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This recording is from our monthly radio show – this audio was recorded in and broadcasted in June 2024. Topics include incentives to encourage young people to return and live in Stafford County, the new pickle ball courts, amenities for the Farmers Market in St. John, the potential for creating a historic preservation district in Stafford, the welcoming of a young immigrant family to Stafford County, updates on housing and reflections on Stafford County Economic Director Ryan Russell’s first year on the job.

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.

 
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.    

This is the audio from our monthly radio show: Focus on Stafford County. The show aired liven March.Topics discussed include construction updates on Gray Photo, a museum room at the studio and apartment.Other topics include new housing projects, downtown historic district ini Stafford, book discussion on “`13 ways to kill your community” and update on potential future of Stafford Depot.

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.”

This is the audio from our monthly radio show: Focus on Stafford County. The show aired in February, 2024. Topics include an upcoming Lunch & Learn book discussion of “Thirteen Ways to Kill your Community;” updates on Stafford County’s commercial kitchen, childcare; Gray Photo Studio grant, art auction and renovation; EPIC grant projects in Stafford County and the Sttafford train depot.

By Beccy Tanner

Four years ago, Glora Batten started her journey into canning.

A friend asked her to come over to their house and help can pickles.

“We got started and made a batch of pickles and I just thought it was very fun,” the 29-year-old St. John woman said.

That moment started her thinking about the possibilities of canning more foods.

Soon, she had created an array of jams and jellies, pickles, relishes, and syrups.

Currently, Batten says she is in a canning hiatus.

Her youngest daughter, Charlotte, was born last June and is taking much of Batten’s daily attention.

But she is hopeful to get back into the full canning swing later this spring where she can offer sometimes as many as 30 different varieties of items.

When she does, Batten said she plans on using the new commercial kitchen in the Stafford County Annex.

“I have filled up my dining room table laying down jars and canning equipment,” she said. “I always go through a deep cleaning before I make anything, so it will be nice to walk into a nice, clean kitchen (at the Stafford County Annex) and just simply get the process going.”

Her business is called Preserved Goodness and she sells all over Central Kansas – Salina, Hutchinson, Wichita and Great Bend — and on Facebook.

“I’ve done a lot of pop-up markets over the last couple of years,” she said. “And I’ve been invited to sell products in a couple of stores and in different small businesses … I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I have a good friend. Her name is Phyllis, and she runs Dilly and Doc (a creative studio in Great Bend). She kept telling me I should have a booth with my jams and jellies.

“I didn’t think I had the audacity to do such a thing. I kept telling her so. And then, I went down in my basement after a day of canning, and I realized that I had filled up an entire room with probably 400 to 500 jars of jelly.”

Batten and her husband, Shawn, have four girls – Talley, 10; Rebekah, 4; Savannah, 3; and Charlotte, 7 months.

“My oldest daughter likes to do lemonade stands at the farmers markets,” Batten said. “This summer, I am hoping to go with her and have a few jellies to sell. And then, we will start back up doing random pop-up markets this fall.”

Until then, Batten said she can take small orders with advance notice.

She makes pepper jams, sandhill plum jelly, mulberry and blackberry jams. She has traditional flavors of jams and then, some not so traditional – think chocolate strawberry, blueberry-strawberry, carrot cake, monkey butters and tropical jams.

She sells half pint jars, typically around $7 each.

“Anything that looks fun, I usually try.”

To check out Glora’s business, see Preserved Goodness Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/preserved_goodness .

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