Jan 12, 2020 5:41 PM

Kansas Profile: James Kenyon, Golden Rule Days book

Posted Jan 12, 2020 5:41 PM

Kansas State University

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days.” That nostalgic song describes good memories which many people have from their school times of yesteryear. One author has captured the history of many schools from the past across the state of Kansas. It’s today’s Kansas Profile.

James Kenyon is the author of a recently published book which describes the history of 109 closed Kansas schools, including one in each county. James is himself a product of rural schools. He grew up on a farm in Graham County and graduated from Bogue Rural High School in 1966, one of a class of six people. James went on to Kansas State and became a veterinarian, eventually practicing in the state of Iowa. He was named state veterinarian of the year and served as president of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association before retiring.

James came back to Kansas for a 50-year reunion of his graduating class at Bogue. As he traveled through western Kansas, he thought about the various other schools where he had played ball. He looked into it and found that, of the 32 communities where he had played ball, all but one had lost its high school. That led him on a quest to capture the history of these rural schools. His goal was to cover the entire state.

James and family made 12 trips back to Kansas during 15 months. He visited lots of libraries, historical societies, city halls, community centers, and even local cafes for information.

In 2019, he published his book Golden Rule Days – History and Recollections of 109 Closed Kansas High Schools. The book includes schools in every one of the 105 counties in Kansas.  In five counties, there were no high schools that closed, so he chose to tell the story of the last one-room schoolhouse or a rural grade school in those counties. There were four counties where he chose to include a second high school story, making a total of 109 in the book.

Each school is described with its name, town, mascot, school colors, location, year closed, and then many stories about the history of the school, buildings, athletics, unique factors, notable graduates, traditions, and more. These are fascinating anecdotes. The names of the communities span the alphabet from Alton to Zenda.

The introduction of James’s book describes the change in school organization through the years. In the beginning, one-room schools sprang up across the state, typically teaching all eight grades in a single building. In 1874, Kansas mandated compulsory school attendance for children ages 8 to 14. In 1958, Kansas had 2,794 public school districts. The early 1960s were the era of school district consolidation. By 1969, there were only 311 unified school districts.

Not every high school closing was due to consolidation. Three towns were destroyed in the 1951 flood. Three more were displaced by the reservoirs that were built in response. For example, Randolph Rural High School is Riley County’s entry in the book.

“Education was valued in every settlement,” James wrote. At the beginning of the book, James thanks his Bogue high school teachers – and principal, cooks and custodian – by name, with a description of how each of them contributed to his education. “Kansas in the 1900s was a special time in history for small towns, their high schools, and a great education of life skills,” James wrote. His original rural hometown of Bogue now has a population of 136 people.

Now, that’s rural. 

James Kenyon has published two additional books, The Art of Listening to the Heart and A Cow for College and Other Stories of 1950s Farm Life.

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days.” We salute James Kenyon for making a difference by capturing these memories of the golden rule days of yesteryear’s Kansas high schools. He ended the book’s introduction by quoting an excerpt of another poem, author unknown: “If you live and you work and develop your school, In spite of the fact it is small, You may find that your school – your own little school – Is the very best school after all.”

Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.

Ron Wilson is director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.

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Jan 12, 2020 5:41 PM
Why Kansas CO2 emissions are at lowest level in 40 years
A wind turbine rises over Kansas. Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

By BRIAN GRIMMETT, Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Kansas emitted 58.2 million metric tons of CO2 in 2017. That’s good enough to make Kansas only the 31st largest emitter in the U.S.

While it’s below the national average, on a global scale: “Kansas, if it were its own country, would be one of the top 60 CO2 emitters,” said Joe Daniel, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

So, when Kansas sees a reduction in emissions like it has in the past decade, it matters, he said.

The decline began in 2007, when total CO2 emissions in Kansas peaked at nearly 80 million metric tons.

Where CO2 comes from

So how did the state reduce its annual CO2 emissions by as much as the entire country of Bolivia so quickly? Three graphics explain it all.

First, it’s helpful to know the source of Kansas’ CO2 emissions. In 2017, about half of total CO2 emissions came from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to create electricity. The rest was mostly from burning gasoline and diesel in our cars and trucks.

The recent reductions aren’t transportation-related, because, despite more efficient and cleaner burning engines, additional people and cars have offset the difference. In fact, total transportation emissions in Kansas have barely changed in the past 40 years.

That leaves electric power generation.

The decline of coal

As the graph shows, energy-related CO2 emissions began to plummet in the mid-2000s. Specifically, it’s emissions from coal-fired power plants.

While some of the reductions are likely due to plant upgrades and federal environmental regulations that forced coal plants to clean up what was coming out of their smoke stacks, it’s mostly because plants burned less coal.

Coal plants in Kansas only produced about 20,000 gigawatt hours of electricity in 2018, compared to an average of about 35,000 gigawatt hours during the 2000s.

Daniel said the decline is largely due to economics. With the fast growth of cheap wind-generated electricity in Kansas, it’s become less profitable to run coal plants.

“I don’t think a month has gone by where I haven’t read a study about the poor economics of either coal plants, or coal mines, or the companies that invest in those properties,” Daniel said.

The rise of wind

About 36% of all electricity produced in Kansas is from wind, the highest percentage of any U.S. state.

Twenty years ago, there was no such thing.

Part of the rapid growth of the industry is obvious: You wouldn’t put a wind turbine in a place with no wind, and there’s a lot of wind in Kansas.

Plus, federal and state tax incentives encouraged developers to jump into the market.

And it’s increasingly cheaper to build a wind farm.

Just this year, Kansas saw four new wind farms come online, adding enough capacity to power 190,000 homes for a year.

“Will we see four wind projects come online every year for the next five years? No,” said Kimberly Gencur-Svaty, director of public policy at the Kansas Power Alliance. “But I do think we’ll probably continue at a pace of where we’ve averaged the last 20 years, which is a project or two.”

How low can it go?

Ashok Gupta with the Natural Resources Defence Council said the move to renewable energy and subsequent decrease in CO2 emissions will be vital to reducing the impacts of climate change.

But, he wondered if it will be fast enough, especially in states that have a lot of wind.”

“We should be going by 2030 to pretty much carbon-free electricity,” he said.

While some states like Colorado have begun to adopt 100% renewable energy goals, Kansas has not. Even if Kansas were to get to 100% renewable energy, there’s still the nearly 20 million metric tons of transportation emissions to worry about.

Achieving a clean electrical grid will also be key to reducing those emissions, Gupta said, even if it also means another, different shift in the way things are currently done.

“We have to start making sure that our transportation and our buildings are moving to all electric,” he said. “That’s the strategy for the next 10 years.”

Editor's note: This story was corrected  on Dec. 30 to show the coal plants produced gigawatt hours of electricity, not megawatt, and that there are 20 million metric tons of transportation emissions, not 20 metric tons.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at [email protected] The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.