In a world that is ever-changing and focused on breaking news, it is easy to lose sight of where we come from, as well as the events that shaped who and where we are today. Last semester, a group of K-State journalism students joined together to dig deep into Kansas and K-State history, and unearthed a story bigger than they could have foreseen.
Charged with the “Lost Towns” project in associate professor of journalism Gloria Freeland’s “News and Feature Writing” class, the team consisting of seniors Logan Falletti and Mariah Rietbrock and junior Katie Good began by narrowing down a list of small towns in Kansas with the objective of finding one with an interesting story angle.
“We were assigned Morganville, Kan., in Gloria Freeland’s MC 200 class,” Falletti said. “We did all the original research and writing for the article and worked for about two or three months on the story from preliminary research to final edits.”
What they found took them back to 1947 Morganville and the story of a 300-person town with the dream of helping of helping Fèves, a French farming village devastated by World War II. Morganville produced a pageant in August of 1948, written by K-State journalism student and Morganville native Velma Carson. The pageant’s purpose was to raise funds and collect goods such as seeds, clothing, bedding and food items to send to Fèves, and pulled in more than 2,000 attendees.
“It was good practice in finding the story in everything,” Falletti said. “Not a lot was going on in Morganville (at the time) and we had to dig deep for something that would meet our needs. We wanted something that the whole town had participated in and really made mark on its history. It just so happened that the anniversary of the pageant was coming up when we came along, so we ran with it.”
The group traveled to Morganville and Clay Center, Kan., multiple times to access records from the historical society and visit the original location of the pageant. They also utilized Hale Library and the Chapman Center for Rural Studies in Leasure Hall. Their research revealed more about the Morganville residents and photographs from that time, as well as deeper insight into the motivation behind the pageant.
“I found it amazing that the reason Morganville was helping Fèves was that it had destroyed the French village in the war and wanted to help them out,” Rietbrock said.
At the conclusion of their project, the group had publishings in “The Clay Center Dispatch,” and a four-part radio series on the KCLY program “Up Close Rural.”
International communication with residents of Fèves resulted in a renewed interest in reestablishing ties between the towns. In December of 2013, Gèrard Torlotting (nephew of Henri Torlotting, a Fèves schoolmaster and distributer of the Morganville sent items), his wife, son and grandchildren traveled to Morganville for a reception consisting of more than 100 attendees. Among those in attendance were 11 participants from the original 1948 pageant. Leaders of Morganville gave photographs of various locations in the town, while the Fèves visitors shared their own photographs, tea and cookies.
The success of the visit laid groundwork for a more permanent relationship between the towns. Torlotting said he hopes to bring a delegation from Fèves sometime in 2015 to follow up with the solidification of that bond.
“Morganville has significant history that affects the community as a whole – they did great things for Fèves and the cities had an unbreakable bond that the citizens will forever cherish,” Good said.