THE LITTLE TOWN THAT COULD
I had planned to write this blog since last summer. I wanted to pay tribute to our small hometown, this little town that built us; this little speck on the map that is Tipton, Kansas. I wanted to paint a picture of this little spot that would honor the place where we grew up, the place that gave us roots and not only a strong foundation, but faith, a sense of community and a place we always knew we could come home to. But how does one pay tribute in words to a place that defies explanation and understanding? If you know about Tipton, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I will do my best to paint that picture.
For my readers who know Tipton, especially those who live or did live there, let me just say this is daunting. Just as there are no words to aptly pay tribute to, say, Mother Theresa (a most humble saint), or President Eisenhower (my favorite), I am really not up to this task, but I don’t think I ever will be. I sat on this idea for almost a year, probably because I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t think I could give Tipton the justice and honor it deserves in words. Early last week, I decided it was time. I had wasted enough time thinking about it, and it was time to just do the best I could. It will be next Sunday’s blog, I committed in my mind.
Then, just two days after I made myself that promise, our hometown was on the evening news.
My husband and I were eating dinner, watching the 5:30 news on Tuesday of this week. It had been interrupted for quite some time due to severe weather coverage around the state, including some in Osborne County, close to Tipton. Osborne County, where our family farm is. I have lived in Kansas nearly all my life, and I have only seen one small tornado. My favorite weatherman was covering this growing storm system with his usual conviction and competence.
“There is a large tornado on the ground five miles southwest of Tipton.” Our family farm is about five miles southwest of Tipton. One of our brothers lives there now with his family, having recently built a new home there.
He was no longer my favorite weatherman. I was no longer hungry.
I wanted to call or text my brother, but I knew they had more important lifesaving measures to take at that moment, and a call from me was not a priority. We watched the radar, and heard “Tipton” about a dozen times as he continued to track the storm.
“If you live in or around Tipton, you should be taking cover immediately. This is a powerful storm. Go immediately to your shelters.” I now hated this weatherman.
The seconds and minutes ticked by like hours, while I hoped and prayed for what would have to be a near-miracle. The track of the storm was likely to reach our farm, followed by our hometown.
Selfishly, I prayed a little harder for our farm to be spared than I did for the community. I cannot deny that. But, as our community taught us from early on, “We’re all in this together.”
Mercifully, it missed our farm, but then it headed toward Tipton. I diverted my prayers, 100% full-on for Tipton.
When it was all over, there was property damage, but nobody was hurt. Thank you, God.
According to Wikipedia and the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 210 residents in my hometown. It reached its peak population in 1980, when there were 321 residents counted. We were three of them.
Wikipedia typically profiles any famous people from any town they list. There were none noted from Tipton. There were no claims to fame listed for our hometown, just a simple description of this small Kansas burg.
It began as a burg, Pittsburg, to be exact. Apparently, there was already a Pittsburg, Kansas, so the name was changed to Tipton, after Tipton, Iowa, the former home of a local resident.
This is all news to me. I am embarrassed that, at age 53, I didn’t already know this. I should have known this from my youth. If anyone has any corrections or additions to this information, please let me know.
So, on the surface, Tipton’s just an Average Joe kind of small town.
Except that it’s not. No way, no how.
If, just like the many potluck dinners one attends in a small town, life can be considered a giant potluck dinner, whereby everyone has to bring their best dish to the table in order to partake, then we learned this from early on, not just on the farm, but in our community as well.
Helping out for the greater good of the family and the community were values that were instilled in us more by deed than by word; quite simply we knew we had to do our part in order to be a part first of the family, then the community.
This lesson has served us quite well, as we know that no matter where we go or what we do in our lives, we must give our best with the gifts we were given.
Both our grade and high schools began as private Catholic schools, as the community was predominantly German Catholic. When I was in grade school, elementary grades ceased to be part of the diocesan Catholic school system, and the local school district absorbed our school into its public school system. The high school remains a private, Catholic high school, funded by fundraisers and an endowment program that is well managed in order to provide this invaluable education.
I may be bragging when I say invaluable, but I think I have reason to do so. Our school continues to be consistently recognized statewide for its math program and our speech and drama department, among other programs that are noted to be top-notch for any school, especially for a small, privately-funded parochial school.
Even when the graduating class has only three members, it still goes strong.
About 15 years ago, due to declining numbers, the public school district that served our grade school voted to consolidate with another school, effectively shipping the elementary graders to the next town.
No way, no how. The community appealed to the Catholic diocese to re-develop a Catholic grade school, but—as I understand it—the numbers won. Not enough kids, not enough money. Therefore, there would be no returning affiliation with the diocesan Catholic school system.
Taking matters into their own hands, the community rallied, and began their own private Christian school. Keeping the elementary children in the community was paramount, and where there was a will this strong, they found the way.
With some state funding, grants and an endowment of its own, it continues to go strong. The elementary kids complete their coursework in this new building,
then go on to high school next door in this old building.
All seven children in our family graduated from this high school. Now, some of our nieces and nephews have already, or will graduate from there too, as well as completing grade school next door.
The Main Street of Tipton boasts thriving businesses, including a grocery store with locally famous sausage produced there, a restaurant, a bank, hardware, library, dance studio, manufacturing company and a service station.
The dance studio was once the grocery store.
Old School Seals, a specialty service providing wax seals, stamps and letter sealing is nationally recognized. If you head south on Main Street about four miles, you will find Ringneck Ranch, a pheasant hunting ranch that is also nationally famous among pheasant hunting enthusiasts.
I have no words to express my gratitude for the education and upbringing I received in Tipton. It is an indelible mark of honor, and, as well as the academic knowledge from our stellar school system, the sure knowledge that whatever our gifts are, we have the power and responsibility to bring them to the potluck table of life to make the world a better place.
I can barely stand to put it in the printed word, but our nation suffered another unspeakable loss this week at the hands of a mass shooter. This time it took 12 innocent lives in Virginia. The first news reports detailed the horror, but since then, the focus I have noticed is that the community has rallied, insistent that this will not define us. They are reaching out to each other—whether or not they knew them previously—to help each other heal the wounds and move forward. This is only possible when the human group comes together with a unified goal to move forward, picking up the pieces to start again.
Much of the Midwest and Southeastern United States has experienced unprecedented flooding in the last month. As human groups are known to do, residents of the areas affected have come together to help anyone who is affected, whether or not they know them. Humans can be so cool like that.
After the tornado in Tipton Tuesday night, the community rallied. There were no injuries—thank you God, and no homes were destroyed, but there was damage to property. Enough damage that those affected required help. Without hesitation, everyone else stepped up to lend a hand, followed by a meal for all.
The potluck effect once again prevailed. Everyone pitched in, bringing their best to the table. The humans in Tipton are so cool.
Young and not-as-young alike pitched in. This is the potluck effect being taught by deed right here.
I remember when our dad was hospitalized in Wichita after heart surgery. He was not yet retired from farming and it was in the fall at milo harvest time. Dad obviously wasn’t able to be there, and our brothers couldn’t do the job alone. Area farmers stepped up with their combines, donating their time, fuel and other operating expenses in order to get the job done. On the farm, harvest simply must be done when the time is right, or it may not get done at all. Weather often dictates that, as well as crop maturation.
It’s the farmer’s code; they all know that any or all of them would do it without a second thought when any one of them is in need. I think Dad got a little teary in the hospital when we told him that harvest had been taken care of. I’m getting a little teary as I write this—in a good way.
Wheat harvest is the pinnacle of the year on the farm. I never miss at least a day each year in the harvest field—except the year I spent in Philadelphia.
Last year when I was on our farm for harvest, I took the following pictures of our hometown:
St. Boniface Catholic Church. We were all baptized and brought up in this church. Dad walked me down this aisle 25 years ago. Our parents’ final profession of faith was here at their funeral.
We chose the grade school as one of their memorial benefactors. This brick honors them in the memorial garden between the two school buildings.
The locally famous grocery store on Main Street.
Looking south on Main Street on a Saturday afternoon during harvest. All the action is in the wheat fields.
Formerly known as the Knights of Columbus Hall–and still known to me as that–the Tipton Community Center serves as a meeting place for celebrations, fundraisers, family gatherings, funeral dinners and basketball games.
The southwest corner of Tipton. The building on the right was once our grade school, now it is part of the manufacturing plant. The tiny ribbon of white road on the horizon is the road to our farm.
I drove this road west out of Tipton thousands of times on the way to our farm. Entering Osborne County at this road, there are four more miles to our farm. It is always a beautiful sight coming and going.
Our family gets together for holidays, sometimes at Gail’s house, sometimes at my house, and sometimes on our brothers’ farms—both on the one we grew up on, as well as our youngest brother’s farm a few miles north. Our parents moved off the farm and into nearby Osborne in 2000, so our visits to them before they died were in Osborne, not Tipton. Their funeral was in Tipton, and the outpouring of love and support from the community was beyond words.
I don’t spend a lot of time in Tipton these days, but when I do, the old familiar feeling of home is there. Claiming Tipton as my hometown always brings a swelling feeling of pride inside of me.
I meet many people in my work, and I often have the opportunity to visit at length with them. When the “Where are you from?” topic arises, and when they have heard of Tipton as many of them have, a warm smile always shows up on their faces. And then they proceed to tell me who they know from Tipton, or perhaps that they attend our annual Church Picnic, which is known far and wide as the most remarkable Church event in the area.
My family has been away on vacation for the last several years during that time, so I haven’t been back for a few years. Nineteen years ago, I was pregnant with our last child. The due date was announced on my first prenatal visit–August 4th. There were two things glaringly wrong with this prediction for me. First, the words pregnant and August should never be used or even inferred in the same sentence. Second, that meant I would miss the Tipton Church Picnic. That due date clearly wasn’t going to work for me, so, just like his older brother, my second-born graciously arrived eleven days before his due date.
Thank you, God. We went to the picnic, baby in tow in my arms—my sweaty arms. Fun was had by all. More importantly, the proceeds from this event keep the high school operating. True to Tipton form, everyone brings their best to the table for this event, whether it is one’s donation of time, money, effort or food—or all four. Without question, everyone pitches in, and another year goes down in the Tipton history books.
As I write, my mind keeps going in multiple directions, continuing to come upon more things that need to be said. I’m already over my self-imposed limit of 2,000 words, but there is just one more thing I need to say:
Earlier in the post, I used a forbidden word. A word, I recall from our upbringing both in my family and in our community, that was forbidden. The “H” word. I said I hated the weatherman. We were allowed to hate someone’s actions, but we were not allowed to hate them. I’m sorry, weatherman. I don’t hate you. You were simply doing your job. You were bringing your best to the table.
Perhaps this simple rule is what makes Tipton so unique. Perhaps, even though Tipton continues to be a speck on the map, and the population hasn’t yet returned to 300, we know there is no place for hatred. Perhaps that is why this little town could, still can, and still does.
Thank you, God.