‘A transformative time in Lawrence’: City is one of 8 in the state to receive grant to preserve history from 1970s

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Watkins Museum of History is pictured Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.

Lawrence is one of eight communities across the state to receive a grant to preserve community history from the 1970s, a decade that local historians say represented a transformative time in the city’s history.

Humanities Kansas announced this week that eight nonprofit cultural organizations across the state would receive a total of $25,346 in grants to support projects that preserve and create access to historical or cultural resources that document stories of life in Kansas during the 1970s. Leslie VonHolten, director of grants and outreach for Humanities Kansas, said what led to the idea was the 50-year anniversary of the organization’s founding, in 1972, and a recognition that many local museums don’t cover more recent history.

“We work with so many historical museums across the state and so many people are focused on the 19th-century story of Kansas, pretty much anything up to WWII, and then a lot of times that’s where the history stops,” VonHolten said. “And so we wanted to incentivize museum professionals and archivists to start thinking about more recent history.”

VonHolten said that a lot of the county-level historical museums that Humanities Kansas works with only have a volunteer group running the museum, so part of the project also includes connecting museums with resources for their projects. For example, she said if an exhibit deals with artifacts or the digitization of photographs, the museum would be connected with someone with expertise in those areas.

“It’s important to support our historical museums and preserve Kansas history,” VonHolten said.

Explore Lawrence, the city’s visitors’ bureau, was awarded $3,500 for its project, which will be in partnership with the Watkins Museum of History and Lawrence Parks & Recreation. The Lawrence 1970s Project will be a multi-year exploration of the many civil rights and cultural milestones that took place during the decade, according to a news release from Humanities Kansas.

Will Haynes, director of engagement and learning for Watkins, said that originally, the museum had planned the Lawrence 1970 project, meant to be a yearlong observation, but that it was ultimately laid to the side amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. As the Journal-World reported at the time, the project included the commemoration of civil rights and antiwar demonstrations, the firebombing of the University of Kansas Memorial Union, and two young men being killed by police.

Haynes said now the plan is to include the events from the original project, but also expand into the rest of the decade. He said that after the unrest and violence that marked 1970, the decade saw other movements continue to advance, including the Black Power movement, the American Indian Movement, and second-wave feminism. He said the city also expanded significantly in that time period, and that several local organizations were founded during that time, including the Watkins Museum, the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library and the Lawrence Arts Center.

“This was a transformative time in Lawrence,” Haynes said. “… It was sort of a flowering of culture for the public, in addition to being a time of clashes between various groups of people.”

Haynes said the planning of events and exhibits for the project is ongoing, but so far includes topics such as the desegregation of the swimming pool, protests by the February Sisters, Haskell Indian Nations University becoming a college, the city’s Earth Day celebration, and the experience of Vietnam veterans when they returned home, among other topics. The timeframe on the project is open-ended, and Haynes said Watkins could potentially be holding events or creating exhibits through the rest of the decade. He said the museum is excited and thankful for the support from Humanities Kansas for the project.

Other grant recipients include a project about the Chicano movement in Topeka, a project documenting the rescue of The Garden of Eden site in Lucas, and a project about how the construction of Melvern Lake and dam impacted Osage County. In addition to the Humanities Kansas grants, the organization estimates local contributions to the projects amount to another $26,578. The other seven grant awards and descriptions of the projects are as follows, according to the Humanities Kansas news release:

Topeka LULAC Senior Center ($3,220), “The Chicano Movement Comes to Kansas: The Founding of Topeka LULAC Council 11071″: The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was founded in Texas in 1929 as a civil rights advocacy group. In 1971, LULAC Council 11071 was chartered in Topeka to uplift the Mexican community with a senior center and educational outreach. This project will conduct oral histories with the remaining founding members and preserve documents. Valerie Mendoza, project director.

Caney Valley Historical Society, Caney ($3,500), “Inventory Digitization and Indexing Project”: The residents of Caney celebrated their town’s centennial in 1971. Since then, residents have donated photos, articles, textiles, and memorabilia to the historical society. This preservation project will digitize and organize the photos and artifacts for future generations to view and enjoy. Gina McBride, project director.

Newton Public Library ($1,700), “Sunflower 70s: Harvey County”: The Newton Public Library will collect documents, photos, and oral history recordings related to life in Harvey County during the 1970s. A special focus of the project will be on experiences that changed the social, political, and agricultural aspects of the area. Dan Eells, project director.

Independence Historical Museum & Art Center ($3,420), “Our Community in the 70s”: An exhibit and oral storytelling project that will use photos, collection items, and recorded stories of life in Independence during the 1970s. The exhibit development process will center community pride and collective creativity. Ashley Hovell, project director.

Friends of S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, Inc., Lucas ($3,500), “Garden of Eden: The Naegele Years”: When business owners Wayne and Louella Naegele purchased the Garden of Eden, they considered it an investment property. Their plans changed when they cleared the brush around the sculptures and discovered that they were in extraordinary shape and should be restored. The Humanities Kansas grant will be used to catalog, digitize, and archive materials that document the Naegeles’ rescue of the site. Erika Nelson, project director.

Osage County Historical Society, Lyndon ($3,006), “Melvern Lake: Citizens’ Stories”: The construction of Melvern Lake and dam, which was completed in 1975, has prevented an estimated $220 million in downstream flood damage, but it radically changed Osage County. “Melvern Lake: Citizens’ Stories” will explore these changes through a community-wide oral history and photo collection project. Lynsay Flory, project director.

La Cygne Historical Society and Museum ($3,420), “Oh My, What a Change!”: La Cygne was a small agricultural community when Kansas City Power & Light built a generating station and dramatically changed the landscape and community. Through an exhibit and archival preservation, this project will explore the good–such as new jobs, a library, and parks–along with the challenges that industry brought to the town. Janet Reynolds, project director.


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