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SPOTLIGHT
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Famous Kansans

Published on -1/29/2014, 10:10 AM

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What do the sunflower, buffalo, barred tiger salamander, ornate box turtle, cottonwood, honeybee, Western meadowlark and "Home On the Range" all have in common? All are official symbols of the state of Kansas.

Such trivia is taught in Kansas schools as early as preschool. Students throughout the state likely are recognizing Kansas Day today as well. It was on Jan. 29, 1861, that Kansas was the 34th state admitted to the Union.

On this 153rd anniversary of that date, we salute some of the influential men and women who have made their home on this range. It is the people of Kansas, after all, who make this state great.

Do Kansas natives Amelia Earhart, Dwight D. Eisenhower, William Allen White or Bob Dole need any biographical information? Probably not. Again, most children learn about these famous figures in class.

There are multitude other Kansans who might not show up on a syllabus, but they should. In their own way, each was transformative and memorable. We applaud the Kansas State Historical Society for keeping their stories alive and accessible.

There was Laura Ingalls Wilder, who fictionalized her stay in the Kansas Territory in "Little House on the Prairie." "The Learning Tree" was based on the Fort Scott childhood memories of Gordon Parks. Writer Langston Hughes grew up in Topeka and Lawrence.

There was Charlie Parker, the great jazz alto saxophonist who developed bebop by focusing on harmony instead of melody. He hailed from Kansas City, Kan. The father of the tenor sax, Coleman Hawkins, played in the Topeka High School band.

The women's temperance movement would not have been the same without the hatchet-wielding Carry Nation destroying saloons in Medicine Lodge. The first basketball coach at the University of Kansas was the game's inventor, James Naismith. Movie star Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City.

White Castle restaurants began in Wichita with co-founders Walter Anderson and Bill Ingram. Psychiatric treatment was forever advanced by Karl Menninger and the family namesake clinic and foundation in Topeka. Had George Sternberg not been born in Lawrence, the Fish-Within-a-Fish might still be buried in Gove County and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays might have a different name.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks was from Topeka. Osawatomie discovered John Brown was not above using violence to end slavery in the territory. Emmett Kelly, the sad clown known as Weary Willie, was from Sedan. Peanut expert George Washington Carver homesteaded in Ness County. Automobile titan Walter Chrysler was born in Wamego and raised in Ellis.

Thomas Corbett homesteaded near Concordia and gained fame for killing John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin. Russell Stover Candies traces its namesake lineage to Alton. The first woman mayor in the United States was Susanna Salter, elected to the post in Argonia after some men jokingly nominated her.

Samuel Dinsmoor wasn't born in Kansas but you still can view his body in Lucas at the Garden of Eden, which he built before dying in 1932. St. Francis' Ron Evans was among the crew of Apollo 17, the last U.S. mission to the moon. Microchip inventor Jack Kilby graduated high school in Great Bend. The "Potato King of the World," Junius Groves, farmed near Edwardsville. Not surprisingly, aviation-renowned Wichita was home to William Lear Sr., Clyde Cessna and Walter and Olive Beech.

The list is not intended to be all-inclusive. Far from it. With each passing generation, a few more names get added. Kansas has its place in history because of the people who do historic deeds. All of them did -- just like all of us can -- get to the stars through difficulties.

Happy birthday, Kansas. Ad astra per aspera.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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