KANSAS/MISSOURI—Last month two favorite sons from these neighboring states were honored: One whose likeness is on the latest U.S. postal stamp, the other who has made an indelible stamp on the political landscape of America.
Bob Dole, never one for glitz or fanfare but a wit as quick as a pen stroke, is as much of the fabric of small-town America as the characters Mark Twain wrote about; he a master of literary wit and sharp political satire.
The Prairiesta is celebrated every 10 years in Russell, Kan., hometown for Dole. It’s a celebration, begun in 1941, of Russell County’s history, heritage and culture, a town square in the middle of the state and likewise our nation’s “bread basket.”
Dole, almost 88, had not been back to his home in two years, but made this trip as a Prairiesta honoree. After all, the celebration also coincided with Russell’s 140th Anniversary and the 150th year of Kansas statehood.
As reported by KSNW News, a record crowd was on hand for the milestones, many of them well wishers lined up through the lobby and out the front door of the Russell Hotel to meet the favorite son.
Dole’s path from Russell has been well documented: Congressman, five-time U.S. Senator (including his role as Majority Leader), and separate runs as his party’s nominee for President and Vice President. A career of public service inspired by his personal battle with and recovery from a severe World War II wound in Europe. Left without the use of his right arm, Dole overcame a year of paralysis, six surgeries and 39 months in a hospital.
The news reporter said it best, “Prairiesta is celebrated every 10 years in Russell. The odds would seem long that Dole will be there for the next one. But considering all the odds he has beaten in his life, who would bet against him?”
Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is of course the literary icon who grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Mo. From ages four to 17 the magic of the muddy water seeped into his veins. About the same time Dole was being saluted in Russell, professional Mark Twain portrayer Jim Waddell was at the podium in the town speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 to dedicate the real Twain postage stamp (this is actually the fourth time the late author or his work has been commemorated on a stamp).
They even had Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher there on the front row (played by actors Austin James and Salwa Mikhail). Just like his new Forever stamp, Twain’s characters so too will live.
Whether in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876), “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884) or “Mark Twain’s Notebook” (1935, published posthumously); his innate ability to capture the American vernacular in print preceded, thank goodness, today’s political correctness and literary police.
Two men, “made in the Midwest,” who made well.