Category: News (Page 1 of 79)

Close Encounters with History

Steve Nowak, Executive Director of the Watkins Museum of History , proudly explained that the Watkins was a “founding institution” for a new traveling exhibit about John Brown.  “Encountering John Brown” is an appropriate initiative for the Watkins and for Lawrence because Brown’s experiences here were significant in forming his philosophy and actions as an abolitionist.  

John Brown was notorious for his activities on behalf of the abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s.  It was while he was living in Lawrence that Brown realized that preaching abolition was not enough; he needed to take action.  His work to transport slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad are legendary. He fought at the Battle of Blackjack that took place near the present day Baldwin City before returning east to Virginia where he led the Harper’s Ferry slave uprising in 1859. 

Developed by Overland Traveling Exhibits, the self-guided exhibit highlights the influences and episodes in John Brown’s life that formed his career as an abolitionist.  Visitors will read narratives and view portraits of Brown and other key individuals of the era.  The portraits are created by artist Brad Sneed.

Work on the exhibit began in 2019, but the fall 2020 opening was delayed due to the pandemic.  Funded by grants from the City of Lawrence, Watkins eagerly accepted the challenge of staging a traveling exhibit even though the Museum had never made space for such a display in the past.  The display will be situated in the Community Room of the museum for two months from September to early November.  Nowak estimates that it will move to new locations around the country over the next two or three years.  The Watkins Museum will continue to be highlights as a founding institution . 

The project has a wealth of partnerships supporting it.  To welcome the potential increase in tourism, ExploreLawrence is coordinating bus tours and developing a brochure about other local sites of interest.  Blackjack Battlefield and the Lecompton Historical Society are making similar plans.  The Lawrence Arts Center will feature an exhibit about segregation coincident with the exhibit.  Theatre Lawrence will stage “The Ballad of Blackjack” this fall.

Tacha’s Career Advice? “Don’t Plan Too Much”

Hon. Deanell Reece Tacha (Ret.) has led a fascinating life.  The key to her journey?  She says firmly: “Don’t plan too much.”  Too many people think they know exactly they want in life and set out to get it, but Tacha found that the best experiences came when she let life lead her.

Judge Tacha grew up in Kansas and earned her B.A. at the University of Kansas.  After she completed law school in Michigan and spent some years working in Washington D.C. during the Nixon administration, she faced the choice to stay in the East or to return to her home state.  Beckoning her back was marriage to a fellow she had known for a long time.  

Tacha decided to return and reports that she has never regretted her choice.  But she did find herself facing a professional challenge: she could not get a job as an attorney in small-town Kansas.  Finally she found someone with whom to share an office in Concordia, KS, and hung out her own shingle.  Practicing law and raising a young family meant she learned to “set priorities and follow them,” says Tacha.

Eventually, Tacha moved to Lawrence and joined the law faculty at KU. She became Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs there.  In 1985, Ronald Reagan appointed her to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit where she served for 20 years, including seven years as Chief Judge of the court.

Being a judge was the “best,” according to Tacha. She describes her job as straightforward, if not easy: “Do the right thing.” She loved her colleagues in the judicial system; they were brilliant, kind, and thoughtful people. The worst thing about being a judge was the confining nature of the work. Ethically, she could not talk about anything related to her cases, and she could not raise money for causes she believed in. More than anything, she found she missed being with young people.

To reconnect to the younger generation, Tacha took another unanticipated career turn. After she retired from the federal bench in 2011, she accepted the role of Dean of the Law School at Pepperdine University. Again, she enjoyed her work thoroughly, but after five years, the traffic and crowds in California and the distance from her husband who remained in Kansas called her back home.

Now Tacha is focused on activities in Lawrence. She is on the boards of DCCF, Watkins Museum, and Freedom Frontier. In addition, she does a few mediations for disputes within JAMS.

Tacha commented about a few “notable moments” during her judicial career. On the morning of 9/11/2001, for example, she was in a conference room at SCOTUS with a number of other justices. The meeting began promptly at 9:00 a.m., chaired by Chief Justice Rehnquist. With the hour, they all were evacuated because of the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. She ended up spending seven hours in isolation in the basement of her hotel that day, hidden from potential danger.

When Tacha worked for the 10th Circuit court, many cases involved use of public lands in the six states under that jurisdiction. She chuckles when she declares that she probably knows more about wolves than most people because she had to rule more than once about their status as a protected species. Tacha acknowledges the huge role that falls to the courts to make decisions about the extent and appropriateness of administrative regulations of all kinds. The statutes themselves are usually not specific when passed through Congress, so administrative regulation creates “invisible law.”   The courts then interpret and evaluate the regulations, making judgments to balance the amount of control a federal agency has in a situation against potential overstep.

Death penalty cases were especially stressful. Tacha says she coped with the weight of such decisions by reminding herself that she needed to focus on following the rules of the applicable law, not to make judgments about the cases that brought particular individuals to death row.

When asked for opinions, Tacha remains very careful about choosing her words. She did declare, when asked, that she would prefer stability rather than changes in the structure of the Supreme Court.

Kansas State Librarian Oversees Multiple Resources

Eric Norris, the 17th State Librarian of Kansas, spoke on the history and services of the State Library.  The State Librarian serves at the pleasure of the Governor, although traditionally the position has not been treated as a political appointment. 

The State Library began as a traveling territorial library and became formally established with statehood in 1861.  Now located on the third floor, north wing of the State Capitol Building in Topeka, the State library has been restored in appearance to its original architectural elements. 

The modern State Library serves a reference function for the public and state government.  It maintains the Kansas Government Information data base (KGI)  along with a legislative hotline that provides the content and status of bills and statutes.  There are numerous other information databases and extensive information available on Kansas libraries.  Various educational resources, e-books and audio books are available on line.  The State Library administers a Talking Books service which provides free resources to any Kansan who cannot read regular print.  It also features an annual list of Kansas Notable Books which showcases 15 of the best new books about Kansas or written by Kansas authors.

The State Library works closely with all the libraries in the state, including seven regional library systems, providing continuing education for librarians and trustees.  It distributes an annual grant to rural libraries, coordinates an inter-library loan network, and provides expertise on Kansas library law to library directors and library boards.

Public access to the the State Library was curtailed during the pandemic, but online services were maintained.  Plans for fully opening the State Capitol Building are in the works.  A complete listing of resources and services are available on the State Library website.

Eric grew up in Hays, KS, and attended Kansas University as an undergraduate.  He earned an MA at Fort Hays State and an MLS at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Eric has served as head of Hays Public Library and has also worked in human resources and as a journalist.  Eric has family in Lawrence where he resides.

Homeless in a Time of Pandemic

Lawrence Central Rotary’s own Stephen Mason spoke about his recent experience managing the only sanctioned homeless camp site in Lawrence last winter.  Recreation Programmer at East Lawrence Recreation Center, Steve volunteered to be a camp site monitor, a role which evolved into the site manager job.  

In the summer of 2020, the City of Lawrence began to plan for a temporary campsite to provide shelter and support for the homeless through the coldest season of the year.  Lawrence Parks and Recreation took the lead, working with partners that included Burt Nash, Salvation Army, Memorial Hospital, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Just Foods, a neighborhood association and AmeriCorps volunteers.  The CARES Act provided funding for the project.

The campsite, known as Woody Park Camp, was located on a baseball field north of the hospital.  Campers were local; the city was not inundated with out-of-towners seeking services.  The camp housed thirty-three adults, mostly singles.  The site had portable restrooms and laundry services, and the cooperating agencies provided other significant services and support.  When Woody Park Camp closed on April 1, 2021, eleven of the thirty-three people served found housing.  

There was a screening process for residents, which excluded sex offenders and violent offenders.  Virtually all the campers suffered from some aspects of mental illness, however.  Although it was a “dry” camp, but addiction behaviors were a problem.  Staff received confrontation training, and hospital security provided good support.  KU Med Center Peer Support people were especially helpful. 

Steve indicated that managing the camp was a huge challenge which he performed in addition his regular job responsibilities.  He said he was glad he did it.  His knowledge of city operations and resources in the larger community was put to good use.  Steve said, “I knew who would answer their phone at 2:00 a.m. when we had a problem.” 

He believes the program merits a second year, but the scale of support services needs to be addressed.  The biggest challenge was providing sufficient mental health services as existing resources were hard pressed to meet the needs of the camp. Lawrence is the smallest city to sponsor a winter camp for the homeless.

Santa Fe Trail: Celebrating 200 Years

Rex Buchanan, Emeritus Kansas Geological Service and Dave Kendall, PBS personality and documentary producer have collaborated to make a documentary celebrating the 200th anniversary of the storied Santa Fe Trail.  Buchanan and Kendall, both consummate story tellers, are uniquely qualified to speak on the geography and history of the trail.  Kendall has formed Prairie Hollow Productions to create and host a documentary to mark the anniversary.  Portions of the documentary may be viewed on the Prairie Hollow Productions web site.

The Santa Fe Trail was established in 1821 by William Becknell who set out from western Missouri.  He lead a party of wagons filled with trade goods over the 900-mile route to Santa Fe, in the territory of Mexico.  The route followed old native American trails and game trails across Kansas and part of Oklahoma territory. Missouri was closer to Santa Fe than trading centers in Mexico.  Becknell was well received and carried pelts, wool, mules and precious metals back to Missouri.

The terrain of the Santa Fe Trail was rugged, treeless and dry.  The weather was often extreme, and hostile Comanches and Apaches made the trail even more dangerous.  Most of the route passed through Kansas, including the present day cities of Baldwin, Council Grove, Lyons, Great Bend and Garden City.  The trail split as it left Kansas into a mountain route through Colorado and a dryer route through Oklahoma.  Scarce water sources largely determined the actual route and travel time took between six to eight hard weeks.  The trail was primarily commercial and did not carry significant immigrant traffic.  The wagon route thrived until the 1880’s and the coming of the rail road.  The Santa Fe Trail established a vital commercial and cultural link between regions and is an important part of the history of the American West.

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