By Beccy Tanner

Stafford County’s two area community foundations are gearing up one of the largest global giving days ever – Giving Tuesday, which falls this year on Nov. 28.

Worldwide, it’s a movement that promotes “radical generosity,” according to the organization’s website: www.givingtuesday.org.

Locally, it means the Golden Belt Community Foundation and the South-Central Community Foundation are promoting local nonprofits and encouraging residents to give as generously as they can to support their favorite nonprofits.

For Golden Belt Community Foundation, this is their 10th year in promoting Giving Tuesday.

They have 100 local nonprofits participating in this year’s event.

“You can give to your favorite nonprofits and those funds can move directly to them or you can give to your favorite nonprofit endowment fund and that money can stay here with us and can grow that fund to continue to support that nonprofit organization,” said Teresa Powelson, program officer for Golden Belt.

The Golden Belt’s Community Foundation area covers counties in Barton, Pawnee, Rush and Stafford County.

In year’s past, the foundation raised more than $288,000 in Giving Tuesday.

“Last year was one of our biggest giving years,” Powelson said. “I think the thing that means the most to us is that we get to continue to support the nonprofit agencies in our community. This is a way that we can continue to help them grow, build their programs and serve the community just by allowing them to participate in Giving Tuesday.

“I think that’s one of the greatest benefits we can provide to the community.”

People who have participated in Giving Tuesday with Golden Belt before can expect to receive forms in the mail informing them of Giving Tuesday.

If they haven’t participated before and would like to, they may go to the Golden Belt Community Foundation’s Facebook page or website or stop by the foundation’s office in Great Bend to find out more information.

 The office is located at 1307 Williams St, Great Bend, KS., 67530.

The website is www.goldenbeltcf.org.

The South Central Community Foundation in Pratt represents Barber, Comanche, Kiowa, Kingman, Rice and Stafford counties.

This is the foundation’s first year participating in Giving Tuesday and has 10 nonprofiit organiztions signed up to participate.

“It’s a big deal,” said Holly Launchbaugh, the foundation’s executive director of this year’s event. “It’s not just about the actual monetary donations but about giving back to your community, as well. It’s volunteering in every capacity. It has a lot of different meanings, for sure.”

Through a grant with the Patterson Family Foundation, which was established to reinvest in rural communities, the South Central Community Foundation is able to provide for the first time up to $70,000 in matching funds.

“We have a matching pool,” Launchbaugh said. “So, if we raise $70,000 or above, we will receive that full amount. Of course, if we received from the community, $30,000, that’s what we will get. So, it depends on how much you raise up to $70,000.”

Last summer, the South Central Community Foundation did a listening tour of each of its seven participating counties. The counties are, of course, all rural and all face similar issues with housing, childcare and the workforce topping the main concerns.

“When we received this opportunity to receive this grant, we really wanted to help out the nonprofits that serve our counties,” she said. “Helping our communities is something that we all support.”

The money goes straight to the nonprofit of choice.

“So, it’s really helping with whatever the nonprofit’s specific need is,” Launchbaugh said. “This is open-ended to let the nonprofit select where the money goes.”

The Patterson Family Foundation grant opened up an opportunity this year for the SCCF, Launchbaugh said. In the past, much of the foundation’s dollars was spent specifically on other grants or scholarships. The Patterson grant allowed the foundation to participate for the first time in Giving Tuesday.

People wanting to participate in Giving Tuesday can drop checks off at the office beginning Nov. 14th in Pratt or by mailing checks to the office.  The office is located at 114 W. 5th, Pratt, KS., 67124.

“As long as the check is postmarked by Nov. 28, they will be counted for that matching grant this year,” she said. South Central’s website is https://www.sccfmatchday.org/.

This is our September 2023 Radio show with our director Ryan Russel

The St. John AV Productions class submitted two films for consideration in the prestigious international All American High School Film Festival.  At the end of July students Fabian Garcia, Connor Gilespie, and Mackenzie Hacker found out that their films were made official selections!  They were selected from 2,500 submissions, sent from all 50 states and 40 different countries.

Films “No Home: The Housing Crisis in Rural Kansas” a documentary by Fabian and Connor and “I’m Not,” a PSA by Mackenzie will be showing on the big screen! The film festival is being held at the AMC Empire Theater in Times Square, right in the heart of New York City on October 21st.  The students’ films being selected make them eligible to earn scholarships towards university.  Last year, $600,000 in scholarships and prizes were given to winners.

This is a 3-day event from October 20th – 22nd in New York City. Fabian Garcia needs your help in representing St. John and Kansas on the International Stage!  Please contact Fabian for more information in how to help him get to New York.  Contact Fabian at [email protected] or 620-352-0324.

Pictured is Fabian (left) and Connor (right)

By Beccy Tanner

Mark your calendars for Oct. 21st for our Homecoming Festival.
The all-day event includes a chili cook off, concert, a pickleball tournament, horseshoe tournament, face-painting, a petting zoo, carnival games, free barbecue and so much more.
Most of the events will be in and around the square. 

“Well, I think it’s a great community event where it will bring people of all ages out to enjoy the beautiful square and hopefully, we will have beautiful weather that day,” said Cami Raines, the festival’s committee chair.

“It’s a great event for families with small children because we have lots of activities planned for them – that will not cost a single penny, thanks to our very generous sponsors.”
Nationally-acclaimed photographer Bo Rader will present demonstrations of wet-plate photography — the kind of photography W.R. Gray worked with —and what the St. John Homecoming Hall and Museum is using to document the diverse cultures who have lived in Stafford County. Those demonstrations will be in the W.R. Gray Studio from noon to 4 pm.

At 2:30 pm in the square on the 21st, plan on learning more about the St. John Homecoming Hall and Museum’s recent Humanities Kansas Grant that allows Rader and museum staff to photograph, video and write stories about Native American tribes who once lived in Stafford County.

This year, we have invited some Native Americans to attend our festival to tell us more about their culture.

The festival focuses on the different cultures that have lived in Stafford County.

“It’s just good to focus on the cultures that helped start the county and the state and to encourage people to think about the past, our ancestors and support their local museums,” Raines said.

One of the highlights of our festival will be a concert featuring Jim and Salli Ratts with Ernie Martinez.

Their concert starts at 3:30 pm. In the square.

Jim grew up in Stafford County. The Ratts farm was a few miles northwest of St. John. The love of music has been passed down from generation to generation in the Ratts family. Many will remember Jim’s father, Loyd Ratts who lived to be 103 years old. He died in 2018.

Loyd Ratts’ legacy was not only as a farmer and inventor, but also as a musician. During the 1930s, Loyd Ratts, along with his two sisters, Vida and Thelma, would travel through central and southwest Kansas to local radio stations and perform live for their radio listeners.

Jim Ratts is considered a musical storyteller and is a solid fixture of the Denver music scene, having fronted his country-folk-rock band Runaway Express with his wife, Salli for more than 30 years.

Some of Jim Ratts’ songs have been recorded by artists such as Sam Bush (the bluegrass chart hit “Howlin’ at the Moon” and the Dillards. In the 1990s, he was one third of the Wild Jimbos with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jimmy Ibbotson.


Besides the concert, there will be an Old Coots table in the square beginning at 1 p.m., where local personalities have been invited to share their wisdom on random questions. They may not offer the right advice but really, who cares if it tickles the funny bones!
There will be raffle tickets and prizes, cotton candy and who knows what else!

“Free food,” Raines said.

What? There is no such thing.

“Oh, it’s free,” she said. “If you happen to be one of the first 200, it’s free. And, it’s a yes for old-fashioned popcorn, peanuts and cotton candy.”

Indeed, Equity Bank is providing a free barbecue for the first 200 participants at the festival, beginning at noon.
In addition, beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 21, David Dalke, author of “Knees Lifted High and Toes Pointed” will be making a presentation on the second floor of the St. John museum about how the St. John Marching Band back in the 1930s became national champions.

 The St. John Homecoming Hall and Museum has produced a video that highlights those champion years and what Dalke’s father, Jake, experienced in creating that band.

So come to the festival.

There will be prizes.

And lots of fun.

By Beccy Tanner

The 34th Annual Oktoberfest is about to take place and already there is excitement brewing in the community.

Oktoberfest is Oct. 7, following tradition of always having it on the first Saturday in October.

Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t forget your buttons!

Oktoberfest buttons are available for purchase – cost is $5 — at Ampride, Main Street Market, the Stafford City Office, Joan’s Café, Prairie Bank and at the Stafford County Register of Deeds in St. John.

Buttons and your presence are needed to claim major prizes that range anywhere from a Drone with a 4K EIS Camera, an Ingloo 70 QT Premium Trailmate Wheeled Rolling Cooler to a pizza oven, air fryer and Deluxe Stadium Seat with lumbar support.

Also don’t forget to bring your money because you will want to buy handcrafted arts and crafts as well as some of the great food items for sale.

And … don’t forget Friday night (Oct. 6) Music Bingo where six food venders will be present, and the Norwich/Stafford game will be streamed.

Plus, there is a beer garden … because, what’s the point of having an Oktoberfest with no beer?

But beyond that, why go?

“It’s a great community event,” says Jami Downing, Stafford’s city clerk/city administrator. “I mean, it’s really the highlight of the year around here. We love adding things to it and cleaning things up in preparation.

“It’s about all the community it brings together. We have people who aren’t from here who frequent it because they just like coming.”

Fun fact: One couple actually moved to Stafford because they loved Oktoberfest!

“They thought it was the neatest thing and they had so much fun – and then, years later they ended up moving here,” Downing said.

Over the years, events have changed, some have evolved and still others are solid tradition.

Alas, the Wiener Dog races are no more.

It ran for 10 years and then, just kind of tapered off.

“Some people came just for that,” Downing said. “Over the years, we have had pumpkin races where people had to decorate pumpkins, put wheels on them and make them mobile. We have also done inflatable costume obstacle races, bed races, lip sync battles and trivia games sometimes.”

This year, though, there are some new events. But plans are to gear up big for next year, the festival’s 35 anniversary.

This year, there will be mullet and Mahomes lookalike contest; and Redneck Olympics and Stein holding contests.

Wait … Redneck Olympics?

“We will have something where the contestants will have to toss something through a toilet seat ring and dig in the hay,” Downing said.

Events for Music Bingo on Friday night start at 5 p.m.

Oktoberfest on Saturday run from 9 a.m. until about 4 p.m.

The parade in downtown Stafford begins at 11 a.m.

“There is always a lot of good food,” Downing said. “We will have about six vendor food trucks.”

Her personal favorites are the Wizard of Oz truck that has pulled pork and curly fries with pork, cheese and all sorts of wonder foods on it.

There is also the Wheatland Food Truck “which obviously always has good food.”

So, three things to remember:

  1. Don’t forget your button.
  2. Bring money.
  3. Plan on having oodles of fun!

By Beccy Tanner

The Stafford County Zoning Commission has unanimously given their approval for a special use permit that help sets the stage for constructing the Port Authority of Stafford County.

Final approval, though, lies in the hands of the Stafford County Commission, which are set to hear the zoning case in October.  

The Port Authority of Stafford County will be located near the junction of US-50 and US 281 highways, near a BNSF railroad mainline. 

It is a site where hundreds of cars and trucks pass daily.

And while those vehicles will continue to pass daily by the site, there is hope that a 256-acre site will soon be constructed and handle full-size grain trains of more than 100 railcars and semi-trucks that can carry more than just grain but merchandise and consumer goods that may eventually pump as much as $7-to-9 million into the local economy.

The new Port Authority will in fact be a transportation and shipping hub.

Carolyn Dunn, president of the Port Authority and who currently is the Stafford County Economic Development’s Strategic Projects Manager presented the case to the zoning board, Sept. 12.

Dunn is also the county’s former economic development director and has been involved in the county’s development for the past 12 years.

“I was made aware that we were missing some critical business opportunities in the very first few months of economic development being in existence in 2011,” Dunn told the board. “We had a company at the time that was interested in putting a unit car loading facility here and had some purchase options on land but then decided to locate somewhere in Nebraska, instead. We subsequently had two other companies that considered Stafford County closely but invested somewhere else.”

Stafford County, because of its rural population, does not have a large labor force to attract manufacturers. But it does have agricultural products that can bring investment opportunities into the county.

And that is what local business and agriculture leaders are hoping to draw on.

“We are at the crossroads of two U.S. highways that intersect with the mainline railroad,” Dunn said. “It’s not an accident. Some of these companies that were considering Stafford County as a location is because we do have that strategic location when it comes to transportation.”

Additionally, there are few other public points of entry to a major railroad in the western 2/3 of Kansas. Those that do have rail service are owned by private companies, who control who uses the tracks.

“So, that is something we can put out there as an advantage that we could offer for developing,” Dunn said.  “Our purpose here is to create more and better-quality jobs that diversify the economy. One of the biggest goals for me is to increase the tax base with the goal of preserving essential services and quality of life.”

Because construction of the Port Authority will be costly, Dunn said, she wanted to do it in such a way that local taxpayers would not have to pay for it.

“We’ve made an application to the Federal Railroad administration … There is no way we would have even had an application worth sending in if we hadn’t already had over $5 million secured and other components already in place. It’s a very long process,” Dunn has said previously. “There have been a lot of different entities along the way that have been willing to be open and helpful to us. I feel we have the kind of support that the FRA looks for from the Kansas Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. We have the support of both our U.S. Senators, US Representatives, and State Rep. Brett Fairchild, and local representatives who have endorsed us.”

The $5 million that has already secured for the Port came from a $2.5 million BASE grant through the Kansas Department of Commerce and a $2.5 million appropriation in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill (HB 2510).  Another $800,000 was awarded to Stafford County Economic Development to loan to the Port Authority with flexible repayment terms. 

Yet, more money is needed – at least another $5 million—which Dunn has applied for and is hopeful the county will receive.

That’s why the special use permit is needed – as part of the process.

“What we have is agriculture and we are missing the opportunities to capture some investment in the benefits that that brings because we maybe didn’t have the right tools to really make it an appealing investment for potential businesses,” Dunn said.

By Jennifer Stultz

Editor

[email protected]

And just like that we ripped the band-aid off something new that has been in the works for some time but not considered public information until today. Hopefully by the time readers make it to the back page of this weekly newspaper they will realize the Pratt Tribune, the Kiowa County Signal, and The St. John News have merged into one beautiful and efficient collaboration now called the Tri-County Tribune.

Three papers have become one in order to capitalize on printing cost savings and to re-energize a local readership and advertising base. This is an exciting time and as a lifelong journalist in close relationship with south central Kansas news, views and people, I kind of like this new idea.

The fresh look of the Tri-County Tribune front page pops with color, the local stories and inside articles reflect a long-standing commitment to bringing hometown news to the heartland, which is where we all live, whether home is in Pratt, Kiowa or Stafford County. And that sunflower on the front exemplifies the benefits of digging in, hanging on, and blooming where planted.

The old Pratt Tribune, the former St. John News, and the tornado-tested Kiowa County Signal haven’t been lost. They just join a number of other past newspapers for this area that served well and long with a spirit that continues on in the pages of the now Tri-County Tribune.

Newspaper name changes really aren’t something new. At one time the Pratt Tribune was called the Union Dispatch, several decades were recorded as the Pratt County News, there was the Pratt Daily Dispatch, and the Pratt County Union.

The first newspaper of Pratt County was called the Pratt County Press, printed in 1878 in Iuka, the county seat at that time. Change happens over time, all the time. It is inevitable. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is easy to adjust to something new and better, but once the band-aid is ripped off, so to speak, one can see that most changes are for the better. Pointing fingers, calling names and pouting past bedtime rarely serve any positive purpose.

In the case of the Pratt Tribune turned Tri-County Tribune, I think we can all agree that those who take the time to read these pages each week are far better off than those who don’t.

It always makes me cringe when someone glibly states that they don’t read anymore, or that there hasn’t been a Pratt Tribune for years. That is just so wrong.

When the Pratt Tribune went from three issues per week to one during GateHouse or Gannett ownership years ago (there really wasn’t much difference between the two), subscription numbers dropped as people insisted they could get their news elsewhere. And in some ways that was true. The age of social media was upon us and phone scrolling suddenly became so much cooler than turning printed pages and savoring words along with that morning coffee.

But through it all, as social media platforms came and went, as Facebook algorithms spoon-fed pre-determined news choices, local newspapers like this one continued quietly and consistently serving their loyal customers. News about real people, with real stories backed by real facts continues to be the backbone of what drives communities forward.

Inevitably, when it comes down to what really matters, the statement of “I read it in the newspaper,” almost always precedes the story of the anonymous donor or the miracle check in support of a community need.

There is much to remember and like about the Pratt Tribune, Kiowa County Signal and St. John News. There is much to appreciate about the continuity and opportunities opening up with the new Tri-County Tribune. We will have a digital presence. Coming soon will be a story contest for local authors, Remember When features, the usual Veteran’s Day honors and fall event coverage. Advertisers take note: you get so much more bang for the buck in a paper with expanded coverage.

It’s going to be good. I hope you smile when you see the redesigned front page of the Tri-County Tribune. I hope you like how the name rolls off the tongue and keep that subscription current. I hope those who let their subscription lapse for one reason or another, come back to see the benefit of getting local news, in the mailbox, consistently every week. We’ll be here, serving each community as best we can and connecting the dots between us all so we can live and thrive together like the state sunflower.

Please be sure to call Deb Jacobsen for any circulation and subscription needs at 316-283-1500, and enjoy the new Tri-County Tribune! We are here for you and thank you in advance for your continued readership and support. There are several places around town to pick up a copy of the Tri-County Tribune and keep up with the local news, including Dillons, Walmart, several gas-station/convenience stores and in hotel lobbies. We are working on website upgrades and will soon be able to refer digital readers to the new and improved online location.

A letter signed by 32 city and county officials from 5 counties was created in response the Quivira’s Call for Water. The letter which outlines the catastrophic effect the diversion of water would cause to these counties was sent to Martha Williams Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. It was also sent to Gov. Laura Kelly’s office.

Carolyn Dunn wrote the letter and a number of Economic Development Directors from several counties collected the signatures.

It was only a few years after Keno Maxom opened Sunflower Trailer at the corner of the old St. John Motel off US-281, that Bruce Heller, first began hauling trailers.

It’s been a trailer dealership since 1991, according to their website, sunflowertrailersales. Com.

Their inventory is endless – equipment trailers, car haulers, tilt trailers, utility trailers, dump trailers, livestock trailers and more.

The address is 2-A, N.E. 20th Street.

“Then I was working in Chapman, Ks. and Junction City and hauling trailers for him and different things,” Heller said. “It got to be every night I was going somewhere half the night and delivering stuff. In 1993, he came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you come down here and we will just start growing this thing.”

And before he knew it, Heller had moved to St. John. “The more I was down here, the more I liked it.”

Now, he is the owner and president of Sunflower Trailer.

His customers technically come from across the nation.

“Yesterday, we had a guy come from Waco, Texas and last week, there was a guy from Colorado.”

More specifically, the business has customers in an eight-state region around Kansas.

“We’ve had some really good ones over the years and a lot are repeat business,” Heller said. “We go to the state fairs and set up for 10 days and man, you end up seeing people you saw 20 years before. I mean, it’s crazy how you hear from people. One guy bought a trailer from me in ’97 and a friend he knew decided he wanted to come try them. Pretty cool when it’s word-of-mouth.”

Years ago, there was a little restaurant on Stafford’s Main Street with a sign out front saying “Pizza.”

That’s how it was known until a family stepped in.

Now, it is “Elroy’s,” and its pizza is legendary.

And so is its family history.

In July of 1985, Leroy and Ollie Meyer bought that restaurant – because the lifelong area farmers wanted something different to do with their lives.

 Their daughter, Jennifer and husband, Todd Alpers, have since bought the place in 1995 and have since created a mecca for the pizza-starved of south-central Kansas.

As the family story goes, the name “Elroy” started as a joke for Leroy Meyer.

It was Stafford students who started the nickname – and he loved it, so, the name stuck.

That’s how the restaurant started.

But there is more to the story.

“I came back in 1995 and took over,” Jennifer Alpers said. “My brother bought it – it would have been in 1992.”

 Her brother, Jeff Meyer is the owner of Meyer Electric.

“My folks had it from 1985 to 1992. And then, in 1995, I came back on September 1, 1995,” Jennifer said.

And the date, September 1, 1995 is significant because on Oct. 7 of that same year was the first time Jennifer went out on a date with Todd Alpers.

“We got married in 1997,” she said.

Her parents both died in 2000.

 The couple have since raised their three children in the restaurant.

“People have asked us, ‘why don’t you move to such and such a place.’ Well, you can’t replace that much history. We have people come in and say, “I can remember being here when I was a kid.’”

The restaurant walls are covered in family memorabilia.

Both Todd and Jennifer’s families have lived and worked in Stafford County for more than five generations.

“She (Jennifer) trained her parents how to do this and she trained me,” Todd Alpers said. “She loves to bake. She’s the rock star.”

So, with the ovens going at a fiery 650 degrees, Jennifer laughs and explains, “The guy who owned it before my parents bought it gave me a day’s training. It was Basic Training and then you just do it.”

She tells the story of why they don’t use Hudson Cream Flour in their dough (although Todd worked there before they were married).

“It’s cake flour, basically,” she said. “It’s great for something where the dough can be fine – but we need sturdy dough. We need a higher protein content so technically, a lower grade flour.”

So as the years have gone by, Elroy’s has become a meeting place where locals gather to discuss the latest and where families and friends come to get great pizza.

“We are so lucky to have the community’s support,” Jennifer said. “I tell people that the whole town – the whole community – helped raise our kids.”