Ellis County Historical Society celebrates 50 years

BY CORIE LYNN

VIDEO BY HAOMIAO LU

Don Bickle remembers buying the old Presbyterian church in Hays, which was the first church in the county.

“I stood on the steps with Adolf [Reisig] when we decided to buy this place,” he said.

It was this building that would come to house the historical society that Bickle and Reisig, along with other community members, helped found.

And Saturday, to celebrate county history and the work that has occurred over the years, the Ellis County Historical Society opened its doors to the public to celebrate the 50 years since its founding.

The celebration began with a series of speakers who presented on topics in Ellis county history, such as Kansas forts, George Sternberg and the area’s German immigrants.

Guests were welcome to peruse artifacts, historic buildings and watch the reenacted gunfights that occurred throughout the afternoon.

In the evening, the celebration moved to the Hays Community Theatre for music, dancing and a raffle.

But to welcome the visitors to the celebration, co-founder Fr. Blaine Burkey sent a video message, which recounted the beginnings of the historical society and its first efforts at preserving local history.

The first task was marking Boot Hill.

“Then followed a museum with frequent new displays, the bronze Hays City markers, publishing ‘Ellis County Gold,’ enviable archives, The Homesteader, our two-volume country history book, instructive lectures,” Burkey said.

Amanda Rupp now serves as the interim director of the historical society. According to her, not much has changed in the mission or the activities of the society.

Recently, the historical society had been closed to the public, though its archives were open by appointment. Work continued behind the scenes, particularly within the archives.

The society, however, has continued its history of outreach in the community and hosting speakers on local topics. Since reopening to the public, Rupp said the historical society has tried to revive interest in county history.

“Wouldn’t it be boring if we didn’t know anything about our past?” she said.

As a part of the historical society, Rupp is proud of the efforts of the society, having done much to preserve the past with few resources. Today, Ellis Co. sees the fruition of those first, homegrown meetings of Bickle, Burkey and Reisig.

As Burkey concluded his message, he reminded his audience that preserving the past isn’t the only purpose of the Ellis County Historical Society.

“By involving in a common effort,” he said, “folks from all sectors of the county’s populaces, our society promotes peace and harmony, a dynamic needed by today’s fractured society.”

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