Category Archives: Events

Local Johnson County Light Show Celebrates 10th Anniversary at the Deanna Rose Farmstead

Holiday lights are a seasonal favorite pastime for many residents in Johnson County.  One local offering, the Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this December.  Since its inception in 2013, this seasonal sensation has hosted over 1,000,000 people.  Starting November 25th and running through January 7th, individuals can visit the farmstead at 13800 Switzer and treat themselves to a 45-minute spectacle of lights and music.

 This treat is the brainchild of Mark Callegari, Johnson County resident, and technology enthusiast.   Decades before Deanna Rose hosted the event, Mark coordinated a scaled down version of what would become Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane.  With a background and passion for computerized lighting and animation (he double majored in Business Administration and Computer Sciences at Rockhurst University), Callegari put his hobby to use and created a light show at his home in Deer Creek.  From an early age, Mark appreciated the majestic beauty of holiday lights and made it his mission to make the holiday season special for those around him.  He finds a strong sense of joy in spreading holiday cheer, choosing not to do these things for himself but for the community.  His extensive experience with lighting (having founded several companies including Innovative Software, Visual Components and LightWild) have enabled him to explore and pioneer new innovations with holiday lighting.

An image of the Callegari home in Deer Creek, where the inspiration for the Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane was formed; photograph courtesy Mark Callegari

As technological advances with LED (light emitting devices) lighting continued, Mark developed his platform into a 30-minute show that featured nearly a dozen holiday songs.  The elaborate LED patterns and movement were synchronized to a symphony of sound, which residents could listen to on an FM radio signal while parked in front of the Callegari home.  His efforts did not go unnoticed or unseen; he achieved national acclaim on HGTV’s series All Out Christmas in 2008. As the popularity of the light show continued, it became clear that the nightly crowds were becoming too big for his neighborhood to accommodate each night.  A search began for a new venue to host the holiday extravaganza, one with plenty of room to grow.  Investigating several locations, Callegari was introduced to the people at the Deanna Rose Farmstead in Overland Park, Kansas.  There was great potential to be found in this location due to it being closed in the winter, ample parking accommodations for holiday onlookers, and most importantly a friendly and welcoming farmstead team.  A partnership was made in 2013 for the very first holiday light show at Deanna Rose.  

Mark Callegari at Deanna Rose Farmstead; photograph courtesy Mark Callegari

The very first year at the farmstead saw over 37,000 people attending the Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane.  Kathi Limbocker, Educational Program Supervisor at the Deanna Rose Farmstead, reports that the average car will have four people inside.  Attendance is counted by counting the number of cars that enter the farmstead parking lot.  Their numbers do not include visitors that may view the show from the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex just north of the farmstead.  The 2013 show was very similar to the offering at the Callegari home in Overland Park with the 20’ LED Christmas tree moved from the Overland Park address to the front of the barn area.

The very first Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane (2013); photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

The following year saw an important addition to the farmstead spectacle: the technicolor grid on the façade of the famous barn.  The canvas is 140’ wide and 40’ high and decorated with tens of thousands of pixel lights.  To accompany the new grid were large animals that adorned the roof, paying tribute to the farmstead roots.

Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane, 2014; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead
Farm animals dressed in their ‘holiday best’ and waiting to greet everyone at the Deanna Rose Farmstead; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

The following years were marked by a variety of changes to the scenic design, music selection, and length of the production.   In 2015, two large pyramid of spheres were added to the mix.

Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane, 2015; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

2018 saw a slew of changes and alterations to Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane.  Two giant round ornaments were added to the left and right of the display area.  At 20’ tall, thousands of pixels are utilized to keep the lights bright during the holiday season.

Mark Callegari proudly shows off the newest unit to the light festival in 2018; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead
Exactly how many lights do you see on the ornaments? Photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

The entrance sign at the front of the light show was also added in 2018.  You’ll find two Nutcrackers standing at attention and keeping a close watch on holiday proceedings.  The entrance includes important instructions for the best possible viewing experience.  These include: headlights off, tune to 90.5 FM, and most importantly – watch for kids.

Photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

Also new to the scene in 2018 is the famous ‘Gridzilla.’  Gridzilla functions to provides background information about the event and displays additional lighting effects and images.

The final new feature in the 2018 year was the Naughty or Nice Santa Clause.  Each visiting car can get an individualized ‘naughty or nice’ reading (for best results drive slow!).  On the way out of the farmstead, you may come across the one and only Mr. Grinch

2019 saw the most recent major display enhancements.  Fourteen-pixel snowflakes adorn the farmstead roof, adding extra festive cheer.  More roof magic took place this year with sixteen moving light beams on the rooftop, shining proudly for all to see.

The show is currently 45 minutes long, and the music can be accessed on the FM station 90.5.  Careful consideration is given to the song selection list (around thirteen tunes, all perfectly matched to the lighting patterns).  Callegari notes with pride that each minute of song requires at least five hours of time to create the lighting effects so that they are properly synchronized.  A standard three-minute song may take up to fifteen hours of preparation time in order to get it ready for the event.  The current set list includes thirteen songs that stretch a wide gamut of entertainment (classic holiday artists, orchestral suites, current artists, and movie themes that include Star Wars, Frozen, and Harry Potter).  Over the past ten years, one or two new songs have been worked into the rotation, and previous songs have been reworked and workshopped back into the program.

Whimsy trees and farm animals jam on with the music at the Holiday Lights at Farmstead Lane; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead
The entire show is 45 minutes.  If you hear a song repeat – you’ve seen the whole performance; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead
A drone’s eye-view of the holiday proceedings; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

Callegari takes pride in referring to the farmstead event as a ‘visual concert’ or a ‘concert of lights’, going beyond the traditional lighting display to include music and synchronous movement.  The work on the event traditionally begins in June of each year in order to get everything ready by the Christmas season.  In the summer months, display items are refurbished and polished, and new items are added to the mix.  In October, the lighting items are put in place for the holiday season. There are around half a dozen individuals including Chris Maloney, Blake Steward, and Mark’s brother Chris, that work diligently in the fall season to prepare this festive show for families around the Johnson County area.  Callegari estimates around 1,600 hours of work from the group members to make the lighting event a success each year.

Hats off to Mark Callegari and the amazing volunteers that put together the Farmstead lighting; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

In addition to the hard work of volunteers, several local companies have contributed equipment, storage space, and time to ensure that everything runs smoothly.  Foley Equipment Rentals donates lifts that allow the team to install and maintain the lights from October-February each year.  Steve Bullard, another perennial volunteer, delicately positions huge holiday pieces utilizing a boom truck Twice each year, Enerfab arrives – once to install the large items and again to take them down at the end of the run. Without the assistance of volunteers and company donations, the event would not take place.

The nutcrackers do not come to life by themselves; without the hard work of volunteers, they would not sparkle and shine.  Photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead
Each light pixel is inspected and maintained for accuracy.  Photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

The Deanna Rose Farmstead partners with Callegari in other ways throughout the year.  In October, the holiday lighting display is also utilized for the Night of the Living Farm event.

Callegari also hosts a patriotic Veterans Day show, honoring veterans that have served their country in early November.  In late January, there is a display honoring police officer Deanna Hummel Rose, the first Overland Park police officer (and first female officer in Kansas) to be killed in the line of duty.

The Deanna Rose Farmstead was created in 1985, dedicated to honor Deanna Hummel Rose by the city of Overland Park; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

Additional lighting opportunities take place February.  One is to honor the Kansas City Chiefs (if they happen to make it to the playoffs that year), and the other is to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Chiefs Kingdom comes to Overland Park; photograph courtesy Deanna Rose Farmstead

The contributions of Mark Callegari and his team of volunteers have not gone unnoticed by the city of Overland Park.  In 2017, the display at Deanna Rose was named of the of the top three displays in the Kansas City metro area.  In 2018, Mayor Carl Gerlach designated February 19th as ‘Mark Callegari Day’ to recognize the decades of entertaining citizens over the years both at his home and at Deanna Rose.  Callegari and the volunteers continue to find joy and fulfillment in spreading holiday cheer for others.

If you are wanting to check out the festive scene this holiday season, the Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane runs from November 25 to January 7, 2023.  Additional details can be found at the farmstead website.  Visit the Holiday Lights Facebook page for additional winter season cheer.  Visitors are encouraged to utilize the farmstead parking lot for viewing the festivities.  If the parking lot happens to be full, an alternative is the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex.  Whichever way you choose to view, have a safe winter season!

Author note: I send my deepest gratitude to Mark Callegari and Kathi Limbocker for their vast knowledge and willingness to share the history of the Holiday Lights on Farmstead Lane.

-Heather McCartin, Johnson County Library

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Kansas at the Chicago World’s Fair 

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was an international exposition that brought millions of visitors from all over the world to Chicago, Illinois, for a six month fair designed to show the very best that each nation had to offer. Formally titled the World’s Columbian Exposition, it commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first expedition to the Americas. It was in this spirit of discovery, of a foray into the unknown, that nations came together to share their progress and their optimism for the future. Many American cities were considered to host the fair, but the honor was won by Chicago, eager to create a triumphant comeback after its Great Fire of 1871. The fairgrounds stretched across nearly 700 acres of Jackson Park, located on the coast of Lake Michigan near the city center. Nicknamed “The White City” for its sea of uniform white neoclassical buildings surrounded by sleepy lagoons, it was meant to represent the ideal city, something unearthly, where exotic novelties from all over the world would be brought before the public. As host, America was the focal point, and much of the grounds were dedicated to individual buildings where each state could show off their most impressive accomplishments.

Photograph of the World’s Columbian Exposition seen from the main canal, 1893. Library of Congress
Illustration of bird’s-eye view of the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893. Library of Congress

Planning for Kansas exhibitions began in 1891 when a convention of delegates met to determine which products and resources would represent Kansas best. It was decided that a sum of $100,000 (somewhere around $3 million in today’s money) would be needed, with a significant portion of that money raised from the state’s citizens. An official Board of Managers was formed by delegating a representative from each congressional district. While scouting county fairs to secure the best samples of Kansas cattle, dairy, and crops, Board Managers were given the additional responsibility of visiting each county within their district to rally enthusiasm for the project. Inspiring rural Kansans proved more challenging than anticipated, and after six months it was discovered that very little money or interest had been raised. The Board doubled efforts and established 76 Columbian Associations throughout the state, with the express purpose of gathering both funds and materials to exhibit. Of these 76, only 50 successfully contributed money, and it was a much lower sum than expected. After all was said and done, Kansas had less than half the budget originally requested.  

Souvenir Map of the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893. Library of Congress

Undeterred, the Kansas Board pressed on, securing a plot that was third largest in the states area and positioned favorably near a major entrance. To drum up interest in the plans, hopeful architects from all over the state entered into a competition for the best building design — ultimately won by Seymour Davis of Fellows & Vansant of Topeka. Grandiose and imposing from the outside, Davis’ plans allowed for an airy interior with numerous windows and a massive domed cupola that illuminated the two-story structure with natural light. In late October of 1892, six months before the fair’s opening, the Kansas Building became the first completed state building on the grounds. The following months saw thousands of items shipped from Kansas to fill the exhibit, and the fair officially opened to the public on May 1st, 1893. 

Exterior of the Kansas Building, Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893. 
View of the main entrance, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893. 

The phrase “Welcome to All States and Nations” in bold black and gold letters met guests as they approached the stone archway over the main entrance of the Kansas Building. A preview of what was to come, the lettering consisted entirely of meticulously arranged dried corn and grains. Mounted next to these words was a large stucco seal of the state overlooking a detailed limestone fountain made in the shape of a partially shucked ear of corn. Tall pyramids of coal flanked the side entrances. Through the archway, elaborate decorations made from locally sourced grains, grasses, and seeds in dyed hues of gold, crimson, white, and blue covered each wall of the interior. Pyramids of wheat and grasses displayed the state’s major exports. This thematic décor continued throughout the building, guiding onlookers to a variety of exhibits designed to show the very best of Kansas.  

Grain decorations, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893. 
Grain decorations, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893.

Beyond its great swaths of grains, the main floor housed displays of manuscripts, samples of dissections, illustrations of botany, and mounted skeletons from the State Normal School — a now defunct institution meant for aspiring teachers. The State Agricultural College provided samples of student work from all areas of study. Olathe’s Kansas School for the Deaf, then known as the Kansas Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, created an impressive exhibit of traditional classwork alongside student-made industrial pieces, woodworks, buggy harnesses, clothing, and art. 

Fruit Exhibit, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893. 

Spread across 18 tables, the Horticultural Exhibit displayed hundreds of Kansas apples. To this display, Johnson County was said to have contributed only disappointing samples, but its neighboring counties fared better. Fruit rot, vermin, and the habit of some visitors to linger “suspiciously long” at these tables, created the need for an ever new supply.  

View of vestibule from upper gallery, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893.

Two great stairways led to the upper galleries. Recognizing that fair attendance during this period was quite grueling work, organizers arranged a straw basket with sewing supplies at the top of the stairs — giving guests the opportunity to replace mislaid buttons and busted seams. Artistic recreations of train routes made from dried corn and grains lined the walls of the upper floor, leading visitors to the Gentlemen’s Parlor, the Reading Room, and the Educational Exhibit. Across from these rooms were the Lady’s Parlor, Historical Room, and Woman’s Art Room. Here were artworks from all across the state and objects of interest, such as a battle flag from the War of 1812 provided by an Olathe man, and a straight-backed wooden chair brought to America on the Mayflower. Patents for household items were on display in this area — notably a newly invented gas-powered clothing iron, meant to prevent burns so commonly experienced by users of the traditional cast iron version. Gardner local A. Cone displayed plans for modern washing  machines and churns.  

North American Mammals display, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893.

Under the natural lighting provided by the immense cupola, a taxidermy display of over 100 North American mammals, created by L. L. Dyche of the University of Kansas, was arranged in a vast panorama of nature scenes. Much fanfare arose around the exhibit, garnering notice in more than 50 newspaper articles at the time – though some detractors felt it took up more space than was warranted. Much of this groundbreaking display still remains on view at the KU Natural History Museum.   

Towers of lead and lead ore, Mining Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893. 

While most states were allotted their own building to display goods, many exhibits were replicated in buildings throughout the fair designated for particular industries. In the Forestry Building, Kansas provided a 15-foot walnut log, 78 inches in diameter, dating back to 1452. Huge pyramids of rock salt, lead ore, and zinc were arranged in the Mining Building. Once again, Johnson County’s contributions did not impress, providing only samples of “good, but not especially noteworthy” limestone. Not well-known for quality dairy at this time, Kansans were eager to prove they could produce butters, creams, and cheeses to rival other states. While other Dairy Exhibit entries garnered high marks, tragedy befell the cheese when someone forgot to turn on the refrigeration unit.  

Illustration of the Horticultural Building, 1893. Library of Congress 

Damaged crops and a lackluster fruit harvest created a challenge in providing a creditable display within the Horticultural Building. Women’s clubs throughout the state came up with a clever solution by displaying hundreds of local jams, jellies, and preserves. Their plan was to erect an elaborate wire replica of the University of Kansas, lit by electricity from within and filled with hundreds of illuminated jars of jam. Due to a lack of funds and interest by the legislature, this ambitious plan never reached fruition, but the jars were displayed all the same on simple wooden shelving. 

Kansas Jelly Exhibit, Horticultural Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893.

Throughout the sixth month run of the fair, the Kansas Building welcomed an average of 10-12 thousand daily visitors. These numbers nearly doubled during Kansas Week — a mid-September event honoring the state with special concerts, speeches, and assemblies — which was said to be “crowded to suffocation”. At the fair’s close in October of 1893, the great White City was to be destroyed and the park returned to its former state. Bidding opened on site deconstruction, with interested parties hoping to scavenge useful lumber and other building materials. The highest offer for the Kansas Building, tens of thousands of dollars in the making, was for $200. All non-perishable items were shipped back to Kansas by train. The state had hoped to reclaim the emblematic grain and grass décor that had awed so many, but these hopes were dashed when it was discovered that the majority of the building was infested with weevils.  

Wyandotte Exhibit, Kansas Building. Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893. 

The Chicago World’s Fair proved an overwhelming success for the country. Organizers went away confident that they had represented not only how far the country had come since its founding, but the limitless potential of its future. Reflecting on the accomplishments of the state in its relatively short 32-year existence, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kansas, Albert H. Horton, declared in his dedication speech:  

“Kansas is here, because she has not been disobedient to the heavenly vision; because she believes, as she has always believed, in her own motto. Difficulties she knows, difficulties she expects; but through them all she pursues her way to the stars.” 

All information obtained from the Report of the Kansas Board of World’s Fair Managers, 1893, available through the Library of Congress. 

-Sam S., Johnson County Library

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Air Show Season

It’s summertime, the weather is right and the skies are clear and blue.  If you take a moment and listen, you can hear the familiar hum of an airplane engine overhead. Soon it will be Independence Day, and the Kansas City Air Show will hold its much anticipated show at the New Century AirCenter.  They will host the Navy’s Blue Angels who have been featured MANY times at the Air Center.  This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Blue Angels, having formed in 1946 as a flight exhibition team.  Our metro has hosted many Air Shows over the years, and the spectator count only grows, partly no doubt because of how exciting it is to watch those daredevils in the sky. 

Commander Ed Holley in the cockpit of a Blue Angel jet on the grounds of the Olathe Naval Air Station. (Photo: Olathe Public Library)

 The origins of air shows can be traced back to barnstorming. This became a popular activity for former pilots at the end of WWI as many flyers weren’t content to go back to their regular jobs. They took off flying over small rural areas to thrill those watching from the ground (some who had never before seen an airplane). Pilots landed by watching cows whose tails acted as weather vanes. They landed in fields close to barns, hence the name barnstormers.  They’d make money by taking people on rides or by performing stunts, but things weren’t easy for these pilots. Early planes like the Curtiss Jenny, an early barnstormer favorite, weren’t reliable and were constantly in need of repair.

A Curtiss Jenny Airplane on the ground at Stilwell, KS (Photo: Johnson County Museum)

One of the earliest Air Shows in our area was in 1918 at Swope Park.  A group of British flyers led by General Charles F. Lee, performed in their new lighter Thomas-Morse planes in front of of over 100,000 spectators. In 1927 the Municipal Flying Field, now known as Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in KCMO, hosted an Air Show just months after it was dedicated by Charles Lindbergh.  Lake Tapawingo hosted one in 1929 and the same year there was an air race from Mexico to the Kansas City Fairfax.  

The most consistent location to host air shows has been Olathe’s Naval Air Station, known today as the New Century AirCenter. The first air show at the Naval Air Station happened in 1946 called the Great Air Show.  Forty-five minute air rides were given and as many as 50 planes were aloft at one time for the show itself. However, this was not the first air show in Johnson County. Several years before, in 1938, the Gardner area hosted another air show at the Gardner Lake.  Planes from the Fairfax Air Base in Kansas City, Kansas, gave an air exhibition and over 10,000 people attended.  The event was hosted to honor the near completion of the for the WPA lake project.

Four Blue Angel planes in flight; planes based at the Olathe Naval Air Station. (Photo: Olathe Public Library)

Click here for more information on this year’s KC Air Show held at New Century AirCenter Independence Day weekend.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Starry Memories: Starlight Theatre Prepares to Celebrate its 70th Season

For nearly 70 years, Starlight Theatre has entertained people from all over the country.  Currently located in Kansas City, Missouri (in the heart of Swope Park), Starlight’s official history began as early as the 1920s when funding began to take shape for an outdoor theatre.  The Kansas City Federation of Music Clubs oversaw the fundraising efforts and in 1950, the very first production was “Thrills of the Century” – a historic revue that coincided with the city’s Centennial Celebration. The following year, The Starlight Theatre Association took control over the daily operations of the now completed outdoor venue.  To this day, Starlight Theatre is city owned facility that is operated jointly with Kansas City Parks and Recreation.  It is currently the largest and oldest performing arts organization in Kansas City.

Starlight Theatre

Starlight Theatre ca 1951. Photo courtesy of Starlight Theatre.

As a 501c3 (non-profit) organization, Starlight relies heavily on volunteers in terms of daily operations (ticketing, tending to the various horticulture, and assisting with auditions) and promotions for events (tours, guest information desk).   These giving volunteers are now considered to be ‘ambassadors’ and have grown to nearly 200 people strong and counting.

Last year, during the touring production of Love Never Dies, Starlight took the time to honor one of their longstanding ambassadors for her nearly 50 years of service.   Longtime volunteer and Johnson County resident Jan Morevitska  was given the surprise of a lifetime when she was recognized with a video tribute and a very special mention in Starlight’s Star Notes (their very special version of a Playbill).

Star Notes program with picture and article about Jan Morevitska

Jan’s tribute in 2018. Jan is pictured with her husband Lee Morevitska; Photo courtesy of Barb Schulte and Starlight Theatre

This was not Jan’s first recognition for her decades of service to the theatre industry.  Jan and her husband Lee were previously recognized in 2011 by the National Broadway League with a ‘Star of Touring Broadway Award’ for their (at the time) over 40 years of service.  This super couple became affectionately known as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Starlight’ after decades of service to every area of Starlight Theatre.  Highlights of their service include: assisting with cast parties and picnics, hosting backstage tours of the theatre and the grounds, ushering on show nights, promoting the season in the local KC Metro area, and archiving Starlight artifacts for posterity.

Jan and Lee Morevitska

Jan and Lee at a Starlight Gala in 2011.. Photo courtesy of Barb Schulte and Starlight Theatre

For Jan, her love of Starlight started very early, while she and Lee were high school sweethearts at Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri.  As a high school student, Jan could hear the sweet sounds of Starlight from her front porch.  In 1956, the theatre introduced half price ‘first-nighter’ tickets to metro area students.  Lee and Jan were quick to grab Orchestra seats for several opening shows that season for only $5 a ticket.  The couple hasn’t looked back since then; they became hooked as Starlight regulars, attending a number of shows every year.

In 1969, Jan was invited to join the Starlight Theatre Women’s Committee by one of her neighbors.  This group, formed in 1959 was established to promote civic participation and interest for Starlight.  During the initial years, members were only permitted to join by invitation only and by 1984, there were over fifty women that conducted backstage tours, hosted cast parties (Jan was often responsible for obtaining the food in her early years), and sold season ticket packages at various locations in the city (including Ward Parkway Shopping Center and Metcalf South Mall).  All members were required to be season ticket holders as part of their contribution to Starlight.  For Jan and Lee, it was never a difficult decision to become longstanding theatre patrons and supporters of the theatre.  In 1993, the committee was restructured and now known as Starlight Theatre Ambassadors.  Membership was now extended to men and was no longer offered by invitation only.  Lee was quick to become an Ambassador, though he had assisted with small projects before it became official.  Jan and Lee work as a pair to show off Starlight’s backstage area during the Thursday night tours, where guests can see the stage, lighting, and sound areas.  The backstage tours (performed on show nights) continue to draw in curious onlookers.  As of 2019, there are over 200 Starlight Ambassadors that keep Starlight shining through their volunteer service and dedication.  Their duties have since expanded to include daytime tours during the summer, which continue to be one of Jan’s favorite volunteer activities.

Playbill cover from 1969

A program cover from Jan’s first year volunteering with the Women’s Committee. Photo courtesy of Barb Schulte and Starlight Theatre

24 women who served in the 1984 Women's Committee at Starlight

1984 Women’s Committee (Jan is back
row center). Photo courtesy of Barb Schulte
and Starlight Theatre

Jan and Lee continue to be beloved by Starlight.  Jan has been the recipient of the ‘Ambassador of the Year’ award (assigned to her by her fellow volunteers) a total of four times – most recently last year in 2018.  The Morevitska’s even have a special room dedicated to them at the theatre.  The Morevitska room, established in the mid-2000s, serves as a break or visiting room for the Ambassadors.  Here volunteers check in and out of the building and relax during their shift.  Last year, the room received a well-earned renovation that included new furniture, paint, and a wall mural for the room’s namesakes.  This year, Starlight is placing a bronze plaque inside of Gate 3 to commemorate Jan’s 50 years of service.

Jan and Lee Morevitska holding their volunteer service awards

Jan and Lee celebrate their years of service in 2015. Photo courtesy of Barb Schulte and Starlight

Jan Morevitska standing outside the Morevitska room

Jan poses outside of the famed Morevitska room. Photo courtesy of Barb Schulte and Starlight

Starlight’s history has changed over the years while the Morevitska’s have been volunteering and as Vice President of Education and Outreach, Barb Schulte is well versed in Starlight’s strong history.  In the 1950s-60s, there were roughly 8-10 shows at Starlight every summer, and they were all ‘Starlight produced shows’ versus touring productions.  The 1970s saw production costs starting to rise for the theatre, and variety shows were becoming more popular, leading to celebrities coming to Starlight to headline a new show.  The 1970s also saw the occasional regional and national tour coming to Starlight.   Starlight currently maintains a balance between booking tours and in-house productions.  Rich Baker (President and CEO of Starlight Theatre) keeps a steady pulse on what shows are currently touring, planning a tour, and what shows have not been on Broadway yet.  When tours come to Starlight, they are typically in the back half of their run as most tours tend to begin in the fall season.  In recent years, Starlight produces at least one per season.

When shows are locally produced by Starlight, there is an excellent chance for local artists to return to Kansas City or make their big professional debut on the Starlight stage.  Kansas City resident Jessica Alcorn and stylist at Indigo Rose Hair Salon has the fondest memories of Starlight’s production of Hairspray.  In 2006, a rainy visit to Starlight still held amazing memories for Jessica and her mother, Cathy.  Starlight’s policy is on weather is that the show must go on in ‘rain or shine’.  The outdoor stage is now enclosed (since 2000) to protect the actors while they perform.  There are a variety of places for attendees to stop at in order to get out of the rain, including pergolas (arbors that provide an open roof structure) above the walkways for guests to stand under and still get a view of the stage.  Jessica and her mother stayed through the rain and were enticed to come back the following night and watch from the terrace in the back.  When the final number came on the stage, Jessica was anxious to sit up front – there was someone performing on stage who looked just like her (the plus-sized and enthusiastic character Tracy Turnblad).  She left that night in 2006 wishing that she could perform on the stage, and got exactly what she wanted in 2018 when she headlined Starlight’s production of Hairspray, in the very same role that she fell in love with over ten years agoIt was a grueling but fulfilling process for Jessica and the other performers who went through several rounds of auditions and callbacks before being told that they had a role in the production.  In-house shows are put together in roughly two weeks’ time, which means the cast learns several scenes and dance moves each day.  Alcorn’s role was recognized by Broadway World as ‘Best Professional Actress’ (Broadway World Kansas City Awards)  For Jessica and her fellow actors, it’s all worth it in the end when the lights come up at Starlight Theatre.

Jessica Alcorn as Tracy Turnblad in Starlight Theatre’s 2018 production of Hairspray. Photo courtesy of Jessica and Cathy Alcorn

One thing that does not change about Starlight is the joy and appreciation that patrons (and local actors and actresses) have for the playhouse.  For Jessica, performing on the Starlight stage was a lifelong dream that came true.  Her fond memories of coming with her family during the summer – they rode in a limo! – made Starlight a seasonal memory that impacted her personally and professionally.  For Jan, the appeal of Starlight lies in wide variety and ability to appeal to every age group.  After over 50 years of performances and variety show specials, Jan cannot pin down a specific favorite.  During our interview, she was able to joke that her favorite show was ‘the one she was watching right now’.  The Wizard of Oz, always holds a very special place in Jan’s heart, especially when Starlight is able to produce the show (it was the 2nd Broadway show of the 2019 line-up).

Part of Starlight’s celebration of nearly 70 years of entertaining the public includes the new addition of a Starlight Ovation Museum, which will be located in the spot traditionally held by the Ovation Gift Shop.  Barb Schulte and the Morevitska’s, along with dozens of other individuals have been busily preparing the space for a June 10 opening (coinciding with the start of The Wizard of Oz’s run).  The museum will share the story of Starlight with visitors through artifacts (programs, posters, photographs, props, and memorabilia) that will shed light on milestones, celebrations, and moments of remembrance. One of Starlight’s goals going forward is to build up their library of artifacts, which now currently include an original Broadway piano and telephone switchboard that were utilized during Starlight’s inception.

The memories of Starlight continue to endure for the staff, volunteers, company of actors, and visitors that grace the area each summer, all of whom are creating a Starlight memory of their very own.

-Heather McCartin, Johnson County Library

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Sister Story: An Interview with Julie Galan, CSJ

Join the Johnson County Library at the Central Resource Branch on Saturday, September 22 at 1:00 pm for Sister Stories, a panel discussion of women religious who have ministered in Johnson County.

Most people know the stereotypical nun from movies and TV shows such as “Sister Act” and “The Flying Nun,” but few know real nuns. There are seven communities of women religious in the Kansas City metro area and numerous Sisters minister today in our communities here in Johnson County. The following is an interview with one of these women.

Sister Julie Galan entered religious life March 18, 1946. Born in Chicago to Theodore and Anna Galan, she was received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, as Sister Mariella. At that time, the Sisters of St. Joseph wore the traditional long black habits, complete with a veil and a white wimple and received a Sister name when they entered the novitiate.  However, these represent two of many changes in religious life since 1946. In the 1960s, Vatican II encouraged religious communities to return to their constitutions and founding to determine how to live out their calling in a modern world. Sister Julie now wears everyday clothes and has returned to her baptismal name, but her call to religious life remains the same. “The essence of religious life hasn’t changed, but the manner in which religious life is lived out has changed and that makes it look different to a number of people…My call was one of attraction,” she states.

After entering the convent, Sister Julie attended Marymount College in Salina, Kansas, where she received her bachelor of education degree in English before moving on to Webster College in Kansas City where she received a master’s degree in education. Many are surprised at the level of education of women religious, but a vast majority of them have advanced degrees. In their call to religious life, these women were often given the opportunity for higher education and travel that was not available to many. From 1951 to 1969, Sister Julie taught in the parochial schools of Junction City, Plainville, Manhattan, and Beloit. In 1969, she was assigned to the parish of Curé of Ars in Leawood where she continues to minister to the present day.

Curé of Ars Catholic School building

Curé of Ars Catholic School, Leawood, Kansas Source: Curé of Ars Catholic School

In 1985, Sister Julie changed positions at Curé of Ars and became the Religious Education Director. While students attending the parochial school receive religious education as part of their school day curriculum, a separate program is available for students who attend public school. As the Religious Education Director, Sister Julie is charged with the religious education of the latter group of students. She credits serving as an elementary school teacher with aiding the transition to directing the religious education program. She continued in that role until 2010 when she transitioned again into a ministry for senior parishioners called I Care. This ministry eventually transformed into Relax with God in 2015. The current program brings 100 to 125 parishioners aged 50+ together every three months for lectures, luncheons, and more. Sister Julie also assists in the parish with lectors, altar servers, funerals, and bringing communion to the sick parishioners of Curé of Ars. “I consider it exciting to be part of such a vibrant parish and thankful for being able to serve God’s people in multiple ways…I do what I love and I love what I do!”

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Buddy the Deaf Dog

Your dog can sit, but can it answer its own fan mail? Can it play piano and wear a stylish cap? Buddy could!

Buddy answering fan mail

Buddy answering fan mail in 1953 Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection

“Buddy the Deaf Dog” was a touring stage act put on by Bob Parker and his famous performing dog Buddy.  Buddy and Parker made a splash in the 1950s, touring schools and stage events throughout the metro area and traveling as far as St. Louis. Buddy had total hearing impairment but, with some ingenuity and a lot of practice, the team were able to develop a series of tricks that were based on visual cues given by Parker. When asked how the two came to be, Parker claimed to have found Buddy wandering lonely on the plains of Kansas. He had a mean attitude and tried to bite Parker, but the two quickly became inseparable friends.

Bob Parker and Buddy

Bob Parker and Buddy Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection

Buddy was particularly popular at Olathe’s Kansas School for the Deaf, where the duo performed a myriad of tricks meant to show that Buddy’s lack of hearing didn’t prevent him from excelling and learning new things. Some of Buddy’s best-loved tricks involved him writing letters, smoking a pipe, or joining Parker on the piano.

Buddy playing the piano

Buddy playing the piano Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection

Buddy "smoking" a pipe

Buddy the Deaf Dog Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection

The man behind the dog, Bob Parker, was born in 1899 as Parker B. Melluish in Ottawa, Kansas. Parker was a veteran of both World Wars, dropping out of high school to join the army at age 17. He fought in the Battle of the Argonne and was honorably discharged due to injury, at which time he joined the vaudeville circuit and toured the country as a song and dance man. When World War II arrived, Parker rejoined the service and took charge of theatre and entertainment for his regiment. He arranged USO shows, performed in variety programs, brought in the newest films, and was responsible for keeping up his company’s morale. He remained an active member of Olathe’s American Legion post and Veterans of Foreign Wars throughout his life. After World War II, he returned to Kansas and became a theater manager, touring with Buddy in his free time. He was a lifelong supporter of the Kansas School for the Deaf and continued his support long after he and Buddy had retired. Parker passed away in 1975 and requested that donations be sent to the school in his memory.

Bob and buddy perform

Postcard to Kansas School for the Deaf Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection


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Rising from the Ashes


Photo pulled from fire damage at the Hickory Grove School

Fire has always been a concern for schools, especially when we’re talking about old school buildings. Fire drills were first introduced because of the numerous severe fires in schools. Of course today, we have the newest technology for early detection, but the early days of Johnson County were not so lucky.  Two such fires were in 1920 and 1949.

In January of 1920, a fire completely destroyed the Overland Park High School building. Sources are conflicting as to the actual date, but the Kansas City Star states the date as Monday, Jan. 26. At that time the building was located at Santa Fe Road and Robinson Street. According to the Kansas City Star, the origin of the fire is a mystery, but possibly caused by a gas explosion. Witnesses claimed to have seen a bright light around 2 a.m. toward the vicinity of the building.


Overland Park High School fire in 1920

This building, built from stone, was not the first school at the location. A wood structure called Pleasant Prairie was built there in 1873. Because enrollment increased over the years by 45% and costs increased 56%, it was felt a new structure was needed. So in 1909 a new stone structure opened. There were four rooms on the first floor and four in the basement, with an annex attached at a later date. Enrollment continued to grow.  Four teachers were hired and the costs totaled upwards of $9,000. But on that fateful morning in January 1920, the building and its contents were a complete loss. The district rallied again, and a new school of a larger scale was built.


Pleasant Prairie School in 1899, the location where Overland Park High was later built.

Overland Park High would not be the last school to experience a devastating fire. The first Hickory Grove school, a one-room wooden structure, was built in 1865 and was once the largest school in the county. The name for the school was chosen because of the beautiful grove of Hickory trees on the site in Mission, Kan. This one-room structure stayed until 1916 when a larger one was needed. Stone structures were popular around this time, possibly from fear of fire, and this two-story stone school with two classrooms and one big community room on the ground floor was built.  The basement was converted to classrooms at a later date, with additions built in 1926, 1937 and 1946. The latest addition consisted of 11 more classrooms, a library, a gymnasium and increased cafeteria facilities.


Fire at the Hickory Grove School in 1949.

On July 21, 1949, a fire erupted in the new stone building.  Children who were rehearsing a play had just left the building when J. M. Smothers, the assistant custodian,  was locking the doors when through the windows he saw a light coming from the auditorium area. He discovered the entire stage curtain on fire. Previously, he had sternly advised the college students who had been directing the play not to smoke backstage.


Fire damage at Hickory Grove School

Firefighters from different local communities rushed to help control the blaze. Fire trucks from Overland Park, Shawnee and Mission townships, Mission and Kansas City, Kan., hurried to the scene. Six pumper trucks with eight streams were directed on the 100-foot high flames. Seen for miles, the fire drew 500 people. Thick black smoke billowed above until the roof was consumed an hour later. The damage was estimated at $100,000, but the new $250,000 addition was saved.

On a happy note, the play was also saved and moved to another school. Just like the old saying, “The show must go on.”

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Do you know how Overland Park got its start?

Strang’s Vision

Portrait of William B. Strang.
On May 30-31, 1903, a great flood submerged cities along the Kaw River from Salina to Kansas City and prompted developer William B. Strang, Jr. to propose building a suburban community on higher ground in rural Johnson County. In his vision, residents of the new community of Overland Park would travel to Kansas City via an electric interurban railroad. Strang would build his railroad above the flood plain and provide both convenient access to jobs in the city for suburban dwellers, as well as an easy way for urban residents to visit the country for fresh air and recreation.

Read more about Strang’s story at

Read more about the Flood of 1903 on Kansapedia

Images of the Flood of 1903

1903 Flood of Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge. Sightseers along Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge.

1903 Flood of Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge. Sightseers along Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge.

1903 Kansas River Flood - Railroad Wreckage

1903 Kansas River Flood – Railroad Wreckage

 1903 Flood of Kansas River in Kansas City, KS. Flood of Armourdale and Argentine areas.

1903 Flood of Kansas River in Kansas City, KS. Flood of Armourdale and Argentine areas.

1903 Kansas River Flood - Residential and Business Damage. Families cleaning up damage.

1903 Kansas River Flood – Residential & Business Damage. Families cleaning up damage.

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A Country School Christmas at Lanesfield

Santa Claus, carols, and storyteller Jo Ho bring holiday cheer to the Lanesfield Historic Site on Saturday, December 4 from 1 pm to 4 pm. If you have never visited Lanesfield, this is the day to do it! A Country School Christmas recalls rural Christmas celebrations of the past. Santa will be there to listen to the Christmas wishes of children and to receive their lists—written in old-fashioned pen and ink! The Edgerton Elementary Rainbow Connection Choir will present a Christmas program of traditional carols at 1 pm, Santa will visit from 1:15 pm to 2:15 pm, and at 3 pm Jo Ho will amuse the children with stories of a pioneer Christmas. Refreshments and ornament-making will be going on during the entire event—and it’s FREE!

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Local History Boook Discussion

Are you curious about what reading material exists for local history enthusiasts? The Johnson County Library is hosting a discussion on this topic Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 at 7pm.

Join us at the Central Resource Library on 87th street as we talk about both fiction and nonfiction related to the history of the Kansas City region.

king of kings county

The Central Resource Library has a research collection of historical work about local towns, churches, organizations and people. Learn about these resources in addition to items in our general collection. Copies of books will be available for check out and historical maps will be on hand.

history books

No registration is required. If you would like more information or need special accommodations, please call (913) 495-2400.

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