Grainfield Opera House, Frank Werth

(Frank) Today Around Kansas starts with a look at the Grainfield Opera House, built in 1887. Next meet Kansan Frank Werth, an Elvis Impersonator, with a mission to make sure no one forgets Elvis and his legacy. Then enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with Burt Reynolds and Buck Taylor who reminisce about their days on Gunsmoke.Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at agpromosource.com.

(Frank) Well, a good Wednesday morning to you. I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) This is Around Kansas Show. If you’ve tuned in for the first time what our show is, is we tell you about people, places, and things that make Topeka and the rest of Kansas a great place to visit, I believe. (Deb) If you’re tuning in for the first time, where have you been? [laughter] (Deb) You’ve got a lot of catching up to do. You can go to our website and just do that to aroundkansas.com or you can go to our Facebook page. We post segments and full episodes there. Lots of cool stuff to catch up on. (Frank) This is nice. A lot of people do re-post our shows on Facebook. (Deb) We love you for that. (Frank) Thank you. (Deb) We do, we love you for that. Feel free to share with your friends because there are folks all over the country, all over the world that used to live in Kansas and don’t anymore, and like to keep up with what the home folks are doing. There are people planning trips all across the country and so you can let them know what kind of cool stuff there is to stop and see and do while they are in Sunflower State. They will appreciate that. (Frank) You’ve been travelling around as usual. (Deb) As usual. (Frank) I’m just kind of sedentary anymore; I’m stuck here with Kansas. (Deb) One of my cousins, he ran a service station back home and so I’d always go in there to get gas. He was teasing me, one day he said, When you go home, I bet you park that car when you can’t look at the window and see it, because you can’t stand to see it still, can you? [laughter] (Deb) No, really not. It burns up the roads and it’s — (Frank) Oh, well — (Deb) Gosh, there’s so much to see, Frank. (Frank) Yes, there is. There is. (Deb) There’s so much to see. (Frank) Well, but I don’t want to sit on my rocker and all of that. (Deb) No, hardly. (Frank) I do have a two-wheeler and I’ve been getting out on it a lot more than she. (Deb) I’ve been seeing a lot of motorcycles on the roads too. They’re a lot. (Frank) Look out for them. (Deb) Look out for them. Look out for them, and the bicycles. The bicyclists are out in full force too because the weather’s so nice. I tell you what; I was driving really across the whole state a couple of weekends ago. We left Oakley and I had to speak at Baldwin at The Battle of Blackjack Battlefield. Literally, across the whole state, it was so green it hurt your eyes [laughs]. It was absolutely gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. These skies were stunning, the clouds, the grass, and everywhere. Fat, happy cows everywhere just wading in the grass, and my God, there’s never been a more beautiful kind to scene in the state. The Yucca are blooming, everything that can bloom is blooming. It’s just beautiful. (Frank) Well, the drought is over and now Kansas looks like it used to. (Deb) Looks like Shangri La. It really does. It’s just amazing, that incredible grass in the fields. Oh my God, it’s just beautiful. It’s a great time to get on that bike. Hey, I ran into a bunch of people who were speaking of a motorcycle – I was going to the new motorcycle museum in St. Francis. I ran into a group at the restaurant the other day that were headed up there. That’s going to be on your bucket list this summer Frank. That’s one this year that’s on your list of trips. (Frank) It is [laughs]. (Deb) All right. (Frank) We’ll be back. (Deb) Getting Frank all mapped out, stay with us.

(Frank) We’re back. (Deb) Frank, you did, was it last year, who can keep up with the time, you featured a lot of the opera houses throughout the state. So you’re really familiar with the history of how the opera houses came to be. (Frank) Opera houses were kind of the mark of culture in a town. A lot of it was whether they had a railroad or not too. (Deb) Right. (Frank) They would build a church, a school, an opera house and then they — (Deb) Called it a town. (Frank) Called at the town [laughs]. Well, because if you think of it, [laughs] they didn’t have a radio or TV. They had an opera house that many times served as their city meeting hall. Then there were a lot of travelling groups that came through and that was their entertainment, it’s like, Hey, let’s go. Let’s go. (Deb) One of my favorite movies, and most of my buddies who are fans of westerns, the movie Tombstone. Of course it’s a great scene in the movie Tombstone where you got the travelling troop that’s performing for all these rowdy cowboys, very, very accurate. That’s a great little scene. You’ve got them doing the Shakespearean stuff and singing and just doing little bits of vignettes. That’s very typical of what those opera houses would have, the kind of shows they would’ve had. (Frank) Yes. Well, and like I said, the railroads had a lot to do with it too. Because there were a lot of touring companies that of course were actually owned by the railroads and they would go town to town and perform as well. (Deb) That would encourage, like you said, foster culture and all kinds of good times. We’re going to share the story of one of those opera houses that the community has come together to preserve and restore. There’s communities all over Kansas doing this and with very limited budgets. It’s just an amazing story, in every case of the community coming together to save that very central part of what made them a town. Let’s take a look at the Grainfield Opera House. For most of its existence, the Grainfield Opera House, located on 3rd and Main, has been used as a community center. Designed to accommodate a variety of commercial and social uses, the building represents the early optimism and subsequent fortunes of Grainfield and the surrounding agricultural territory. In fact, the town takes its name from the area wheat fields. Construction began on the Opera House in 1887. The basement was dug and the dirt was used to grade the streets. The limestone was shipped from the Bunker Hill area and the brick came from the kiln northwest of town. The ornate cast iron facade was manufactured by the Mesker Brothers of St Louis and was shipped westward by rail. Local workmen assembled and attached it to the structure. In 1888, the Opera House began renting space to local businesses. The newspaper, mercantile and general merchandise stores, a harness shop, doctors office, hardware store, and, subsequently, auto store and a car dealership. It also housed the Masonic Lodge. Vaudeville troupes, hypnotists, comedians, and boxers were among the entertainers that frequented the stage. Most of the stock companies arrived by rail and stayed three to five nights. Those coming to dances often arrived before sundown, danced until midnight, then went to the hotel for a meal, and returned to dance until daylight. Renovated and preserved, the Opera House is once again the center of the small town. Grainfield boasts a population of about 300 souls. The Opera House is on the National Register of Historic Places. Weddings, anniversary dinners, and family reunions, any of the reasons that people come together, all of those events take advantage of this historic Gove County landmark.

(Deb) Welcome back folks. When folks were touring the Opera Houses of Kansas and the West back in the 19th century, it’s so sad that they didn’t have Elvis back then. Really? I ain’t nothing but a hound dog. (Frank) [laughs] Yes. (Deb) Look what they missed. Isn’t that sad that they lived and died before Elvis came on the scene? (Frank) Yes. They probably had their superstars then too. Of course they did. (Deb) I guess they did. Now that Elvis of course is not on the scene anymore. At least we guess he’s not, we’ve got all this phenomenon Elvis impersonators. It’s just like a culture onto itself. (Frank) [chuckles] Well, it is and I got to do a kind of an Elvis impersonation at Apple Valley Farm several years ago. That was my other life, of course. (Deb) Oh my God. Do we have film of that? (Frank) Elvis players were there and we did the Sh-Boom Boy. While I was this rock star that was kind of fading and the Sh-Boom Boy came on. I got to do Hound Dog and the whole thing. [laughs] (Deb) We got to find some footage of that. We got to share that. That was a real Kodak moment. Well, you know I grew up in the South, so Elvis’ birthday is a national holiday, January 8. Now that I live in Kansas, my good friend Dana Anson and I celebrate Elvis’ birthday every year. We exchange gifts. I get Michael to get some photos. In my office, right next to all my cowboy stuff and Buffalo Bill, there is the Elvis bobble head. (laughter] (Deb) I’ve got the Elvis Whiskey Decanter with Elvis playing drums. Yes, the king lives. (Frank) Have you been to Graceland? (Deb) I wrote my name on the wall. I stopped and did not have time to go through it but I did write my name on the wall out front of Graceland. (Frank) Graceland is real experience and everyone should go [chuckles] at some time. (Deb) There was a comedian who went out and saw Elvis’ pink Cadillac and said, I didn’t know Elvis sold Mary Kay. [laughter] (Frank) That’s low. (Deb) We’ve got a wonderful Elvis impersonator to share with you today from our very own, from the heartland. He’s from just outside of Hays, so you’re going to love meeting Frank Werth. (Frank) Life was pretty simple growing up in the small German community of Schoenchen, Kansas, with about 200 people. Frank Werth’s life was filled with music as a little boy. His parents recorded his early efforts at singing, and Frank said it makes him laugh now to hear how he sang with conviction, even if he didn’t know how to pronounce the words. While he has been influenced by many great artists such as Roy Orbison, Karen Carpenter, Charlie Rich, Jackson 5, the Beatles, it was the King, Elvis Presley, who would play the greatest role in shaping his career. Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis Presley was the first song that he heard and it has made a huge impact on his life, Frank said. My fondest memories of my childhood, were the times we would spend evenings and holidays with our family, listening to my Dad’s albums, singing into the night, he said. Frank said he became an Elvis Tribute Artist simply because it has been a way for him to thank Elvis for everything he has done for him, and though they never met, he feels a spiritual connection. Frank said that he is first, a huge Elvis fan himself and when he performs he cares about the authenticity and does not take the portrayal lightly. Frank has won numerous contests, opened for the Fab4, a tribute band honoring the Beatles, and performed at venues across the nation including Madison Square Garden. His mission, he said, is that no one forgets Elvis. As long as Frank Werth is performing, there is no danger of Elvis being forgotten!

(Ron) Being thrifty is a virtue. My kids might say that I’m cheap, but of course that all depends on what the Cowboy wants to spend money on. This poem is entitled The Bargain. My wife and I went to the big city sometime back. I stopped by the western store to price some tools and tack. I need another pitchfork. But I sure said, No dice when I saw they were charging an $18 price. That’s way too much I said, and we went on down the road, cause I thought I’d find a bargain in an ad the paper showed. Our farm paper advertised a used tool and equipment sale, where I figured I could get a bargain without fail. It was part of an auction scheduled on a Saturday soon. The equipment sold in the morning and the horse sale was at noon. So I bid on a pitch fork when we went over to the sale, and got it for $8 bucks, less than half the price retail. I was proud of myself and my wise and thrifty ways, when that auction entered into its next and final phase. The horse sale had begun and the very next thing, the most beautiful quarter horse was led into the ring. A gorgeous 15 hand gelding, his color was bay, with great breeding lines registered by HQHA. The owner gave a glowing talk about his many strengths. To have that horse I realized, I’d go to any lengths. So in spite of my wife a whispering in my ear, I raised my hand and caught the attention of the auctioneer. And then before I hardly realized just what I did, I ran her up and finally got the winning bid. I put that horse in the trailer and we drove to the home place. I didn’t like the look upon my dear wife’s face. I could tell I was seriously on my wife’s bad list. I finally said, Hon, I’m sorry. I just could not resist. I knew she was suffering buyer’s remorse, from the $4,000 dollars I’d spent on that horse. I said, I guess I’m sorry for the way I behaved, but don’t forget that pitch fork and the $10 dollars that we saved. Well it took a while, but my wife has finally forgiven me. She says I am a poster child for false economy. Happy Trails.

(Frank) We’re back. (Deb) With all kinds of icons, we had Elvis and now we’re going to go to Burt Reynolds. I met Burt Reynolds. (Frank) Okay. (Deb) It’s so cool. Wish you could’ve been there Frank. (Frank) Do you know that one of his first really big starring roles was at Gunsmoke? (Deb) Of course, I do. That’s why he was in Dodge City last fall at the Wild West Fest, one of the coolest events ever. He and Buck Taylor, who of course was Newly on Gunsmoke and one of our dear friends, had a press conference together. I have to say Burt could not be more gracious, he could not have said nicer things about Dodge City itself, about his role on Gunsmoke, about all the people he’d worked with. Milburn Stone, he couldn’t have been nicer in talking about Milburn Stone. Of course Buck Taylor, if there’s a nicer man on the planet, I don’t know who it is. He’s just one of the best people I’ve known. (Frank) Another note about Burt Reynolds, you see this little button up here? (Deb) Yes. (Frank) That’s my Phi Delta Theta button and Burt Reynolds is a Phi. (Deb) Really? (Frank) Yes. There you go guys. (Deb) I will tell him you said hello the next time we talk. (Frank) Yes. [chuckles] (Deb) Stay with us. (Buck Taylor) At the time I went on Gunsmoke, it was very popular. Had no idea that it was going to be this popular, and go for so long. I was on it the last eight years, and I figured when it was canceled that would be it. But it’s going on, and on, and on, for 60 years straight. I mean, it’s still going. I go to a lot of venues where they have a lot of people, and it’s amazing how many fans that this show has accumulated. Mind you, if there wasn’t a Dodge City, there wouldn’t have been a Gunsmoke. So Dodge City is known all over the world and Gunsmoke is kind of synonymous with that. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, in my professional career, and I had no idea it was going to give me a leg-up for the rest of my life. I loved Gunsmoke, loved being part of it. (Burt Reynolds) I was happy to be working. [laughter] (Burt) And it was a great show. Everybody knows what a great show it is. It was the nicest bunch of people I’ve ever worked with, ever, in my career in terms of just, there was no pushing and shoving, and getting in front of the camera for example. They were all wonderful people, and Jim was really special. I think the thing that surprises everybody was what an amazing sense of humor Jim had. It was just a great time for me too. I mean Doc was the sage, wonderful man he plays. He was just great help to me and my career. He was the one that told me that I should leave and do movies. I said, What if I don’t get any moves. And he said, No, you’re going to get movies. This is just a springboard for you. If I hadn’t known this guy was in the wings, I wouldn’t have left quite so fast. [laughter] (Burt) I was really happy doing that show, especially with that group of people.

(Frank) Well, we’ve had fun. I hope you had too. I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) We’ll see you somewhere – (Frank and Deb) Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at agpromosource.com.

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