Near the end of June, I received an e-mail from Darci Mull thanking me for publishing my Vagabond notes about Smith County, Kansas, and asking me about Gladys Kennedy, whom I have interviewed, and about Lebanon, Kansas, and the area generally. The Mulls were taking a trip to a family reunion in Kansas, and wanted to make the most of their stay in the area. I replied promptly to Darci's e-mail, and a correspondence developed. After the trip, Darci sent me a thumb-nail version of the trip's highlights, and I asked her to expand it a bit for publication at The Middlewesterner. Here is what she tells us.
What comes to mind when you hear those words? Some think of Dorothy, Toto & tornadoes, wheat fields, or maybe even the geographical center of the 48 contiguous states, but if you ask a local, they will undoubtedly say, "Gladys Kennedy."
On a recent three day trip to Lebanon and Smith Center, Kansas, I and seven other family members had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting Gladys, my second cousin twice removed. Gladys’s grandmother Catherine McGrew Jones and my 2nd great-grandmother Eliza McGrew Good were sisters. We soon discovered that Gladys Kennedy IS Lebanon. Can you imagine a 90-year-young lady quilting a blanket for every child in the community? That’s Gladys! She makes sure that the city council keeps the town moving forward. She is also a Girl Scout leader and an active member of her church. For us, one of Gladys’s most interesting facets is her historical knowledge of Lebanon.
My family and I were on a genealogical fact-finding trip, and we hit the jackpot when we met Gladys. She took us to visit the homestead of my 2nd great-grandparent’s (John Robert & Eliza Good) just 1½ miles east of Lebanon. They lived in a dugout for 27 years (with 13 children!!) and then built a framed house in 1903. Being a great niece of John & Eliza’s, Gladys had visited their home in 1925 for their 50th wedding anniversary party—now that’s interesting history! Fortunately, we were blessed to spend a lot of time with Gladys. We learned a lot about the history of the area and about our pioneer ancestors. We visited cemeteries & found stones of relatives we had never known existed.
Another interesting character we met on our adventure was Ivan Burgess. Sitting around the breakfast table at Paul’s Café in Smith Center, the waitress heard me ask Gladys about Ivan. She piped in and said that Ivan had already been in for his first breakfast around 6:30 with the guys, but that he was probably having his second breakfast in another café down the street. He was only a phone call away if we wanted to meet him. Well, it wasn’t more than five minutes later when in walks Ivan. He and Gladys have known each other for years, so they teased one another about the school rivalry that once stood between Lebanon and Smith Center, while we picked his brain about the history of Smith County. What a treasure to be entertained and educated by two prominent and interesting citizens of Smith County!
On behalf of all of the Lewis family members participating in our trip to Smith County, I’d like to personally thank Tom Montag for providing us with crucial information, names and ideas which made our trip to the center of the US, the highlight of our genealogy quest. It truly was a trip of a lifetime… a time to be remembered.