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St. John residents just want the town's name spelled correctly

Published on -6/23/2014, 8:02 AM

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By Beccy Tanner

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) Some of the good people from St. John are in a bit of a huff.

They want a wrong righted, asking that their Stafford County hometown be spelled correctly.

Keep in mind, these are not the good people of Saint John.

"I used to debate for St. John years ago, and in debate this would be called a 'laydown,' " said Larry Welch, former Kansas Bureau of Investigation director and graduate of the 1954 class of St. John High School. "Hello? We were named after Governor St. John. This is no debate. There is no other side to this. The course is clear. It has to be St. John."

Except that a computer system at the U.S. Postal Service disagrees.

On Saturday, a petition was begun on Facebook by St. John High School alumni.

"Friday evening I wrote on the Facebook page comment section ... and mentioned that we have a problem, and the Post Office seems to be the root cause of it," Alice McMillan Lockridge wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle.

On Saturday, she began the petition. As of Sunday afternoon, 50 people from the town of 1,200 residents had signed it. She hopes others will join the cause and sign it as they become aware of its existence.

The town of St. John was established in the fall of 1874 by a group of Bickertonites, a religious sect that had split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, and was led by William Bickerton. By the spring of 1875, a community had sprung up that Bickertonites called Zion Valley.

John Pierce St. John was governor of Kansas from 1879 to 1883 -- most noted for his prohibitionist stand against liquor and for welcoming and encouraging Exodusters, former slaves from the Deep South who were settling on the Kansas prairie.

As Stafford County's boundaries were being organized in 1879, there was a county seat war between Stafford and Zion Valley. Residents in Zion Valley suggested to the new governor that if the county seat could be in their community, they'd be willing to change the name to St. John. So today St. John is Stafford County's seat.

The name of the town is on everything as St. John -- the local post office, the water tower, the newspaper and signs leading into the community.

Except for that post office computer thing.

Jim Ronen, a longtime resident of St. John (class of 1955) whose family roots stretch back to the county's formation, said it's a problem that has bothered him for at least a decade.

"What really irritates me is that businesses and schools are using Saint; I don't understand why," Ronen said. "Every (local) postmaster for the last three or five have tried to get it changed. They can't get anyplace. I've talked to senators and representatives about it. I don't know where to go to get somebody that will change it."

It didn't really become a problem, Ronen said, until everything became computerized.

Order something on the Internet, and the computer will correct St. John to Saint John.

Google "weather for St. John," it comes up as Saint John.

Other cities don't have this problem -- St. Louis is, well, St. Louis.

Lockridge, a 1969 graduate of St. John High and now a resident of the Seattle suburb of Renton, Wash., began the petition.

It is addressed to the U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe and James P. Cochrane, chief information officer and executive vice president of the U.S. Postal Service.

The petition reads: "As former and current residents of this unique and historic town in central Kansas we feel it is important to have the USPS spell the name of St. John, Kansas correctly. Many other companies and web pages pick up this error from your lists. If you make the correction it will have a larger effect of correcting it across the internet."

Welch said Sunday he will sign the petition.

"Now, there are a lot of saints in St. John -- many, many saints. I went to school with a lot of them," Welch said. "But those who are natives of St. John know there is only one spelling. St. Period. John. There is no debate. They better get their records straight."

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle

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