Using Neal Wollenberg’s prowess in fine arts and Andrea Wollenberg’s affinity for numbers, running an art-based studio almost seemed like a no-brainer for the Manhattan couple.
Forty-eight-year-old Neal, a web coordinator for K-State, and 50-year-old Andrea, a librarian at Northview Elementary, own Uncorked Inspiration Creative Studio on Moro Street after buying the former Straight Upp space in November.
Neal said he became interested in music and art at a young age. While attending K-State, Neal said he changed his focus a few times from engineering and music education before he settled into graphic design, drawing and illustration. He later went on to get a master’s degree in visual communications as well.
However, Neal still dabbles with music — playing instruments ranging from trombone and guitars to the bass and some piano — often performing in his church’s musical praise teams.
Andrea grew up in South Dakota, attending Augustana University in Sioux Falls. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and then a master’s in secondary language arts.
Neal and Andrea eventually met online and married in 2006.
The couple first thought of hosting paint-and-sip sessions, where guests can bring in alcoholic beverages while following along to a painting tutorial or instructor, while they were looking for something to do on their shared birthday. After taking a class, Neal said he could imagine himself hosting one too, so the couple purchased some start-up art supplies and began holding pop-up sessions in 2015. Neal said holding mobile pop-ups was a bit difficult to maintain because of having to haul supplies to several locations, so the Wollenbergs took about a year break while they sold painted rocks at craft shows.
They began holding classes again after renting some space through Iron Clad Coworking and eventually found their own place on Fourth Street. When Neal saw Straight Upp Creative Studio was being sold, he saw it as another opportunity to grow.
Andrea said she had some reservations at first because she knew they’d still be managing their full-time jobs, but Neal said he managed to convince her to take a chance.
“We felt like we were jumping into the deep end, treading water,” Neal said.”We’d never experienced employees before because it was always just her and me.”
Having more space has definitely expanded what the couple has been able to do before, Neal said. The paint-and-sip sessions can be larger, they’ve taken over ceramic painting, and at some point, they will be able to offer custom molds for ceramics.
Neal and Andrea said business had been growing since they moved to Aggiville and March was supposed to be one of their busiest yet with booked parties. However, the coronavirus pandemic upended those plans.
While they were closed for a few weeks, Uncorked Inspiration began offering take-home painting and ceramic kits, which they still have as an option for customers. Neal said they’ll likely continue offering them even after the coronavirus has subsided as they’ve found it’s more convenient for some people.
“That was one of the first things we pivoted on… we had to change from being such a social outlet to saying ‘We’re still going to provide this outlet to you so you can do it at home,” Neal said.
Andrea said though the couple does butt heads at times, like any business partners would, she and Neal complement each other’s work styles.
“We’re super yin and yang,” Neal said. “(Andrea) loves doing the business side and she enjoys the books. Whereas I am very much the creative out there person … I couldn’t imagine running it with anyone else honestly. She helps keep me grounded.”
Though he co-owns a larger space, Neal said he still likes to lead the painting sessions when he can because he enjoys being a part of the creative process and teaching techniques.
“Oddly enough people are always surprised, they’re like, ‘I can’t believe I was actually able to paint this,’” he said. “They come in having never painted before, and they come out with a product that they’re actually happy with. Now at the time they’ve maybe had a few glasses of wine so that may change by the morning, but hey, I never (argue) about it.”
While it may take some time before people return to the studio in the numbers they did before, Andrea said the couple is looking forward to it, with extra sanitary and distancing measures in, of course. The studio had its first paint-and-sip session in months on Sunday.
“It felt good to have people back,” Andrea said.
Republican U.S. Senate candidates assembled in an empty ballroom in Manhattan over the weekend to debate farm issues repeatedly diverged to attack the electability of GOP rivals and to portray presumptive Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier as a clear and present danger.
The underlying competition among the five candidates at the livestreamed debate — COVID-19 meant there was no live audience at the event Saturday — was supremacy in their praise for President Donald Trump. And, when compelled by the moderator, they talked about agriculture.
U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, who serves the 1st District and has been endorsed by the Kansas Farm Bureau, said August primary voters would be foolish to nominate former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost the 2018 election for governor to Democrat Laura Kelly.
“We cannot afford to send a failed candidate back this fall who will lose to Barbara Bollier and hand the Senate majority over to Chuck Schumer,” Marshall said. “Instead, we need to send a tried and trusted friend of President Trump.”
Kobach said Kansans would be mistaken to select a replacement for retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts who lacked fire in the belly to take on radical Democrats.
The political landscape in Washington, D.C., requires Kansas senators equipped for partisan combat, Kobach said.
“Do you want a go-along-to-get-along kind of senator, a gutless wonder who never takes a stand? Or, do you want someone who poses a threat?” Kobach said.
Newcomer Bob Hamilton, a wealthy plumber from Bucyrus in Miami County, said GOP voters didn’t have to settle for conservative-who-can’t-win Kobach or moderate-who-thinks-he-can-win Marshall.
“Do you want to send a professional politician to Washington or do you want to send a plumber to help drain the swamp?” he said.
Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Dave Lindstrom, of Johnson County, and Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, filled out the roster of candidates invited to the debate, sponsored by the Kansas Republican Party.
Both were recently pressured by the Kansas GOP leadership to drop out of the race. Lindstrom was the only person to bring that up, and denounced sponsors of the debate for unprofessionally attempting to dictate to Republicans which GOP candidate should be nominated.
“I’m running for the United States Senate because I’m tired of the Kansas insanity,” Lindstrom said. “I’ve had enough of career politicians who are divisive, controversial, have a record of mismanagement and losing to Democrats in big elections. I’ve had enough of shortsighted, self-serving politicians. Have you had enough?”
Wagle, who serves as president of the Kansas Senate, said she had the proven tenacity to take Bollier down a notch. Bollier, who represents a Senate district from Johnson County, defected from the Republican Party in 2018 and has no meaningful opposition in the Democratic primary.
“It’s very, very important that we send a leader to the U.S. Senate who is articulate, who is persuasive, who other people respect,” Wagle said. “I’m the one who’s already debated Barbara Bollier. I’ll take her on in the general and I’ll win. I win on the Senate floor. I’ve beat her numerous times. I’m the one candidate, the conservative voice that can beat that liberal voice in the U.S. Senate.”
During the debate, Kobach accused Marshall of lobbying in 2018 for a spot on the House’s budget committee that, if secured, would mean that he would abandon a seat on the House agriculture committee.
Marshall said in response that he would have been on both House committees and would have continued to work on behalf of Kansas farmers.
“Fake news and another lie by Kris Kobach,” Marshall said.
Each of the candidates said they would pursue a position on the Senate agriculture committee if elected, but Hamilton was the only person to disclose uncertainty about how to land that assignment.
Roberts, who is retiring after 40 years in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, is chairman of the Senate’s agriculture committee.
A 23-year-old Riley County woman has tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the county total to 62 cases. Of those, seven are active.
Disease investigation is still ongoing for the 23-year-old female, said Vivienne Uccello, public information officer.
Ascension Via Christi hospital in Manhattan currently has no patients who are positive for the virus, though one person is being tested, Uccello said.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported 9,218 cases, 188 deaths and 800 hospitalizations statewide, as of Monday. There are 72,181 negative tests statewide.
KDHE is reporting data Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
KDHE reported Pottawatomie County has 25 cases and Geary County has 16 cases, as of Monday.
The Riley County Health Department screening hotline is operating Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Uccello said.
An update from health officials was planned for 4:15 p.m. Tuesday to be streamed on Facebook Live.
Donna L. Vanier, a prominent and leading donor for K-State and its athletics department from Salina, died Saturday. She was 85.
Former K-State head football coach Bill Snyder said he will remember Vanier as a loyal and caring friend.
“I don’t ever recall seeing Donna without a smile on her face and a gracious greeting,” Snyder said in a letter to The Mercury. “I will always remember her that way. Her caring spirit was also demonstrated by the immense number of organizations she supported, led, initiated or served in.”
“She was a caring and loving wife, mother and friend who devoted her life to the well-being of her family and those in need,” Snyder said. “Truly a very, very special lady, dearly loved by so many.”
Vanier served on the KSU Foundation’s Board of Directors, the Ahearn Scholarship Board and the Beach Museum of Art Board of Visitors, where she served as chairwoman. She was the originator of the Powercat Auction. In 2005, Vanier and her husband, Jack, were each awarded the Kansas State University Medal of Excellence, which recognizes those who have advanced K-State through exceptional service, leadership and philanthropic contributions.
“Donna Vanier exemplified what K-State family is all about,” said K-State president Richard Myers. “She personified our values and set an example of leadership and graciousness that extended to all whose lives she touched. She will be missed, but her legacy of service and kindness to others will be remembered. Donna will live on in our collective memory as a great friend to her state and university.”
Vanier lived most of her life at the CK Ranch near Salina, where she was active in all aspects of the cattle business. She was one of the founders of the American Hereford Association Auxiliary and established agriculture scholarships through the Hereford Youth and Kansas 4-H foundations.
In Salina, Vanier played a prominent role in establishing the Donna L. Vanier Children’s Center in 2012. She was a founding board member of the Greater Salina Community Foundation, chair of the governing Boards of the Salina Regional Health Foundation, the Rolling Hills Museum and St. John’s Military School, and contributed to several other local boards and organizations.
Over the years, Vanier and her family have donated millions of dollars to K-State, including a $60 million gift in 2014 that remains the largest private gift in the university’s history. Of that gift, $40 million went to academics in the way of campus support and endowments for professorships, while $20 million went to improvements at the football stadium.
Myers also spoke about Vanier’s influence at the university.
“Few individuals have been as influential to the K-State family as Donna Vanier,” Myers said. “Along with her husband, Jack, and their children, John, Marty and Mary, Donna maintained a lifelong commitment to Kansas State University and our broader Kansas community. Donna thoughtfully and passionately supported K-State students, faculty and staff, and the breadth of that generosity can be seen and felt across our campuses and programs. Her outstanding service to her community and care for others will forever be an inspiration to the K-State family.”
“Words cannot begin to explain the impact the Vanier family has had on the entire Kansas State community, and Donna’s caring personality and love for the Wildcats will forever be remembered,” said K-State Athletics director Gene Taylor. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Jack, Mary, Marty, John and the entire Vanier family during this emotional time.”
Vanier is survived by her husband of 65 years John K. “Jack” Vanier, daughter Mary Vanier of Manhattan, daughter Dr. Marty Vanier of Manhattan, and her stepchildren Katie, Kirsten and Kathy and son John K. Vanier II of Salina, his daughters Lauren and Sarah, his wife Kim, and stepchildren Pallie, Landon, Jess, Ty, Jake and Norah.
She was preceded in death by her parents Willis and Helen Lindsey and her brother Douglas.
The family will announce funeral arrangements after gathering restrictions are lifted. They suggest donations or gifts be directed to St. Francis Ministries of Salina, the KSU Foundation, the Christ Cathedral Endowment Fund in Salina, the Meadowlark Hills Good Samaritan Fund in Manhattan, or St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Manhattan. Memorials may be sent in care of Ryan Mortuary, 137 N. 8th Street, Salina, Kansas, 67401.