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Finding joy
English professor finds joy in children's literature, her students

When Anne Phillips was a child, she had a copy of the book “The Wizard of Oz” and a record with a voice reading the book.

“I followed along, and that’s how I learned to read,” Phillips said.

Phillips still loves “The Wizard of Oz” and has made a career of teaching children’s literature. Phillips, an English professor at K-State, believes children and adults alike can learn from reading books written for a young audience. Her job allows her to indulge two of her passions: children’s literature and working with her students.

“It’s a privilege to get to work with these young emerging wonderful people,” she said.

Phillips, 56, grew up in Reno, Nevada, and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nevada at Reno and then her doctorate from the University of Connecticut. She came to K-State in 1993.

Phillips said she enjoys working in children’s literature because it allows both her and her students to revisit books they loved when they were younger, but also because it can teach people of all ages to think critically about the topics at hand.

“We’re having conversations about ethics, morality,” Phillips said. “We’re talking about hopes, dreams and goals.”

The novel “Little Women” has become a mainstay in Phillips’ research.

She and fellow K-State English professor Greg Eiselein have co-edited several books on author Louisa May Alcott, including “The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia.” She’s currently the president of the Louisa May Alcott Society.

Phillips and Eiselein were hired at K-State the same year, and Eiselein said that after working together for so long, they know instinctively how to move forward with a project.

“When we write articles, I’ll start a section, she’ll see I’m stuck and she’ll finish it,” he said. “Both Anne and I get excited about things. She feels joy and happiness about things, and I do, too.”

Her relationship with the book began when she was home sick as a child. Her mother gave her a copy that had belonged to Phillips’ grandmother.

She said that in the past, most people who read the book identified most with the character Jo. (Phillips said she identifies with aspects of all four of the March girls, but if she had to pick only one, it would also be Jo.)

However, she said the character Beth has become increasingly popular.

“Beth suffers from severe social anxiety, and that’s really relevant right now,” Phillips said. “A character readers in 1980 wouldn’t look twice at is the most relevant now.”

Phillips said she often sees views on books or characters change over time like this. Phillips has co-edited a book on Laura Ingalls Wilder to be released this year and said people have begun to look more carefully at the “Little House” series, particularly its portrayal of Native Americans.

“For some people who loved it as children, it’s hard to resee it, but these are important conversations to have,” she said.

Because many of her students are future teachers, Phillips wants to train them to have deeper conversations with their own students. She can’t predict what the children will notice about a story, but she hopes her students understand how to encourage them.

“Kids will notice stuff we’re too busy to notice,” she said.

Eiselein said Phillips, who he called “an extraordinary teacher,” demonstrates this with the care and interest she shows in her students.

“She wants to know where they are and what they think,” Eiselein said. “When they say things, there’s a sincere interest.”

Through both teaching and advising, Phillips said she finds it most rewarding to watch her students grow over their careers at K-State. Especially with advisees, who she works with for their entire time at the university, she said she enjoys seeing them become more confident.

“They come in as freshmen and they’re kind of out of focus, but by the time they come in for their last appointment, you can hear it when they come down the hall,” she said. “There’s a purpose. They know who they are. The way they come into focus takes my breath away.”

However, one of most special lessons Phillips has been able to share was with her son, Wesley. When he was small, she read “The Wizard of Oz” to him and was happy he loved it as much as she did. They read a chapter a night but then he wanted to start over at the beginning.

They ended up reading it nine times in a row. Phillips said they still can have energetic conversations about the book.

“I’m proud that this book that matters to me matters to him too,” she said.

Another book they read for younger kids called “So Many Bunnies” showed how children’s literature can be more than a story and can spark something in children and in families. The book was a sort of alphabet book, with each letter represented by a different bunny. The final page shows all of the rabbits, and Phillips and her son would pick out a bunny from the crowd and try to find it earlier in the book.

“It wasn’t just a book, it was a game,” Phillips said. “It’s what you can do with it.”

Emergency management director scopes out new radio tower sites

County officials are hunting for new radio system tower locations because two potential sites have fallen through, according to a report at a Riley County Commission meeting Monday.

The county is implementing a new seven-tower emergency communications system.

Pat Collins, emergency management director, said two sites near Fort Riley failed a structural analysis.

Collins said part of the difficulty in finding sites has been that he is bound by the military installation’s restrictions on tower space and the towers’ proximity to airports in the area, but he has identified two new potential locations.

Commissioners supported Collins going forward with the two new tower locations.

Commissioners also agreed to pay for a ground analysis at Top of the World, a potential location for another radio tower. A ground analysis determines whether the soil is capable of supporting a structure.

Two more sites have received tentative approval from Fort Riley. One location is northwest of Keats, and other is 1 mile north of Interstate 70, both on private property.

Collins said he started the zoning process for one site and hopes to get the other on the zoning board agenda soon. Collins said the next steps include securing leases for the sites and submitting documentation to legal entities for approval.

The commission also approved purchasing radio shelters, which are structures that protect the equipment and come at no additional cost to the county as they are already included in the contract for the system.

Commissioners also approved using about $2,400 from the county’s emergency management fund to cover half the cost of the ground analysis, which will be done by a contractor hired by Ka-Comm, a Manhattan company handling the tower project.

Collins said Ka-Comm had ordered the analysis without his approval, but because its contract said the county is responsible for these analyses, he agreed to pay for half while Ka-Comm covered the rest.

Budget requests

The commission on Monday continued to hear requests from department heads from next year’s budget.

One request that stood out: the county counselor’s total 2020 request for contractual services, commodities and capital outlay is about $64,300, a 5.32% increase from 2019 budget. The largest increases in the office’s budget overall are in legal services and personnel costs.

County Counselor Clancy Holeman said the increase of almost $5,500 to the department’s legal services division includes expected costs for lawsuits at the Board of Tax Appeals over the “dark store” theory.

Under the dark store theory, representatives of big-box stores advocate their properties should be valued as vacant, arguing those buildings wouldn’t be worth the appraised value if they went out of business.

These cases can lead to wide gaps in appraisals between the counties and stores.

Holeman said he is opposed to dark store theory and budgeted more money to account for possible litigation.

The planning and development department also proposed a budget of about $713,000 for 2020, an increase of $81,000 from the previous year. The biggest increases were to personnel and travel costs.

Monty Wedel, planning and development director, said the addition to the department’s travel budget is included because it didn’t have enough funds to cover conference costs last year.

Staff photo by Matt Lunsford  

“Spatterpaint,” a variety of tall, bearded iris, grows at Iris Days at K-State Gardens on Sunday. The Flint Hills Iris Society manages the iris section at the gardens. The group will have its annual sale on July 27 from 8 a.m. to noon.

GROW Green event raised total of $750K

Donations from this year’s GROW Green Match Day totaled about three-quarters of a million dollars, according to final numbers released by the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation.

The foundation reports that 920 donors made a total of 2,639 gifts — meaning that some individuals made donations to multiple funds — for a total of $520,082. After the matching funds were calculated, GROW Green Match Day raised a total of $748,050 for local nonprofit organizations.

The seventh-annual event was April 22.

Throughout the day, donors made in-person or online gifts to their choice of 58 different local nonprofit funds. Donations ranging from $25 to $1,000 per organization received a 50% match provided by the Howe Family Foundation — with each participating charity receiving a maximum of $10,000 in matching funds.

Gifts made on Match Day go toward the nonprofit organizations’ endowed funds. The match money earned is an outright grant to be used at each organization’s discretion.

Foundation officials said they are grateful to donors and especially to Phil Howe and the Howe Family Foundation for their generosity. The Howe Family Foundation provided an unlimited match for donations made on April 22, this year contributing $227,968 to local charities.