Pretty Prairie, dating from the late 1880s and somewhat before the advent of settled agriculture, was linked to the larger world by its location on a rudimentary stage coach line which connected the pioneer towns of Wichita in the south central part of the state with Dodge City to the west. As historians tell it, the city’s colorful name reflects a comment by a lady traveler from an east coast state on a western-bound stage coach. At a stop to rest the horses and give the travelers time to stretch their legs, the traveler stepped out of the coach, inhaled a deep breath of the fresh air, looked with wonder and amazement at the seemingly endless expanse of verdant prairie grass on low-lying hills, and remarked, “Oh, my! What a pretty prairie!” And so it began to be known as such!
Today, with a population of about 680 inhabitants, Pretty Prairie faces challenges similar to those confronting many small towns in the American heartland-viz. the paucity of remunerative employment opportunities which encourages educated younger residents to pursue an “odyssey (an extended, adventurous voyage)” in search of greater economic opportunities and soul-fulfilling adventure! Jim’s “odyssey,” as articulated in this narrative, is almost certainly only one of many undertaken by the youth of these communities.
Notable personalities associated with Pretty Prairie include former Kansas Governor, Walter A. Huxman; nationally acclaimed artist of American wild life, Jack Unruh; iconic, long-term athletic coach at Pretty Prairie High School, George Norton; and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer of the Little Rascals/Our Gang series.
“Author Jim and his loving wife of more than 60 years of marriage, Shirley, now live in retirement in North Newton, Kansas and remain occupied with educational, community and church activities. They are the parents of five children and grandparents of nine. Jim’s remarkable career has come from humble roots on a farm near Pretty Prairie, Kansas, through halls of influence and power in Washington DC; Beijing, China; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Ulanbaatar, Mongolia; Pyongyang, North Korea and elsewhere, always driven by the consummate desire to honor the gentle exhortation of his father in Jim’s youth to “…leave this world upon departure a better place than when you arrived”!
Foundational reference points along the way for Jim include:
The “Good Book”, the Christian Bible, and the words of Proverbs 3: 5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight”;
The profundity of Robert Frost’s words in his 1916 epic poem, “A Road Not Taken”;
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by;
And that has made all the difference!”
The hauntingly moving phrases in Paul Anka’s song, “My Way!”, sung so well by Frank Sinatra:
And now the end is near; and so, I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear; I’ll state my case of which I’m certain!
I’ve lived a life that’s full; I’ve traveled each and every highway!
But more, much more than this: I did it my way!”