The Sears Pig

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

History is full of tiny, yet interesting stories.  Such is the case of the “Sears Pig.” Recently, I gave a presentation in partnership with the Newton Public Library, Tales & Tails: Usual & the Unusual Pets. One 4-H photo featured a young woman with her Sears Pig Project. I had not had time to research this, so I asked if anyone knew about this project. The next day I had some good answers from friends listening to the program.

Sears-Roebuck 4-H Pig Projects

The “Sears Pig” was part of unique program was popular in the 1940s-60s often known as a “livestock chain.”  4-H and FFA Clubs were active participants in the educational program. The Sears-Roebuck Plan selected ten 4-H Club members in a county who were given purebred pigs. They raised and bred the animals and gave one pig from their first litter to the organization. The ten animals given to the county agricultural agent would then be placed with ten more student participants.

They also participated in county showing and judging events with small cash prizes.

This enabled the young people to build their own stock.

Mary Ann Covalt with Sears Pig, 4-H, 1950s Ellen Samuelson Collection

Although support for these programs came from several sources, the most notable was the Sears-Roebuck Foundation. Sears provided animals and funding to support the livestock chains throughout the country. At one point Sears had 1,253 swine programs in operation all across the country.

There were also other livestock chains including poultry, dairy calf, beef heifer, and bull chains.


  • The Friday Footnote: Livestock Chains (5/3/2019)
  • Hurford, David D. “The Sears-Roebuck Foundation: A business history of the Sears, Roebuck public relations program, 1950-1960.” Master’s Thesis, Business Administration, 1962. University of Southern California.

Building a Healthy Community: Early Pioneers

by Kristine Schumcker, HCHM Curator

This is the last in our month long focus on #thisplacematters celebrating Historic Preservation. This post highlights a different kind of building – not a physical building, but a building of a better community. Each of these women were early pioneers in health care in Harvey County.
These women  dedicated their lives to the health of the Newton community.  Their work provided the foundation for several  medical and health services we take for granted today.  From a public nurse assisting with immunizations and bringing health information to those in need to it to building hospitals and overseeing the operations.

Deaconesses. Doctors and Hospitals

Two of the women were closely involved in the building and overseeing of Newton’s two hospitals; Sister Frieda Kauffman and Dr. Lucene Axtell.

Dr. Lucena Axtell

Dr. Lucena Axtell

Lucena was one of two women to graduate from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in in Kansas City in 1897. Dr. Anna Perkins, also from Newton was the other. Following her graduation, she resumed management of the hospital and also set up a private practice.

Together with her husband, Dr. John Axtell, opened Axtell Christian Hospital in 1887. The first hospital in Newton, Ks.

Her daughter Marian Axtell Hanna later recalled:

“Years after she stopped practicing . . . people would come up to her and say, “Oh, Dr. Lucena, surely you remember me. I was so sick and doctor thought that I would surely not live. But you came and stood beside me and held me by the hand and it made me feel so much better.” That was the phrase that always was reiterated, “You held me by the hand and I felt so much better.” daughter Marian Axtell Hanna

Sister Frieda Kauffman

On May 27, 1942, Sister Frieda Kaufman received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Bethel College for her lifelong work as a deaconess and ‘sister-in-charge’ of the Bethel Deaconess Home and Hospital in Newton, Ks. She was the first Mennonite woman to receive an honorary degree from a Mennonite institution of higher learning.

Born in Germany many of her early teachers were Lutheran Deaconesses and Catholic nuns. They had a profound impact on young Frieda. At the age of 8, Frieda with her family migrated to the U.S. arriving in Halstead Ks on July 2, 1892.  As she grew up in Halstead, her childhood affinity with the deaconess and nuns did not diminish. She later recalled “the desire of her heart to become a sister did not disappear” as she got older. In 1902, she began the first step to her goal when she began at training  the Interdenominational Deaconess Home & Hospital in Cincinnati. She returned to Kansas ready to serve.

On June 11, 1908, the Bethel Deaconess Home & Hospital, located on south Pine in Newton, was dedicated and the first three ordained Mennonite deaconesses in America were ordained, Sisters Frieda Kaufman,  Catherine Voth and Ida Epp. At the age of twenty-five, Sister Frieda was appointed deaconess mother and superintendent of the hospital in addition to her nursing duties. She also taught and oversaw the nurses’ training school at Bethel Deaconess Hospital.

As deaconess mother, Sister Frieda oversaw the day-to-day activities of the hospital. In the early years most of the work at the hospital was performed by the deaconesses.  Several were trained RNs, like Sister Frieda, but all helped with housekeeping and laundry.

On August 7, 1944, at the age of sixty, Sister Frieda Kaufman passed away due to complications from diabetes and a heart condition.  She was buried in the Bethel Sister Family lot at Greenwood Cemetery, Newton Ks.

With almost single minded purpose Sister Frieda Kaufman became a deaconess and spent the rest of her life encouraging other women to join her in the work.  She enjoyed people, which contributed to her success as a nurse. She could have been a nurse without becoming a deaconess.  She chose to become a deaconess —  she saw it as a way of life.

Public Health

This past year we have learned of the importance of public health. Harvey County  was an early leader in this area and was one of the first counties in Kansas to establish a Public Health Nurse.  Three of the women were pioneers in the area of public health, Sister Anna Penner, Miss Johanna Conway and Miss Lillian Fitzgerald.

The roots for the Public Nurse got it’s start when the Bethel Deaconess  Women’s Auxiliary was established on March 22, 1910.  One of their many projects was to sponsor a public nurse in Newton.

Sister Anna Gertrude Penner

Sister Anna was ordained in 1916 and went to work at the Bethel Deaconess Hospital.  Seeing a need in the community, Sister Anna decided to expand her role into the community and become the first the Public Health Nurse from 1916-1921.  In this role, Sister Anna joined a national movement started by Lillian Wald in New York that sought to educate and care for the health of the community and especially the poor.

Her duties were varied and went beyond caring for the sick to educating people on proper hygiene and safety. In 1918, the responsibility to finance the Public Nurse program was shifted to the city of Newton.

In 1966, Sister Anna was the first Bethel Deaconess to serve for 50 years. Sister Anna Gertrude Penner “quietly departed” on February 22, 1967. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with the other Bethel Deaconesses.

Miss Johann Conway

At the same time,  a group of women at St. Mary’s Catholic Church became concerned about the conditions of the “Mexican Camps.” One of the early leaders was Miss Johanna Conway who  served as one of seven directors for the “Public Health Service.”   Goals of the committee included teaching English and needed skills for future employment including “industrial work and sanitation  lines of work.” 

In October, the Evening Kansan Republican reported “under the able leadership of Miss Jo” a “band of willing” women spent two afternoons each week “teaching both old and young Mexicans those things which they ought to know but do not know.

Miss Johann was born in Ohio and came to Newton in 1895 where she lived with her brother and sister. She dedicated her life to providing help and education to the Mexican community in Newton.

Her obituary in the October 5, 1929  Evening Kansan Republican concluded;

“A devout member of the Catholic church, a pioneer  worker in St Mary’s parish. . . . She was a leader and organizer in humanitarian work of the community. . . . Her welfare work with the Mexican settlement . . . [where] she has been working assiduously until her illness, a work that cannot be measured on this earth.”

Miss Lillian Fitzgerald

Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick also focused her work in Newton on the Mexican community.  In the early 1920s, she worked as a “City Health Nurse” in Newton, Ks.  One important responsibility of the City Nurse was “to see that adequate medical and hospital treatment are secured for all indigent persons.”  She was expected to not only be a knowledgeable nurse or health care provider, but also be familiar with local agencies that provide assistance to those in need. The position of city nurse was “supported by public funds or by other means of a public nature.” (Evening Kansan Republican,  22 September 1922.)

One of Miss Lillian’s projects included caring for the Mexican American mothers and children that lived at the ranchito in Newton. She oversaw the building of the Mexican Health Center. Described by the Evening Kansan Republican  as “a substantial and adequate building the Santa Fe railroad . . . erected for the public health work among the Mexicans of this camp.” 

Vaccines & Well Baby Checks

There were many occasions for all of these women to work together as their goals of a healthy community were the same. Much of the work reported in the Kansan Evening Republican centered around vaccinations and well baby checks for all Harvey County children. Educating young mothers was another priority.

As City Nurse, Miss Lillian worked with doctors and nurses from the two hospitals to provide information and care to new mothers. Education on disease prevention was a strong component for all of their work. Administering the small pox vaccine was another high priority. Miss Lillian  assisted Dr. Roff with small pox vaccinations at the “Mexican Camps” in the early 1920s.

In connection with Bethel Deaconess Hospital “Well Baby Clinics” were held at various locations in Newton. The Evening Kansan Republican reported on several clinics held by Miss Lillian in conjunction with Sister Catherine Voth, Bethel Deaconess Hospital, and Miss Lucille Thomas, Red Cross Nurse. In September 1922, a “white baby clinic” was held.  Sister Catherine spoke on malnutrition. A meeting for “colored babies and mothers” was held on a separate afternoon.

Each of these women were pioneers in health care, each one dedicating a significant part of their life to the service and care of others, often for little to no pay. Their work formed the foundation for many institutions and services that we have today from the Newton Medical Center to the Harvey County Health Department.

For more on each of these women follow the links in the post to learn  their individual stories.



“So Suddenly Did the Twister Come”: The Sedgwick Tornado of May 25, 1917

“So Suddenly Did the Twister Come”: The Sedgwick Tornado of May 25, 1917

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
Previously posted May 23, 2013.

Earlier this week, on Monday, May 20, we again witnessed the tremendous power of wind and how, in a instant, the landscape of a community can be changed forever by a tornado as it did in Moore, OK and surrounding areas.  Harvey County residents well know the challenges ahead for the people affected by this most recent storm.  If you would like to help the people of Oklahoma during this time, please contact the Red CrossMennonite Disaster Service or relief organization of your choice.

May 25, 1917

In the late afternoon of May 25, 1917 one of the deadliest tornadoes in US history tore through Harvey County.  At 4:20 in the afternoon, the Kansan received an Associated Press bulletin “stating that a tornado had struck Andale, 19 miles northwest of Wichita where six people were reported dead. . . . The wires were all down but a special train was made up at Wichita and started to the scene.” Power was out in Newton, and the editor pointed out that “the Kansan is handicapped on that account as the linotype machines were helpless.” The tornado “ground its way across this county” traveling in a northeasterly direction destroying homes and farms. Initial reports indicated damage and at least two fatalities. Obtaining accurate information was difficult.  The Kansan noted; “there are rumors that it had continued on up as far as Peabody, but definite news of damage done could not be learned.”

The May 25, 1917 Newton Evening Kansan Republican:
Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1917, p.1
The tornado  was followed by a “terrific downpour of rain, even here in Newton. . . trash  and debris fell in large quantities in the streets.”  The Kansan also reported that several automobile loads of men left Newton almost immediately for Sedgwick to help with rescue efforts.
Devastation at Sedgwick, Ks

The Aftermath

 The next day, the full tragedy was reported in the Newton Evening Kansan Republican.  At about 3:00 in the afternoon “a terrific tornado struck the southeast part of the town of Sedgwick . . . sweeping away more than a mile of telephone and telegraph lines and the A.V.I. power lines and the Kansas Gas & Electric high line.”
Official tornado warnings were non-existent before 1948 and the residents of Andale and Sedgwick had no warning. “The twister rose in the southwest, roared down upon Andale with a suddenness that prevented any organized escape. . . it swept through what is known as one of the richest farming districts in the state, leveling standing grain and powdering farm houses and outbuildings.”

The Tragedies

The Norris Farm
Many rural families were caught in the open. The Norris family saw the storm coming and Mrs. Norris, along with the children were able to make it to a hedge row for shelter. William Norris, the husband and father, was “caught and thrown to the north where he was found with his body crushed” killed instantly.
The Coble Farm
Several members of the Coble family were able to make it into a cellar.  A nephew, Dewey Faw, however, did not make it and was killed. Even those that made it to safety suffered broken bones and bruising.
Coble Farm
HCHM Photo Archives
The Fife Farm
The L. E. Fife Farm was “one of the finest country homes in the county” and was “equipped in the most modern and up-to-date manner” with heat and a “water plant.”  Mr. Fife and a hired hand took shelter in a small shed, which was not touched.  Mr. Fife described his experience for the Kansan.

“So suddenly did the twister come that he first saw debris flying and heard the roar and crash of the buildings as the mighty whirl wrenched them from their foundations and crushed them into kindling wood, hurling them with spiteful viciousness in every direction . . . he saw his beautiful home lifted, first the roof, then the entire structure hurled from it foundation and crushed like a house of cards. Imagine his impotent grief  when he saw Mrs Fife lifted and hurled  through the air then picked up again and thrown against the fence.” 

Mrs. Fife was caught in the house.  When she heard the roar of the storm, she went to the door, but could not open it.  She turned back to the room;

 “and the next she knew was when she found herself hung across the front fence.  One of her shoes had been torn off and her ankle severely wrenched and a bad gash had been cut across her right temple.  the house and all buildings . . . a complete wreck. Seven of Mr. Fife’s purebred horses . . . killed.”

Fife Farm
HCHM Photo Archives

Mrs. Fife, although badly injured, survived the tornado.

The Danner Farm
The Danner farm was hit especially hard. S.T. Danner had purchased his Harvey County homestead from the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1870s. Married to Anna Harryman, the Danners had three sons, William S., Albert E.S. and Samuel E. (who died at age nine).
Danner Farm, ca 1910
HCHM Photo Archives

His wife, Anna Harryman Danner, worked along side him to create a beautiful home.    Active in public life as well, Danner served in the Kansas Senate in 1893 and 1895.

Danner Farm, ca. 1916
HCHM Photo Archives
That fateful day, the Danner  family was at home.  Son, Albert (A.E.S.) and his wife took shelter in the cellar, but for some reason his parents did not.  Anna Danner was “killed outright, her head being crushed and her arm twisted and broken in a frightful manner.”  Mr. Danner was injured so badly many doubted that he would survive.
Samuel T. Danner Farm
HCHM Photo Archives
He did survive, but friends noted that “he never fully recovered [from the death of Anna], and put his worldly affairs in order.” Danner died two years later on March 20, 1919.
The Tornado
Although the Fuji scale had not yet been developed, it is estimated that the tornado that went through Sedgwick and rural Harvey County on May 25 was at an F5 strength.  There were 23 deaths and 118 buildings completely destroyed in the communities of Andale, Sedgwick, and Florence.  The tornado was over one mile wide at one point and traveled 65 miles
The same storm continued to wreak havoc across the United States.
Newton Kansan Evening Republican, May 28, 1917, p. 1

Included in the top ten Weather Events.

The May 25, 1917 tornado is listed as one of the top ten Weather Events of the 20th Century for South Central Kansas by the National Weather Service Forecast Office. The tornado that roared through Harvey County was part of a larger outbreak of storms across twelve Midwestern states.  Between May 25 and June 1, 1917 at least 382 people were killed in the eight day tornado outbreak sequence that made it the third deadliest tornado season since records were kept; a total of 551 people lost their lives to tornadoes.  For fatalities related to tornadoes 1925 season was the highest with 794 fatalities; followed by 1936 with 552 fatalities.
May 25 was also the date of the 1955 tornado that devastated Udall, Kansas where over half of the population with either killed or severely injured.

Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1917, p.1
Newton Evening Kansan Republican,  26 May 1917, p. 1
Newton Kansan Evening Republican, 28 May 1917, p. 1

Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives Photograph Archives
Online Sources:

Additional information from the original post’s comment section.

  1. Dewey Faw was the 18 year old boy who was killed. He and his brother Floyd Faw were raised by their Aunt Caroline Coble after their mother died in 1902. Dewey was in the house and he opened the door when he heard the noise. He couldn’t escape. Floyd was one of the lucky ones who made it to the cellar. Four years after the tornado Floyd married his nurse Ivalee Harvey who cared for him while he was recovering from his injuries in the hospital. They were my grandparents.


  2. Link to the original post, May 23, 2013.