Kansas will mark 155 years of statehood on Friday -- a good time to celebrate some of the people who helped shape our state, our nation and our world.
Here are four of my favorites who bring to mind the state motto, "Ad astra per aspera" (to the stars through difficulties).
Clyde Tombaugh: The astronomer from Burdett was back in the news in 2015 when New Horizons, the probe launched 10 years ago by NASA, arrived in the vicinity of Pluto to explore the dwarf planet and what’s known as the Kuiper Belt.
Born in Illinois in 1906, Tombaugh moved as a teenager with his family to Kansas. Growing up, Tombaugh developed a fascination for the stars and wanted to pursue a career in astronomy. But setbacks on the family farm put college out of reach. Tombaugh continued to pursue his passion, however, building his own telescopes and conducting research.
He sent one of his papers to the Lowell Observatory, which, in response, offered him a job, launching a career that would include the opportunity to go to college, but only after his discovery of Pluto in 1930.
Tombaugh died in 1997, at the age of 90.
Jack Kilby: Growing up in Great Bend during the 1920s and '30s, Kilby grew so interested in radios that he decided to pursue a career in the industry.
But he did not aspire to be a star. His focus was on what made radios work, and after serving in the military during World War II and graduating from college, he took a job with a radio manufacturer in Milwaukee.
In 1958, he went to work for Texas Instruments, because “TI was the only company that agreed to let me work on electronic component miniaturization more or less full time …”
That’s from Kilby’s biography on the Nobel Prize organization’s website. His first-person account continues:
“After proving that integrated circuits were possible, I headed teams that built the first military systems and the first computer incorporating integrated circuits. I also worked on teams that invented the handheld calculator and the thermal printer, which was used in portable data terminals.”
His list of achievements continued, and Kilby, along with Robert Norton Noyce, would become known as the inventor of the microchip.
Kilby won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2000 for his work on integrated circuits. He died at his home in Dallas in 2005.
Dwight Eisenhower: Born in Texas in 1890 and raised in Abilene, Eisenhower took a job at a creamery after high school to help send one of his older brothers to college.
Although their family finances were meager, the Eisenhowers believed in the power of education combined with hard work.
Dwight Eisenhower won an appointment to West Point military academy and rose to become supreme commander of the Allied Forces in 1942. His leadership skills and talents as a collaborator helped win World War II. They also won him worldwide respect, setting up a presidential run in 1952.
As president, Eisenhower was a fiscal conservative and friendly to business, but he also supported strong public schools, a minimum wage and construction of the nation’s interstate highway system.
He struggled with such issues as McCarthyism and school integration, attempting to balance political considerations with his own sense of right and wrong. But even when he disagreed with Supreme Court rulings, he acted to ensure they were upheld – showing an understanding of the checks and balances necessary to good government.
He died in 1969 at the age of 78.
Gordon Parks: Born into a large, poor family in Fort Scott in 1912, Parks would become a photographer for Life magazine, a groundbreaking movie director, an author and a composer.
His range of talents was impressive, but it was his photography that truly touched hearts and changed minds. His pictures often conveyed racial inequality, poverty and injustice.
Parks never sacrificed the dignity of his subjects to make a point, but rather used images to create empathy and respect.
In a life shaped early by poverty, loss and discrimination, Parks chose to pick up a camera to effect change. He battled prejudice by appealing to the intellects and social conscience of Americans.
He died in 2006 at the age of 93.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana, New York and across Kansas.