This is the audio from our monthly radio show Focus on Stafford County. This show aired live in May 202nd. Topics include housing updates; childcare; the creation of a historic preservation district in Stafford, the Kansas Main Street Program; Pickleball courts coming to Stafford County; the Farmers Market and events surrounding the first time it opens on June 13; the Commercial Kitchen, job openings, grant writing projects and the possibility of showing outdoor movies in the park.

May 11, 2024

The final class session for the Leadership League of South Central Kansas program for the year 2023-2024, was held on May 8th. The event included a celebratory luncheon for the class members and their respective business sponsors. The Leadership League is a Community Leadership Program (CLP) that is affiliated with the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC). The program design incorporates the KLC curriculum and principles. The Leadership League is a partnership of the South Central Community Foundation. The class has been meeting every month since last October, including a two-day program called Your Leadership Edge, which was held in April at the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) in Wichita.

Congratulations to the 2023-2024 Leadership League graduates! 

  • Tammy Acker, Pratt Public Library
  • Walinda Arnett, Barber County United
  • Gracie Bronson, Vernon Filley Art Museum
  • Nicole Curtis, The Peoples Bank
  • Billie Jo Fischer, The Peoples Bank
  • Clay Holcomb, Legacy Bank
  • Anders Lindanger, Pratt Community College
  • Gayle McNett, Kiowa District Healthcare
  • Chandra Murphy, Morgan Diesel
  • Sue Rohleder, Pratt Community College
  • Ryan Russell, Stafford Co Economic Dev
  • Lisa Stinson, Pratt Community College

Thank you to the following businesses, organizations, and individuals for your support of Leadership League. We appreciate you! 

  • Barber County United
  • First United Methodist Church, Pratt
  • Kansas Leadership Center
  • Kiowa District Healthcare
  • Legacy Bank
  • Morgan Diesel
  • Pratt Community College
  • Pratt Public Library
  • Stafford County Economic Development
  • South Central Community Foundation
  • The Peoples Bank
  • Vernon Filley Art Museum
  • Holly Launchbaugh, CLP Facilitator
  • Lisa Perez-Miller, CLP Facilitator

Exercising Leadership is mobilizing people to make progress and do difficult work on complex challenges. Leadership starts with you, and everyone can lead! 

The Leadership League of South Central Kansas (formerly known as Pratt Leadership 2000 Plus) is a program aimed at developing the leadership skills of individuals in our community. It provides common-sense abilities, capacities, and confidence to become an effective community leader. If you are interested in participating in the 2024-2025 class, please visit https://www.sccfks.org/leadership-league.cfm for more information about the program.

The South Central Community Foundation’s purpose is to enrich the quality of life for people in the counties of Barber, Comanche, Kingman, Kiowa, Pratt, Rice, and Stafford. https://www.sccfks.org/

 
TOPEKA –  Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland today announced significant changes to the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ) program that could increase participation in student loan repayments for people moving to rural Kansas counties.

Individuals who earn an associate degree or higher and move to a designated ROZ county they haven’t lived in for the preceding two years are eligible to have up to $15,000 in student loan debt repaid. Previously, individuals had to live elsewhere for the preceding five years to be eligible.

Commerce also clarified the language describing a student’s permanent residence. Rural residents who occupied a dorm room or apartment during college and kept their permanent address on their driver’s license as their parents’ residence, for example, no longer would be denied eligibility in the program when they returned to their home community following graduation.

“Kansas is ranked one of the top states in the nation for higher education, but then loses too many graduates who pursue career opportunities in other states,” Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said . “Ensuring more students can utilize the Student Loan Repayment Program is critical to keeping and bringing our young talent back to their rural communities. These updates will make Kansas a more financially attractive option for graduates.”

The new rules will make it easier to participate in the program for individuals who complete required internships, practicums and residencies or are traveling nurses to remain in an ROZ county and establish permanent residency there.

Ensuring that there is a clear understanding of the revised regulations will help increase the number of eligible educated students that rural communities can court. An expanded pool of eligible sponsors for the program now includes employers, foundations, cities, chambers of commerce, Main Street organizations and other community or economic development groups that can utilize the incentive to recruit new workers to rural communities.

“We want to be able to incentivize these highly trained individuals to stay in our rural communities after they complete their training or education,” Kansas Office of Rural Prosperity Director Trisha Purdon said . “With so many students required to complete internships as part of their education, extending ROZ eligibility to include professional practicum experiences will help provide them with long-term employment opportunities in Kansas.”

The program will continue to offer a 100 percent state income tax credit if the eligible participant has not lived in Kansas or received Kansas-based income for the preceding five years.

The program application period is open annually from January 1 to September 30. To apply for student loan repayment assistance or to learn more about eligibility for the program, visit the ROZ website here.

A virtual webinar to explain the program changes will be at 1:00 p.m. Thursday, April 25. Potential applicants, sponsors, schools, cities, counties, foundations, economic development organizations and other employers recruiting workforce are encouraged to attend. 

Registration for the webinar is required. To register, click here.    

By Beccy Tanner

For 124 years, the Gray Photo Studio has overseen developments in downtown St. John.

Named after William R. Gray, the photographer who took photos in Stafford County for more than three-quarters of a century, the building has long been a landmark.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, but efforts to restore the building has often been a struggle and, at times, seemed to drag to a standstill.

That’s about to change.

Much work has already taken place on the exterior of the building. Now, work is ready to begin on the interior.

Late last year, the photo studio formed a partnership with Stafford County Economic Development Inc. and received a $50,000 grant from Historic Economic Asset Lifeline (HEAL) grant. In addition, there was a matching $50,000 loan from SJN Bank of Kansas.

Still, Long said, more funding is needed.

An online art auction has been scheduled for March 29th and 30th.

When work is completed – expected by the end of 2024 – it will become the Art Center at Gray Photo studio.

“We are going to sheet rock, paint and restore the woodwork,” said Carol Long, president for the Gray Studio Restoration board. “We will start on the kitchen and the bathrooms will be completed. We have one bathroom done — but even having walls up will be nice.”

Ten artists from all over have donated pieces of their art to be auctioned. They include:

Carol Long, Delvin Goode, Steven Hill, Holly Hendrick, Linda Ganstrom, Mike Stumbras, Sheldon Ganstrom and Taylor Craig.

Long said they hope to raise at least $20,000 with the auction to furnish the studio with kitchen appliances, furniture and other items.

The auction will be held through the platform Givebutter where you can also find more information about the artists and the art they are auctioning. The auction will go live March 29th at 5 p.m. and go until March 30th at 11:59 p.m. Go to https://givebutter.com/c/grayphotostudio to get signed up and ready for the auction.

“You don’t have to buy a piece of art to donate to our auction,” Long said. “You can just donate and help us match our funds.”

Local residents, Long said, can also donate to the fund through SJN Bank of Kansas by dropping off a check or mailing it to the bank at 116 E 3rd Ave., St. John, Ks. 67576 and putting Gray Photo Studio in the check memo.

Long said she is hopeful to have the studio open for visitors to view the building’s progress during town’s annual Jubilee celebration held Memorial Day weekend.

Renovation work isn’t expected to be completed by then – but it will give people a chance to chart the building’s progress.

William Gray took photos of almost every family in Stafford County from 1905 to 1947. He did so using wet plate photography and glass negatives. In Stafford, the history museum there has his collection of more than 30,000 glass negatives.

One of the most distinctive things about the building is the huge window that’s part of the building’s roof on the north side. It allowed for wonderful lighting in Gray’s photos.

Long gave credit for the building’s latest renovation efforts and funding to Stafford County Economic Development.

“If Ryan Russell (director of Stafford County’s Economic Development) hadn’t stepped forward and contracted with us to do all this fundraising and grant writing, we probably wouldn’t be moving this quickly,” Long said.

“So, with Eco Devo pushing us forward, we are going to finish this in 2024.”

By Beccy Tanner

Two teams and four St. John High School students are the county winners in this year’s Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Ryer Ward, placed first in the contest, which was held Feb. 7 at the Stafford County Annex.

He receives $750 and a chance to compete at the state competition on April 16th at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

His entry was called “The Pocket Shop” and details a business that would make breakfast rolls or pockets with filling.

Second place winners are Garrett McAlister, Willow Murphy, and Uricke Engelbrecht for their entry of “Unraveling Fibers.” Their business would include a subscription service for crocheting and needlework projects.

They receive $500 and have a chance at applying to be a wild card team in the statewide contest.

To participate, students must submit an executive summary of a business proposal and do an in-person presentation.

Each team is then judged on their business’s marketability, niche, and ability to grow their company as well as model.

This year’s judges included: Lea Ann Seiler, from Network Kansas; Trisha Greene, 21st Central District K-State Extension; Angela Peterson, St. John-Hudson USD 350 elementary principal; and Ryan Russell, director of Stafford County Economic Development.

Stafford County Economic Development with funding from South Central Community Foundation hosted the local YEC competition and sponsors the students to attend the state-wide competition.

 EcoDevo is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a mission to promote economic and population growth throughout the county by assisting local businesses, engaging in community activities, and promoting Stafford County as a great place to live, work, and play.

By Beccy Tanner

After being involved in education for nearly 30 years as both a teacher and principal, Jo McFadden decided to take a new direction in her life.

“I retired and this is my retirement gig,” McFadden said. “I was looking for a job. This came up on my radar and I thought it sounded like fun.

“I applied and here I am.”

Since August, the 55-year-old McFadden has served as the director of the Ida Long Goodman Memorial Library in St. John.

She replaced Laura Davis as the director.

McFadden has been a life-long resident of Hutchinson and continues to live there with about a 50-minute commute back and forth each school day.

“I was going to pull my (retirement) papers because I had 85 points and could retire. But this (the St. John library position) is a KPERS job. So, I didn’t officially retire because I didn’t pull KPERS. I did retire from being a principal and decided I would keep on working.”

She taught middle school algebra and geometry for 11 years and was an elementary principal in Hutchinson for eight years; and then, principal at Inman Elementary in Inman for eight years.

“I have my master’s in administration and have taught college classes through Baker University and Newman University. I have presented at national conferences on a number of different topics … My areas of interest and skill include professional learning, curriculum, instruction and assessment and school improvement.”

Her hopes for the Ida Long Goodman Library are to increase programming, circulation, and services available to the community.

“We have two exciting things that are in the works right now that I think will be wonderful for our community,” McFadden said.

The first is a Digi Lab – where the library has installed a digital scanner so that patrons of the library can scan old photographs, negatives and slides – and save them digitally. It will evolve into a full Digi Lab where clients can bring in their DVD’s or VHS tapes and can digitize those, as well.

“Think of those little camcorder tapes – all kinds of things – that can now be digitized,” McFadden said. “So, we don’t lose those things that are so important. I know I have a ton of tapes from when my kids were little stored away. I can’t view them on anything. So, once we get those things in, the staff will be practicing on them and then, the community can come in and get their things transferred.”

Another program the library has just established is a premium family membership to Exploration Place in Wichita. The pass is free for area families to come and check out and then use for their entire family.

“So, they can go to Wichita and go to Exploration Place; go to the Dome Theater and see the science show and check out traveling displays,” she said.

She has also started an adult book club and scheduled a series of Lunch & Learns at the library in partnership with Stafford County Economic Development. Topics have included information for first time home buyers; Stafford County’s Exoduster legacy; services offered by the Stafford County Health Department; and Estate Planning.

As the director of St. John’s library, McFadden said her new position is – in some ways – like that of being a principal with all the administrative duties.

“There is the budgeting, staffing and just all the paperwork and programming,” she said.

In addition, she said there is one more added benefit:

 “I will say I have always loved to read and just being among all these books has been amazing.

 “I just can’t get enough.”

By: Ryan Russell

Gray Photo Studio (GPS) is soon to be renovated and will soon after open it’s art studio after receiving a $50,000 matching grant from Kansas Commerce Historic Economic Asset Lifeline (HEAL) program.  SJN Bank of Kansas, which is always looking for ways to help develop Stafford County, has provided GPS with it’s match in the form of a loan.  Without the matching loan, the HEAL grant would not have been possible.

Stafford County Economic Development Inc. (SCEDI) has been working with GPS to develop a plan to complete the historical building.  SCEDI and GPS have a fiscal and administrative partnership.  The buildings renovations will start no later than April and be completed by the end of the year.  In March SCEDI and GPS are planning an online art auction that will benefit the GPS, with over 10 artists committed to donating pieces of art for the auction.

Stafford City Manager Jami Downing also applied on behalf of Stafford and received a HEAL Grant to renovate one of Stafford’s downtown buildings. See Governor Laura Kelly’s announcement of all the counties to receive the HEAL Grant. 

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/KSOG/bulletins/386bc8f

By Beccy Tanner

All through Stafford County, the signs of Christmas are upon us.

There’s the many arrays of lights on rooftops, decorated trees and best of all, community gatherings with food and Santas and all his volunteer helpers.

This Saturday, (Dec. 2), Macksville and St. John are both hosting celebrations.

Macksville’s “I’ll Be Gnome For Christmas” is an all-day event, Dec.2nd.

This is the town’s 16th annual Christmas community celebration.

The Lions Club Breakfast is from 6:30 to 9 am at the VIP Center. There is an open house at the Macksville library from 9 am to noon; and a vendor show at Body of Sole Fitness, 418 Gilmore.

And then, how can you not celebrate the holidays without a good Chili Cookoff and Cinnamon Roll Contest? This one is at Table Coffee Shop, 212 Main Street. Entries must be at the table by 11:30.

Stafford County Mills/Hudson Cream Flour have donated prizes for the top three places in the contest. The rules are that containers presented for judging can not have a participant’s name visible; chili needs to be in a crockpot and each contestant must present a minimum of six cinnamon rolls.

 Winners will be chosen by a public sampling at noon. Samples are $1 each.

May the best chef win.

From 2:30 to 4 pm, there will hot cocoa and treats at the SJN Bank of Kansas in Macksville; and during the same time period, Santa, a storytime and crafts will be at the Table Coffee Shop.

The Main Street Christmas Parade starts at 5:30 p.m. The line up begins at 5 pm at the South Elevator.

Then, at 6:30 pm, there will be a community supper at the Macksville Fire Station. Meat is being provided by SJN Bank of Kansas and prepared by the Macksville Fire Department.

 People are encouraged to bring a side dish. There will be door prizes and raffle items at the supper.

Around the Square in St. John—Dec.2nd.

Events start at 5 p.m. with the St. John Fireman and Auxiliary Soup Supper at the Shell building. The supper will continue until 7 p.m.

Freewill donations are accepted.

During that time, people can also have their pictures taken with Santa in the old Dillon’s building.

A hot cocoa and cider bar with popcorn and cookie decorating station will also be available as well as Letters to Santa and a Crafting Station.

Raffle tickets will be available in the Dillon’s building as well as vendors.

Tickets are $5 per ticket or 3 tickets for $10.

The drawing will be at 6:30 pm.

During this time, people are encouraged to bring gently used, clean, unbroken toys which can be donated to the Thrift Store.

The annual lighting of the Christmas decorations in the Square will be at 6 p.m.

Sponsors of the evening celebration include Golden Belt Beef Co., White’s Foodliner and Tiger Town Pizza.

Sunday, Dec. 3

St. John

The celebrations continue in St. John on Sunday when the Ida Long Goodman Memorial Library Christmas Open House is from 2 to 4 pm.

Refreshments will be provided.

And then, Stafford County communities will take a small break from festivities – but only temporarily.

Saturday, Dec. 9

Stafford

The town of Stafford is hosting a Christmas Yard Decorating contest with prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners.

 The City of Stafford also offers a Christmas light discount. You must have five strands of lights out to be eligible for a $30 discount on your bill. Must call or go into office to register your account for discount.

On Dec. 9th, from 8:30 am to 10 am – there will be a Kids Breakfast and Carnival at Stafford VFW, 301 s. Main.

From 1 to 4 pm, there will be a pop-up Vendors Market and Christmas in Stafford and Midwest Photography Christmas Pictures in the VFW along with a soup supper beginning at 5 p.m.

For those who would like a different change in the menu, the Stafford Senior Center is providing a spaghetti supper from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 16

Hudson’s Old Fashioned Christmas

Events begin at 5 p.m. with a soup supper at the town’s Community Hall. It will include gingerbread Christmas Lego scenes, a raffle, carriage rides and a Christmas Forest at the Old Hudson School.

In addition, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the Hudson Firehouse will provide hot chocolate and a fire engine climb.

From 6 to 7 p.m., there will be a Santa visit at the SJN Bank of Kansas in Hudson.

At 7:30 pm, there will be an announcement of the contest winners; and, at 7:45 pm, the lineup begins for the lighted parade at the mill parking lot.

The parade begins at 8 p.m. followed by a firework finale, weather permitting.

Stafford

Sunday, Dec. 17th

6:30 to 7:30 p.m. – Pick up your Scavenger Hunt clues and popcorn at the Ritz Theatre.

The Frosty Bean Coffee Shop at 111 W. Broadway is hosting a Santa appearance from 1 to 4 p.m.

And, you have until 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18th, to turn in your sheets from the Scavenger Hunt.

Saturday, Dec. 30th

3 p.m. – Free kids movie at the Ritz Theater

6 p.m. Doors open, Stafford VFW, 301 S. Main

7 p.m. – Music Bingo – Oktoberfest Gives Back Event

2023 SCCF $5,000 Children’s Health Grant Recipient: 

City of Stafford: West Park Equipment Update 

2023 SCCF Community Grant Recipients: 

Lucille M. Hall Museum for Education and History: 

                       Isaac B. Werner Memorial Fireproof File Cabinet……………… $1,000  

USD 349 – Stafford Schools: Art Program Materials and Supplies……………. $1,000 

Macksville Middle School: Social Studies Books…………………………………….. $1,000  

Zenith Community Presbyterian Church:  

                      Stafford Ministerial Alliance Food Assistance Program……….. $1,500  

USD 350 – St. John-Hudson Schools:

                     Therapy Dog Training and Certification………………………………. $1,760 

Macksville City Library: Hometown Hospitality on Display Project………….. $1,395 

Nora E. Larabee Memorial Library: Computers………………………………………. $1,000 

St. John High School: Robotics Technology……………………………………………. $1,000 

USD 350 – St. John-Hudson Schools: Orff Instruments……………………………. $1,838 

Stafford County Core Community: Core Curriculum…………………………………. $680 

Macksville Grade School: Library Books……………………………………………….. $1,000 

Macksville Grace Church: Food Pantry and Necessities Nook Supplies……… $2,000 

City of Stafford: Uptown Sound System………………………………………………….. $1,462 

St. John Elementary School: STEAM Day Supplies………………………………….. $1,240 

St. John High School: Cameras……………………………………………………………….. $950 

Macksville High School: Leadership Workshop and Supplies…………………… $1,600 

Stafford County Economic Development:

                      Youth Entrepreneur Challenge Supplies………………………………. $1,880 

Nora E. Larabee Memorial Library: ADA Bathroom Project…………………….. $1,954 

2023 SCCF $250 Teacher’s Grant Recipients:                                                                                                                                            

St. John Elementary School: Social Emotional Online Learning………. Michelle Christiansen 

Macksville Junior High and High School: Care Closet Restock……. Jessica Neeland 

St. John Elementary School: Shoe Lacing Trainers…………………………… Trish Wade 

St. John Junior High School: Classroom Library Books………………….. Andrea Long 

St. John Elementary School: Kagan Cooperative Learning Materials. Bonnie Ward 

Stafford High School: Classroom Library Books………………………….. Dianna Fisher 

USD 350 – St. John-Hudson Schools: Ceramics Tools and Glazes…….. Brad Emery 

By Ryan Russell

Stafford County leaders have been working to finalize details in opening a commercial kitchen at the Stafford County Annex in St. John.

While some of the initial construction has yet to be completed, the county commission has generously given to help get the kitchen going.  In addition, Stafford County Economic Development Inc. was awarded a grant by South Central Community Foundation to hold Youth Entrepreneur Challenge (YEC) this year with a focus being on value added food creation. 

The YEC youth are challenged to create a business concept and compete against each other.

Stafford County Economic Development will offer an entrepreneurship training program in 2024 — that is food related, once the kitchen is completed and licensed.

Additional programming will be in partnership with 4H extension with their youth programs to create commercially viable products.  We will also work with 4H extension to create year-round programming.

The idea behind this is that Stafford County has an abundance of raw food materials from the flour mill, produce farmers, a number of small farms producing high-quality meat and dairy products; however, there is a lack of value-added products that are marketable.

Additional funds are needed.

The goal is to raise $10,000 for the operational and programming costs connected to the Commercial Kitchen.  This will include the costs of bringing in people with the technical skills and knowledge to help with training in packaging and food processing.  We will also be putting in a gas stove and other equipment that may be needed depending on who uses the kitchen.

Here’s how that money can be raised:

Beginning in November, South Central Community Foundation is doing a matching day on Giving Tuesday.  They have a pool of $70,000 to use in matching.  Each organization has an opportunity to get the funds they’ve raised matched, and an endowment created that will gain interest every year to be used for whatever projects an organization has to fund. 

Though Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, individuals can give throughout the month of November. Stafford County Economic Development is participating in South Central Community Foundations month of giving.  

So, give generously this November and help Stafford County Economic Development spur economic growth in Stafford County’s nascent food product industry.  To donate to support this important program, click on the link. https://www.sccfmatchday.org/nonprofits.cfm?id=1830