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Background Image Joan Weaver

Meet Joan Weaver

What's your Kansas story?
It was my husband who brought me to Kansas. He was a Kansas boy, who after living in many other places, was drawn back to this land. I was a Michigan girl who loved the lakes and woods, but had lived in New Mexico and came to also love the mountains and desert. Then thirty years ago, I found myself in western Kansas with its vast plains and wide sky. We bought a 100 year old farmhouse on 30 acres encompassing one big sand hill with the cultivated prairie stretching out below and the Milky Way spanning endlessly above.

Kansans are like the grass and wildflowers on the prairie. Their beauty and resilience comes from perennial nourishment found deep below the surface. I did not become a Kansan quickly; I’m not sure any outsider can. For me, it took years of caring for my little patch of prairie, of returning my husband to the land, of hearing the stories of the people, and of being upheld by their goodness. That is what has made me a Kansan.   

Describe what you do now. What inspires you about what you do?
I am the library director in Kinsley, Kansas. I conscientiously purchase books, pay the bills, and oversee the facility. But what I love to do is offer people of all ages opportunities to discover and share experiences and ideas. I am inspired by the stories of the local people, both past and present. I am continually humbled and privileged to hear their stories. As a librarian, I recognize the need to preserve the stories, but what really inspires me is to share them with a greater community and then witness moments of recognition, consideration, revelation, and appreciation. When people come together at the library to learn and to exchange ideas, it inspires me to go on and create more opportunities. I watched the community rediscovering the determination of the Tractorcade generation. I witnessed new understandings awaken in a room full of people when they listened to a Somali “Lost Boy” tell his story. I saw the wide-open eyes of children as they heard an elderly neighbor describe Black Sunday. Most recently, I have been discovering and sharing the lives of people from 100 years ago through local newspapers articles, letters and diaries written during World War I. We are exploring together how that war affected the soldiers and people of my county, and also recognizing those same effects manifested in more recent conflicts. This is what inspires me to continue to work as a librarian at age 72.

Why do you love the humanities?
I love the humanities because they create beauty, promote understanding, and nurture hope for a better world.

What inspires you about Kansas? 
The beauty of the prairie, rivers, and skies of Kansas inspires my artistic and spiritual soul. I hear poetry when kayaking down the Arkansas River or watching a skein of geese fly overhead. I see art in double rainbows and when my country road is lined with yellow sunflowers. Music is created by the rustling cottonwood leaves and the rhythmic hoo-ing of the pair of great horned owls atop my elms. I am inspired by the hundreds of monarchs congregating in the cedars on their journey south and by the sun illuminating the iridescent feathers of a pheasant. I am awed by the vast cosmos when I stand in the darkness on my hill. 

"The Kansas people inspire me." 

Through my late husband’s native heritage, I have been inspired by the Plains Indian culture.  I am also inspired by the immigrants that later settled here. The land of western Kansas required and thus created people who had courage, perseverance, and strong faith. They worked hard, and they built strong ties to both the land and each other. That legacy lives on in my friends and neighbors today. I am continually inspired by their life stories, humbly told, but so filled with the legacy of their ancestors.  I am inspired by the more recent immigrants who have come seeking an opportunity for a better life. I see the same courage and sacrifice of the early pioneers. I am inspired by the diversity in history, cultures and ideas that make up Kansas. A few examples from my experience are: 

  • The outsider art of the Garden of Eden and the Wichita Art Museum
  • Blue grass festivals and the Symphony in the Flint Hills
  • Nicodemus Homecoming, Lindsborg Midsummer Festival, and Dodge City Days
  • The Peace Treaty Pow Wow at Medicine Lodge and the Prairie Festival at the Land Institute       
  • Cavalry forts, prairie cathedrals, and a host of historic homes and small museums

One thing I love about living in western Kansas is the remoteness, but that remoteness can also create a dearth of intellectual stimulation and engagement in ideas. Kansas would not be as inspiring to me if it were not for Humanities Kansas which brings programs and scholars to my town. I have found inspiration in both historical and contemporary themes. Meeting scholars stimulates and challenges me to learn and think about fresh ideas, topics, and viewpoints. These encounters have inspired my own writing and art. HK has inspired me to go deeper and to engage my whole community in discovering Kansas. Just one example is a nine month county-wide study of the Dust Bowl era along with current water issues. What started with a national exhibit grew to be so much more with HK support. We were able to host a four-month discussion series that provided scholars on both the era and on the state of water in Kansas today. I was given funds to record and preserve the stories of local Dust Bowl survivors. We hosted a TALK series that drew a couple dozen farmers who shared their memories. Our activities with HK helped us receive a Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission award which hosted a concert of Woody Guthrie music for both the community and teacher in-service.  It provided a Kansas singer-songwriter artist-in-residency that generated original art and music by our students. I, along with many other people, find inspiration and enrichment from the programs and activities of Humanities Kansas.

Do you believe ideas can change the world? How and why?
Two things change the world. Forces in nature, like tornadoes, droughts and plagues, change the world.  We have little control over them. More often, human ideas, both good and bad, are the instruments of change. For example, fear, greed, and exclusion spawn ideas of a superior race, manifest destiny, and one true religion. Similarly, courage, hope, and tolerance create ideas of civil rights, immigration, and interfaith endeavors. Ideas can reinforce our human nature or nurture our “better” nature. Ideas are taught and nourished through human relationships and culture. Ideas become who we are.

People have always sought to improve their world. Their imaginations produce new ideas to make life easier, safer, and more meaningful. Ideas change the world by changing individual’s circumstances, hearts and minds. Creators of ideas become leaders who promote new ideas which change our world. The ideas conceived and adopted by the founders of our country spawned a revolution which created our democracy and changed world history.   

Why is it important that people engage with new ideas?
When an organism stops changing, it is dead. For people, new ideas are the agents of change. Human history is the story of new ideas that allowed people to survive and thrive in their environment, to relate to others, and to find meaning in life. New ideas cause us to evaluate old ones for their continued truthfulness and usefulness. As a result we may change an old idea or completely replace it. If people had not engaged with new ideas, America would not exist, women would not be voting, and mental illness would still be a moral weakness. New ideas can be risky, but the results can also be worth it.

The world is not stagnant. It takes new ideas to grapple with a world that is changing at a more rapid pace than any other time in history. It takes new ideas to meet all the new challenges that these changes bring. We hope that innovations in science and technology will find solutions for our physical survival. But those solutions bring new challenges for human relationships and spiritual well-being. They require us to think in new ways in order to cope, i.e., resolving the ethics of cloning or evaluating priorities in preserving the environment. Street riots, school shootings, global warming, overpopulation, changing job markets, increases in suicide and depression, the substance abuse epidemic, and addiction to electronic devices are just some of today’s challenges that call for new ways of thinking. New ideas open up opportunities to examine accepted facts, discuss the problem, and listen to differing viewpoints. They help us make sense of and respond in beneficial ways to all these changes and challenges we face. 

We are a divided people, i.e. liberal and conservative, hawks and doves, haves and the have-nots, evangelical and atheist. Some people fight for the right to life while others desire to die with dignity. Some see Kansas’ rivers as economic development, others see them as recreation, and still others as wilderness experience essential for mental well-being. Divisions like these often result in shouting, bullying and even violence. However, new ideas can bring people together for discussion and problem solving. Fresh ideas can bridge the differing sides. They can create a means for people to find common ground. They can offer opportunities for understanding and compromise which can create decisions and solutions.

New ideas can create fear of the changes they consequently bring. When people engage in new ideas, concepts evolve and change. Slavery was once the norm in this country; the abolitionists put forth a different idea. Innovative ideas have caused painting and music to develop and expand our definition of beauty. New ideas are not to be feared but to be explored. They enrich our lives by awakening our curiosity, exciting our imaginations, and strengthening our relationships.

Why should people join our movement of ideas? 

  • Ideas are the foundation of a democracy. A democracy cannot survive without the freedom to think originally and creatively without fear.  Democracy thrives and grows on the exchange of ideas.
  • In a changing world, Kansas must and will change too. Kansans need to control what those changes will be.
  • Change can be threatening. This movement encourages dialog which can alleviate fears generate understanding, and enable minds to find creative solutions and compromises. 
  • Kansans are divided over many things. They often find themselves like two elks that have locked their antlers and are pulling against each other. This movement asks Kansans to come together without the antlers. Instead of a battle ground, it calls for a common table where fresh ideas and discussion can lead to solutions. 
  • It provides opportunities to share facts and ideas about both old and new problems. It will help dispel stereotypes, assumptions and misconceptions.
  • It creates a safe environment for dialogue.
  • It gives people a chance to express their views and explore their values.
  • It satisfies a person’s desire and need to be heard.
  • It encourages people to become vested in new ideas that support future of Kansas.
  • When people join together to discover and support ideas, it promotes progress.
  • By knowing the past and where we are in the present, we can work for a more unified and beneficial future.
  • New ideas are exciting, stimulating and enriching to our lives.
  • It supports our democratic ideals.
  • This campaign has the potential to create beauty and truth.
  • It will strengthen communities educationally, socially, and economically. 
  • “I will have enough sense to see the new thing and enough courage to say the new thing.”  - Maya Anglelou

Why do stories and fresh thinking matter in Kansas today?
Only humans are capable of telling their stories, and our stories reveal who and what we are. How Kansans go about telling their stories, and how we listen and show respect for others and their stories, will determine the course and future of Kansas. Knowing the collective stories that have brought Kansas to this point can help us envision and create our future story. Stories teach lessons about choices, consequences, failures, successes, mistakes and triumphs. Stories allow us to experience and understand the world through a different pair of eyes. They instruct and illuminate situations that we have not experienced.  Seeing something from a different viewpoint brings about fresh ideas which can solve problems by changing behaviors, minds and hearts. Fresh ideas spark curiosity and creativity to meet challenges and build a more understanding and prosperous Kansas. For Kansas to be relevant and grow in a changing democracy, Kansans need fresh thinking to creatively write the next chapter in the Kansas story. 

How would you like to see Kansas evolve in the next five years?

  • I want Kansas to evolve into a leader in education which includes not only the sciences, math and technology, but also the humanities. 
  • I would like to see Kansas better support the preservation and cultivation of our history, culture, literature, and the arts.
  • I hope that Kansas will strive to protect our environment to enable us to live in a place that is healthy for our bodies and feeds our minds and spirits.
  • I would like Kansas to grow economically through noble, healthy, and enriching opportunities.

What do you wish people knew or understood about Kansas? 
On late night television, it is easy to make fun of Kansas as a flyover state where people hold extreme and ridiculous views. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” is a worn out punch line. To counteract that stereotype, I wish that people knew and understood the Kansas character. The sparse population and rural nature of the state nurtures a unique character. Kansans stand up for values they believe in including freedom and democracy. This state was created in opposition of slavery. Kansans have a strong work ethic; they work hard and expect others to do the same. Kansans cherish individual freedom while, at the same time, they support strong community. They freely serve in local government, volunteer in civic organizations, and support local programs and charities to make their communities good places for everyone to live. Everyone shows up at the Friday night game, the school play, and every church and organization’s fund-raising dinner. Kansans value order and safety. They still respect police and teachers. Kansas children play in their neighborhood without fear. Kansans are conservative because they know that sometimes the rains don’t come and you can lose everything in a few minutes of swirling wind.  Kansas is called the heartland because its values come from strong and good hearts. Kansans are generous people who quietly show up at a neighbor‘s door or field to assist in times of trouble. It you have car trouble in Kansas, help is closer than your cell phone; it is in the next pickup truck that comes by. 

Are you ready for the lightening round? What is your favorite dessert?
I would always choose pie – any kind. One time I made three pies:  rhubarb, banana cream, and apple pie. I couldn’t decide which one to have a piece from, so I ate an only somewhat smaller piece of all three. Pie is like life, I want all its flavors and sweetness.

Would you ever agree to be on a tv or radio game show? If so, which one and why. I would never agree to be on a TV game show. I want to keep my senior moments and plain ignorance known only to my forgiving friends.

Name your top movie picks.
I am very eclectic, love variety, and the new. It is hard for me to pick one over another. Just to be contrary to the choices given, I will instead choose the TV show Northern Exposure. I own all six seasons, and I never get tired of watching the episodes. Nothing tops flinging a piano, the last supper scene, and Marilyn’s native wisdom. I think it is time to reward myself for finishing this endeavor with an episode right now.


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