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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Young Historians brings important '70s figures to life

Updated: Nov 7, 2023


A group La Cygne-area residents listen to Eugene Garr give his Young Historians presentation. (Photos by Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)


LA CYGNE – Several of the key figures in the 1960s and 1970s in the city of La Cygne came to life, in a manner of speaking, in the Young Historians presentation in early August. Organized by the La Cygne Historical Society, this was the 16th year for the Young Historians, a presentation that is part theater and all historical fact.


This year the public had three opportunities to see the performances.


Janet Reynolds began the program by outlining some of the major events of the ‘60s and ‘70s: the construction of the La Cygne Generating Station and La Cygne Lake; the consolidation of the La Cygne, Fontana and Parker schools into Prairie View USD 362 and the building of the new district high school west of La Cygne; highway improvements; library and park improvements; and an influx of jobs that changed the city to be more than a “sleepy” farming community.


Eugene Garr talks about the life of the Rev. Howard Curry.


Eugene Garr, who took the part of the late Rev. Howard Curry for the tour, talked about the accomplishments of the man who was both the first superintendent of the Prairie View district and a Baptist minister who after preaching at other churches found a permanent home at the First Baptist Church of La Cygne until his retirement.


Initially the principal at the school in Fontana, Howard Curry and his wife Ruth moved to La Cygne in the ‘60s and helped with the consolidation effort and also planned the construction of a new $1.8 million high school that was approved by voters. That school opened in 1970.


Curry retired as superintendent in 1980 and retired from the First Baptist Church in 2010.

Morgan Johnson gives the perspective of Carolyn Frank Haupt.


Next on the cast of characters was Carolyn Frank Haupt, enacted by Morgan Johnson.


Morgan recounted how Haupt’s father, Leonard Frank, was a contractor who built many of the buildings in La Cygne, including the grocery store, the museum and the first addition to the school at Prairie View. He was also on the school board during the formation of the district, and he and his fellow board members chose the buffalo as the school mascot and green and white as the school colors.


The character recounted how the selection of Kelly green caused a rift between her parents; her mom, Marjorie Haupt “hated” the color green. She also said that she was a member of the first senior class to graduate from Prairie View High School.

The life of George Harper is recounted by Ely Jackson.


Ely Jackson took on the role of George Lamar Harper, most notable for the role that he and his wife Lena played in donating land for La Harper Heights, which created affordable public housing, particularly for senior citizens.


In 1931 Harper and his wife Lena Harper moved to a farm southeast of La Cygne, where they raised Polled Hereford cattle and hogs. Initially a tanker driver for Skelly Oil Co., Harper would eventually begin his own company: Harper Truck Lines.

The Harper’s land donation enabled the first 20 apartments to open for rental in 1979,

Adrian Brown-Ratty talks about the contributions that Earl Vance made on the city council.


Earl Vance, played by Adrian Brown-Ratty, was a rural mail carrier in the area for about 44 years. He was also the mayor of La Cygne for six years from 1967 and 1973 as well as a city councilman for two years.


It was during Vance’s tenure as mayor that development of the La Cygne Community Park began. He also worked successfully to find funding for the city[s first municipal swimming pool. Vance worked tirelessly to raise money for the pool, picnic areas, a playground and a flagpole.

Gabrielle Garr recounts the many talents and occupations of Esther Shields.


Esther Phalen Shields, enacted by Gabrielle Garr, started her working life as a teenager working at Grace Getting’s Cafe in La Cygne. Her parents owned the Mobil gas station at Fourth and Market streets, and she helped out there as well as helping her mother at Phalen’s Café. A former bookkeeper and a city clerk for both La Cygne and Pleasanton, she also served as an emergency medical technician for ambulance services in Linn County and La Cygne,


She was sent to New York City by La Cygne power plant officials to pick up a $29 million check for the plant. While she was there, she appeared on the show “What’s My Line,” and when she returned to La Cygne, she bought two houses on Market Street and ran them as boarding houses for workers at the power plant.


Shields, who had a son and daughter with her second husband, Walter Shields, would go on to open an art gallery, where she taught painting, and eventually be elected to the city council.

Paityn Curtis answers questions about the life of Jewell Smythe.


The final historical person on the tour was Jewell Smythe, played by Paitlyn Curtis. Jewelle and her husband Raymond founded a plumbing trade school and plumbing and heating business in Kansas City, Mo., before moving to the La Cygne area to farm.


Immersing herself into La Cygne civic organizations, Jewell was particularly helpful in developing the La Cygne Library that was initially an institution with limited funds from the Southeast Kansas Library System.


Seeking help from Kansas City Power & Light Co., she helped put together a library district that included the La Cygne Generating station. Her foresight continues to make the La Cygne Library a well-funded institution that offers many programs to everyone from children to senior citizens.



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