I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, which is part of the larger KC Metro area. Back then, my warpy brain couldn’t even wrap itself around the idea that there was anything but farms, ranches, and prairie west of Topeka. After graduating from high school, I headed west to Los Angeles, where I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Southern California. Like many Kansans before me, I vowed I’d never return to the Midwest.
Then I fell in love.
I followed my fiance to Emporia, Kansas, a town of about 22,000 people, give or take depending on whether university classes are in session. There was some…culture shock. But then I started to see opportunities instead of limitations. Emporia is well located for interstate and highway travel. After a year of feeling sorry for myself for leaving LA behind, my new husband and I took advantage of those roads and began to explore the state we had lived in throughout childhood and yet never seen.
Today, we keep copies of Marci Penner’s The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers in our cars. We’ve seen amazing things, met amazing people. We also learned that little towns – the kinds of places where no one is anonymous – are fiercely connected to their history. And when you’re in a town with less then 30,000 people, the actions of one person can affect everyone. Which is why I had become completely fascinated with the local histories of small Kansas towns.
I’m drawn to the stories of this strange land, of its little towns and its big personalities. Of the normal everyday people drawn into extraordinary circumstances, and everyone else pulled to this place by the hum of the earth and charge of every thunderstorm that crackles across the prairie.