Penner talks Kansas pride



November 19, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Kansans can be a peculiar sort, Marci Penner said over the weekend.
While most are proud of their home towns, many cannot give specifics.
For example, Penner recalled researching a 9-foot metal fish that serves as a weather vane on top of a water tower in Harper.
When notified the weather vane would be depicted in a guidebook she was making, the response heard most often was “what fish?”
“It’s an example of if you see something every day, you stop seeing it,” Penner said.
The Harper site is among the places of interest in Kansas featured in Penner’s most recent guidebook, “The 8 Wonders of Kansas.”
Penner spoke twice in Iola about her book, Friday evening in the Creitz Recital Hall of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center as part of the Bowlus Speakers Series, and again Saturday morning as part of the Iola Reads Reading Festival.
Despite the name, the guidebook features more than just eight sites. There are more than 200 places in all in the book.
Penner visited all 626 incorporated cities in creating the guidebook and spoke about the process of coming up with the eight wonders.
The idea came about when Penner heard about renewed interest in the Seven Wonders of the World.
A member of the Kansas Explorers — a group of state residents eager to learn and educate others about the Sunflower State — said Kansas should do the same, but do it one better, by focusing on eight points of interest.
Penner agreed.
Getting the information was easier said than done.
“My dad and I did our first guidebook in 1990,” Penner said. “We’d go to towns and ask ‘what do you have that we can put in our guidebook. Time after time, we’d hear, ‘Well, we don’t have anything in our town. Go to the next one.’ It was a little upsetting.”
So Penner decided to focus her questions on specifics. She came up with eight categories, from architecture and art to history and cuisine. The responses, invariably, were much greater.
Penner eventually came up with 216 points of interest, including the original eight wonders overall, plus the top eight vote-getters in the eight categories.
The book also depicts finalists in each category.
Penner showed several of the points and people that make Kansas unique through a 45-minute-long slide show.
She noted southeast Kansas, and Iola in particular, has its fair share of historic figures, from Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, who hailed from Iola, baseball pitching legend Walter Johnson, who grew up in Humboldt, and silent film great Buster Keaton, who was born in Piqua.
The book is available in several locales, including the Allen County Historical Society Museum.
While the award-winning guidebook is geared for travelers, Penner noted the Kansas Sampler Foundation isn’t necessarily focused on tourism.
Instead, its goals are much more earnest: to preserve and sustain rural culture.

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