Many people share an interest in History. However, it’s always a delight when you meet a true historian. Their passion for history leads them beyond the commonly known facts. They dig deeper, site sources, visit sites that no longer exist, and often help preserve legacies that might otherwise be lost to time. Roger Heineken is a true historian. Alternatively, he prefers to be known as a story teller. Though he’s been called “Mr. Emporia”, Roger Heineken is originally from Effingham, KS. He transferred to Emporia State University in 1969. Like many people who arrive in Emporia, Heineken now calls Emporia home. Roger has recently retired from an active career at ESU’s Memorial Union but shows no sign of slowing down.
Prairie Earth Tours has had the privilege to collaborate with Heineken on a series of history tours called The Magical History Tour of Emporia. We wanted to do something to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the founding of Emporia, KS. What could be better than taking a two hour bus ride around the historic district of Emporia with respected historian and storyteller, Roger Heineken? The first two tours sold out very quickly. A third tour was soon added and also sold out. We were thrilled to share our passion for Emporia’s history with so many people.
Though Roger is well known around Emporia, I wanted to conduct a short interview with him so that more people could get to know him and, perhaps, be inspired to follow in his footsteps. Every community needs someone like Roger Heineken to help ignite that spark for preservation and appreciation for our heritage.
Another Magical History Tour has been scheduled for March 11th preceding the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Emporia. Private group tours can also be arranged.
A lot of people know you from your time working at Emporia State University’s Memorial Union, but I first met you through your work at the William Allen White historic home also known as Red Rocks. How did you first get involved with Red Rocks and what is your role?
My involvement and interest really began back in the mid 1980s when I was a trustee and officer for the Lyon County Historical Society. I felt obligated to read the White Autobiography. When I did, I was taken by White’s courage to run for governor against the Ku Klux Klan among other things in his 49 year career. Jump ahead. By 2004, Red Rocks had been given to the State of Kansas in 2001 by White’s granddaughter, Barbara White Walker, in 2001 after 100 years of family ownership. The historic site was about a year away from opening to the public when I was asked to join the marketing committee. Since that time I have served two stints on the William Allen White Community Partnership, Inc.board, I chair the program committee which produces the 12 Sundays at the Site program in three series each year. I have been engaged producing the W. A. White Legacy Day in Emporia since 2014. With White’s 150th anniversary of birth in Emporia coming up in February 2018, I am on a University of Kansas White Foundation committee charged with raising fund to commission a PBS-quality documentary taking a fresh look at this progressive social advocacy.
You first moved to Emporia in 1969. How was Emporia then compared to now?
When I moved to Emporia I soon learned how rich the history of this 1857 Territorial town was compared to my 1868 rural farming community. I became friends and neighbors with old timers who shared the stories of their families and stories going back to the turn of the 20th century and beyond.
Emporia, then, was at the peak of the baby-boom at KSTC and College of Emporia and there were no online classes back then. We had real feet on the ground with a robust number of students commuting. Night and summer classes were numerous. Emporia High and the Junior High were downtown and Roosevelt High was at KSTC. There were many burger chain operations near the city center selling 25-cent burgers.
Downtown had more filled storefronts locally-owned and fewer parking lots. IBP, now Tyson’s, was a huge employer with a tell-tale scent. There was not much town west beyond Prairie, and certainly it was really sparse beyond Industrial St.
We were still a division point for the AT&SF. Emporia had passenger rail service.
What direction do you see Emporia going in the future?
I view the development of Emporia in three major phases and I believe we are entering a fourth. From 1857 to 1895 was the building phase to make the city a trade center with infrastructure, institutions and rail service. From 1895 to 1945 was what I call the booster phase when local leadership fostered a bustling trade center even during the Great Depression and WWII. From 1945 through 2010 was a time of deliberate industrial expansion begun by the Committee of 50. It is not hard to see that today entrepreneurial growth is happening. We are increasingly becoming a regional cultural destination and city of hospitality.
Who is your favorite historical figure from Emporia and why?
This is easy. William Allen White. The Sage of Emporia was known throughout the Western Hemisphere as the progressive voice of reason from the Heartland by the time he died in 1944. He made Emporia a household name in all of North America and throughout Europe.
I know you’ve experienced a lot of pressure to write a book. Is this something you are considering?
I will try writing “The Book” at some point. I actually have a number of essays started and in various states of development. I can assure you my book will be an eclectic hot mess. Right now, I enjoy telling Emporia’s story to real live people.
- Why Would You Want to Visit a Cemetery? - May 23, 2017
- Meet the Historical Storyteller of Emporia, Kansas - March 5, 2017
- Introducing Prairie Earth Tours - December 6, 2016