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The Cooper Barn outside Colby, reportedly the largest barn in Kansas,
built in 1936
Photo: Marci Penner
People thought we were a little crazy when we started our 8 Wonders of Kansas project. Everyone knows about the Seven Wonders of the World so they were a little amused, or thought we were confused, when we decided to go for one more.
In 1990 my dad, Milferd Penner, and I toured the state and put together our first guidebook, Kansas Weekend Guide. When we’d stop in a city and ask what it had to offer, often people would chuckle. They’d tell us there was nothing in their town that a visitor would want to see. We heard this too many times—and it started to hurt!
So we came up with eight things that every town has, no matter the size. The eight categories are architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history, and people. In combination, they are our definition of rural culture. Maybe the physical evidence of one or more of these things has disappeared in a town, but a story remains. Looking for any of those elements helps you focus and see a town more clearly.
We then formed the Kansas Sampler Foundation to help educate Kansans about Kansas and we’ve been using those eight rural culture elements ever since.
Last year, Von Rothenberger, one of our Kansas Explorers Club members, suggested we name the Seven Wonders of Kansas and I (easily) twisted his arm to make it eight. Our initial contest was for the overall 8 Wonders of Kansas. We started with public nominations. Then a rowdy Selection Committee met to pick 24 finalists out of a couple hundred nominations. By June we had our website ready to go and voting began.
The 8 Wonders of Kansas
Map: Kansas Sampler Foundation
Six months later more than 24,000 people from every state had voted online or by paper ballot. We were thrilled! There might have been a hundred different articles written about the contest including blogs in China and Africa. Finally, on Kansas Day, January 29, 2008, all the finalists met in our state capitol, and Governor Sebelius announced the top eight. It was an exciting day, especially for the winners: (In alphabetical order) The Big Well, Greensburg; Cheyenne Bottoms/Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Barton & Stafford Counties; Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum, Abilene; Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, Hutchinson; Kansas Underground Salt Museum, Hutchinson; Monument Rocks/Castle Rock, Gove County; and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve/the Flint Hills, Chase County.
Now we’ve embarked on a series of four-month contests to focus on each of the rural culture elements. We just completed the contest for architecture. Votes came from 43 states and totaled more than 8,000 in the seven-week voting span. As determined by that public vote, the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture are (in alphabetical order) Chase County Courthouse, Cottonwood Falls; Cooper Barn, Colby; Fromme-Birney Round Barn, Mullinville; Holy Cross Church, Pfeifer; Kansas State Capitol, Topeka; Lebold Mansion, Abilene; Ness County Bank Building, Ness City; and the Seelye Mansion, Abilene.
Photo: Courtesy the Lebold Mansion
The purpose of the contest is to educate people of the world, especially Kansans, about what our state has to offer. We used the contest format to stimulate interest and debate and, of course, to encourage travel within Kansas.
Have you been to any or all of the Wonders mentioned above? If not, come out to Kansas and visit us. You’ll see that we do have a lot to offer! The cost of gas may be high but exploring in Kansas is very economical. Go to 8wonders.org to see pictures and read more about our Wonders. Come visit, we’re the rural thing!
Marci Penner directs the Kansas Sampler Foundation.