Reflection, celebration and fond memories should mark Thanksgiving season in Kansas

November 27, 2022 3:33 am
A thanksgiving table with empty chairs

This Thanksgiving season, writes Mark McCormick, let’s remember those who aren’t here fondly, rather than grieve their loss. (Getty Images)

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. Mark McCormick is the former executive director of The Kansas African American Museum and a member of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.

My recent call to Dr. Galyn Vesey found him in a reflective mood. Vesey, with other young people, participated in America’s first, successful, student-led sit-in at the Dockum Drugstore in downtown Wichita in 1958.

We discussed an upcoming collaboration about how he and other members of the NAACP Youth Group occupied stools at the drugstore — knowing they wouldn’t be served — until management relented.

Once we made the arrangements, he grew contemplative as we chatted.

“There aren’t many of us left,” he said of the others who participated in the sit-in.

I told him that I’d wrestled with similar feelings heading into the holiday season. I have tried not to dwell on the loss of friends who passed away in and around this year but instead tried to focus on happier times.

Three such people came to mind.

The first was Jeannie Kyger Eblen, a relentlessly curious community fixture and “newsroom mom” for University of Kansas journalism students. After moving to the Kansas City metro area from Wichita, I had planned to invite her to lunch since I was so much closer to Lawrence. But she died suddenly last November at 77 before I could extend the invitation. I felt so guilty. I hoped she knew how much I cared.

“Jeannie was small, but not delicate, brilliant but not pretentious, kind, but no pushover,” I wrote about her then, describing her has a hummingbird made of steel. “She didn’t weigh a thing but could fill a room.”

I have tried not to dwell on the loss of friends who passed away in and around this year but instead tried to focus on happier times.

– Mark McCormick

Next was David Allen Nichols who died Nov. 3 at 83. You might know him from the three books he wrote about the Dwight Eisenhower presidency. He was considered a nationally renowned expert on the subject. In fact, I met him as he was finishing one such book on Ike in 2004.

That book, “A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution,” uncovered an Ike hardly anyone knew existed. David related, in incredible detail and with enviable reporting rigor, the work Eisenhower did to further civil rights, from refusing to appoint avowed segregationist judges to the federal bench, to sending federal troops into the Confederate South for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education desegregation decision of 1954.

David and that book helped power a movement in Wichita to rename Mid-Continent Airport after Eisenhower, which the city did in 2014.

The third was Gail Finney, the sterling state representative who died in August at 63. She was glamourous and kind and loved to laugh, but she was also tough. Gov. Laura Kelly aptly described her as a “warrior.”

This seemed most evident as she fought for others.

“Gail proved to be the best kind of warrior,” I wrote back in September. “Not a weekend warrior, but the daily kind who never worried about the size of the opponent, only the depth of her constituents’ needs. She took on the biggest, toughest opponents with the same focused tenacity that she brought to any task.”

I saw in a wire service article that Virginia McLaurin, the tiny centenarian who excitedly hugged and danced with the Obamas in the White House back in 2016, died Nov. 15 at 113.

She was 106 when she came to the White House for a Black History Month reception, smiling and dancing with the First Couple.

I thought of her giggling and dancing — and I smiled. She’s gone, but the thought of her still made me happy. It’s the same with the wonderful people I’ve been talking about here.

We have to be happier that they lived, rather than broken over their passing.

Until then, as Dr. Vesey said, we must keep our loved ones close. We don’t know how much time any of us has left.

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Mark McCormick
Mark McCormick

Mark McCormick is the former executive director of The Kansas African American Museum, a member of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission and deputy executive director at the ACLU of Kansas.