Where are you from? When asked, I say that I’m from Colorado, but my roots are in Kansas. I grew up in Mulvane and graduated from the University of Kansas, where Bill (originally from Virginia) and I met and tied the knot. One of our two children was born in Kansas. We moved to Colorado nearly 40 years ago and can count the number of times we’ve been back to visit on one hand.
So when a friend invited us to participate in his parents’ memorial celebration in Kansas, we seized the opportunity for a leisurely 26-day road trip that included week-long stays in Lawrence, Kansas City (Missouri) and Wichita, plus a day trip to my hometown of Mulvane.
The best part of the trip was spending time with family – Janice, Mark, Scott and Ron in Wichita – and long time friends – Brenda, Kenny and Brenda’s parents in Hutchinson, Steve’s family and Jim in Lawrence, plus Faye and Bob in Kansas City.
As expected, we engaged in a good amount of “remember when” but also enjoyed sight-seeing – 26 brand new experiences, to be precise. And yes, I plan to share them with you in my upcoming articles. All of them. I hope you enjoy discovering these gems as much as we did!
Let’s start with our short visit to Mulvane, the place I called home for my first 18 years. It was the quintessential small town experience where everybody knew your name and so much more – a major drawback when you’re involved in shenanigans with your friends. But we were also privy to plenty of enrichment opportunities, and I signed up for everything my parents would allow – piano and clarinet lessons, band, multiple choirs, Girl Scouts, church activities, Pep Club, student government, service clubs and more.
A glaring gap at that time (not unusual no matter the size of the school), was the very abbreviated menu of organized sports for girls. I joined the fledgling track team in high school, which may have been the only available option. With the passage of Title IX just weeks after my graduation, however, that situation was remedied pretty quickly.
There have been a lot of changes in Mulvane during the last 50 years. My childhood home is long gone, but the town itself is alive and well, due in part to revenue from having one of the only non-tribal casinos in the state of Kansas. The population has doubled since the 1970s, and the community has demonstrated unwavering support for school expansions and other infrastructure projects. The downtown look and feel, however, is not unlike it was in days gone by.
Essentially unchanged since the 1970s, Dillons is still the only grocery store in town.
We crossed paths with two very different but equally colorful murals.
Whatever I learned all those years ago about Mulvane’s past was either deeply buried or completely erased from my memory, so we (Bill, Janice, Mark and I) made time to take a spin through the local history museum, formerly the Santa Fe railroad depot.
What did we learn?
- Mulvane was founded in 1879 when Santa Fe secured land from local farmers to expand the company’s railroad operations.
- The town was named after Joab Mulvane, the Santa Fe official who negotiated the land deal.
- Santa Fe built and operated a hospital and horse-drawn ambulance service in Mulvane during the early years.
Also in the early 1900s, Mulvane was home to a semi-professional baseball team, and one of the players was a man by the name of Carl Mays, who was later acquired by the Boston Red Sox.
I was sufficiently intrigued to seek out more information about Mr. Mays. A fine pitcher, he spent 15 years in the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants. His most enduring legacy, unfortunately, was throwing a pitch in 1920 that fatally injured a batter named Ray Chapman, who played for the Cleveland Indians. To this day, Chapman is the only MLB player to die as a result of an injury on the field.
We spent about an hour perusing the exhibits at the museum, which featured an impressive collection of pictures and information about the early families that guided Mulvane’s growth and development. It’s important to preserve those stories, photos and other artifacts, so kudos to the Mulvane Historical Society for leading the charge.
For Janice and me, the most fun part of the visit was sifting through tons of photos and news stories from our era, basically the 1960s and 1970s. We even found yearbooks from our respective senior years. Pretty sure I have mine somewhere, but it hasn’t seen the light of day in many moons.
What’s with the menu in the background? My friends and I ate lunch at the Dairy King nearly every day in high school – for me, it was a double Charlie (French fries smothered in chili and melted cheese garnished with diced onions) and a cherry Dr. Pepper (soda mixed with generous squirt of cherry syrup, not the watered down version available today in a can). Fifty-two cents.
And finally, here’s an old article from the Mulvane News that we didn’t find in the museum. Rather, it showed up in my parents’ keepsakes.
Perhaps we should offer to donate it to the Old Settlers’ Day collection?
We enjoyed our day trip to Mulvane. Stay tuned for an upcoming article about our visit to Lawrence!