It was a hot, windy day Friday, but inside Joe Hirsch’s Sunflower State Tours bus, it was nice and cool as the tour made its way through rural Ellis County.

This was the first of five scheduled tours showcasing stone churches of Ellis County.

Hirsch, originally from Oberlin, lives in Hope, and teaches high school history classes during the school year.

A lover of history, this side business seemed a natural fit for Hirsch.

“I’ve traveled around the state my whole life,” Hirsch said. “My dad was part of the Kansas State Firefighters Association. We went every month to a different place in Kansas, so mom would buy us tickets to museums and dad would take us all around. I fell in love with it.”

In college, Hirsch began posting about his travels on Facebook. People started asking him what there was to see and do in a particular area.

When Hirsch and his wife, Nakita, were dating, they traveled almost every weekend seeing the different sights in Kansas.

“This last year, we just thought could this be something that could be a tour/education service?” Hirsch said. “So we bought the 14-passenger van. It’s just me and my wife; we’re not owned by anyone.”

The Hirsches also have a 9-month-old son, Lane, who is considered part of the business.

Hirsch said his wife is his biggest cheerleader in this venture and she also does the books for the business.

“I do the driving, and I plan the tours,” Hirsch said.

The Stone Churches of Ellis County tours are the first official tours Hirsch has done as part of his new business.

“We both grew up in Oberlin,” Hirsch said. “So we both have this affinity for northwest Kansas. Out there, the big town is Hays, so I wanted to do a tour around Hays. There is so much to do in Hays.”

While he wants to plan some other tours around Hays, he decided to focus on the churches first.

“People love going to those churches,” Hirsch said. “Everyone always goes to Cathedral of the Plains — which is a beautiful church — but there are so many other ones that are breathtaking.”

These particular tours feature the beautiful limestone churches of Victoria, Walker, Emmeram, Catharine, Munjor and Pfeifer.

Friday’s tour included an unplanned stop at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Vincent. The church will celebrate its 110th anniversary today.

“I love that I have the freedom to stop and alter the tour if we come across something worth seeing,” Hirsch said.

There were six who attended the tours on Friday. Four came from Oberlin — including some members of Hirsch’s own family — and two tourists came all the way from St. Charles, MO.

All were treated to lunch in Walker courtesy of St. Ann’s Christian Mothers.

They had a lunch of brats, sauerkraut, traditional macaroni salad and rhubarb custard pie.

“It was delicious,” said Anita Hirsch, Joe’s mother.

Following their tour of the Basilica of St. Fidelis, the group ended their day with supper at The Library Bar and Grill in Victoria.

Anyone interested in signing up for the Stone Churches of Ellis County tours, can visit sunflowerstatetours.org or call Hirsch at (785) 470-7720.

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