Hello fellow huskers, families, and friends! The weather certainly has been unusual so far this summer. It is late July as I write this historian's article and we have been experiencing a very cool and wet summer. Since the middle of May, we have received rain on almost a weekly basis. Sometimes it varies from a few tenths to as much as 2 inches. When it is not raining, we generally have lots of clouds. During most summers a 30% rain chance by the forecasters doesn't cause much concern when mowing and baling hay. But this summer, a 30% chance has taken on a new meaning. We have hurried the hay drying process by tedding a lot of our hay to try to beat the rains. So, I can safely say that the weather has made farming challenging so far. However, with the frequent rainfall our crops are looking very good and, if the weather pattern holds, we should experience some very high corn and bean yields.
With the corn tasseled and putting on ears, I have already entertained thoughts of this fall's cornhusking contests. Our state contest is scheduled for the first Saturday of October and that date isn't far off. As most of you already know, Kansas will host this fall's National contest at Oakley. So, I can think of no better topic for my historian's article than some Kansas cornhusking history.
In 1969-1970 some Oakley residents were looking to sponsor an event that would attract people to town. The idea that was finally adopted was to host a cornhusking contest like the ones before World War II. The Logan County agricultural extension agent, Ross Nelson, proposed the idea. Through his efforts and leadership, and with the help of many others in the community, Kansas hosted a contest on October 23, 1971. It was billed as the Western Kansas Cornhusking Contest. The contest featured 17 huskers that had the choice of competing in either a 20-minute or a 10-minute class. Communication between Mr. Nelson and Roy Freeland, the Secretary of the Kansas Board of Agriculture, brought about a name change for the 1972 event, the Kansas State Cornhusking Contest. Through the efforts of Nelson and his associates, Kansas was the first state to feature cornhusking with contest rules very similar to the pre-World War II contests. Consequently, Oakley holds a very significant place in the revival of our modern cornhusking contests.
During the early months of 1975, Nelson and the Kansas organization sought to enlarge the scope of its cornhusking contest for the coming fall. A second day of competition on Saturday would be added to the contest that would feature the best competitors from other states. The contest addition was billed as the 1975 National and featured 10 contestants from Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, and Kansas. It was the first national contest staged since the last pre-World War II National held at Tonica, Illinois in 1941.
The national champ was a Kansan who had been the state runner up the day before, John Jackson from Osage City. Jackson and his brother Fred would continue to be very tough competitors for many years following his '75 title win.
During the summer of 1981, Ross Nelson left Oakley to take a county extension agent's position in Hayes, Kansas, a little closer to his hometown of Circleville. However, before he left town he approached Warren Park, owner of the Swart-Park Ford Dealership, to inquire if he would consider assuming his position as chairperson of the cornhusking association. Park had worked some previous contests during Nelson's tenure and had service as a president of the local Chamber of Commerce. According to Warren, he agreed to take the position for a year of two. Somehow that year or two has turned into 24 years as chairperson of the Kansas Cornhuskers Association. Some health concerns over the years presented some problems in his contest work; however, he sees nothing in the immediate future to deter his active involvement with the association. Mr. Park, also the 2004 National Cornhuskers Association president, passes along much credit to other Kansas association members, particularly to Joyce Bosserman. According to Park, Mrs. Bosserman serves as secretary/treasurer of the Kansas association and handles most of the paperwork entailed with the contests. In her free time Bosserman is the secretary of the county agricultural extension office, a post that she has had since 1988. Prior to '88, her predecessor had been Julia Rietcheck who had also served as the associationís secretary/treasurer during Ross Nelsonís tenure as Logan County agent.
So, there you have a little Kansas organizational and contest history dating back to 1971. Hopefully, these facts will make your trip to Oakley this fall a little more meaningful and enjoyable. As NCA Historian, I want to express my appreciation to Ross Nelson, Warren Park, and all of the other Kansans for all of their work over the years in promoting and hosting state and National cornhusking contests in Oakley. They have certainly done their part in adding to the longevity of our sport and to our cornhusking heritage. May all of you be safe until contest time and, God willing, I will see you in Oakley!
Reference for this article was THE NATIONAL by Mitchel Burns