“100 Things To Do In Kansas Before You Die,” by Roxie Yonkey (Reedy Press, 2021, 176 pages, $19.95)
For some 28 years, Kansas was the state I drove through to get to Colorado, the home of the rival Jayhawks (I am a proud Mizzou grad) and the place an 18-year-old Missourian could buy beer back in 1965. However, meeting and falling in love with a young woman from Cottonwood Falls provided me with a new appreciation for Kansas, which has been our home since 1986. I am thrilled every time I drive through the Flint Hills.
Now, a new book called “100 Things To Do In Kansas Before You Die” has me itching to explore even more of Kansas with book in hand. Author Roxie Yonkey provides a fun, entertaining and informational guide to the Sunflower State.
Of course, many of the 100 places were familiar to me. We’ve seen Jackson Browne perform at the Stiefel Theatre in Salina. I was present when the Hattie McDaniel commemorative marker was dedicated in Wichita. And I took our three sons to Hutchinson to experience the Cosmosphere when they were young. Marcia and I spent some time in Dodge City on our honeymoon. We have stayed at the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls and enjoyed the food at Ad Astra in Strong City.
However, I had not heard of the Kansas towns of Scammon, Altoona, Lincoln, Marienthal, Athol, Weskan, Canton, Codell, Lebanon or Bennington or the attractions located therein. I was not aware that The Shepherd’s Mill in Phillipsburg manufactures yarn and fabric from a zoo’s worth of animals, from alpaca to yak. I did not know the origins of “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk,” that Council Grove founder Seth Hays was Daniel Boone’s great-grandson or that Elk Falls is the Outhouse Capital of the World. I did not know that the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork was the U.S. Army’s final battle in Kansas. Thanks to Yonkey, I am now informed that Charles H. Hyer invented the cowboy boot at his Olathe shoe shop in 1875 and that C.W. Parker produced about 1,000 carousels at his factory in Leavenworth before it closed in 1955. This book is a trove of information about Kansas and Kansans.
The book is divided into five main sections: Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Sports and Recreation, Culture and History and Shopping and Fashion. Altogether, the book describes many more than 100 things to do or places to visit. Each page offers a travel tip, and Yonkey also provides suggested itineraries and a list of activities by season.
Any list like this is going to be incomplete. I think the omission of the Kansas History Museum in Topeka is a glaring omission (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of the Kansas Historical Foundation). I would have also considered mentioning the Wichita Art Museum, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, Stearman Field Bar & Grill Restaurant in Benton, the Historic Ritchie House in Topeka, 1904 Carnegie Library in Lawrence and the wonderful independent bookstores of Wichita (Watermark Books) and Council Grove (Flint Hills Books).
Yonkey has lived in and written about Kansas for more than 30 years and, according to her bio, “loves road tripping on roads less travelled.” Her writing shows an appreciation for people and history and a charming insight for the unusual and quirky, but with an underlying respect and appreciation for Kansas and its residents.
But be warned: Read this book, and you’ll be motivated to take to the highways and byways of this state we call home.
Contact Ted Ayres at firstname.lastname@example.org.