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Manhattan...Kansas? - 2002-09-21


If you hear Americans saying they're going to visit the "Apple," it's most likely the "BIG Apple" - bustling Manhattan in New York City. But there's another Manhattan that's officially an "Apple," too. It's a thriving midwest college town.

"Tucked away in the rolling Flint Hills of Northeast Kansas is a diverse community, rich in historical preservation and cultural opportunities. We can't wait to give you a taste of what the Little Apple has to offer," says a tour guide.

The people of Manhattan, Kansas - population just 47,000 - have never been short of big ideas. 25 years ago, Mayor Terry Glasscock invited New York City Mayor Ed Koch to his town, about two hours west of Kansas City, to help announce a scaled-down version of an "Apple" campaign. He presented the Big Apple's mayor with Little Apple trinkets and a framed photograph of Damon Runyan. He's the New York short-story writer who inspired the classic Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls." It so happens that Damon Runyan was BORN in Manhattan, Kansas.

"We've got it all, from ballet to Broadway."

The "we" is Manhattan, Kansas and the culture comes by way of Kansas State University. K-State's president, Jon Wefald, points out that the university employs 5,000 people, has 22,000 students, operates on an annual budget of $500 million and ranks high in prestigious awards such as Rhodes Scholarships.

"Now if you include all of the 1,500 private colleges: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Carleton, Williams, and so forth, we're seventh," he said. "So that's out of 2,000 four-year colleges, K-State is seventh. And we're the only public university in the Top 10. We've got nifty partnerships with the city. And right now, we're generating about $2.6 billion a year in economic development for the whole state. So, in many ways, we are the piece de resistance in the State of Kansas."

It was Kansas State University that came up with a procedure designed to keep ecoli bacteria out of U.S. meatpacking plants. K-State scientists send plants aboard almost every U.S. space shuttle for study. And the university is adding a $30 million building in which anti-terrorist measures to protect food safety will be developed.

Manhattan, Kansas, shares with its big city cousin a vibrancy that comes from an eclectic mix of people. 1,200 K-State students come from abroad, and just outside of town is Fort Riley, one of the nation's largest military bases. It was from this historic post on the Kansas prairie that U.S. soldiers headed out to fight Plains Indians in the 19th century. Today about 7,000 soldiers live OFF base, meaning that young men and women from around the country mix every day with Manhattan's college students, townfolk and farmers from the surrounding region.

Out on the artillery range, where army tank crews train, 24 Infantry Division Major Todd Livick says Manhattan reaches out to soldiers with something the city calls the 'Little Apple Brigade'. "Citizens of Manhattan invite Fort Riley officers to come to lunches," said Major Livick. "They have a military ball. This Friday we're having a picnic for all the new majors that have come onto post. The soldier doesn't have to pay a thing. The community says, 'Come, we want to show you that we care.' And this is just a small token of our appreciation for everything that you bring to us here in the community, and to our country."

The current mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, is Ed Klimek, a local banker. "Our value system is a little bit different than the areas on the coasts of America," he said. "We're more deeply ingrained in spiritual values or family values, and interacting with your neighbor. You know, I've had people come from the East Coast and speak to me, and I remember one gentleman. He was asking me, 'How do we interact?' And I said, 'Well, when we go home from work at night, we talk to our neighbors.' And he kind of looked at me and said, 'You know your neighbors?' And I said, 'Sure. Sometimes we get together just to talk.' Now, one thing we don't want is to become the big boomtown, because we'd lose a lot of that specialness."

The president of the Manhattan, Kansas, chamber of commerce, Lyle Butler, says his community had a special sensitivity to the terrorist attack on Manhattan, New York, a year ago and not just because of the city names. The domestic terrorists who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bought the fertilizer that went into their bombs in the Little Apple. "There's always been a bond between the Big Apple and the Little Apple because of our names," he said. "And when something that dramatic happened to Manhattan, New York, although it's14,000 miles [2,200 kilometers] away from us, it had an impact on us here in the community, as it did nationwide. Manhattan, when we raised money, when we signed a big card from the Little Apple to the Big Apple, there was this synergy between the two communities."

There have been a few Manhattan transfers between New York and Kansas. A big New York City industrial pattern company opened a plant in Manhattan, Kansas. And a sprinkling of people with New York City connections have ended up in the picturesque Kansas River valley.

Peggy Anderson, for instance, spent her career in New York as a Broadway stage manager. She and her husband just retired to the Little Apple.

ANDERSON "New York is really a city for the young and the wealthier than I was," she said. "Everything that I wanted was right there in the city. But I think as you get older, your priorities change a lot. And all of a sudden you want to have a little bit more stability, a little more quiet, a little more room. New York became tougher and tougher to live in as I got older."

REPORTER "Have you found a good deli [New York-style delicatessen] yet?"

ANDERSON "There are not good bagels here. But I hear it's something with the New York City water that makes a New York City bagel a New York City bagel."

It's been 32 years since Manhattan, Kansas, lawyer Terry Arthur studied at New York University law school in the BIG Apple. And he says he's in no hurry to get back. "I like the outdoors and the wide open spaces of Kansas," he said. "I like to hunt and fish and play golf and be outside. And New York to me was very confining. The number of people there, the limited space that each person has. At that time they were having a garbage strike. I didn't find it to be very clean. I found people not necessarily unfriendly, but they were too busy. I think there's too many people, to pay attention to other individuals. And I like Kansas, where everyone tries to help people and get along."

John Graham, who spent three months training at the Price Waterhouse accounting firm in New York, was one of the originators of the LITTLE Apple campaign in his Kansas hometown a quarter-century ago. He says it helped pave the way for one of the nation's first downtown shopping malls, Manhattan Town Center. "It got people's attention," said John Graham. "Everyone knows of the Big Apple. So when we're talking to, first, a major shopping center developer that was chosen for cities, then later talking to major retailers and recruiting them to Manhattan, just the fact that we would send them a letter with 'The Little Apple' on it, or send them a little apple, kind of got their attention to where they were at least willing to ask who we were and what we were interested in if we were using that as our monicker [nickname]."

The people of Manhattan, Kansas, have a lot more to worry about than promoting themselves as The Little Apple. The economy of drought-parched Kansas is in trouble and the city is working with surrounding rural counties to develop a regional approach to bringing in jobs. The folks in Manhattan will tell you all about it over a steak and a beer - at the Little Apple Café.

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