Harper, Kansas — A Truly Rich Town

You won’t find Harper, Kansas on many maps. It’s a tiny town, surrounded by fields and rural routes that head to larger places. It’s a town you are more likely to drive through, and in doing so, never remember it’s name.

But if you’d veer off the highway just a few blocks, you’d see a main street of brick; clean, well-kept older homes and a city park with stately trees and a gazebo for social events.

And if you would stop for a moment and grab a bite to eat in one of the small, family-owned restaurants, you’d have the chance to meet people who fit the definition of “salt of the earth”.

Harper is the place where young children visiting their grandmother can ride their bikes to the IGA and have the manager say, “Your grandmother just called. I’ve been waiting for you.”  Where you can walk down the street and have someone say, “Aren’t you Mary Helen’s daughter?” It’s the place where the local nursing home is filled with families – those who visit, those who need care and those who we trust to care for our own.

Harper is a farming community, a home to families who, year after year, continue to grow wheat or soybeans and live at the whim of Mother Nature. Farmers who work together, share in the seasonal ups and downs, and if someone dies during a crucial harvesting week, will gather together and harvest the deceased’s land before their own.

And recently, when an oil company expressed interest in obtaining the mineral rights by leasing a few properties, these farmers and landowners began gathering together, forming an “all of us, or none of us” coalition. And stuck together as the oil company began dealing with the coalition’s attorney and offering lease prices that were five times, ten times and then one hundred times more than these landowners had ever seen before….

Harper, Kansas has become a screenplay in the making.

Forbes Magazine recently wrote about oil reserves in the United States and on the magazine’s map, dotted with areas showing the most potential, Harper, Kansas is in the middle of the red area in the center of the country.  And many of the hard-working farmers and landowners who have worked year after year harvesting wheat for the rest of the country, who have struggled with bank loans and watched their town slowly wither away as their young have moved to the bigger cities, well, many of these people have just made an awfully lot of money.

The hotel in Harper is now always full. Apartments are being leased by oil company workers for weekly prices never seen in the town. The restaurants are always busy, the roads crowded with vehicles with license plates from other states. Dust from the roads to the fields can be seen as the oil company trucks head out to survey land.

And the farmers continue to work. What will they do with their windfall? Well, some will pay off loans, some will start college funds for their kids, some will buy newer farming equipment. But they won’t stop farming. And they won’t stop taking care of each other.

Harper, Kansas is in every fiber of my being. I am Mary Helen’s daughter, Margaret’s granddaughter. I know the slide and teeter totter in the city park and the sound of the car driving over the brick roads downtown. I have sat in my grandmother’s air-conditioned car, watching “her boys” farm her wheat land. Of course, “her boys” weren’t really hers and they weren’t even boys, they were men in a family that she had known her entire life…and who still farm our family’s land.

And although the land that my mother and her brother have inherited is not the amount of acreage that most of the farmers own, those “boys” made sure to include our family in the coalition dealing with the oil companies.

And as Harper people do, my mother shared her good fortune with her daughters.  An unexpected check that helps pay off bills, prepare for college tuitions, and even more, provide that huge cushion of relief in a time of financial stress. The check that left me so breathless and stunned that it has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to put my arms around the actuality of it.

So this is my Christmas thank you to my mother, who encouraged me to have Harper as a home base in our life of moving every few years. My mother raised me, as she was raised, to have compassion for others, to see the best in people, to appreciate hard work and in down times, persevere. It is difficult to explain, but I realized when both my sister and I kept saying how excited we were for the people in Harper, my mother had raised us in thinking of others first. As she had done in sharing with us.

You see good things, really special things, come from Harper, Kansas.

Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you.


Author: jillswain

Former Mayor Chamber of Commerce Exec. Director Advertising consultant Mom and spouse (30 years and counting!) Rec league girls' volleyball coach Champion of all things Huntersville, North Carolina

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