The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Rebecca Otte is a retired nurse-midwife who lives in Topeka.
My husband and I are amateur photographers and enjoy long drives in hopes of getting that one great photograph.
In 2017, I retired from my profession as a nurse-midwife and we began traveling through Kansas, crisscrossing the state on major highways and rural byways. Kansas is a wonderful place in so many ways, with its wide vistas, open prairie and fiercely independent people. But as we traveled its many roads, we were stunned at the number of towns and farms that are dead or dying.
Of course, we’ve known of this decay in some areas. We are both from Herington and have grieved at the loss of vibrancy it once had. Over the last few decades, as we traveled back to see family, we watched as businesses closed their doors, leaving the downtown area languishing.
Every politician talks about the great state of Kansas and how important it is to preserve family farms. In a recent newsletter, Sen. Jerry Moran wrote about visiting Osborne and the importance of preserving a rural way of life in Kansas. All our representatives and senators for the last 50 years have talked about it, but whatever policies have been enacted on behalf of the rural communities in Kansas clearly have not worked for a great many of them.
These are just a few of the hundreds of photos we’ve taken over the last few months.
Over and over, my husband and I have seen these small rural communities held together by a single coffee shop or perhaps a curio or antique shop, but the energy is gone. The downtowns are empty shells — the beautiful old limestone buildings falling in disrepair, the rusted railroad yards and grain elevators giving lie to the politicians’ rosy speeches.
Yes, there are bright spots in Kansas and I’m sure our politicians and community leaders will be quick to point that out. But from what we’ve seen, far too many communities in our state have lost any hope of prosperity.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.