Sunday, January 25, 2015

George Washington Carver--Kansas Connections

The simplest snacks often taste the best, which is certainly true about a favorite go-to goody, peanut butter sandwiches. I can’t imagine life without Jif in my cupboard. A blob of this yummy goo combined with grape jelly slathered on fresh bread makes a fast breakfast, lunch, or supper. That same recipe creates delicious pre or post dinner snacks. In honor of this popular food item, January 24 has been designated National Peanut Butter Day. This red-letter event makes me think about George Washington Carver, the man often credited with inventing peanut butter.

Many folks know he taught in Tuskegee, Alabama, where he investigated hundreds of ways to use peanuts. However, few people realize he went to grade school and high school in Kansas. Before enrolling in Iowa State College, he homesteaded near Beeler, Kansas. Yes, the person responsible for my beloved PB and J treats has Kansas connections.

Born and raised on a farm near Diamond, Missouri, Carver moved as an adolescent to Fort Scott, Kansas, to further his education. Later, he followed friends to Minneapolis where he attended high school from 1880 to 1884. Upon graduating, he applied and was accepted to Highland College in the northeast part of the Sunflower State. 

Unfortunately, after he arrived, university officials rejected him due to his race. Disappointed, but having faith in God’s purpose for his life, George traveled west to homestead (SE ¾ of 4-19-26) and build a sod house near Beeler, Kansas, from1886 to 1888. Neighbors appreciated his polite demeanor, love of nature, sketches of local plants and animals, and accordion playing skills. For some reason, he decided he wasn’t meant to be a western Kansas farmer and moved to Iowa before proving up his land.

Once in Iowa, Carver studied art and music at Simpson College before going on to earn an agriculture degree followed by a master’s degree in botany at Iowa State College in Ames. Again, people noted this quiet, refined, Godly man who worked hard to accomplish his goals and practice his faith. Word of this brilliant scientist and his work found its way to Booker T. Washington, who recruited George to teach at Tuskegee Institute. Carver responded to Washington’s offer, “pledging ‘to cooperate with you in doing all I can through Christ who strengtheneth me to better the conditions of our people.’”

After he moved to Alabama, this brilliant scientist invested his time and talents to discovering and teaching others numerous ways to use peanuts, sweet potatoes, pecans, and other Southern crops. A deeply humble Christian who believed his purpose was to help fellow humans, this inventor patented only three of the many products he discovered. Peanut butter was not one of those. Instead of getting rich and living a life of ease, Professor Carver devoted himself to  rising early each morning, seeking God’s will, and working hard to improve Southern agriculture and living conditions.

Since grade school, when I first read about this amazing man, I’ve admired and wanted to know more about him. Imagine my pleasure at discovering his Kansas connections. On a warm spring day, it’s a pleasant drive down Highway 96 to connect to the trail to Carver’s homestead. Once there, you won’t hear him play his accordion. However, you’ll view acres covered with descendants of the native grasses and wild flowers he sketched while distant offspring of meadowlarks that sang to him serenade you.

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