Sunday, October 5, 2014

Finding grandma in Lindsborg, Kansas

Lindsborg is a cute little Kansas town strong on Swedish influence and the home of Bethany College.

It was a planned stop for us on what was mostly a spur of the moment let’s-go-West kind of trip.

My grandma attended Bethany College in the early years of the 20th century. Her student years were long in the past when I came to know about her schooling at Lindsborg.

I was sixteen and gathering information for the family tree I put together that same year. I remember looking up Lindsborg in the atlas. Places have always interested me.

Grandma's additional schooling is a summary of things on many levels. I was aware of this even at sixteen.

It wasn’t typical of farm girls of her generation – she was the daughter of Swedish immigrants – to go beyond an 8th grade country school education. College was educational advancement relatively uncommon for women then.

Grandma's doing so is an accomplishment for those times. It's testimony to her spirit and grit. It shines the light on her as someone with an intention to follow a dream. Conveniently, too, she had an older sister who taught at Bethany College.

Bethany College was an interesting fact filed away and almost forgotten until it surfaced recently to fill me with renewed curiosity.

We went to Lindsborg to find some imprint of my grandma’s time there. The college that furthered her education made me want to see it. I wanted to experience for myself this specific part of Kansas she once called home.

At our daughter’s suggestion our quest led to the campus library. If I checked online there’s a name for this building. We didn’t catch the name when we were there.

Its name went over us in the excitement of closing in on the hunt to find Grandma on her academic turf. We went in the direction pointed out to us as the place to check with and that was good enough.

From Bethany archives we hoped to uncover yearbooks or other materials that could confirm exactly when Grandma was in Kansas for studies. 

We were working off a date mentioned in the family tree. This would be the first reality check to see if the date was correct.

Assisted by a friendly staff person who brought out old college publications that corresponded with the time frame of our search we got down to work.

We took separate tables and spread our stacks around us. We wanted to find Grandma’s name in the worst way.

We’d have to extend the search on either side of the year if we didn’t find her name as a student right off. We were aware it’d be like looking for a needle in a haystack if the date in the family tree proved to be wrong.

We turned the pages one volume after another. We looked for her name under the various headings students were listed.

The research suddenly felt very personal. We weren't here to prove she attended here. My thoughts ran along these lines as I skimmed the lists of students. 

That first fact was established. We knew that part already. Finding her in the student rosters was instead very much like an act of paying honor.

We came to Bethany College to connect with the person my grandma was at that time of her life. We came to let the surroundings which had been her environs sink into us.

We came recognizing Lindsborg as more than a quaint town off the fast roads. It was the place where my grandmother grew into adulthood and took with her whatever lasting influence Bethany College had on her.

In the end we did find my grandma. It wasn't without further search. She is in the student rolls about three years after the date given for Bethany College in the family tree.

The new date leaves a gap in her story. The time we pegged her to be in Kansas she was somewhere else – at home or at a first job. 

That search is for later. Lindsborg was the here and now. We wanted to use the remaining time to see something of this place which drew us from the start.

Lindsborg is a cute little town proud of its Swedish connections. It calls itself “Little Sweden USA.” 

The slogan is on its helpful visitors brochure with listings for lodging, food and places to visit. (I did chuckle when the first thing we saw coming into this most Swedish themed of communities was Pizza Hut!)

It didn’t take five minutes on main street to see there was more to do here than the time allotted for our stay.

Like the two of us, Lindsborg likes its coffee.Coffee first we said, opting for The White Peacock, seeing it first.

Blacksmith Coffee Roastery, up and across the street in a former blacksmith shop, wound up on our radar too but we noticed it second. Both it and The White Peacock came recommended by a friendly professor we afterward met.

The White Peacock was toasty warm. This won points from me, ducking in from a bit of chill in the morning air. The fragrance of coffee enveloped us. Folks were scattered around in comfortable seating. 

The ambience should have been enough to hold me. A back courtyard had first to be examined, however. I pushed through the door entranced by the enclosed outdoor haven.

Twenty extra degrees to the thermometer reading and I wouldn’t come in I decided about the quiet green oasis. 

But the twenty degrees were missing and I trotted inside to find Al where he’d scored a place, suspecting my exploratory tour would be just that.

The sunny room (it faces east) has books (reading and coffee pair well together), art and posters on the walls and a posted menu which listed egg casserole, Swedish pancakes, hash brown patties, burritos and biscuits and gravy. 

It's easy to believe this is a popular spot in this college town.The vitality that percolates through the intimate space is like a second cup of coffee (which we didn’t have, or else would never have gotten away.)   

Joyously decorated Dala horses are a must-see. They’re a “will-see” if you’re anywhere downtown. It’s impossible not to notice them.

See one and you’re caught hook, line and sinker. The cast fiberglass creations in front of businesses are pure magic. Their unique and whimsical designs captivated us. They had us on an impromptu Dala horse count.

We learned the Dala horse originated as folk art in the central Swedish province of Dalarna. In Lindsborg the Dala Horse has been turned into public art.

Local artists give meaning to the word local color in the blithe interpretations, through color, theme and design, their workmanship has provided. 

The Dala horse, which elicits a smile with each sighting, is Lindsborg’s charming symbol of its ties to Sweden.

In a turn off main street there was a moment when I felt Old Sweden had directly opened to me.

Swedish Country Inn on Lincoln Avenue has nailed the picturesque and inviting hospitality of the Swedish homeland. 

Its blue and white overall decoration (or this is the color duet that stays with me) is a peaceful natural palette to rest and restore its fortunate guests.

I peeked in and, like Goldilocks, advanced farther into the front room, which was the lobby. My gaze was everywhere. Each discovery pleased me more.

Simple pine furniture and clean inspired touches are throughout, including the upstairs bedrooms (seeing my interest the friendly wave sent me upstairs to see the unoccupied rooms).

An adjacent breakfast room serves a buffet breakfast open to the public. If the menu mirrors the authenticity of this lovely historic inn the smorgasbord is sure to please.  

The Lindsborg brochure, picked up prior to the visit to Bethany College, didn’t get read until we were back home. 

We missed its tips while in Lindsborg but we see the oversight as a promise we’re meant to return. With the brochure now read the places we want to see (or see again) have been marked.

One intended place is Coronado Heights. The spot is noted in the brochure. 

Coronado Heights is the highest of the Smoky Hills – seven hills in a row we understand – north of town. The Smoky Hills are a distinct range. We commented on them as we approached Lindsborg.

Spanish conquistador Coronado is thought to have gotten to central Kansas in 1541 in his search for gold. The story, as passed down, is that he climbed Coronado Heights to look around.

It makes me wonder if Grandma and college friends, or with her sister (the sister who was an instructor in shorthand and typewriting and is pictured in the publications we looked through) traveled out the few miles to picnic on its heights.

Or from the campus, perhaps, she watched the Kansas sky bloom with sunset color behind Coronado Heights and knew the tug of the West. 

I wonder what my grandma thought of Kansas in general.Perhaps the fields and Lindsborg’s Scandinavian culture, similar to that of her home area, made a comfortable fit.

One can wonder if she remarked on the similarities or compared obvious differences. Perhaps she focused on her courses to the exclusion of anything else. 

Lindsborg may have been a postal address and not much else for my grandma. I can guess she’d have been called an intent student.

Lindsborg’s influence on Grandma’s begs asking. When I put the family tree  together as a teen the fact she went to Lindsborg was sufficient for me.

Unable to entirely imagine my grandma young, I couldn’t flesh out or give form to the things that would have shaped her, as I was being shaped, at her very similar age.

Grandma lived far from us as I grew up. Letters were how we stayed in touch. Asking questions and receiving answers by letter is a lengthy process. I don't recall any questions asked, then or ever, of her time in Lindsborg.

You can ask the pertinent questions and expect a reply. Details are trickier to ask for. This, in part, may have kept some of her history from being more completely gathered.

Folks have more diverse and interesting backgrounds than we guess. This includes our own forebears, impacted by their times, opportunities and interests.

“Is Lindsborg a free museum in a town or a town in a free museum?” This is a sentence from the Lindsborg brochure. 

For us Lindsborg was both. It's a refreshing stop because it takes itself seriously and because it doesn't. Like any good museum it knows its quality. It arranges for you to discover it, inviting you in.

Ro Giencke – October 5, 2014


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