Small towns key to Kansas’ charm



November 15, 2012 - 12:00 AM

As residents of Kansas, it is easy to overlook the beauty of your own backyard. Author Marci Penner has been trying to correct that by going from town to town encouraging residents to get out and get to know as much of Kansas as possible.
Penner will be at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center Friday giving a background look into what it took to make her book, “The 8 Wonders of Kansas.”
In 2000, there was a international attempt to re-evaluate the Seven Wonders of the World. Penner seized on the idea came to do the eight wonders of Kansas instead and divide them up into categories that every town has no matter its size or location.
The eight elements she and her father, Mil Penner, came up with were architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history and people.
“It evolved for a couple of years until we though we had it right,” Penner said.
The contest began in June 2007 and ended in October 2010.
There were originally 216 entries for the wonders of Kansas.
Then they put it to a vote.
“One hundred thousand people voted,” Penner said. “Not only from Kansas but we had votes from across the nation and even foreign.”
The book showcases pictures of all 216 entries and write•ups on the eight finalists.
“The book is a really good way to educate people about Kansas,” Penner said. “We wanted it to be meaningful.”
Penner, who is from Inman, travels Kansas and works with small towns to build up their self•esteem. Penner has a background of helping people and groups achieve their best potential.
She got her master’s in counseling and guidance and did some coaching along the way.
Penner has been to all 627 incorporated cities and is now working on an explorers guide to Kansas, which will be released in 2015.
“It is valuable to us to get the temperature of each town. How are small towns doing? How are they surviving?” she said. “(The explorers guide) goes a lot deeper than writing just a guidebook.”
In addition to the explorers guidebook there is a Kansas Explorers Club, which is part of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
Penner is the director of the foundation and a couple of times a year will take club members to small towns in Kansas where they can learn about the town and spend money to help the town’s revenue.
This is the part of Penner’s project that hones in on rural Kansas towns.
“Our mission is to preserve and sustain rural culture,” Penner said. “We are not a tourism organization, we use tourism as a tool to sustain community.”

Friday evening’s event will begin at 7 o’clock in Creitz Recital Hall in the lower level of the Bowlus Center. It is free to the public.
For more information contact the Bowlus at (620) 365•4765 or visit

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