For the week of Sept. 3, 2018 

Pride, history drive rural community

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

Folks who inhabit tiny towns like Alton, population 98, remain viable because of civic pride and a willingness to give back to their community. For this little village, whose greatest claim to fame remains that of being the birthplace of Russell Stover, civic responsibility is just that – an old, established concept that compels people to work, play and live together in harmony.

Young people study so they can use this knowledge to better their community, school teachers volunteer outside the classroom and farm families donate their time and energy. These contributions help keep their communities moving steadily along like the parade entries in the recent “Summer Jubilee” in this north-central Kansas town.

Alton held its 34th celebration Aug. 25. The population increased 10 times as approximately 1,000 people participated in the day and a half long event. For many it was a homecoming. For others it was a chance to enjoy a good time.

“Our annual celebration affords us the opportunity to bring people of this community and the surrounding towns together,” says Deanna Roach, a lifetime native who farms with her husband, Stanley, south of Alton. “We’re proud of our heritage and we want people to know about it and continue to be a part of it.”

 “Meet at the Crossroads” was the theme of this year’s celebration. Many people living in Alton today trace their families back to Bull City. Alton was originally called Bull City when two men, Gen. Bull and Mr. Earl decided the current town site was a good place to build a community. Seems they couldn’t decide whether to call it Bull City or Earlsville. They flipped a coin. Bull won.

A few years later a lady from Alton, Ill. came through and decided that the name, “Bull City” was vulgar. Just so happens there was a petition circulating at the time to bring a highway through Bull City.

This female bulldozer decided Alton would be a perfect name for the community. She midnight requisitioned the petition, clipped off the highway supporters’ names, pasted them on the petition she’d put together to rename Bull City and sent them in.

The rest is history – Bull City disappeared, and Alton remains.

While many of the families still have ties to Bull City, some also till the same soil  the original settlers broke out of the prairie.

People who live here today, including Roach and her friends and neighbors, can identify with their ancestors’ early struggles and appreciate how they persevered with pride through both good times and bad to make their rural community a better place to live. Alton citizens rely on that same sense of community spirit to carry on where their ancestors left off.

The weekend event is filled with friends, fellowship and fun. Saturday morning began with a car show including a 1950, low-slung, cream-colored Mercury, an early Model T and a cherry ’56 Chevy Bel Air.

One of the biggest events of the day was the parade at 10:30. It lasted more than one hour. Eighty entries arrived to showboat before the crowd lining Alton’s Main Street.

Talk about a collection: antique farm tractors, a horse drawn buggy, the Bull City Rough Riders, fire engines, crop sprayers, the Osborne Junior and Senior High School Band and the Bull City Opry Company - something for everyone. The Massey family from Phillipsburg was named “Best Novelty” entry featuring a single-horse, two-seated buggy with two outriders on horseback by the judges – Homer Smuck, who lived and served as pastor at Mt. Ayr Friends Church south of Alton, Juno Ogle, Hays Daily News reporter and yours truly.

While many of the tractors had been restored to their one-time glory, some were original clanking relics. Each engine sounded unique sporting its own hum, roar, whine or pop. Everyone driving in the parade waved at the crowd.

Alton is a friendly town made up of hardworking, honest people. Many of the inhabitants and those from neighboring communities are farm and ranch families. Like their counterparts across the state, these livestock and grain producers are proud of their occupations and their communities.

“There were a lot of unsung heroes working behind the scenes to make our annual event a success,” Roach says. “There is a real sense of caring for others here. If our children are running around, we know about it. We focus on nurturing our young people. We want them to interact with the older folks and develop an understanding of their past.”

That said, the Alton Jubilee isn’t all serious stuff either. Old timers retold tales, people became reacquainted and conversations lasted well into the evening.

Back on Main Street, Osborne County Farm Bureau members passed out free watermelon. The line for barbecued brats and burgers stretched for nearly a block. And dessert, well let’s just say the ladies of Alton know how to bake a pie and top it with homemade ice cream.

The Alton Jubilee is an event people in this part of Kansas look forward to and will for years to come. Talk about a small world, while visiting with Wayne Brent, Alton native, I discovered a family thread that linked the two of us together.

Seems Brent was quite a basketball player in his day – the mid ‘50s. After we met and shook hands, he asked me if I had any relatives in Selden (small town in northwestern Kansas). I told him I did and that my dad’s older brother, Uncle Herman and all his clan, hailed from this small Sheridan County town.

“You know, I played against a Schlageck in ’57 when Alton played Selden,” Brent told me. “He was a big guy and he leaned on me the whole game. He was quite a ball player too.”

He also told me Alton won that post-season game and I told Brent that his opponent was my older cousin, Junior, named after my Uncle Herman.

If you travel through Kansas and take the time to visit with people, you often find that you know someone, that someone you meet also knows. It’s great to know you hail from a small town in Kansas, and that’s what the Alton Jubilee is all about.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.