It looks like Kansas will have a 150th birthday party after all.
A group of civic leaders say the Kansas 150 Festival, to be held in Wichita on Oct. 8, will honor the state’s history and celebrate its sesquicentennial milestone with a daylong bash.
“As a state we don’t have the funds to have a big celebration right now, and we understand that,” said Ted Ayres, vice president and general counsel at Wichita State University and a member of the committee organizing the festival.
“But this is part of that can-do spirit,” he said. “It’s important for our history, and it’s important for our future that this milestone be acknowledged.”
Late last year, officials with the Kansas State Historical Society said there were no funds in the state’s cash-strapped budget to hold a lavish festival. They invited Kansans to mark the occasion with local, privately funded grassroots celebrations.
Some did, including a group of musicians and artists who put together a “Kansas: Home on the Range” concert in Hutchinson in March. About 600 people attended the event, but plans to broadcast it statewide via public television fell through, also because of budget concerns.
Skip Hidlay, former publisher of The Wichita Eagle, attended the concert and was “totally impressed,” he said. He looked for a way to extend its reach and celebrate Kansas’ 150th anniversary on a wider scale.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Wichita could step up and convene a celebration for the entire state?” Hidlay said.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer quickly got onboard. So did Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton. Several local business leaders offered to help as well.
The result: A festival in downtown Wichita that will feature a parade down Douglas Avenue, an encampment with food, art and historic re-enactors, and an encore “Kansas: Home on the Range” concert, which will tell the story of Kansas in song, poetry and video.
The October date coincides with a League of Kansas Municipalities conference and the Prairie Fire Marathon. Both take place in Wichita that weekend and likely will draw people from across the state.
“I’m a lifelong Kansan. My great-great-grandmother came to Kansas in a covered wagon,” said Martha Slater Farrell, one of the co-producers of the “Home on the Range” concert.
“So the opportunity to really celebrate the 150th anniversary of this state that I love so much ... Honestly, it gives me goose bumps.”
Though Wichita is hosting the event, “This is not a Wichita celebration,” said John D’Angelo, manager of the city’s division of arts and cultural services. “This is a Kansas celebration.
“There’s nobody who doesn’t recognize the importance of celebrating this milestone. ... We really hope to reflect the rich history and diversity of the state.”
Organizers are still hashing out details of the festival and are hoping to secure corporate sponsors to finance the cost, which could exceed $100,000.
Norton, the county commissioner, said it’s unfortunate that the state’s milestone birthday ran up against a bleak economy. But celebrating it is necessary and worthwhile, he said.
“It’s like telling your wife, ‘We can’t celebrate our 50th anniversary, but maybe we’ll celebrate 51 or 52,’” Norton said. “That’s not the same. It might never happen.
“A lot of people are working hard to make this happen because they said, ‘Why not here? Why not now?’
“I think it’s a great effort, and it’s something we, as a state, definitely need to get behind.”