Archive for Thursday, December 22, 2005

The legends of Kansas

Village West to pay tribute to famous and influential natives

December 22, 2005

You probably know these names -- Wyatt Earp, Amelia Earhart and Dwight D. Eisenhower. But what about these: Jack St. Clair Kilby ... Clyde Tombaugh ... and Susanna Madora Salter.

Many people already know the stories of Earp, the famous lawman who tamed the cowboy towns of Wichita and Dodge City; Earhart, the internationally renowned aviator who smashed gender lines and broke flying records; and that fellar from Abilene, Eisenhower, who didn't get around to much besides serving as supreme commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and later, as the United State's 34th president.

But, what about the others, you ask?

For starters, Kilby helped kick-start the technological age by inventing the microchip, which earned him the Nobel Prize for physics in 2000. Tombaugh, an astronomer, peeked out of his telescope one night and discovered a hunk of rock in the gulf of space he nicknamed Pluto. And Salter, in an all-time example of perseverance in the face of adversity, entered the all-boys club of politics by becoming the nation's first female mayor in United States' history.

So, besides their historical significance, what do a federal marshal, pilot, president, computer guru, astronomer and the Madame Mayor of Argonia have in common?

They're all sons and daughters of Kansas and, in a few short months, their likeness will be coming to a shopping area near you.

In an effort mixed with part-civics and part commercialism, developers of the Legends of Village West -- an on-going 750,000 square foot shopping area in western Wyandotte County -- will raise tributes to these Kansas icons, and many more, in coming months.

Village West, home to several of the state's top tourist attractions, draws approximately 11 million visitors per year, all of whom will be able to learn of Kansans from yesterday and today in an "atmosphere unlike any other," according to developers.

"Art, history, politics, statesmanship, science and invention, adventurers and explorers, sports and athletics are all presented," developers said.

Between 60 and 70 famous and influential Kansans -- ranging from Bob Dole (for you youngsters out there, he did more than just star in a Britney Spears commercial) to jazz ax man Charlie "Yardbird" Parker -- will be honored with tributes at The Legends.

The shopping area also will pay homage to famous athletes such as Walter "Big Train" Johnson and Jim Ryun, as well as poets and writers such as Gordon Parks and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Amy Craft, marketing director of the Legends shopping area, said the all-time Kansans would be portrayed through sculptures, medallions, murals, banners and plaques. The tributes will be unveiled during a ceremony in April.

The Legends shopping area takes its moniker from the famous faces that will soon decorate the area, Craft said.

"That was our plan ... to pay tribute to Kansas legends," she said.

The list of famous Kansans is not yet complete and is subject to change. New names are being considered for the shopping area everyday.

"There's a lot of different contributing factors," said Craft, noting that the list is a work in progress and placing famous Kansans inside Legends is subject to acquiring the rights to portray them. "It's not by any means a list saying, 'these are the most important Kansans.'"

The tributes will be displayed throughout the shopping area and will be placed according to categories. For instance, performing artists such as Buster Keaton, Hattie McDaniel and Vivian Vance mostly likely will adorn an area near the Legends 14 movie theater.

"They're put together in a sensible way," she said.

Also, figures may not be portrayed in a typical fashion. A sculpture of Eisenhower, for instance, doesn't capture the Abilene native in the Oval Office or in military uniform, but at ease fly-fishing, which was one of his passions.

The tributes, Craft said, are designed to be "educational as well as entertaining."

"We're trying be unique, to bring out new facts," she said. "Sometimes it's just a matter of 'is this enlightening, is it something new?'"

List includes variety of famous native sons and daughters

Numerous tributes will be paid to famous Kansans, or people associated with the Sunflower State, throughout the Village West tourism and entertainment district in western Wyandotte County. The list below includes those who will be featured inside the development:

Inventors, pioneers and industry leaders

  • Amelia Earhart, Atchison -- First woman passenger to cross the Atlantic by plane and aviator that twice flew from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast. She wrote and lectured across the country, advocating equality for female pilots.
  • Clyde Tombaugh, Burdett -- Astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.
  • Jack St. Clair Kilby, Great Bend -- Invented the microchip, for which he shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 2000.
  • David Blanton, Wichita -- Invented the autopilot in 1954.
  • Walter P. Chrysler, Wamego -- Automotive mogul who headed up his own Chrysler corporation.
  • Clyde Vernon Cessna, Wichita -- Founded the Cessna Aircraft Company in 1927.
  • Ronald Evans, St. Francis -- Astronaut commanded Apollo 17.
  • Russell Stover, Mount Ayr Township -- Famous candy maker.

Early explorers

  • Wyatt Earp, Wichita and Dodge -- Famous for his town-taming success as Marshal of Dodge City.
  • Osage Native Americans -- In Kansas, many counties, rivers, streams, towns and townships -- and even the state itself -- have been named using language from Native American culture.
  • Lewis and Clark -- Reached the northeast corner of Kansas where they spent two weeks observing the native flora, fauna and celebrated Independence Day.
  • Francisco Vasquez -- Explorer searched for famed seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Traveled with 30 horsemen to Quivira in search of the New World.

Civic leaders

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene -- Served as the 34th president of the United States and supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.
  • Bob Dole, Russell -- Five-term Kansas senator, candidate for the presidency and World War II hero.
  • Susanna Madora Salter, Argonia -- Nation's first female mayor.
  • Clark Clifford, Fort Scott -- Served as the ninth secretary of defense for the Johnson administration.
  • Charles Curtis, Topeka -- The first Native American vice president serving under Herbert Hoover.

Performing artisits

  • Vivian Vance, Cherryvale
  • Buster Keaton, Piqua
  • Hattie McDaniel, Wichita
  • Emmett Kelly, Sedan

Poets and writers

  • Gordon Parks, Fort Scott -- The first black director, screenwriter and composer of a major motion picture. Also, authored "The Learning Tree."
  • William Inge, Independence -- Novelist and playwright, won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize in drama for "Picnic."
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, Topeka -- Poet became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize and became a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.
  • Frank Marshall Davis, south central Kansas -- Poet wrote three major collections of poetry, "Black Man's Verse," "I am the American Negro" and "47th Street: Poems."


  • John Steuart Curry, Dunavant -- Painter celebrated the rural Midwest in his works and was commissioned to paint murals in the Kansas statehouse.
  • Rudolph Wendelin, Herndon -- Artist made Smokey Bear friendly and personable.
  • Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton, Wellsville -- At the age of 68 begain creating art after a lifetime of clinical depression. Her work gained national and international prominence and was exhibited in a one-woman show at the Smithsonian Institute.
  • Aaron Douglas, Topeka -- Dubbed the "father of Black American art" in 1899.
  • Merrell Gage, Topeka -- Sculptor.
  • Clarence D. Batchelor, Osage City -- Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist.
  • W. Eugene Smith -- Famed World War II and Life magazine photojournalist.


  • Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Parsons -- Alto saxophonist developed his own expressive musical vocabulary and style.
  • Count Bassie and his band -- Legendary pianist and band leader who formed an orchestra in Kansas City in 1935, and the group became one of the leading bands of the swing era.
  • Wilbur "Buck" Clayton, Parsons -- Famous jazz trumpeter, songwriter and arranger.
  • Lester Young -- Saxophonist moved to Kansas City in 1933 and played in great jazz bands.
  • Bennie Moten -- Ragtime oriented pianist and bandleader helped establish the Kansas City jazz style with his Kansas City Orchestra.
  • Coleman "Hawk" Hawkins -- "Father of the Jazz Saxophone Playing" attended college in Topeka.
  • Eva Jessye, Coffeyville -- Became the female dean of black music in America and was the first internationally recognized black female choral group director.
  • Samuel Ramey, Colby -- Opera star was the 1995 Kansan of the Year.
  • Mary Lou Williams -- Pianist and composer recorded more than 350 compositions, arrangements and promoted the "Kansas City Swing" style.
  • Merle Evans, Columbus -- Bandmaster for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus from 1919 to 1970.
  • James Columbus "Jay" McShann -- Master of all jazz piano styles and a Kansas City jazz legacy for more than 60 years.


  • Glenn Cunningham, Atlanta -- Two-time Olympian dubbed "The Kansas Flyer."
  • Wes Santee, Ashland -- Track star.
  • Jim Ryun, Wichita -- Track star (and current member of Congress).
  • Walter Perry Johnson, Humboldt -- The "Big Train" was a Hall of Fame pitcher who tossed 110 shutouts over a 21-year career.
  • Gale Sayers, Wichita -- Youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Lynn Dickey, Osawatomie -- Green Bay Packers quarterback.
  • Tom Watson, Mission Hills -- One of the most successful professional golfers of all time.
  • Adolph Rupp, Halstead -- Winningest coach in NCAA basketball history with 876 victories.
  • Ralph Houk, Lawrence -- Great all-time baseball manager.
  • Barry Sanders, Wichita -- All-time football great.
  • Lynette Woodard, Wichita -- Four-time basketball All-American at KU and two-time U.S. Olympian.

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