Emporia, Kansas, is a diamond hidden in the prairies.
One week ago, this town, which is hours from major airports, was only a dot on a map in my mind. It was my good fortune to be selected and become the 136th inductee into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. As wonderful as this accomplishment may sound, the experiences over the past week have morphed my understanding of the City of Emporia.
The experiences of the past week caused the dot on the map to be transformed into a gem in my heart. I, a fourth-grade teacher, received the greatest lessons and gifts of all, the joy of new friendships and a genuine welcome to be a guest citizen of this incredible community.
When my wife and I landed in Kansas City, we were greeted by Scott Capes, not an Uber. He is an Emporian through and through, cheerful and never at a loss for discussion. He drove us from Kansas City to Bobby D’s Merchant Street BBQ. Immediately we were immersed in hometown food, gracious hospitality and kindness.
At the center of all people was Carol Strickland, the Director of the National Teachers Hall of Fame. Her energy and positive smile are contagious. Over the next three days, Roger Heineken took us on a bus tour of the town, shown the FREE zoo, told stories about William Allen White, visited Peter Pan Park and the Veterans Park and debated which ice cream was better; Braum’s or Freddy’s. It became immediately obvious that our experience was not about tangible gifts, but rather, Emporia is committed to showing the five inductees and their families how proud the residents are of this wholesome and positive community.
Emporia is a place committed to the pursuit of happiness, the joy of its citizens and the hospitality of its visitors. Emporia is rare in today’s world. From the very first moments, I felt like I was part of this loving community.
I brought dirt with shark teeth for a program at the library. More people than the library had chairs showed up. Adults were as excited as the kids to learn and explore. We ate only the freshest homemade food at Amanda’s Restaurant, and were treated to a trip to Sweet Grenada Chocolate Shop. Chuck Samples interviewed us on KVOE radio and led a positive discussion about education. Keith Geiger led a world broadcast webinar with the five of us at the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
Emporia has pride. I was told about the Dirty Kanza bike race and learned about the Glass Blown Open Frisbee Golf Tournament, the largest of its kind in America. We were treated like family at the Lyons County History Center and Museum by Greg Jordan and Lisa Soller and laughed with residents as we enjoyed a night of wine, cheese and trivia. Every move was covered by the historic Emporia Gazette, and a stroll through the heart of town gave way to many windows of shops displaying signs with our names, the five inductees. This town of service welcomed us; complete strangers other than being known by name.
On our night before induction, we enjoyed root beer floats in the park and listened to the Emporia Municipal Band. Hundreds slowed down, simply to sit and enjoy life together. I learned that the world stops when a train passes the park and I truly found the American dream when everyone stood, put their hands on their hearts, and paid tribute to Kansas singing the hymn, “Home on the Range.”
When induction day came, my wife and I had developed a lifelong friendship with Jim and Marilyn Krueger, a couple who hosted us and took us out for ice cream every night — even after root beer floats. I teach fourth grade, and witnessing families pay tribute to loved ones at the National Monument to the Fallen Educator taught me a lesson — everyone, even those who have lost family members to violence, just want one thing: peace. So, when induction night finally came, I was not nervous in front of strangers from a dot on a map, I felt home amongst friends.
What you have in Emporia, Kansas, is a diamond tucked away out in the range. Such pride and the pursuit of providing people with a good life does not happen by accident. Two years ago, Rich Ognibene (2015 inductee) told me about Emporia. He described Emporians as special people. I would add that Emporians have pride, cherish what they have, work hard and made me (a fourth-grade teacher) immediately feel welcomed, loved and at home.
Emporia is no longer a dot on a map. It is a place in my heart.
Your New Friend,
Christopher Albrecht (Dr. Dig… if you went to the shark teeth program at the library)
Fourth Grade Teacher,