rural | KCUR



Derek Klingenberg is kind of a farmer celebrity.

His YouTube channel draws more than 70,000 subscribers for ag-themed pop-music parodies, trombone covers and, more recently, cow art made with satellites.

This week, the Peabody, Kansas, farmer took his cow art to the next level, or altitude. He posted a video showing his cows to form a giant “Hi” as seen from the heavens.

Segment 1: How does weather shape Kansas culture?

It's that time of year when tornado sirens ring out their eerie sound and crazy weather hits the plains. Inspired by a photography exhibit of Kansas tornado sirens, we explore how the weather affects our lives and communities.

Segment 1: Why barber shops are more than a place to your haircut. 

An author with Kansas City roots reminisces about the unique relationship between African-American boys and barber shops in Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

This is just not the kind of news Kansans want to hear, but: Four of the ten most isolated towns in the United States are in Kansas.

Loz Pycock / Flickr -- CC

Wendell Castle revolutionized the art world. The Holton, Kansas, native was known as the father of the studio furniture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He mostly made chairs that looked like sculptures ... and the only shop class he ever had was in seventh grade. He died last week at age 85; hear his story and what he meant to the art world.

David DeHetre / Flickr -- CC

After the 2016 presidential election, many people were surprised by Donald Trump's win. National news organizations sent reporters out to so-called "Trump country," trying to figure out what they missed. We take a look at how stories that unfold nationally play out in Midwestern states.

Then: A look back at the fight for gay rights in Kansas. KCUR's C.J. Janovy shares stories of activists who both struggled and found solidarity in an inhospitable state.


White residents in Missouri are dying at a higher rate than they did nearly two decades ago, according to a report from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The increased death rate largely is occurring in the state's rural counties, especially in the Ozarks and the Bootheel region and substance abuse appears to be a major factor. For example, deaths by drug overdose have increased by nearly 600 percent in many rural counties. Poor mental health also plays a significant role, as suicides among young and middle-aged adults have increased by 30 percent since 1995. 

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

Mike Mozart / Flickr-CC

Today, we meet two high school students from Kansas City's Central Academy of Excellence who are using art to tell stories about gun violence. 

Plus, find out how communities, both rural and urban, are affected by the expansion of dollar stores such as Dollar General.


Public Domain

Few people bring Kansas City's history to life like Monroe Dodd. But in light of our resident chronicler's move to Colorado, we indulge on one more journey through the great folklore of our town. Then, Kansas City Ballet's lead dancer, Lamin Pereira, shares his experience performing in The Nutcracker. ​Also, learn about a crisis rural America is facing through the lens of a novelist.


Frank Morris / KCUR

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The Missouri French Creole community, located mainly in the eastern part of the state, has its own language and culture. We hear more from a filmmaker who is working on a documentary about them.

Plus: the overlooked history of how Jews shaped small towns in the Midwest. It's the topic of a symposium this weekend: Jews in the Midwest: 1850 to 1950.


Russell Watkins / Flickr - CC

Even though the winds and rain have subsided, the carnage wrought by Hurricanes Maria and Irma have left parts of the Caribbean without power and everyday necessities. Today, we find out how recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are progressing from two Kansas City relief workers who saw the devastation firsthand. Then, learn interesting facts, folk-wisdom, and oddities of the Show-Me State, via a brand new Missouri Almanac.

Senator Claire McCaskill / Flickr - CC

For a Democrat running in bright-red Missouri, the 2018 election will be quite the challenge. Today, we speak with Sen. Claire McCaskill about a new Republican opponent's campaign bid as well as the latest developments on Capitol Hill. Then, we learn how the 2014 Farm Bill is affecting dairy farmers and why they're pushing for reform, not replacement.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Drive along U.S. Route 400 in western Kansas, and you’ll see hundreds of metal sculptures on tall poles, some as high as 20 feet. It’s the work of self-taught artist M.T. Liggett, who crafted signs and whirligigs out of scrap metal, tractor parts, and pipe. Whimsical - and politically provocative - art. 

Liggett died on August 21 at the age of 86. These outdoor sculptures are now in the care of four trustees, including one based in the Kansas City area. 

Paul Andrews /

Kansas-based singer Vanessa Thomas, who tours the country sharing a bill with Grammy Award-winning tumpeter Doc Severinson, doesn't know why she's wearing a cast in her baby pictures.

"It was a foot cast that went all the way up above my knee," she says.

The rest is lost in what she calls a no-man's land of forgotten memories. A story she knows is hers, but almost can't believe is true, except that paper files full of documentation insist that it is.

Bryan Thompson / Kansas News Service

Darrel Urban stands in front of a newly-dug pit the size of two football fields laid end-to-end, and ten feet deep. Soon, it will be full of hog waste, and two more large pits will join it.

A site two miles outside of the tiny town of Pfeifer, Kansas, in the northeast corner of Rush County near Hays, is slated to be the new home of a massive hog farming operation. It will be home to thousands of pigs, and their waste. It is a less than a mile from Urban’s home.

Vanessa Thomas

Sep 22, 2017
Paul Andrews /

Vanessa Thomas is a singer who is living her dream life in Lawrence. She's a vocal coach, a church music director and a mom of four. Oh, and she also tours the country to perform with the legendary Doc Severinsen. Hear her story: how she overcame the trauma of abuse through music, and how her hometown of Clay Center, Kansas, played a big part in connecting her to the world.


Earl Bullington is an advisor for Focus Bank, which rescued the struggling Pemiscot County Hospital in 2013.
Bram Sable-Smith / for Harvest Public Media

$1.25 million.

That’s the size of the bill that could have shuttered the only public hospital in rural Pemiscot County, Missouri in August 2013.

Publichall / Wikimedia Commons

Modern dance just wouldn't be the same without Kansas City-raised David Parsons. Today, we meet the star choreographer behind works commissioned and performed by troupes in New York, Paris and just about any other city with a ballet scene. Then, we explore the economic relationship between small towns and big businesses. Learn how rural communities are able to encourage, attract and, more importantly, keep hold of new jobs.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

If you pull a fire alarm in any large U.S. city, it's likely that paid firefighters waiting at a nearby station will quickly respond.

But seven out of 10 American firefighters are actually volunteers. They cover vast sections of the country, making up an aging network that is increasingly understaffed and overworked.

Local Boy Scouts carry flags down Illinois Street in a parage marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of Sidney, Nebraska.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Sidney, Nebraska, has prospered while many rural cities have struggled. For decades, the city has been home to Cabela’s, a major outdoor retail chain.

As Cabela’s completes a deal in which it will be bought by a rival, however, the future of Sidney’s economic engine is in doubt. As in other rural cities that have faced the loss or closure of major industry, the question is how the community will move on and grow in the 21st Century.

Empty Houses

Aug 31, 2017
Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

In Kansas City, there are so many vacant properties that the city tried to sell some of them for a dollar. We take a look at the stories of abandoned homes — why are they empty and how do they affect communities, both urban and rural?


In a new Netflix series, a family flees from Chicago and goes into hiding at the Lake of the Ozarks. We take a closer look at Ozark and how the show represents Missouri — and the larger urban-rural divide in the Midwest.


Jon Blumb / Courtesy of Richard Klocke

His paintings have been called “exuberantly cheerless.”

Artist Mike Hartung loves that description.

The 73-year-old painter, who lives in Lindsborg, Kansas, has made around 700 paintings over his career.

His first exhibit, “Gas Stations, Laundromats and the Spaces Between,” opens this month in three venues across Kansas.

Hartung has also been described as a recluse, which he disputes, pointing to his recent exhibit openings in Salina and Lindsborg.

Angie Jennings

73-year-old Mike Hartung has been producing art in his studio in Lindsborg, Kansas since the 1970s. 700 paintings later, he's finally having his first exhibit: "Gas Stations, Laundromats and the Spaces Between."

Plus, Crick Camera Shop closed its doors for good back in January. We'll hear from a former employee who photographed the final days as an homage to film in the era of digital.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

El Dean Holthus knows what people might think of a town like Smith Center, Kansas.

At nearly the exact geographic center of the contiguous United States, it's an hour from the nearest Interstate. It's home to about 1,600 people, but that population is declining like most of rural America's.

They probably think, he says, that "it's just a little hole in the ground."

Jack Williams / NET News

In the middle of a cornfield in south-central Nebraska, an oasis of art is growing.

Art Farm, situated off a long dirt road outside the small town of Marquette, started back in 1993 as an artist residency program. Since then, it’s become a one-of-a-kind experience many artists can’t resist.

We take a look at the challenges of bringing quality healthcare to people in urban and rural communities, from a KCK clinic that serves the homeless to a program in a remote county that sends case workers to see patients.


From Oxford-educated surgeon to body-builder to Cerner executive, Daphne Bascom joins us to talk about the journey that now brings her to community health at the YMCA.

Plus, Dodge City, Kansas-native Robert Rebein just published a new memoir on his home state.