World-Class Boats Built in Small-Town Kansas
Cobalt Boats in Neodesha celebrates nearly 50 years in the marine industry
When it came time for Casey Lair to buy a boat, the choice was clear.
In fact, he says, there really wasn’t much of a choice to be made at all.
“We had bought a lake house at Table Rock, and I just assumed that if I was going to have a boat, Cobalt is supposed to be the best boat made – and it’s made in Neodesha,” says Casey, who’s lived and worked in Neodesha for 32 years. “So that’s what I needed to have.”
Seven years and two boats later, Casey is a Cobalt Boats devotee. And he’s in good company: Tens of thousands of people across the country (and the world, for that matter) own a Cobalt luxury boat, all of which are built … Read More »
Who is the Catfish Capital?
Burlington or Chetopa? We’re breaking down these Southeast Kansas towns’ long-running catfish-catching rivalry
“My God, it’s gone!”
Fifty-one years ago, Burlington’s beloved Catfish Capital of the World trophy had been stolen on Mayor Charles S. Foster’s watch, and he wasn’t happy. According to a December 1966 article in the city newspaper The Daily Republican, “The mayor could see no reason that this Christmas season, when the hearts of all are filled with love and good will, that anyone would stoop to such a dastardly deed as stealing.”
Mayor Foster might not have understood it, but he surely thought he knew who was responsible for it: Chetopa. The battle between the two towns to decide which was the rightful Catfish Capital of the World had been raging for most of 1966, and now with the mysterious disappearance of that trophy, … Read More »
Little House, Big Story
Visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s former home near Independence
In its seven open months each year, the Little House on the Prairie Museum welcomes 20,000 visitors.
Some are locals. Many are families. A good number are “bonnetheads” – superfans of author Laura Ingalls Wilder and her “Little House on the Prairie” series – who travel there from hundreds of thousands of miles away.
Regardless of who they are and where they come from, they all pay a visit to that simple plot of prairie 13 miles southwest of Independence just to get a glimpse of where Laura and her family lived in a one-room log cabin in 1870.
“Every season, we get visitors from every state and about 20 different countries,” says Kristin Schodorf, executive director for the Little House on the Prairie Museum, which is one of a small handful of … Read More »
Thrive Allen County makes big strides for Southeast Kansas
You don’t have to search hard to see the impact Thrive Allen County has had in Iola.
There’s the new Allen County Regional Hospital, the soon-to-be-constructed grocery store in the heart of town, the bike sharrows painted in the streets. There’s the 7-plus-mile trail system on the south edge of the city, the Happy Tails Dog Park, and even the less-visible projects – like a pilot program to help public housing residents quit using tobacco to comply with new federal requirements.
Thrive Allen County either initiated or had a hand in every one of those projects – and they’re really just the tip of the iceberg…
Want to keep reading about Thrive Allen County? Check out the spring issue of Southeast Kansas Living, out now! It includes this story in its entirety, plus so much … Read More »
Dine & Dream
Traditional B&B meets reservation-only fine dining at the Smittle House
Ena Smittle likes to say that she has the most fun job she could possibly have in Columbus, Kansas.
You can’t argue with that.
At Smittle House Bed & Breakfast, Ena and her husband, John, have entertained guests from France to Costa Rica to just down the street. Some visitors come for a relaxing overnight getaway. Others come to eat one of John and Ena’s famous reservation-only, six-course dinners. One thing’s always the same, though: John and Ena make sure their guests leave happy.
“Who else in Columbus is getting to entertain these incredible people from all over the world?” John says. “There’s nothing else we could be doing that our lives would ever cross paths with them. It’s amazing…”
Want to keep reading about Smittle House Bed & Breakfast? Check out the … Read More »
Iola attracts multiple candy companies over the years, including Sifers Valomilk
Next time you spot Valomilk, that vintage chocolate-coated treat with a runny marshmallow center, make sure you thank Iola.
Valomilk’s creator, Sifers Candy Company, originated in Iola and was based there for several decades before moving its entire operation to Kansas City. It is one of a handful of candy manufacturers that have called Iola home since the late 1800s – including one of the country’s four Russell Stover factories, which is still based there today.
“You know candy was profitable here when three different men came to town before Sifers and all made big, big money from it,” says Donna Houser, volunteer with the Allen County Historical Society…
Want to keep reading about Iola’s candy history? Check out the winter issue of Southeast Kansas Living, out now! It includes this story … Read More »
Hickory Creek Farms
Pumpkin patch provides family fun on the farm in McCune
Ruth Zimmerman unfurls a map on the floor of her family’s farmhouse kitchen. On it is a hand-drawn, intricate design of twists and turns, dreamt up by her son Will. It’s the basis for this year’s corn maze at Hickory Creek Farms – and it just might be the farm’s most challenging maze to date.
“Originally, we went into doing designs, but we realized we can make it a lot more complicated if we just go out and put random paths in the field,” says Steve Zimmerman, fifth-generation farmer and husband to Ruth. “Our son has done it the last two years, and he does a good job; last year we had people say it was pretty difficult!”
The corn maze is indeed a popular feature of Hickory Creek Farms – … Read More »
Made by Hand
Elk Falls Pottery celebrates 40 years of craftsmanship
It was in college that Steve and Jane Fry fell in love with pottery – and with each other. They haven’t looked back since.
This year, the Frys celebrate 40 years of running their family business, Elk Falls Pottery, a huge attraction in tiny Elk Falls. (They’re also celebrating 42 years of marriage.) While many of their peers consider retirement, Steve and Jane are staying as busy as ever: Just a few months ago, in fact, they moved Elk Falls Pottery to a new, larger, more scenic (and historic) location at the corner of Hwy. 160 and Seventh Street.
“People my age are thinking about retiring and finally doing what they really want to do,” says Steve, who just turned 64. “Well, I’m already doing what I really want to do. And I’ll … Read More »
Down-Home Dinner Theater
Chicken-N-Pickin’ serves up food and fun with family at the forefront
Spend one afternoon at Chicken-N-Pickin’ outside of Walnut, and you’ll experience a lot of knee-slapping, toe-tapping, dancing, finger-licking and comments like: “That’s the best fried chicken I’ve had in ages.”
Folks just can’t get enough of this down-home dinner theater, which always features an old-fashioned fried chicken dinner with all the fixins’, plus two hours of live music and comedy. Visitors come by the bus load – from Topeka, Kansas City, Wichita, Springfield – and by the time they leave they’re hooked, hailing Chicken-N-Pickin’ as “comparable to a Branson, Mo., experience – absent the crowds, traffic congestion, long drive and high prices.”
Karen Duling-Zitsch is the woman behind it all: acting as hostess, chef and country music entertainer. She comes by it honestly…
Want to keep reading about Chicken-N-Pickin’? Check … Read More »
Safari in SEK
Monkeys, kangaroos, bears, wolves, lions: Find it all at Safari Zoological Park in Caney
Mary Wyrick presses up to the side of the cage, bucket of raw meat in hand. The zoo employee points to her cheek, and Kojo greets her with a sloppy, wet kiss through the fence. The grizzly bear, 800 pounds, receives a hunk of meat for his affection.
Nope, this isn’t your typical zoo. Far from it.
At Safari Zoological Park in Caney, owner Tom Harvey has created an environment where visitors can view animals up close and personally, while tour guides like Mary direct and educate along the way. It’s a system, Tom says, that’s kept Safari Zoological Park in business in small-town Kansas for 27 years….
Want to keep reading about Safari Zoological Park in Caney? Check out the summer issue of Southeast Kansas Living, out … Read More »
Every other year, we publish this special tourism issue to give Southeast Kansas readers ideas for places to go and things to do right in their own backyard — and this one is our best yet!
Southeast Kansas Living subscribers received the 64-page Adventures & Day Trips issue for free as part of their subscription. Looking for your own copy? Contact us to purchase a copy and have it shipped directly to you.
Southeast Kansas provides endless opportunities for discovery and fun. We hope you’ll use the Adventures & Day Trips issue as a guide to get out and explore this beautiful, historic corner of Kansas!
Hunt, fish, explore, or kick back and relax at Timber Hills Lake Ranch
When you cross the gate into the ranch with one of the largest hunting preserves in the state of Kansas, it’s like entering another world.
A world where trophy elk and deer roam free. Where Civil War-era structures still stand. Where the views will take your breath away.
“We are the only place in Kansas that offers what we offer,” Aaron Gibson says. “There’s nowhere else like us.”
He’s talking about Timber Hills Lake Ranch in Mapleton, located around 20 miles northwest of Fort Scott and currently in its ninth year in operation. One of more than 100 hunting lodges in the state – including several premier locations in Southeast Kansas – Timber Hills sets itself apart from the pack, Gibson says, by offering adventure alongside its first-class hunting and … Read More »
ChaGlaz Designs in Glass wows with one-of-a-kind glasswork
Keith Wilson examines three handmade marbles in his Parsons garage-turned-art studio, twirling them in his hand as their colors and sparkly dichroic glass catch the light.
“These are absolutely one of a kind,” he says. “I’ll never be able to replicate them; I can’t even tell you how I got the design. These three – they’re never for sale.”
They’re the kinds of rare pieces you get when you’re in the studio as much as Keith and his wife, Charlean, are. The retired husband-and-wife duo run ChaGlaz Designs in Glass in Parsons, a hobby-based business that practices all five disciplines of a full glass studio: warm glass, hot glass, torch work, cold work and recycled glass.
“We are probably the only studio of our kind in Southeast Kansas,” Keith says…
Want to keep reading about ChaGlaz … Read More »
They’re popping up all across SEK these days, thanks to a fundraiser in Woodson County
Woodson County might be one of the newest members of the Flint Hills Barn Quilt Trail, but you wouldn’t guess it.
Just a year after it launched, the Woodson County Barn Quilt Trail boasts more than 100 hand-painted wooden quilt squares displayed on homes, on barns, throughout downtown Yates Center and all across the area. They’re the handiwork of a dedicated group of Yates Centerans who aspired to do or create something to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Woodson County Historical Society – but they wanted that something to be “more lasting than a dinner for members or a commemorative mug.”
What they came up with – the Woodson County Barn Quilt Project – turned out to be much more than a successful … Read More »
It’s the perfect time of year to discover this state park and its ancient forest
According to park manager Kim Jones, if you’re looking for fall foliage in Southeast Kansas, Cross Timbers State Park near Toronto “is the place to be.”
Of course, Cross Timbers is the place to be for a lot of reasons. Not only does it impress with its natural beauty, but the park is also home to popular hunting and fishing, free water recreation, cozy cabin accommodations, and, get this: an ancient forest of post and blackjack oaks, its trees dating from as far back as 1727.
According to the University of Arkansas, the Cross Timbers region “may be the least disturbed forest ecosystem that survives in the eastern United States.”
“There’s just a little finger of the Cross Timbers here in Kansas, and I think we resemble the … Read More »
Welcome to Neewollah
Annual celebration back in a big way this Halloween
Reverse the word “Halloween”; what do you get?
Much more than a jumble of letters, as Independence natives well know.
In fact, Neewollah is a 100-year-old nine-day festival in Independence, billed as the state’s largest annual celebration. And it’s back in a big way for 2015.
“I’m always a fan of everything at Neewollah, but this year, the Oak Ridge Boys performing and Jim Halsey being my honorary generalissimo – those are the big things I’m really looking forward to,” says John Hamlin, Neewollah’s 2015 generalissimo, who heads up the event. “I always knew that if I ever became generalissimo for Neewollah that I’d want to have the Oak Ridge Boys and Jim involved.”
That’s because both have deep roots in Independence and Neewollah. In fact, Halsey – an Independence native who’s gone on … Read More »
Galena’s Schermerhorn Park stands out in Southeast Kansas
Of the 11 designated geologic areas in Kansas, the Ozark Plateau is the smallest.
But don’t let size fool you.
Nestled in the extreme corner of Southeast Kansas, the impressive 55-square-mile region is one of the most biologically and geographically diverse in the state, housing landscapes and wildlife not found anywhere else in Kansas. And there’s no better proof of that distinctiveness than in Galena’s historic Schermerhorn Park…
Want to keep reading about the Little Ozarks and Schermerhorn Park? Check out the summer issue of Southeast Kansas Living, out now! It includes this story in its entirety, plus so much more. Subscribe now, or contact us to find a newsstand near you.
Hidden ‘castle’ keeps ghost town’s colorful history alive
You might expect an old 1800s community, one with a history of just five short years, to be relegated to not much more than a fable – nothing to prove its existence other than memories and a few stories passed down through the generations.
But Kalida? This short-lived yet historic Woodson County ghost town has much more to show for itself. In fact, if you travel along the small dirt roads just outside of county seat Yates Center, you might happen upon the impressive remains of Kalida yourself – including the town’s very own 120-year-old castle…
Want to keep reading about Kalida and its castle? Check out the summer issue of Southeast Kansas Living, out now! It includes this story in its entirety, plus so much more. Subscribe now, or contact us to find a … Read More »
History on Display
How Osage Catholic Mission shaped St. Paul and Southeast Kansas
Come for the animal display, stay for the history – or vice versa.
Truth is, whatever it is that brings you in to the Osage Mission-Neosho County Museum in St. Paul, there’s plenty more where it came from.
“We’re getting to the point now that we’re pretty full,” says Ed Born, past president of the museum and husband of current president Jolene Born. “People bring items to us all the time, and until the last couple of years, we never turned anything down. But we’re getting a little fussy now.”
That’s because St. Paul has a lot of history – almost too much to fit in a standard small-town museum. As a result, the Osage Mission-Neosho County Museum grows and grows with each passing year…
Want to keep reading about St. Paul’s Osage … Read More »
The Mysterious Morel
Where the beloved mushrooms grow – and how to find them
This time every year, Logan Martin sees an influx of visitors to state parks and wildlife areas.
But many of those Southeast Kansans aren’t out to simply relax and enjoy the scenery: Hundreds are actually on the hunt for the prized – and mysterious – morel mushroom.
“There might not be as many morel hunters as there are people chasing game or fish, but there’s almost always a lot of locals out looking in early spring,” says Martin, a bio-technician with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s Pittsburg office. “Usually we can tell when the morels are starting to pop up because we’ll see the same pick-ups parked out there every year.”
What makes the morel so sought-after? For one, as many hunters will tell you, it’s delicious – … Read More »
Fab Lab ICC
Turning ideas into creative solutions, one project at a time
Of all things, Wes Koschke needed to make a hand. And a fully functional one, at that – for 13-year-old Kara Marr, who was born with a condition called symbrachydactyly, leaving her right palm with no fingers.
Koschke didn’t have $42,000 to purchase Marr, the daughter of a family friend, a prosthetic hand – and he also didn’t have access to a 3-D printer (going rate: $3,000) to print his own.
The solution? Enter Fab Lab ICC, a new creative space on the Independence Community College campus that provides access to cutting-edge tools for design, experimentation and problem-solving, both for students and members of the community and region.
Its mission statement: “to realize that anyone, anywhere can make (almost) anything.” No one knows that better now than Koschke…
Want to keep reading about … Read More »
Men of Brutus
New film highlights men who operated, preserve Big Brutus
What makes a filmmaker from Brooklyn – who just wrapped working on a new Chris Rock movie, no less – suddenly take interest in West Mineral, Kansas?
It’s this little thing – or, rather, massive thing – called Big Brutus.
Southeast Kansans know the coal shovel-turned landmark well; the rest of the country, not so much. Nick Houy is determined to change that.
“I was always taking road trips around the country, and I happened upon a flyer for Big Brutus at a road stop in Wichita (in around 2009),” says Houy from his New York home, more than 1,200 miles away from Southeast Kansas. “It looked pretty amazing, and when I went down there I was very blown away – obviously by the shovel itself, but also by the people.”
Houy wondered what … Read More »
Erie Dinosaur Park
Dorris dinosaurs donated to Erie to create new public park
People who knew the late Robert Dorris describe him as honest and hard-working, imaginative and adventurous: a stand-up Christian husband and father.
But an artist? That’s not how Bob saw himself, anyway. His wife, Elveta, says he “didn’t want to be called an artist in any form.”
Still, some may beg to differ.
From 1989 to the early 2000s, Bob was responsible for the conception, construction and installation of 15 larger-than-life dinosaurs along Hwy. 47 near Erie. Using only metal scraps – mostly old car parts – Bob sculpted the now-famous dinosaurs “just for fun,” Elveta says. “We never dreamed it would be so (popular).”
Fondly known by many as the “Dinosaur Not-So-National Park,” the sculptures have remained on the family’s private property since Bob’s passing in 2007. Soon, though, 12 of … Read More »
Vogel Family Vineyards
Vines flourish on Galena family’s land
Ten years ago, Steve and Sheryll Vogel took a trip to Napa Valley.
Like millions of wine enthusiasts, they were impressed with the beautiful northern California landscape. Unlike many of those other visitors, however, they decided to try to replicate what they saw back at home – in Southeast Kansas.
“We went out to Napa and thought, ‘That’d be pretty on our hill,’” Steve says. “We thought we’d grow some grapes and that it wouldn’t be much trouble. It was a lot of trouble! But we decided to take a chance.”
The trouble was well worth it. Today, Steve, Sheryll and their son Phillip run Vogel Family Vineyards on 6.5 acres south of their hometown of Galena. As you turn the corner toward their home and vineyard, a sign proclaims that you’re in “Wine Country” now … Read More »
The Bowlus Fine Arts Center is celebrating 50 years in Iola
Decades ago, banker Thomas H. Bowlus left most of his estate to one bold vision: the construction of a world-class fine arts and cultural center in his small hometown of Iola.
Today, as the Bowlus Fine Arts Center celebrates its 50th anniversary season, it’s probably safe to say that Mr. Bowlus would be pleased with how his visionary gift has met – and possibly exceeded – all expectation.
“The one thing for me is just the inspiration of it all; that word to me is what it’s all about,” says Susan Raines, executive director of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. “Mr. Bowlus was very interested in music … and he really wanted the students and the community to be proud of this.”
Opened in 1964 at 205 E. Madison – the first … Read More »
Larry Brockway’s Hall of Fame Studio is a hit in Neodesha
Rodney Lay likes to say that Larry Brockway has big ears.
Just not in the way you’re thinking.
“He can just hear what sounds right,” says Lay, of “Hee Haw” and Rodney & the Blazers fame. “I’ve recorded with some of the best in the business, and this guy is right there with them. I tell you what, Larry is really, really a fine engineer and record producer.”
And Brockway’s equally lauded Hall of Fame Studio is based right here in Southeast Kansas. Not Nashville or New York – but Neodesha.
“He’s just a phenomenon for this part of the country,” Lay says. “When you think about all the people he’s brought to the state, he’s been a well-kept secret for all these years – a great treasure for Southeast Kansas.”
Musicians for Merle … Read More »
Arnold’s Greenhouse flourishes in LeRoy for more than 35 years
Know your grower, Rita Arnold likes to say.
At Arnold’s Greenhouse in LeRoy, that’s easy to do.
Despite its 70,000 square feet of greenhouses and retail space, all housing nearly 3,500 varieties of plants, Arnold’s isn’t your typical big-box operation. Rita and her husband, George, pride themselves on offering big-time quality and variety paired with small-town, independent values.
“We try to set ourselves apart as locally grown, so the consumer can have confidence,” Rita says. “And unlike other garden centers, we let the consumer go into each of our greenhouses. Because of that, we have the largest shopping area in the state.”
That scale, however, is just one element of what sets Arnold’s apart from the rest. Just ask George and Rita’s longtime customers.
“I love the selection of plants that they have. Every year … Read More »
Parsons woman transforms 100-year-old farmhouse into charming getaway
Last New Year’s Eve, Debbie Hoppes welcomed an out-of-town couple to The FarmHouse. As she closed the front door and headed to her car, she overheard: “Honey, you hit the ball out of the park choosing this place.”
Actually, Hoppes has been hearing that a lot lately.
“I put my heart and soul into this,” she says. “So when someone gets it, I love that. Why in the world would you stay in a hotel when you can have all of this – the whole house, the space, the privacy?”
It’s a question that led Hoppes to open The FarmHouse, a quaint, peaceful two-bedroom rental (dubbed a bed-and-cook-your-own-breakfast), on the outskirts of Parsons last summer. Since then, she’s welcomed honeymooners and wedding parties, family reunions, staycation-ers, businessmen, and everything in between…
Want to keep reading about … Read More »
Thousands of copper cookie cutters are sold at CopperGifts.com. Every single one of them is made right here in Southeast Kansas.
Flip on Food Network reruns, and you just might see the faces of Southeast Kansas locals Raymond and Beth Braman.
The Parsons-based Bramans have been featured on the network – twice, in fact – for their distinctive, handmade copper cookie cutters, sold on CopperGifts.com in thousands of different shapes.
“They filmed an episode of ‘Unwrapped’ here in around 2005, and a couple of years later they came for a Christmas special,” Beth says. “It was the last day of August and about 104 outside, and we’re all wearing Christmas sweaters with the house decorated for Christmas.”
The hard work – and sweat – paid off.
“I remember the big rush after the first show aired. It was just unbelievable,” she says. “We couldn’t … Read More »
With their timeless music and effortless melodies, the Vogts Sisters are capturing SEK’s attention
Russ Head has heard it all before. He’s been in the music business almost his whole life, after all – as an audio engineer, a musician and even an instructor of recording arts.
But last spring, Head says he encountered something special. He watched from the crowd at Katy Days in Parsons as two young women – sisters from Erie – made their singing debut as a duo. He was amazed at what he heard.
As he says, these girls could actually sing.
“There was a whole different level of reality to what they were doing,” Head says. “Very few people nowadays sing in a manner that’s real, and they’re just real – real as dirt. So it was really refreshing to see the girls up there just singing … Read More »
Art Gone Postal
Fall 2013 Issue
Just call them the seven wonders of Southeast Kansas.
Found in Burlington, Columbus, Eureka, Fort Scott, Fredonia, Neodesha and Oswego, seven New Deal murals and sculptures have called Southeast Kansas home for more than 70 years. Produced under the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts in the ‘30s and early ‘40s, these seven art pieces – plus 22 elsewhere in Kansas – were placed publicly in area post offices to help bolster American pride and patriotism and boost the morale of those suffering after the Great Depression.
They’re still captivating Southeast Kansans today.
“Post offices were gathering places then, and everyone was getting to see this artwork,” says Dr. Lorraine Madway, curator of special collections and university archivist for Wichita State University Libraries. “Their purpose…”
Want to keep reading? Check out the fall issue of Southeast Kansas Living! It includes … Read More »
Heavy rains this August have led to high rivers and slight flooding in Neodesha and surrounding areas. What’s it look like in your corner of Southeast Kansas?
Fall River in Neodesha, Kan.
Have you spotted this mural in Southeast Kansas? It is one among many in the area with similar histories — and we’ll be covering all of it in the fall issue of Southeast Kansas Living! Don’t miss it!
Southeast Kansas Living is having a busy and exciting summer! So far, we’ve been:
1. Celebrating the release of our summer issue.
2. Telling folks about the magazine at speaking engagements.
3. Working on our fall issue (yes, already!).
We know it’s only July 2, but we’re always a season ahead here at Southeast Kansas Living – and we have an excellent fall issue planned for you, with stories spanning the entire Southeast Kansas region. (Check out a quick sneak-peek photo to the right of just one story we’re working on!)
And you know what? That’s what’s so great about Southeast Kansas Living: We’re all about you, all the time, and we’ll never be any different. For more than 10 years, our stories (even our advertisements!) have been 100 percent tailored to you, where you live and what you’re interested in. We like it that … Read More »
We had a great time today giving a presentation about Southeast Kansas Living magazine to the ladies of the Christian Women’s Club in Chanute! We love to meet new folks in Southeast Kansas, tell them about the magazine, and introduce them to new things to do and places to see in our great region.
If you’d like us to speak at your organization’s next meeting, please contact us here!
Here at Southeast Kansas Living magazine, we’re all about celebrating the people, places and spirit of our one-of-a-kind region — and we want our website to do the same.
We hope you’ll find the new, updated www.sekliving.com (www.southeastkansasliving.com will redirect you to the right place!) to be modern, functional and beautiful. We designed the site to work with you — to resize to your computer screen and mobile device and to always be easy to navigate. More importantly, we hope you visit the site often to manage your subscription, check out our latest issues and find out what’s happening around Southeast Kansas!
This blog is the perfect place to start. We’ll be updating it regularly to give you sneak peeks of coming issues and to post pictures and stories about people, places and events we’re not able to include in the print editions.
We … Read More »