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Kansas center preserves stories of local farm life

PARSONS, Kan. (AP) -- For southeast Kansas farmers, the Great Depression marked the beginning of a transformation as machines replaced horses and the government undertook an effort to bring power to rural communities.

Forty-five farm families who lived through this period have shared their stories through an oral history project undertaken by the Southeast Kansas Farm History Center.

The Joplin Globe (http://bit.ly/Ki1knh) reported that the center's Pam Cress, a researcher, spent two years asking about the effects of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs on rural families. She also used the interviews to explore the farm practices and social life of the period.

For one of her interview subjects, 83-year-old Bill Scott Jr., the New Deal provided gravel for the mud road, which meant Scott could ride his bicycle to school.

Though times were hard, the lifelong Labette County farmer said that farm dwellers had advantages over the town dwellers.

"We knew that, you know, that we had a meal every day," Scott said. "We always did. We could eat every day. A lot of people couldn't."'

Today, the histories are available to anyone with an Internet connection. Besides audio files and written transcripts of each interview, the collection includes archived historical photographs.

Funding for the project came from the Kansas Humanities Council. And the Axe Library at Pittsburg State University is serving as host to the collection.

"It was the end of an era," said Randy Roberts, curator of special collections at Axe Library, who also grew up on a farm. "These are stories that need to be saved, need to be told, can teach us a lot."

The interview subjects include several women who taught in one-room schools and men who served during World War II.

Several of those who were interviewed worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, earning three meals a day and money to send back home. Others benefited from the Works Progress Administration, building civic projects for $1 a day.

"When I asked about the Rural Electrification Administration, everyone had memories of when electricity came to their place and how that changed their lives," Cress said. "The women, especially, had fascinating stories."

One recalled the installation of a wind generator that powered an electric iron. When the wind blew, she ironed as fast as she could. When it stopped, so did her power.

"It speaks to that era, that generation, that you made do, you got by, you kept moving ahead," said Roberts of the farmers' tendency to overcome challenges with resolve.