By Beccy Tanner

There may be a new/old look coming soon to the northwest corner of St. John’s Square.

A $45,000 matching grant awarded by the Kansas Creative Arts/Industries Commission – a division of the Kansas Department of Commerce—will portion some of that grant to St. John for use in building a Victorian-type gazebo.

The largest portion of the grant will go to Stafford to help them in helping the city construct a band shell.

A study last year determined both communities lack public outdoor spaces for special events.

Stafford’s project is called “Spaces Within The Places” and celebrates Stafford as the Gateway to Quivira.

With the annual Jubilee and Homecoming events held in the St. John Square, about $4,500 of the grant will go to St. John for construction of the gazebo and concrete pad.

In applying for the grant, Ryan Russell, director of Stafford County Economic Development wrote:

“These spaces will draw people together to hear music from all kinds of artists and bring young families together to enjoy the outdoors.”

The 10 x 16-foot gazebo in St. John will cost roughly $10,000 with $4,500 coming from the grant. The City of St. John will provide the remainder in funding along with the concrete pad and electrical wiring and sound for the gazebo.

Sturdi-Bilt near Hutchinson is constructing St. John’s gazebo.

It is expected to be delivered to St. John sometime in April or early May – in time for the Jubilee.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the square boasted a similar type of gazebo, and it was used as a forum for bands and special events. It eventually fell into disrepair and was torn down.

It is hoped the new gazebo will be a gathering place for people to once again come together.

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

By Beccy Tanner

St. John’s century-old photo studio, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, is about to get an interior make-over.

The board at the W.R. Gray Photo Studio at 116 N. Main has created a partnership with Stafford County’s Economic Development office to help finish the building’s interior.

 The building was constructed at the turn of the 20th century.

“We’ve signed an agreement with Eco-Devo to complete the restoration of the building,” said Carol Long, president of the Gray Studio Restoration Board. “Basically, it is just for that. It’s not a longtime administration agreement. It’s just to complete the building.”

Ryan Russell, executive director of Stafford Count’s Economic Development, said his office would help write grants.

“We are an administrative and fiscal sponsor,” Russell says. “So, what that means, is that we will help them find the money to do the project.”

For years, the building sat vacant and neglected until Long and others within the community began a concentrated effort in trying to save it.

That’s when it was listed on the national register and a new roof was installed. Then, the building’s exterior was painted: windows were repaired on the structure’s iconic northern skylight and, the interior was essentially taken down to the studs and beams.

Now, it is time to finish the rest of the work.

“They need help with the finishing projects,” Russell said. “And, we are going to be looking at selling some tax credits and obtaining grants.”

Long said the goal for the building will be turn a portion of the space into a residential artist apartment.

However, the bulk of space will be utilized for a classroom and special events.

“This is not some favor to Gray Studio,” Long said of the help provided by Eco-Devo.

“They are getting compensation for their work … The reason this has happened is that we need somebody to have their mind on Gray Studio all the time – somebody skilled and with connections to grant writing and organizations that build the grants,” she said.

“We needed people in the know.”

Long said that for the past decade, the members of the Gray Studio board have been working on getting the building completed.

“We want to do programs when the building is done,” she said. “The building will house a workspace for classes and maybe a place for a resident artist to work. It will have a little retail space and museum.”

The reason the photo studio is so important to Stafford County is because it documented the early families who lived in the area.

The Gray family took photos in Stafford County for 76 years.

The type of photography that the family used was glass plate photography, started in the 1850s and used up until the 1930s when Kodak’s Brownie camera and film became more accessible to most families.

William Gray moved to St. John in 1905 from Fall River. He operated the studio until his death in 1947. His daughter Jessie took over the business until her retirement in 1981.

In 1986, she donated the glass negatives to the Stafford County museum.

 No one knew what they really had until Stafford County Museum curator and project director Michael Hathaway brought the 30,000 glass plate negatives up from the basement of the town’s old bank building and moved them into the museum’s library next to his office.

That was in 2004.

Gray had kept 11 ledgers dutifully noting each of the 30,000 photos.

Those business ledgers indicate his clients came from all over Kansas. Many of the photos include portrait sittings but also street scenes, crime scenes, festivals and, of course, who can’t resist a picture of oversized produce?

Now, with this new partnership, the building can be completed and it’s legacy can continue as an important landmark of Stafford County.

Check out the schedule here and also the other festivities on their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/StaffordOktoberfest .

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

Jean Drach is apologetic as she answers the phone.

No apples this year for sale.

 And the peaches that she and her husband, Larry, sold, they were brought in from Colorado.

But the heirloom tomatoes were awesome. It was a good year for tomatoes.

She credits two late freezes and blistery hot summer temperatures for this year’s lack of produce.

But this is just one year.

The couple have had lots of good years and have plans that next year will once again be bountiful.

Beginning in 2006, it was the couple’s dream to farm. They started an orchard with five acres.

Drach’s Farm & Orchard is located three miles east of the US-281 and K-19 intersection.

“We didn’t really know anything about crop farming or cattle, so my husband said let’s put an orchard in,” Jean Drach said.

That first year, the apple and peach trees were nothing more than sticks.

“We didn’t have much knowledge about fruit trees,” she said. “We thought we put them in the ground, and we’d have apples and peaches. But no.”

It took time and investigation and testing to see what varieties grew best in Stafford County.

“We did our research, especially on the peaches of what ones would grow in this area.”

The first year they planted 100 trees.

And then, planted another hundred.

“And now, with some of the storms, we are down to 168,” Jean said. “It’s just the two of us.

“It took us 10 years for the apple trees to start producing.”

The orchard has 20 varieties of apples; four different types of pears; as many varieties of peaches and – she emphasizes – in good years, also pumpkins.

There are also blackberry bushes.

The secret to much of their success all these years, she says, belongs to the sandy soil of Stafford County.

“It makes good, good planting for the trees because the water just absorbs down into the roots,” she said.

They have also grown potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe.

“Now, that we’ve grown a little older we are not doing those as much,” Jean said. 

Like most farmers, the Drachs have discovered the Kansas weather – like the weather experienced this summer – can mean the difference between a good year and a poor one.

“It was unpredictable,” Jean says of the summer’s storms and heat. “We also feel that climate change is here because we are seeing a difference. In good years, each apple tree can produce up to 1,000 apples.”

Last year, the Drachs made 300 half gallons of cider.

This year, the apples split on the tree before they were ripe.

In years past, droves of people come out and pick apples and school groups come to explore and taste.

Their orchard is a feel-good, neighborly oasis in a sea of wheat fields and prairie grass plots.

They’ve had pumpkin festivals and pumpkin hunts, in fact it’s called the Great Pumpkin Hunt  (similar to Easter Egg hunts) in the orchard.

She encourages children to try the different varieties of apples to see which ones entice their taste buds the most.

“They get to walk the five acres and they are pretty pooped when they get back on the bus,” she says chuckling. “It’s (the orchard) turned out to be more than we ever thought it would be.”

And, that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing area families and social events in Stafford County.

Typically, during the summer months, customers operate on the honor system. Refrigerators in a shed on the orchard grounds are filled with produce, customers are welcome to select produce from the refrigerators and pay for them by dropping their money in a mailbox behind the refrigerators.

“I have never heard anything negative about our orchard,” Jean said. “It’s been so nice.”

Some locals even consider it a stopping point as they do their regular chores.

“One more thing about the refrigerators, we keep pop, candy and Little Debbies for all the guys that are farming near by, or who check the tank batteries. One neighbor — there is a dirt road that goes between us and their house, she takes her grandkids down every Friday night and the boys get their own pop and candy and that makes their day because there’s nothing like that around here.”

It’s also true for the bikers who participate in the annual Bike Across Kansas and other bikers who use the route.

“We have a sign up for them and put a picnic table up for them,” Jean said.

The sign says “Bikers Welcome,” but really anybody is welcome.

“They stop, eat peaches, and take pictures. It’s great.”

One evening when a terrible storm came up, a biker called the Drachs and asked if he could spend the night in their orchard.

Of course, he could.

Some travelers have even left gifts for the Drachs – more soda pop and even Danish rolls.

It’s become a refuge for travelers near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

In the meantime, the vision each year for the Drach Orchard continues.

“Hopefully, next year we will have a better crop,” she said.

“A Refuge to Explore” is a program developed for Stafford County with the goal to cultivate a county level pride/identity. It’s part of the Engaging Placemaking for Innovative Communities (EPIC), which is a placemaking pilot program lead by the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KCAIC). The goal is to find, preserve, and provide programming that taps into a community’s history and enhances the cultural environment for locals and tourists.  

“A Refuge to Explore” focuses on Stafford County being the gateway to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Quivira is a wetland of international significance with proximity to the Central Flyway migration route and the salt marshes on the refuge combine to endow the refuge with a large variety of birds. Many of these birds are uncommon in other parts of Kansas or even the central part of the continent. Quivira also boasts as a migration stop for Monarch butterflies who stop in Quivira to rest and eat.   Quivira has untapped tourism potential as a destination for bird watching, hunting and fishing, and education for young families. It’s a place that can be leveraged to develop the economy of the county. 

The Stafford County EPIC cohort’s plan is to develop 3D statues of whooping cranes at the entrance of each city just off the highway that highlights Quivira. The whooping cranes outside of Stafford will invite guests to enter their gateway to Quivira. Stafford intends to develop an event space that incorporates a spot where monarchs can stop and eat, a park where people can enjoy learning about the different animals from Quivira while listening to music or enjoying a picnic with friends. A band shell will be placed in the park for the many events that Stafford does downtown including their Octoberfest that is continuing to grow. Another event is going to be created to kick off the spring season to invite the migration of both the birds, monarchs, and tourists. A Crane mural will be painted on the side of the old lumber yard to enhance the beginning of the downtown area.  Steel banners will be added to the light poles showcasing the majesty of the crane with its wings outstretched. All of this enhances the gateway to Quivira and invites people to “Explore the Refuge”.  

We will also be offering smaller cranes and monarch butterflies that families can put in their yard or on their houses as a fund raiser to fund further tourism activities.