‘More than bricks and glass,’ Volland Store brings art, stories to Wabaunsee County

August 19, 2021 3:33 am

Many friends gathered to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Volland Store. October 2013. They reenacted the photo made at the original opening of Kratzer Brothers Mercantile. (Rick McLaughlin)

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. Jenny Towns is an adjunct professor in strategic communications at Kansas State University, where she is pursuing a master of music degree in music education. 

Patty Reece was new in Wabaunsee County when she and her husband first spotted the structural remains of the abandoned Volland Store, a large brick building in sad disrepair.

“We have always loved old buildings and have felt sadness when they melted into the earth — as so many have,” she said. “The roof of the building was gone, as were many of the windows. Weeds were tall, trees were encroaching on the foundation, but the building was straight and strong.”

Her interest in the building led her on a fact-finding mission with neighbors and community members. She began to hear funny tales of the people who had gathered there and fond memories of storekeeper Otto Kratzer, “who always gave penny candy to the neighborhood kids,” Patty said.

A crowed gathers for the opening of Kratzer Brothers Mercantile (fondly known as The Volland Store) in 1913. (Otto Kratzer)

Patty may have been new to the county, and the stories of the Volland Store were certainly new to her, but she was no stranger to Kansas and the Flint Hills. The daughter of a west Texas farmer, Patty moved to Kansas as a newlywed and eventually found her way to Wabaunsee County as a resident.

Her interest in The Volland Store only grew after her first encounter with it in those early days.

“Some years later, we learned that the owner (who had moved to another state) had received an offer to buy the building for the bricks. It would be torn down,” Patty said. “Fortunately, the owner was the granddaughter of Otto Kratzer who didn’t want the building to disappear because it held her memories of childhood too. We were offered the opportunity to buy it, and we didn’t hesitate.”

Patty got to work renovating the building, committed to creating a space that honored the Volland Store’s history.

“We knew the building was more than bricks and glass,” she said. “It held the memories and history of a culture, and it seemed important to make sure it didn’t disappear.”

During this renovation a new story emerged. The Volland Store could be a meeting place between the past and present; a place where community residents and visitors alike could make connections, learn about history, embrace new ideas, meet new people, and experience diverse forms of art.

“Everything you need (and would like) to know about the Great American Solar Eclipse” by Dr. Chris Sorensen, professor of physics at K-State, drew a large crowd to The Volland Store in July 2017. (Submitted)

“Filling it with new ideas and new people makes it a vibrant place as it moves into the future,” Patty said.

Today, the Volland Store is a community space for art and events that is living up to Patty’s promise. Situated on a pretty plot of land with charming railroad views, the Volland Store will soon be home to an outdoor performance space, featuring live programming alongside the visual art and learning sessions currently featured in the building. That commitment to storytelling through art is a cornerstone of The Volland Store. It is a place where stories are honored and told with care — a meeting space where voices from the past and present mingle, and seek to shape a community’s future.

Of particular note in this chorus of voices is a young woman named Kaytlyn Meseke, a staff member of The Volland Store. Her journey to The Volland Store team is nothing if not fortuitous. She is the great-great granddaughter of Etta Meseke, who was the mother of Mabel Kratzer, the wife of Otto Kratzer, one of the original storekeepers.

Kaytlyn Meseke holds a photo of her great-great grandmother Etta Meseke. Etta was the mother of Mabel Kratzer, wife of Otto Kratzer, one of the original storekeepers. (Carole Chelz)

Today, Kaytlyn assists Patty with operations and programming. Kaytlyn, along with other local neighbors and the descendants of Otto Kratzer, are happy to share their memories and reflections with first-time visitors.

Patty notes that many first-time visitors to the new space tell staff that they remember The Volland Store, too, from their childhoods or through their own family stories — proof positive that the Store’s legacy has endured, even before the building was alive again.

Now, these stories can be joined with new ones.

It is clear that this space is “more than bricks and glass,” as Patty said. Communities survive and thrive by honoring their stories and telling them with care. As a joyful artistic meeting place between the past, present, and future, the Volland Store is doing just that.

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Jenny Towns
Jenny Towns

Jenny Towns is an artist, educator and communications professional. She is a school choir director and is pursuing her master's degree in music education at Kansas State University. She holds a B.A. in dramatic literature from The George Washington University and an M.F.A. in theater from Florida Atlantic University. She lives in Manhattan, Kansas.