Shirley is my touchstone. Therefore, so is McCracken.
There's something about this town, population 180, that always grabs my heartstrings.
We rolled into town to ERV around 11 a.m. In this two-block town, not alot was going on. We headed to the museum hoping to find Shirley or Carolyn, but it was closed. We got Shirley's phone number from the note on the door. I called and told her I needed a Shirley hug and could she come down to the museum. She did, and thus changed our visit to this Rush County town.
In my visit to McCracken about ten years ago, Shirley, Carolyn, Rose and others took me on a tour of town. It was a whirlwind. They showed me the schools that had closed, the swimming pool that needed work, the cafe that was needing a new owner, and the post office that was struggling to stay open.
I distinctly remember how the mood changed when we went inside the church. I sat by Shirley and I could feel her emotion. She explained that she was baptized here, married here, and her husband's funeral was here. But that wasn't the cause of her tears. After a pause, she said it was because the church was closed. There had been just too many losses in the community with not much to compensate the feeling of decline. The closing of the church was her tipping point.
The cafe was bought and was highly successful for several years but had closed again.
But the swimming pool is open again.
The sand-green golf course has hole sponsors and is looking good.
In the park you'll find a new memorial to the championship Pee Wee and K-18 Baseball teams of 1974 and 1977.
They've put iron cut outs made by B&B Metal Arts at their town entrance in a tip of the hat to their long-time rodeo.
The post office is still open and has friendly and community-minded Charmaine at the window. Next to the post office is the library.
Somebody had a key so went over to the library to see how Charmaine had "redone" the library to create a cozy environment. Men even come to the library now for morning coffee! The walls were filled with color and historical photos.
Carolyn joined us at the library and there were more hugs.
Carolyn keeps the museum perking along with help from Shirley, Phyllis and others.
The museum is located in the 1901 stone jail yet the inside is a cozy place to learn the story of McCracken.
One displays tells about a college, Entre Nous, that was in the area in the early 20th century. Another display case has memorabilia from the movie "Paper Moon" starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal that was filmed here in the early 1970s. The hotel shown in the newspaper no longer stands.
Six light poles on K-4, the highway that slices through town, have street banners hand-sewn by Deb Shuckman. Each one, done by hand! Now that is dedication.
Deb's passion for her hometown doesn't stop with banners. Living in Wichita, she purchased the former grade school for the good of the community. She won't tell you that, it's just evident.
It's an impressive facility. Within five steps inside the front door, one must either go down two steps to the gym floor or walk around the sides where classrooms are found.
On the day we were there, Deb was working, with the help of others, to prepare the building for the town's Fall Festival. She's been working hard on stripping down the rooms so they can be re-purposed. For the weekend, the festival activities will be spread out in the building and the car show will be in a large grassy space behind the school.
Deb didn't have to take on this difficult project. There isn't a lot of personal gain in it for her except the deep satisfaction of knowing she's making a difference for the community.
There are lots of people who have a deep love for their community. They see the needs, they want to help. Their efforts take different forms but these amazing expressions of commitment to community are everywhere. Deb, Shirley, Carolyn, Charmaine and others all do what they can in their own way. It all adds up. Sometime the town may appear to be dying on the outside but explore a little further and you'll see a gumption that can't be denied.
The town may not be again what it was but it will be what the people who live there make it. It can still be a very special place. McCracken is a lucky town to have so many people who love it.
Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant are going to every town in the state to research for the next Kansas Guidebook.