We celebrate hometowns with heart

This is our Rural America edition, and we thought it would be fun to celebrate the hometowns of Journal employees. In these pages you’ll read about small towns from Iowa to Texas, and everywhere in between. Our communities are the foundation for who we are as people.

My hometown of Randall, Kansas, is no exception.

I loved growing up near this little town, especially on Thursdays.

That was the day my mother allowed my sisters and me to walk the four blocks from Randall Middle School to the Randall Public Library. There, I would find my mother, Joyce, and her friend, librarian Fawna Barrett, where we would sort through the latest selections from the Central Kansas Library System rotating book service. I learned to love reading thanks to the offerings of our tiny local library.

Each Thursday, the Affiliated Foods truck made its weekly deliveries to Baxa Grocery. Owners Al and Theresa made sure our family had top-quality meat, produce and groceries. The Baxas’ daughter and son-in-law, Annette and Max Burks, became the store’s proprietors in the late 1970s, expanding the offerings and ensuring my mother’s loyalty until the store closed in the late 1980s.

In my youth, Randall’s downtown featured an antique store, a pool hall and café, an apartment house, wood shop, used car dealer and insurance agent. Behrends Hardware Store had a wonderful assortment of tools and hardware. I could go to the Randall Farmers Co-op Union grain elevator for a 10-cent bottle of ice cold pop. The competing Lincoln Grain Elevator, a block away, was much smaller. Joe Anderson ran that branch. Long after he retired and the storage bins bought by the Co-op, we still dumped dry grain “at Joe’s.”

I opened up my first checking account at the Randall National Bank. Then and now, folks at the Co-op Service Station always took care of our tire repairs, oil changes and minor repairs. And they still wash car windows.

I was baptized a block away from the station in the Randall Community Church, which congregates every Sunday. A few ladies meet each Wednesday to quilt in the church basement. They often eat lunch at the station’s convenience store, added about 15 years ago to give locals a place to buy their morning coffee, catch up on the community news, and refuel with cold drinks and snacks.

Gem of the Buffalo Valley

Randall was established in 1885 not far from Buffalo Creek. By 1887, there were 30 businesses and about 300 residents. Farming was the main local industry, although a large seam of coal was discovered south of town by 1890. Limestone was quarried from several pits near town, and many of those limestone buildings continue to this day.

One of those no longer stands. The original limestone school building was razed in favor of a new brick building in the 1930s. This was where I attended middle school and played basketball in the “largest gymnasium in the Pike Trail League” and one of the largest in the area. Built in the early 1950s, the gymnasium could seat “1,001 people” and was the home court to the Randall High Panthers’ basketball player who held the Kansas high school scoring record from 1955 to 1993.

The school closed in the early 2000s, and the gym sits empty. But for half a century, that place rocked.

In the early 1970s, the town’s population was about 130 people, all of whom watched over its kids. My mom was a substitute postmaster, so if I did something wrong, she heard about it lickety-split.

I recall several unused buildings on the east side of Main Street, including the storefront where my grandma practiced as a family physician.

These are gone now, replaced a year ago with a brand new Randall Community Center, where citizens can gather and socialize for community events, dinners and celebrations. Built by volunteers from donations by locals and alums, plus grant funds from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, it’s a great asset to Randall’s now 70 residents.

Even though I don’t live there anymore, it’s still home to me.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or [email protected].

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