Million Meter t-shirt from that accomplishment gives me an extra boost of confidence whenever I wear it. There ultimately have been more wins than losses, but before reflecting upon it, my mind focused more on the latter.

I also realized the first year’s theme was unconsciously tackling past relationship hang ups/issues. That probably should have been noticeable as I sat alone on that New Year’s Eve and crafting the first set of resolutions, but it wasn’t. However, as I was putting together the Talk20 slides, it became clear the origin of many of the resolutions were my exes and complaints they had made about me at one time or another, and the 2014 New Year’s Resolutions were all about my heart recovering while also trying my best to become a better man so my bad habits wouldn’t sabotage future relationships.

2. The More Measurable the Resolution, the More Likely for Its Success
Without a doubt, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a person’s best friend when setting New Year’s Resolutions. Some of the hardest of the resolutions were the ones that didn’t really lead to something tangible.

3. A Lot Can Happen in 20 Seconds
Sure, a couple of the previous Talk20 presenters said, “Wow! 20 seconds is much longer than I thought.” For me, I had trouble staying within that boundary, but it was also eye-opening about how much can actually be packed into a 20 second segment. Sure, we often think about hours or days, but truly, we should not underestimate the power of a series of seconds and what can be done during them.

4. New Year’s Resolutions Changed My Life and Continue to Do So
Sure, I figured the resolutions had some impact on my life, but the Talk20 actually led to my realizing the great power they had. The eye-opening moment was when I was showing Bailey my slides and mentioned one of the photos with some of the OKC crew was on my birthday at a Dolly Parton concert. She, whose love for Dolly Parton is so great that her adorable puppy is named Dolly Parton Stiggins, had no idea I had gone to the concert, and that was when I realized it was because of the resolutions she and I really became such great friends thanks to my forcing myself to move away from island mode. I had been so nervous to ask her if she would be willing to take on dance lessons with me. Now, she is one of my best friends, and I cannot imagine my life without her in it.

So many other life changes have come from the annual New Year’s Resolutions. New friends, new things I have learned, even this blog are all results of them, and it was actually the Talk20 presentation that led to my starting to appreciate them on a whole other level. This realization also has helped give another boost of motivation to keep them going.

5. The Dreams and Actions of a Few Can Impact the Lives of So Many
When Kari and Patsy first came together and discussed the idea of Talk20 and when Gregg jumped on board by offering the library as its home, I don’t think the trio had any idea about the far-reaching impact it would have. The sharing of the stories through each presentation is just the start too for the magic of each night. Another thing I love most about the Talk20s is how it brings together people from all different backgrounds and ages to one place. It is extremely nifty to see the interaction before, during intermission, and afterwards as new connections are made and even more stories are shared thanks to those presentations created a shared space to help build a stronger community.

This coming Friday is going to be extremely strange not having Patsy there. I already know it’s going to be another time of my eyes looking all over the place for her because her no longer being here still hasn’t sunk in and I don’t know if it ever will. I also know the magic that she, Kari, and Gregg have created through the Talk20’s will once again fill the library as the presenters share their stories and a community comes together to laugh, cry, be inspired in so many ways, and continue the conversation long after the night itself has come to a close.

And in case you are interested, here is my Talk20 on Resolving to Resolve:

Going Over the Edge for Reno County’s United Way

There I was dangling from a rope. My feet had lost their footing for a second, and adrenaline pumped through my system as I tried my best to get them back to the stone wall. The sound of music and voice of Lisa Gleason, Executive Director of the United Way of Reno County, echoed from down below on Main Street while the shade of the First National Bank building protected me from the sweltering late afternoon summer heat. It was my first time to rappel, and I could not think of a better place to do it than from off one of the tallest buildings in Downtown Hutchinson. Still, the thought of how I ended up where I was kept running through my mind.

I first learned about the idea of United Way of Reno County’s Over the Edge last August when I was picking up t-shirts for my honors students who were taking part in our annual clean up of Carey Park for the United Way’s Day of Service. Tona Turner, the former executive director, asked me my thoughts of a fundraiser that involved people like me rappelling off the First National Bank building on at the next summer’s Third Thursday. As she described the event to me, thoughts of previous events throughout Downtown’s history ran through my mind. There was, of course, Spot the horse and his rider on top of the Wiley Building in 1941 as well as all sorts of other images and memories of events that have taken place on Main Street both in my life and before.

Without a doubt, I could see what Tona described as becoming a part of Hutch’s history. The First National Bank of Hutchinson alone has played a large role in the history of both the city of Hutchinson and my life. For Hutchinson itself, First National Bank came to that location back in 1876. It transformed into Hutchinson’s first skyscraper in 1911 based upon designs by Daniel Burnham, the same Chicago architect who designed New York City’s Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and many other iconic buildings throughout the country. The building was then expanded in 1957 and again in 1972-1974 to its current state.


It was this building that grabbed my attention when I first moved here back in 2007 and was looking for a local bank. It was also here I spent a summer as an intern for the Hutchinson Community Foundation when I cleaned their storage room to transform it into my summer office where I would arrive each morning to look out their fifth-floor windows towards the east side of Main Street and all of the land beyond, including the grain elevator that once had the claim of fame of being the world’s longest (it’s second now). A few years later, I then began spending many more hours on that floor as a board member for that same amazing organization and eventually the chair of their grants committee. Plus, there were many memories of breakfasts and lunches at Downtown Sampler, the tasty restaurant on the second floor, and then there were the times meeting John on top of the parking garage to bring him something or another when he was working evenings there when he was going back to school. Plus, it is on Main Street, and to say I have a great love for Downtown Hutchinson would be an understatement.

On top of the location, the event also had the pull of being a fundraiser for the United Way of Reno County, which has changed the lives of so many through the money they raise during their annual campaign that goes to support many of the fantastic non-profits here in the area including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Reno County, Boys & Girls Club, Hospice of Reno County, Interfaith Housing Services, New Beginnings, Salvation Army, Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, The Volunteer Center of Reno County, and many more working hard to improve living conditions for our local population. Then they also have greatly helped with early childhood education here in the community too, something that is very dear to my heart, and have partnered with Hutchinson Recreation Commission, Reno County Health Department, and the City of Hutchinson with the Southwest Bricktown Neighborhood Initiative which has led to many wonderful things as well.

So thanks to the history of the building, the great work the United Way does, and my New Year’s Resolution #1 for this year to live a better story, I couldn’t resist signing up back in February to be one of the people to rappel down the side of the building. Each person though was to meet a financial goal of $1000 in order to go over the edge of the First National Bank building. This is where once again I was reminded I am horrible at fundraising. I would craft Facebook posts and emails to share with others, but then not hit either the submit or send button at the last moment. I was going to write a blog post back in March about the upcoming event, but well, you can see that didn’t happen. My plan, though, was to fund, as I tend to try to do with fundraisers, most of it myself, but a $1600 vet bill for Callie in April and another extremely large sum of money for summer graduate courses led to that plan failing too. By the end of May, I had given up on reaching the goal and getting a chance to be part of this piece of Hutchinson history.

However, the kind hearts of those at the United Way decided to let those who had signed up but had not reach the financial goal still rappel and let us still try to raise money throughout the rest of the month of June (if you would like to donate, please do so by going here) as well as have us be able to talk about the amazing experience that it was so even more people will want to sign up the next time they do this. When I received this email on Tuesday, I was thrilled to say the least, and soon I had one of the last scheduled times so I wouldn’t miss out on meeting with new honors students at the Enrollment Day at work.

After changing out my dress shoes into hiking boots (I figured they had the best traction out of anything I owned), I drove quickly downtown yesterday afternoon still wearing a pair of dress pants and my standard white button-up shirt (the tie and jacket were left behind though) to experience something new. Throughout the day, I had caught a few pics, videos, and Snapchats of some of my other friends going down the building, and with each, I became both a little more excited and a little more nervous. I won’t lie and say there was not a brief moment of hesitation when I climbed out of my car and saw the building before me. Stopping for a second, I looked up at its top, took in a huge breath, told myself all will be well, and then walked forward to find the always amazing and wonderful Bailey to capture a few shots of my rappel on the camera I had brought. Then it was to the Downtown Sampler area on the second floor to get geared up before going to the top of the building.

My group that traveled to the roof together.

My arrival was at the same time as a few others as well, and we chatted as we were decked out in our harnesses and gloves with everything being checked time and again. Then a friendly face of a friend of mine, Adam, greeted us in the hallway to take us up to the roof where we went through a thorough training session to go over the gear and how to rappel down the side of a building. I tried to pay as much attention as possible to the lever that would ease us down and all of the safety mechanisms as my mind raced in many different directions especially towards the recurring thought of what if I am the first one that day to get stuck going down and would need to be saved somehow. Then afterwards, it was waiting for our turn to go. Jon, another guy getting ready to go through this experience, and I took in the sights from the top of the building. The sky was unbelievable clear as we looked out upon the tree-filled city we call home. To say the view was stunning would be an understatement. I took in another deep breath and then went towards my destination.

The first step is a doozy was what I was told earlier, and as I stood there on the ledge, I could easily see why. Here were these two ropes that were keeping me from fall seven stories to the land below. I made small talk with the guy helping me take that first step, which I may or may not have been delaying. He was from Chattanooga and was very nice. I smiled at my friends, Cory, Chelsea, and Adam, who were also on top of the building and then took that doozy of a step.

The first step

The feeling was indescribable. It was this sort of mix of fear, excitement, happiness, and awe with each step I took down the side of the building. I could hear Lisa down below being a fantastic emcee as she talked about different things I had done in the community while getting the crowd to cheer me on. I could see so much as my eyes would shift from the wall in front of me where I tried to slowly take each step to the world around me. The windows on both sides of me were the biggest surprise, for they provided this great reflection of the city of Hutchinson. I was also trying to count each floor so I could stop and wave at my Hutchinson Community Foundation friends (It turns out I waved tons at the sixth floor instead of the fifth though). Even when I would lose my footing, it would only be for a second as my thoughts went right back to the detailed training Mike had shared with us. Mainly, though, I was smiling because it was an experience like nothing I had ever had before and may never have again.

Although it seemed like it took me quite some time to get down, I had made it back to the second level landing spot to be helped by some local volunteers. My heart was still racing a bit as I thanked everyone for letting me have this truly amazing experience before I found my way to next to Bailey on the street. More friends were soon by my side, and text messages were coming with photos and videos taken by many from all different places and heights. Everything was both a blur and clear at the same time. And I just kept looking up at the tall building before me, thinking how grateful I was to the United Way for giving me this experience that will be relived every time I see this skyscraper in the heart of Hutchinson, Kansas.

As always, thank you for reading this post. If you would like to help the United Way of Reno County with the great work they do, please do not hesitate to make a donation by using this link that will help me get closer to my financial goal.



A Love Letter to the Kansas State Fair

Dearest Kansas State Fair,

Our paths have crossed many times over the last thirty-some years. Memories of when I was a youngster easily come back to me as I walk through the buildings and see the different free things being given away. Quickly, I am taken back to walking those steps with my mother and sister while I tried to fill a bag with as many goodies as possible. The Old Mill was always a must with each turn in the dark place would send a little shiver down my spine all while thinking back to how my grandmother used to ride the same path when she was younger and before some likely heart-broken cynic transformed the Tunnel of Love into a ride of terror.

Then there was college when I would visit you with other Emporia State University Ambassadors on your final day. After serving our time at the ESU booth, my adventures expanded with my exploring the place with friends, and I rode the big slide for the first time. So much of the tasty delicacies were explored while I learned what it was like to be other side of the booth and giving free stuff away to youngsters.

Never would I have guessed the journey of life would bring me back to you, Kansas State Fair, with my moving to Hutchinson to take a job at the local community college. Both the house where I rented and then the house I bought are within walking distance of one of your gates. Suddenly, my one trip a year was turned into four or five with my checking out the free shows, spending much of my free time wandering around, and experiencing the enchanting evenings your lights and energy brought.

Now after my ninth year of living here and making so many more memories thanks to you, Kansas State Fair, it feels right to declare my love and count the top three reasons why.

  1. Your Magical Atmosphere


Right now, I am writing this from a bench under a tree with the fair train tracks behind me and in front the Old Mill, kids playing in a fountain, and places to buy funnel cakes, roasted ears of corn, ice cold root beer, and tons of other tasty fried foods all while the sounds of Jake Owens from the grand stand intermixes with the cicadas in the trees all around me. The added touches of the almost full moon coming in and out of the view thanks to the cloudy moon and the perfectly cool weather for a September night make everything a tad bit surreal.

Both the day and night transform you into completely different experiences, and both, simply put, can be amazingly wonderful. Whether it is the stunning lights from the concession stands and rides of the Midway or the warm heat of the last-bit-of-summer sun shining down upon the friends, families, and individuals exploring the buildings and the rest of the grounds during the mid-afternoon hours, your atmosphere is one that oozes potential.

There’s the potential to live in the moment and eat something fried or full of calories without thinking about its after effects.


The potential to buy something I never knew about before the fair but after the showmanship of the seller leaves me to wonder how I lived without it.


The potential to throw a ring just right onto a bottle and win a stuffed animal prize from a tricky carnival game or test my balance by climbing up what seems to be a simple few rungs of a ladder.



The potential for paths to cross with people unknown until that conversation opens a connection that could be brief or lifelong. The potential for reunions with people from our pasts that for whatever reason lives had led us in separate directions until they merge ever so briefly once again somewhere on your grounds.


The potential for times with loved ones that can create lifelong memories that will be cherished for many years later. And the potential for more potentials that can only come from the uniting of so many people and things all in one place thanks entirely to you.


  1. Your Celebration of Creativity and Hard Work


Everywhere one looks, the examples of creativity and hard work are on display. This is the land of jaffles, moinks, bickels, and a whole bunch of other edible delicacies one can usually only find at the fair.


Sure, they may be tasty, but what truly grabs people’s attention really is the creativity that comes into play. Take your staple itself, the Pronto Pup. A creative reworking of the batter or more than likely creative thoughts behind its advertising transformed a corn dog into a must-have.


However, even tasty items like the Wheatland Café’s Apple Dumpling is a result of creativity and hard work that has perfected the recipe over the years to make it my favorite time and again.


The celebration goes far beyond the fried, sweet, and savory things that add to the waistline (which then one could argue connects to a person’s hard work to burn off the devoured calories later). Throughout the fairgrounds one can catch shows of creativity in process including the chainsaw-carved statues, the spray-painted paintings, and the sculpted butter.




Then there are the entries that range from quilts to cakes to paintings to photos to wine to almost anything else with the only thing tying them together was each came into being because of a spirit of creativity living within its maker.


Furthermore, the long hours of tireless care appear in each animal with its owner taking so much time to get each furry critter to be state-fair worthy and compete for the purple ribbon. Plus, many of the competitions are not of luck but rather the culmination of so much practice to prepare all for a break-it-or-make-it moment. Then there are the giant vegetables of all kinds that were protected from the elements, watered, and nurtured so they could get a chance to be awed upon by people of all ages.



All of these are so much more than simple entertainment for the fairgoers but rather pieces of inspirational fruits of hard work that are admired in so many ways.


  1. Your Truly Honoring Kansas by Being a Snapshot of the Sunflower Kansas


Looking at the elements of you, the Kansas State Fair, individually may make it appear like you are nothing more than a random assortment of food, vendors, animals, rides, entertainers, and artwork, but a step back shows you are more like a microcosm of the state, for Kansas is a little of everything across its 82,278 square miles. It has its farms and wide open places, its beautiful tastes of nature, its quirky attractions like none other, its stores, its restaurants, its rides, and its entertainment. And behind everything is that frontier spirit where the American Dream lives on that is embodied so brightly in many of the people at the fair.


And yes, there are the people. Truth be told, I can think of nowhere else there is such a cross-section of demographics all in one place. A multi-millionaire can walk right next to someone who is barely making it, and both share the same mission to explore the offerings you have brought us this year. Unlike so many things, there is no noticeable social divide. Plus, your Dillons Dollar Day even gives people the ability to get into the fair for either free or only a dollar per person, thus opening up the experiences to many more people who may have been hard-pressed to pay the $10 ticket price otherwise. Then once getting into the fair, there are so many things a person can do for free and have a blast through it all. Whether it is watching the comic hypnotist, cheering on pigs racing each other, or seeing the goats at the free petting zoo, people are brought together to have a good time.




The people really are one of the truly magical parts of you because you can give faith in a better future. People ranging in ages, backgrounds, homes, races, orientations, education, political affiliations, religions, abilities, and so on are united with a single common goal to enjoy the festivities and celebrate Kansas. This all gives a glimpse and a hope that differences truly can be put aside and people who would often never be in the same place can come together all within an area of only 280 acres and enjoy so many of the same things, thus proving we really are not that different after all.


Sure, I know there are things people often complain about you, but as we all know, nothing is perfect. The traffic you bring to Hutchinson for an example could be one, but that is still part of your charm thanks to how you attract so many people to come to what I guess I could consider as my home. Plus, with my often being on bike, the long line of cars and trucks on 17th is nothing more than a mere background as I pedal past the people sitting in their vehicles right to a bike rack conveniently placed next to a gate.


Oh Kansas State Fair, how I love thee. Although you may appear for such a short period of time in my life each year, all that you bring together and all that you stand for provide me with a wealth of memories and experiences not only I but thousands upon thousands of others can cherish for a lifetime.

Needless to say, I will be seeing you once again next year.

With much love,


A Random September Day Made Better by a Bike

The Vitality Trail
The Vitality Trail

This morning while checking the news, I ran across this article about biking (and walking) to work may lead a person to being happier. Having had a few days that were not the best lately, I decided I might as well go for it (keep in mind that much of Spring and Fall, I bike to work. I really have no excuse the other seasons because I live a little less than a mile away). And I do have to admit, there is something about biking to work that brings a smile to my face.

Well, the work day was actually quite good complete with some productive meetings, a great class, and some decent work done during the other times. Plus, I was able to bike to and from home for lunch, which led to some more smiling as I plotted what I needed to tackle in the office. I left the campus, feeling good and ready to drop by my house, change out of my suit, and head to the grocery store to pick up a few things.

Along the way to Dillons, thoughts of Melbourne kept coming to my mind. It may have been the overcast skies that reminded me of a late autumn day or this song that started running through my mind:

Or maybe it was that I was on the bike I had brought back with me or my old Australian helmet I was wearing (I gave my other helmet away and need to pick up a new one; however, this one is working well until then). Something though had my thoughts on biking through that amazing city. So I continued on the Vitality Trail, cycling by prairie dogs while smiling at the memories that kept popping into my mind.

After a quick trip in and out of Dillons, I had my four things I needed in my reusable bag that went into the basket on the back of my bike. As I finished a phone conversation with my good friend, Dr. John (having quite a few great friends named John/Jon has led to each of them having descriptors), I walked my bike towards the Dillons Trailhead where I saw a couple of guys under the gazebo. That is when the memory of the Hutchinson Area Cyclists‘ Monday night rides hit me.

With groceries in my basket, a not-fully-inflated front tire, and my having my commuter bike, I had no plans to join the group, but I wanted to go over and give Eric props for getting this group started. I chatted with the guys for a bit, and when 6:00 PM hit, my plans were still to head home. The persuasive John Fairbanks convinced me to take the long way back, and there really is no way to say no to that guy.

So my romaine lettuce, rice milk, and a couple of other things went on a 20-mile journey north of town. Deer and turkeys were out, and soon the clouds had parted to give way to one of those enchanting Kansas sunsets. Plus, the conversations were great as they went from bike riding to being a vegan in Central Kansas (one of the guys in the group was a vegan) to life in general. And there was the fact that Eric altered the course of all of our lives tonight by putting together Hutchinson Area Cyclists and organizing these weekly rides.

We parted ways, and after a few pics taken on the Vitality Trail, I finally made it home from what was going to be a quick trip to the store.

So now I sit here, quite happy as I eat another piece of my tasty bread as I think about all of the things I would have missed out on today if I would have driven my car instead riding my bike to work. Needless to say, tomorrow is going to be another bike day.

The Beautiful Kansas
The Beautiful Kansas Sunflowers


Just some of the tons of people who came to this weekend's First Smallville ComicCon
Just some of the tons of people who came to this weekend’s First Smallville ComicCon

When Kansans travel, it is almost a guarantee they will hear several times during their trip references to a certain movie involving a girl, a dog, a tornado, ruby slippers, witches, flying monkeys, munchkins, and a yellow brick road. After a while, it becomes pretty easy to know when that reference is going to hit, for there is a little glimmer in the person’s eyes almost immediately upon learning the traveler’s home state before he/she references that iconic movie.

When I was living in Australia, those references came on a very regular basis because, well, I was in Oz. Sure, I thought it was neat Kansas was in the top five states people knew overseas (the others being California, Florida, New York (really only the city), and Texas), but the Wizard of Oz lines did get old after awhile.

For the first few months, I did the polite Kansas thing and just smiled before quickly changing the subject, but then the snarkiness may have come out with my answers after that:

  • Comment: “There’s no place like home.” Answer: “Pretty much true with everywhere really when you start thinking about geography, climate, people, and animals.”
  • Comment: “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” Answer: “Really? Oh, that silly tornado did it again.”
  • Comment: “Where’s your ruby slippers?” Answer: “Back at my place. I didn’t feel like they would go with my outfit. Your thoughts?”
  • Comment: “Where’s Toto?” Answer: “He was hit by a garbage truck. Why did you have to bring up that traumatizing event that took years of therapy to get over? Just a second. I have my therapist on speed dial for moments like this.”

My favorite, for it was less snarky, was always when the person would say, “The Home of Dorothy!” and I would quickly and proudly add, “And the Home of Superman!” This perplexed look would fall over their faces. “Smallville, Kansas,” I would say to try to clarify my response. After a “Huh?,” I would talk about Clark Kent/Superman and his boyhood home, which would always lead to their asking, “Where’s Smallville?” My reply was always the same: “There are at least four towns claiming some Oz-related thing, but yet none have claimed Smallville. Crazy, isn’t?” Little did I know during those hundreds of conversations that fate would eventually place me in the real Smallville, Kansas.

Several years ago, the amazing Christopher Wietrick and some of his friends came up with the theory Hutchinson was Smallville. They combed through comics, watched movies, viewed television shows, and researched everything they could for evidence to support their idea. This grassroots effort was fantastic to watch take place as the snowball continued to roll while they spread the word during Third Thursdays, comics, blogs, and news stories. Last year, Hutchinson officially became Smallville thanks to our city council when they renamed the city for a day in honor of Superman being inducted into the Kansas Hall of Fame.

One of the Largest Third Thursdays I have ever seen. The weather was perfect for the art walk and Smallville festivities.
One of the Largest Third Thursdays I have ever seen. The weather was perfect for the art walk and Smallville festivities.

This year, the embracement of being Superman’s childhood home grew exponentially with the City Council renaming the town for several days. Third Thursday incorporated it into its events. A sold-out Smallville Pub Crawl took place down town.  Concerts for the Cause celebrated it as well on both Friday and Saturday as they raised money for great causes in Reno County. And then there was the very first of many yet to come Smallville ComicCon.

Just a few of the many great Cosplay costumes.
Just a few of the many great Cosplay costumes.

If you are not familiar with ComicCons, they are a convention of sorts in honor of comics, superheroes, sci-fi, and other popular arts with cult followings. Celebrities, writers, artists, vendors, and fans are all in attendance, and the community is amazing with pretty much everyone embracing everyone else. Then, there is Cosplay taking place too, and that is just nifty to see with fans dressing as their favorite pop culture characters as they become celebrities themselves with others running up to them, posing, and getting pictures with them. Friendships and admiration form with these just being a few of the many ingredients that cause that overall feeling of awesomeness to flow through the convention.

One of the Many Contenders for the Cosplay Contest
One of the Many Contenders for the Cosplay Contest

Armed in a Superman shirt on Saturday, I went to check out Smallville ComicCon at the Kansas State Fairgrounds. Truth be told, uncertainty rested in my mind of how well this would be attended. That quickly disappeared upon entering the fairgrounds and seeing all of the cars. Without a doubt, the wonderful Jon and Troy Robinson’s creation was a success. Exploring the building, I saw some excellent cosplay, talked to some great artists, listened to some fascinating panels, and enjoyed seeing so many people having an amazing time.

Saturday's Concert for the Cause.  Concerts for the Cause happen every Saturday night during the summer at Avenue A Park. All proceeds from the concessions go to the cause for the event. Check them out at
Saturday’s Concert for the Cause.
Concerts for the Cause happen every Saturday night during the summer at Avenue A Park. All proceeds from the concessions go to the cause for the event. Check them out at

That night was then spent down at Avenue A Park listening to the highly talented Wandering Madman at the Concert for the Cause for the Hutchinson Street Cat Society. The weather was perfect, and I was able to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen for a while as well as meet some other nifty Hutchinson residents as the music flowed through one of the many extremely beautiful places in Reno County.

Once Upon a Time's Michael Coleman showing Phil Morris, Alaina Huffman, and the audience the proper way to eat an ice cream sandwich
Once Upon a Time’s Michael Coleman showing Phil Morris, Alaina Huffman, and the audience the proper way to eat an ice cream sandwich

On Sunday I came dressed in my Least I Could Do Raccoon with a Light Saber T-Shirt (next year, the plan is to go in a costume thanks to one of my former students coming up with a very good idea for me and insisting I had to do it) and had yet another excellent day soaking in everything (especially anything involving the stunningly beautiful and extremely nice Alaina Huffman).

The Stunning Alaina Huffman from Smallville, Supernatural, Stargate Universe, etc.
The Stunning Alaina Huffman from Smallville, Supernatural, Stargate Universe, etc.

The last few days have been so much fun on so many different levels, and because of Christopher and his efforts, so many people came together, made connections, found out about this great place in Kansas, and changed the culture of not only this city but also the state. As the success of Smallville continues to grow, Kansans are going to find when they travel that one certain movie will not be the only thing referenced.

In fact this just happened to me last May. When I riding the T (aka the subway) in Boston, the guy next to me, after we had been chatting for a bit, asked where I was from, and I simply said Kansas. That glimmer formed, and I prepared myself for a Toto reference. Instead, surprising me completely, he asked, “Do you live near Smallville?” With a grin on my face, I proudly replied, “That’s where I am from.” His smile was huge as he said, “That’s so cool.” And without a doubt, he is right, and this weekend definitely proved that.