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Hays resident recognized for efforts to promote local tourism

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

The Kansas Sampler Foundation recognized a Hays resident's efforts to preserve and sustain rural tourism at the Kansas Sampler Festival in Liberal early this month.

Ruben Schuckman, city of Hays tourism marketing manager, received a WE KAN award as "Devoted promoter of Ellis County towns," for his work in assisting small communities in creating Web pages on the Kansas Sampler Foundation Rural Tourism website, www.getruralkansas.org.

"I was surprised when I got it," Schuckman said of the award.

The Rural Tourism website contains pages for more than 70 Kansas towns. Efforts to put small Ellis County towns on the site proved to be a bit of a challenge for Schuckman.

"I've been working on trying to get a contact in each of the towns," he said. "That was one of the trickiest parts."

The website allows users to search by category of rural culture elements such as architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history and people. So Schuckman set out to identify sites in Ellis County with appeal, not only to general tourists, but to those with specific exploration goals.

Starting with Antonino, Schuckman visited with Larry Reichert to identify sites of interest in that area. He moved on to Catharine, Victoria, Munjor, Ellis, Walker and Schoenchen, networking with local residents to photograph and document their communities.

With the exception of Ellis and Victoria, none of the small towns had a website prior to Schuckman's efforts.

"It was really interesting to help them compile the text and proofread it and give them ideas about what to include," he said. "And I've learned a lot, too."

A website training at Fort Hays State University last summer helped bring others from across the state on board.

Suzanne Klaus, who grew up in Munjor, has worked with Schuckman developing the Munjor and Antonino pages.

"It's a very easy content management system to run," Klaus said. "It's built specifically for that function, and it's nice ... easy to use."

Updating the rural community pages will be an ongoing duty, Klaus said, as an event calendar will require continuous efforts.

She gave kudos to Schuckman for his photography skills and work in identifying people to collaborate with.

"The neat thing is, Ruben has a knack for photography and for using Photoshop," she said. "So he made some interesting collages for me for the Antonino site."

For Schuckman, helping some of his volunteers see their communities through the eyes of a tourist was one more hurdle to clear in moving the project forward. One volunteer from Walker had difficulty identifying areas of interest.

"But I've identified eight or nine different things that people might be interested in," Schuckman said. "Not things you would go and tour ... more drive-by things.

"The Walker Airbase is just a drive around the perimeter. Same thing with the old Fort Fletcher ... the stone arch bridge south of Walker. Those are the sorts of things explorer-type tourists find interesting."

Creating awareness of the area "drive-by" sites likely will be a benefit to the city of Hays, Schuckman said, as tourists passing through those areas might spend time in Hays, either shopping, eating at restaurants or staying at a hotel.