Newspaper founded 50 years ago

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

It was 50 years ago on June 20, 1968, when The Wyandotte West was born. It was produced in a basement of a town house condominium in the Redwood Gardens subdivision at 816 N. 70th St.

I was barely 27 years old. My staff was my business partner, Jack Root, a friend from the Air Force Reserve and the local Jaycee Chapter, and my wife Carol, a teacher who had spent three years instructing third graders at Claude Huyck Elementary School.

Despite considerable preliminary work in planning and creating the first issue, it was an all-night effort to produce Volume 1, Number 1. We finished up at about 7 a.m. I took the eight-page product to a printing plant in the Fairfax Industrial District; Bailey Publications had its offset press in a building that had housed Deluxe Checking Printing. Later, this building became a laboratory for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Wyandotte West was born out of a need for a voice that would represent the emerging suburban community west of 38th Street, basically the area that was the former Washington School District. The area had a population of about 35,000 with about 10,000 homes. (Today that area has a population of about 60,000 persons with about 21,000 homes.) There was also a need for an advertising medium. Ad revenue would pay the bills.

I had a gut feeling that neither The Kansas City Kansan nor The Kansas City Star were really serving the area. After publishing a few issues, I realized that I was correct; The Kansan was particularly weak. Advertisers consistently complained that ads in The Kansan failed to get results.

I had worked a little more than four years at The Kansas City Star. I well remember that Saturday morning, June 1, 1968, when I told my boss, Ayers Blocher Jr., that I was leaving. It was the hardest thing I had ever done to tell him that I was giving up a secure job to go into something that I didn’t even know would succeed. Blocher reminded me of all the benefits that I had received—consistent annual raises, choice of assignments and opportunities to make additional money in selling photos to national magazines such as Time and Newsweek. And of course, there was the increase of about $10 a month in car allowance.

A few years later, Blocher and I were on a U.S. Navy junket for reporters who traveled to Orlando, Florida, to watch a group of seamen from the Kansas City area graduate from basic training. He said that if he had had his life to do over, he would do what I did. That was a pretty high compliment.

This period 50 years ago was a troubled time in this country. Martin Luther King Jr., the noted civil rights advocate, was slain on April 4. Civil disorders followed, including those over town. Fortunately, the Kansas National Guard and law enforcement officers stopped the destruction from spreading to Kansas City, Kansas. Then Bobby Kennedy, who was campaigning for president in Los Angeles, was assassinated on June 5.

Locally, high school and college students were protesting the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Later the public would discover that as far back as the Truman administration, the American people were misled about U.S. involvement in this Southeast Asian country.

There was considerable talk in the late 1960s and early 1970s about the proposed I-435 highway that would provide development opportunities for western Wyandotte County, particularly the Piper community. Would the roadway be built on the east or west side of Wyandotte County Lake? Meantime, construction had started on I-635—a project first proposed in the 1950s.

What I didn’t realize in 1968 was how much the demographics were changing. Although my trade territory was increasing in population, the other parts of Wyandotte County were suffering severe outmigration. From 1970 until 2000, more than 60,000 persons left Wyandotte County, mostly those in the middle class. During the same period, some 30,000 moved here with many of them settling in western Wyandotte County. That meant a net loss of 30,000. The good news is that population is back on the plus side with about 160,000 for all of Wyandotte County.

The newspaper business is changing, thanks to the internet. The Kansan, the zone section of The Star and the print editions of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press are gone. The Wyandotte West was sold to new owners. Two of the biggest costs in the newspaper business are printing and distribution. But the need to be informed is still there. Mary Rupert, who cut her teeth in the business by setting type and proofreading in the 1970s for The Wyandotte West while she was studying journalism, is now the editor of the online wyandottedaily.com. She went on to receive her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism. The Wyandotte Daily website now serves thousands of readers online, providing reliable local news with an opportunity for public comments and feedback.

I recall receiving a very high compliment about The Wyandotte West. It was either in the late 1960s or the early 1970s when I was covering a candidates’ forum in the basement community room of what is now Bank Midwest at 7804 State Ave. Marge Bruce was in charge of the meeting. Someone had asked who I was. I replied I was from The Wyandotte West.

“What is Wyandotte West?” the person from out of the area asked.

Before I could respond, Bruce quickly said, “That’s our newspaper.”

At first, my selfish instincts took over. After all, I was the one that had risked everything I had to start this venture. Then I realized what a wonderful tribute it was that she accepted the newspaper as part of the community.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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Column: Businesses need qualified workers

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Gov. Jeff Colyer said that as he travels the state of Kansas, the number one concern he encounters from business owners and managers is the severe lack of qualified employees.

The governor, who spoke at a luncheon meeting of the Congressional Forum Friday, June 15, at Children’s Mercy Park, said he has appointed a Governor’s Education Council to face this issue. He praised Kansas City Kansas Community College and its Technical Education Center that is training people and issuing certificates in critical skill areas. The governor said there presently are 52,000 job openings in the state.

Gov. Colyer said that to meet the challenges that businesses require, schools will have to reinvent themselves. He said this will require schools to examine many things including what and when they teach. It also will require an emphasis on soft skills such as showing up on time.

The governor said the state is at the “intersection of Kansas smart and Kansas nice.” He said the state is in the middle of the country, a strategic location that is a very definite advantage. Earlier that day, he was at an industrial park in Edgerton and told of the Kubota tractor company which has located there because of the central location.

The governor also talked about 74 opportunity zones including census tracts in the eastern part of Wyandotte County. A federal law, passed last year, allows qualified businesses to build in these areas and be exempt from capital gains taxes. He said he has talked to Mayor David Alvey and potential developers about such areas.

Gov. Colyer told about an innovative success story concerning an opportunity zone in downtown Goodland, a city in northwestern Kansas. They are training people who write software code, starting in kindergarten and continuing through community college. They have attracted software companies that pay 30-year-olds $75,000 a year.

Craig Gaffney, the chairman of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce, thanked the governor for recently meeting with a delegation from the chamber and listening to its legislative agenda.

Colyer became governor on Jan. 31 this year when Sam Brownback resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Colyer is a medical doctor who served in the Kansas House of Representatives and Kansas Senate. He also is a volunteer who serves with the International Medical Corps. He and his wife Ruth have three daughters.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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Opinion: A tragic day in Wyandotte County

We will add our voice to the hundreds or thousands around our community who are very saddened at the death of a Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputy, Patrick Rohrer, and the critical wounding of another today.

We send our condolences to the families of the deputy who lost his life and the deputy who was injured. Words cannot express our sadness upon learning of this shooting. We hope the community will show its support for the deputies’ families now and in the future.

It is a mark of a civilized society to approach their problems in a nonviolent way. Violence is unnecessary, we believe, and more efforts are needed to help individuals find nonviolent solutions to problems. We deplore the glorification of violence by some. We hope there is a renewed effort by parents to teach the youth of our community, at a young age, nonviolent means of settling differences.

We would hope everyone would do a good deed this week in memory of Deputy Rohrer.

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