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Archive for June, 2015

Six fearless adventurers. City slickers heading west, out to the land of tall grass and rocky terrain.

Yes, indeed, it was “The Pioneer Express.” Express because instead of covered wagons, we were in a rented Chevy Traverse that rode high and smooth.

Our destination? The 10th annual Symphony in the Flint Hills, this one in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County, Kansas.

Just like the real-deal pioneers, we were steeled for anything, including rain, rocks and rattlesnakes. Fortunately, all we had to deal with were the Flint Hills rocks nestled in the soil. (They are much more challenging to navigate in the late-night exodus than in the light-of-day arrival.)

The array of items we carted with us Saturday included sunscreen, bug spray, water, soda pop, umbrellas, ponchos, camping chairs and food. We bought more stuff along the way, including cookies from The Merc in Lawrence (best cookies in Kansas and Missouri) and more cheese…If you’re gonna go pioneering, you gotta do it right!

When we got to the general area of the concert, we melded into a marathon march, consisting of thousands of fellow pioneers, that started in a giant, damp field and proceeded a mile or so to crested ground. There, workers had erected a concert shell and massive concession tents that resembled the peaked roof of the Denver International Airport terminal.

…But enough of the words. The pictures tell a much better story.

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At the entry area, these people were queued up for rides to the concert site. The vast majority of people (like us) hiked.

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This was a typical vista when we reached the higher ground.

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In the distance we could see the well-known Lower Fox Creek School House, which operated from 1884 to 1930. (It is open to the public.)

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Ah, those rocks…This is special ground that stirs the soul…

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…as does the convergence of sky and ground.

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The concert shell..and people shielding themselves from the hot, late-afternoon sun.

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I devised my own sun blocker.

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The pioneers: Tom and Pat Russell (left); Jim Gottsch and Julie Koppen (center); Patty and I. (Thanks to the K-State alum in front of us for taking the photo… Every man a Wildcat!)

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As the Kansas City Symphony performed, the crowd settled in.

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Singer Lyle Lovett was the featured artist. His finishing song was Home on the Range.

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Everybody loves a cattle drive.

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This little girl had a singular way of showing her appreciation for Lovett.

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At sunset, the concert concludes.

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The “after party” was in a large concession tent. One of band members  was Cindy Egger (second from right), a professional musician who is a good friend of ours.

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The dance floor was busy.

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But you didn’t have to dance to enjoy this music.

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I’m already thinking about Pioneer Express II…Thank you, Kansas City Symphony! What an event! What a day!

 

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The criminal case of Susan Van Note, the Lee’s Summit lawyer who is accused of killing her rich father and his younger, attractive girlfriend in order to get his money is one of those stories that reporters and the public love.

It’s compelling from every angle. The Star’s Don Bradley was poised to cover the trial, which would have had tremendous readership, but, unfortunately, the judge had to declare a mistrial Tuesday because some prospective jurors were overheard discussing the case during a break outside the courtroom.

One facet of the mistrial really caught my attention and exasperated me: Everyone connected with the case is ready to get on with the trial as soon as possible, except the judge.

The Star reported that Judge Kenneth Hayden “said his own calendar is full through 2016.”

Through 2016? The next 18 months?

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Hayden

Hayden is presiding judge in Laclede County — Lebanon, MO — which is south of the Lake of the Ozarks. The murders occurred at the Lake of the Ozarks in Camden County, but the trial was moved to Laclede, on a change of venue.)

Let me put this simply: Judge Hayden’s assertion that he is busy through next year is preposterous.

It has always driven me crazy when judges moan and groan about their backbreaking “caseloads.” Here’s how it works: Indeed, they often have cases and related matters, like motions, scheduled for months out, but very few of those cases actually come off as scheduled. The majority of cases, in virtually every court at every level, are settled, dismissed or delayed. Same thing for motions and related matters.

The scheduling of trials and related matters is like dental appointments in this respect: They’re on the books, but the dentist can count on holes cropping up regularly in his or her schedule.

The difference, however, is that dentists only get paid if they work, and so they scramble to fill the holes that inevitably pop up in their schedules.

But in my experience — I covered the Jackson County Courthouse for seven years in the 1970s and have watched courts ever since — many judges don’t move aggressively to fill the gaps when cases fall through. I want to emphasize that it isn’t this way with all judges, but with many: Since they’re getting paid and report to virtually no one, they’re in no hurry to fill the gaps.

Here’s another thing: Laclede County has a population of 35,000. If Judge Hayden’s schedule is booked solid for the next 18 months, it’s not with any cases of the magnitude of the Van Note case.

I’d bet just about anything that Hayden could try the Van Note case within the next month. He might have to move a few things around, but how hard can that be? Not much more difficult than rescheduling those dental appointments, I would imagine.

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Van Note

Some lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants might be disappointed that their cases were delayed a bit, but this is a five-year-old murder case. The murders occurred Oct. 2, 2010, and it is in the public interest that this case get going as soon as possible.

In criminal cases, delays almost always works to the advantage of defendants, and here we have a woman who probably shot two people to death.

Susan Van Note needs to be tried right away.

My guess, from reading about the judge’s claim that he’s booked for a year and a half, is that he simply doesn’t want to hear the case. It’s a high-visibility case; it will attract a lot of media; and the judge would be under a lot of pressure. He’d probably prefer to lie low and handle the penny ante stuff that comes across the transom in Laclede County.

But somebody needs to hear this case soon; it cannot wait until 2017. That’s ridiculous.

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Today I attended a rousing and inspirational fund-raising luncheon for the MainStream Coalition, and I’m starting to get keen on Kansas.

Keen on getting Kansas back on track, that is, in light of the legislative debacle that has been taking place in Topeka.

I had heard of the MainStream Coalition but knew virtually nothing about it. A week or so ago, my friend and former colleague in The Star’s Wyandotte County Bureau, Mark Wiebe, emailed me an invitation to the luncheon at the Matt Ross Community Center in downtown Overland park.

Mark, who now works for Wyandotte Inc., Wyandotte County’s community mental health center, is secretary of the MainStream Coalition, which has its offices in Mission.

The coalition is a 22-year-old, bipartisan, non-profit organization — 501(c)(4) — that can spend up to 50 percent of its revenue on politics. Its mission is to oppose extremism and fight for good government, sound fiscal policy and strong public schools.

A noisy crowd of about 230 attended yesterday’s event, and a sense of energy, optimism and defiance permeated the room.

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to “Restore Sanity to Kansas” (the organization’s slogan) and cited reasons why Kansas was not a lost cause just because extremists hold sway right now.

For example, coalition president Sheryl Spalding, a former Republican state representative from Johnson County, said that although Gov. Sam Brownback was re-elected in 2014, he had the support of only about 25 percent of the state’s registered voters. (He defeated Democrat Paul Davis 423,666 to 390,614.) Spalding said she thought many people who voted for Brownback now regret it.

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Spalding

Spalding was one of many Democrats and moderate Republicans who were washed away in 2012 by a flood of outside money from ultra-conservative outfits like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

To rousing cheers, Spalding said, “With your help, we can make a stand, we can speak out, and we can turn this state around!”

Another speaker was Carol Marinovich, former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County-Kansas City, Kansas. It was under Marinovich — and at her agitation — that the Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County governments merged in the late 1990s.

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Marinovich

Citing the importance of working across party lines, Marinovich said Republican legislators were key sponsors of legislation that authorized a vote on consolidation in Wyandotte County. In addition, she said, then-Gov. Bill Graves, also a Republican, “could not have been a stronger partner” in Wyandotte County’s ascendance.

“Consolidation laid the foundation for the economic resurgence of Kansas City, Kansas,” Marinovich said.

Republican state leadership supported Wyandotte County in those years — the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marinovich said, because they knew that a prosperous Wyandotte County would be good for the whole state, partly by generating millions of dollars a year in new sales-tax revenue.

Echoing Marinovich, Jill Quigley, another former Republican state representative, told the crowd that working across party lines was essential to “bringing about positive change.”

On the importance of mainstream politics, Quigley quoted the late Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was raised in Abilene, Kansas:

People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems come into the gray area. Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.

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For the MainStream Coalition, the timing of Wednesday’s event was perfect. The organization appears poised to surge ahead in what could be a long and resonating backlash to the folly that extremists have unleashed on a once-moderate state government.

In his invocation yesterday, Rev. Robert Meneilly, retired pastor at Village Presbyterian Church, prayed that “our beloved state” would be saved from “its present state of shame.”

What reasonable, moderate person could argue with that characterization?

…If you’re interested in learning more about the MainStream Coalition, visit their website, http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org, or give them a call at (913) 649-3326. Brandi Fisher is the executive director. The organization’s office is at 5960 Dearborn, Mission.

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I usually don’t write about Kansas government because it’s 1) so ridiculous and 2) so boring.

Even this clown show that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature have engaged in since the Legislature drastically cut income taxes four years ago is boring.

But now it’s gone well beyond ridiculous and boring, to the point of being maddening and outrageous. Because what the governor and Legislature are in the process of doing — if the House today approves what the Senate did on Sunday — is substituting $187 million worth of new sales taxes for a like amount of wiped-out income taxes.

Income taxes are the gold standard of taxation: you pay in direct proportion to your income. They are closely followed by property taxes: you pay, essentially, on the basis of the size of your house and the neighborhood you live in.

The worst and most regressive tax is the sales tax. It hits hardest at those who are least able to afford it.

…In the last two years I have been closely involved in efforts to defeat two sales-tax proposals in Missouri. The first was in 2013 when Jackson County proposed a half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.” It was the most bogus proposition I had seen in 40 years in Kansas City, and it went down to an 86 percent to 14 percent thrashing, perhaps the largest margin of defeat for any measure in county history.

Then, last year, I collaborated with a campaign committee based in St. Louis to help defeat a proposed three-quarter-cent sales-tax increase for the state transportation department. Had it passed, we average citizens would have had to pay through the nose for better highways, while the trucking industry, which inflicts the vast majority of damage on our highways, would get a pass. Our very effective theme was, “You pay, trucks don’t.

That proposal came crashing down like a bad bridge — the margin being 59 percent to 41 percent, despite the “concrete cartel” spending several million dollars to try to convince Missouri voters to approve it.

So, in Missouri, we’ve reached a point where it’s pretty clear that voters are very unlikely to approve a sales-tax increase for just about anything.

I’m sure Kansas residents feel the same way and that it would be virtually impossible to put a sales-tax increase on a statewide ballot that voters would approve. I think it’s particularly unlikely that Kansas residents would approve a four-tenths of a cent sales-tax increase to offset the foolish income-tax cuts that Brownback and the Legislature engineered in 2012.

But now it looks like it’s going to happen without a vote of the people.

On Sunday, the Senate voted to increase the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent. The House is probably going to take up the measure today, and if the House also approves the bill, Brownback has said he will sign it into law.

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When I was campaigning against the translational medical sales tax, people sometimes asked me to explain what I meant by the sales tax being “regressive.”

Here it is in a nutshell:

If a person with an annual income of $20,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes per year, the tax amounts to 10 percent of his or her income. If a person with an annual income of $100,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes, the tax amounts to 2 percent of his or her income.

Now, it stands to reason that someone with the $100,000 income is going to be a bigger consumer than the person with the $20,000 income, but it’s very unlikely the 100-grand person is going to consume five times more than the 20-grand person. Everyone has a lot of basic expenses — food, phones cars, TVs, etc. — and the sales tax hits those in the middle- and lower-income ranges a lot harder than those in the upper reaches.

Remember, too, that the divergence between the haves and the have-nots is continuing to expand and many more people are spiraling into the lower-income ranks all the time. They’re the ones that sales-tax increases kick below the belt.

The sales tax is a tax that only the rich can love. That’s why billionaire St. Louis area resident Rex Sinquefield, president of a think tank called the Show Me Institute, has been spending millions of dollars promoting Missouri candidates who share his determination to lower income and earnings taxes and raise sales taxes.

So far, thank God, he hasn’t been very successful in the Show-Me state. But now I picture him, 250 miles away, smiling broadly at what he sees going on across our state line.

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Now, here’s that song you’ve been thinking about since you read the headline on this post…(Note, in particular, the slide whistle — Wheeee!)

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I’m almost as open minded as my wife and our close friends, but I’ve gotta tell you this business with pro basketball players Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson is difficult to comprehend and accept.

In case you’re not familiar with this wacky relationship, Griner, a former Baylor University star, and Johnson were engaged at the time of a row at their Phoenix home in late April.

Police described the melee as “mutual combat.” In a 911 call, Glory Johnson’s sister told the operator that the two women were throwing plates and bowls at each other.

Both women were arrested, and Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, entered a diversion program, agreeing to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and attend 26 weeks of counseling. Johnson’s case is pending. The WNBA suspended both players seven weeks after an investigation.

So, in most cases, that would be the end of the engagement, right? Or at least there would be a significant cooling-off period and time to reflect on the strength and viability of the relationship.

But, no, the two plunged ahead and got married in early May, a little more than two weeks after the fight.

And so they embarked on a life…er, four weeks, together.

On Friday, Griner filed papers seeking to annul the month-old marriage.

In a statement released Friday, Griner said:

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Johnson (left) and Griner

“Last Wednesday, Glory and I agreed to either legally separate, get divorced, or annul our marriage…In the week prior to the wedding, I attempted to postpone the wedding several times until I completed counseling, but I still went through with it. I now realize that was a mistake.”

There’s enough weirdness there for more than the average off-on-the-wrong-foot marriage, but there’s more.

On Thursday, the day before Griner filed for the annulment, Johnson announced on Instagram that she was pregnant.

Her team, the Tulsa Shock, later confirmed that Johnson would miss the 2015 WNBA season, which started Friday night, due to the pregnancy.

In a statement provided by the team, Johnson said:

“It has always been a dream of mine to start a family with someone I love. Being a professional athlete that plays year round, there is never a perfect time to get pregnant without putting my career on hold. The entire process, from learning our fertility options, to making sacrifices necessary nine months before the child is born, is merely preparing me to become a great wife and an even better mother.”

…Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I think a marriage between a man and a woman…or two women…or two men…should be grounded in selflessness and mutual respect. It seems pretty stupid — no, it is stupid — to lurch into a wedding two weeks after engaging in a brawl.

And what about the child that will be born in nine months? What kind of a family environment and what kind of nurturing will he or she get?

Much has been written about Griner’s coming-out two years ago and her homosexuality. When she was at Baylor, her coach, Kim Mulkey, came under some criticism for asking Griner to keep her homosexuality under wraps, thinking it would be bad for recruiting.

It turns out that Mulkey was right to rein Griner in — and not just because it might have been bad for recruiting. Had she come out while she was still in school, she might have gotten a jump on showing the world that she is essentially out of control.

The whole sordid mess is a classic case of selfishness, stupidity and irresponsibility.

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Just like every other Kansas City Royals’ fan, I’ve been so mad at manager Ned Yost at times that I’ve thought we’d be better off with someone else.

But now, after the miraculous season the team had last year and after watching the even-handed, philosophical way Yost handles almost all difficult situations, I have become a huge admirer of his.

nedIf there were more people like Yost around, the world would be a lot safer and saner place to live. In the dugout, he is almost always a picture of composure, regardless of the level of excitement or frustration going on around him — unless he’s upset by an umpire’s call.

And when he meets with the press, which he does about 200 or more times a year (much more than just about any other type of public figure), he is careful what he says. When the team is going well, he says things like, “We’re hitting on all cylinders.” When they’re in a swoon, he says things like, “These guys are too good to keep playing like this; they’ll come out of it; I’m not a bit worried.”

This week, however, Yost took diplomacy and his ability to put setbacks in perspective to a new level after Major League Baseball officials admitted that they blew the replay call in the eighth inning of the Cleveland Indians’ 2-1 victory over the Royals Tuesday night.

If you were at the game of watched or listened to it, you know how maddening it was. It was a very tense, 1-1 game going into the top of the eighth, and we had Wade Davis, one of the best relievers in baseball, on the mound. In a rare loss of control, Davis got into trouble, eventually walking two runners and giving up a tie-breaking base hit to center field.

In the midst of the inning, however, it looked like we were  going to get a double play, which would have virtually eliminated any serious threat of a run. After a ground-ball out at second and a relay throw to first, the first-base umpire called the runner safe at first.

From replays, the ball clearly appeared to be in first baseman Eric Hosmer’s glove before the runner hit the base. But after a review of almost three minutes, a team of umpires in New York ruled that the umpire’s call of “safe” would stand.

The 30,000 fans in the stands were outraged. TV announcers Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler were mystified. Fans watching on TV at home — like me, Patty and Brooks — were fuming and frustrated.

The Indians went on to score the tie-breaking, and that was the end of the scoring. It was a very hard loss to accept, and it was hard to resist thinking, “We got screwed.”

The next day, a Major League Baseball official called Yost and told him the replay officials had blown the call; the runner should have been called out.

So, the reporters asked Yost for his reaction. If it had been me, I might have said something like, “It’s a dirty, rotten shame because we might well have won the game, had they gotten that call right.”

But not Yost. His first reaction was that the blown call wasn’t responsible for the loss. “There was enough blame to go around for everybody,” he said.

Yost never directly criticizes players publicly and that was as close as he came to criticizing second baseman Omar Infante, who fumbled a perfect double-play ball by the very next batter and managed to get only the lead runner at second base.

But Yost didn’t stop at factual, level-headed observation. He ratcheted his reaction to outright graciousness and magnanimity. Here’s what he said:

I think it’s a great system (the appeal process). There are going to be mistakes. It’s like a player. Omar makes that play 99 times out of 100…Things happen, mistakes are made…They made a mistake. Admit it, apologize for it and move on. That’s what I try to do when I make a mistake.

When I read those words Wednesday afternoon in a KC Star online story, the considerable, lingering irritation I was carrying from Tuesday night’s game drained away in moments. From my office desk, I read Yost’s quotes to Patty, who was in the kitchen.

When I finished, she said simply: “He’s an adult.”

That about says it all, doesn’t it? I think we can all take some inspiration from the home team manager’s restraint and equanimity: Don’t whine. Don’t sulk. Don’t let adversity suck you into a tailspin. Get through it as quickly as you can and look ahead.

I tell you, we should enjoy Ned Yost every single day he’s a Kansas City Royal. And we would all do well to try to follow his lead when things don’t go like we want.

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It’s not often that we here at the paragraph-stacking factory stop what we’re doing and offer you a special edition.

But today is such a day…

Julius Karash, a former Kansas City Star colleague (and still close friend) saw a recent online story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch telling readers that the Post-Dispatch headquarters building in downtown St. Louis was being put up for sale by the paper’s owner, Lee Enterprises of Davenport, IA.

A longtime business reporter with a keen eye for development stories, Julius recognized that the Post-Dispatch situation, although 250 miles away, held intimations for Kansas City. Here’s his perspective.

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By Julius A. Karash

     The recent news that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch downtown headquarters has gone up for sale makes me wonder how long it will be before the Kansas City Star sells its iconic headquarters building at 18th & Grand.

As much as I hate to see it happen, I think a “For Sale” sign will land on this building in the near future. Because of fewer employees due to cutbacks and technological advancements, The Star and other newspapers don’t need nearly as much space as they used to.

This trend is occurring around the country. McClatchy, the Sacramento-based owner of The Star, has sold off newspaper headquarters buildings in Miami and Fort Worth during the past several years. In North Carolina, it was reported in May that a sale was about to close on the McClatchy-owned Charlotte Observer’s building, and the McClatchy-owned Raleigh News & Observer reportedly has been exploring the sale of its downtown headquarters.

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Kansas City Star building

Other newspapers that have gone this route in recent years include The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. It makes economic sense for newspapers to sell their grand old edifices, pocket the cash and move into space that better fits their needs in today’s slimmed-down media world.

Those wielding a sharp pencil can make a compelling case for selling The Star’s headquarters. The building that once housed more than 2,000 employees now employs several hundred. The Star could probably create office space for quite a few of those employees in its spacious printing-plant complex across McGee Street and/or move them into leased space.

At one time, The Star and Jimmy and Joe’s “The Pub” — also across McGee — were neighborhood anchors. No more. “The Pub” has been reconstituted as “The Brick,” and the 18th and Grand building is now surrounded by numerous other bars, restaurants, condos and apartments that have flooded the Crossroads, converting the area into a “happening destination” for young people looking for fun, food and a hip place to live.

The KC Downtown Streetcar, which is scheduled to start running between the River Market and Crown Center/Union Station next year, will accelerate this trend.

The super-charged pace of development in the Crossroads and Downtown makes 18th & Grand an attractive property. It’s a beautiful, historic structure, built in 1909-11 and designed by Jarvis Hunt, the famous Chicago architect who also designed Kansas City’s Union Station. The site would be a great location for a business, residences or a combination of the two.

The 18th & Grand building holds a special place in the hearts of most people who have worked there, including me. The building resounds with history and conjures up former inhabitants such as Ernest Hemingway. If you worked at 18th & Grand, you felt like you were part of that history.

I was part of that history for 21 years until I was laid off from The Star in 2008, along with many co-workers. Today, as a freelance public relations person, I subscribe to The Star seven days a week and depend on it as my primary source of local news. My clients want their news to be in The Star, and I pitch their story and column ideas to former colleagues of mine at the paper. When I drop in from time to time at 18th & Grand, it feels like visiting the home folks.

I hope The Star will continue to cover Kansas City for years to come. And when 18th & Grand is sold, I hope the building will be emblazoned with an etched plaque that says “Kansas City Star Square” — regardless of what the grand old structure may be used for next.

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Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person based in Kansas City. His work involves topics such as transportation infrastructure, real estate development, entrepreneurship and health care. His 30-plus year newspaper career included stints at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Fort Myers News-Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Kansas City Times and Kansas City Star. He co-authored the book TWA: Kansas City’s Hometown Airline. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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