Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Worlds of Fun - Kansas City, MO

He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother

The morning after a homestay, good or bad, seems to have an almost palpable buzz of excitement. The boys often come back with stories, phone numbers and also a remembrance of the city they stayed in. This morning in Kansas City was no different. They came from many homes, some with only one other, some came in a large group. Although they enjoy the stay, all of them are glad to return to the fold.

At the start of 20th century, the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company decided that they needed a new location due to flooding problems. They chose an architect named Jarvis Hunt, a proponent of the city beautiful program to design the structure. The Beaux Arts Station opened in 1914 as the thrid largest train station in the country. There are 3 gigantic chandeliers, a 95 foot ceiling and the main clock has a six foot diameter face. Passenger rail service peaked in 1945 and declined thereafter until the station essentially closed in 1985 after commuter service was withdrawn. In 1996 a bistate tax was levied to subsidize half of the 500 million dollar renovation which was completed in 1999. It is now a beautiful reminder of yesteryear along with an Imax theatre, Science City, planetarium and the Irish Cultural Center Museum. They also have a passageway to excellent shopping and restaurants. We were fortunate enough to sing in the Great Hall with risers and keyboard and to hear the wonderful echoes of yesterday and today. You could almost hear the loud train whistles from locomotives of a bygone era. Several boys and the director of the Kansas City Boys Choir came to see us perform. The boys took to them immediately. We then had lunch at the station, most of the boys shopped, a good percentage of them watched the 3-D Dinosaur movie and generally stretched their legs before getting back on the bus to head to our dinner at Sterling Acres Baptist Church.

We unloaded and changed for the concert after a dinner provided to us by the mothers of some of the boys in the choir. We went to Community Christian Church in the Plaza in Kansas City. Though the crowd was sparse, we loved hearing their choir. They are significantly smaller than us, but no less enthusiastic and remarkably talented. Most of the music their director, Ah'Lee Robinson, has written and arranged. Their style draws from gospel, R & B, spiritual and soul. Their is a sister girls choir, but they rarely perform together. He helps them train, but as an african-american leader, he also helps to mold them into strong male role models in a community which lacks for them. At the conclusion of the concert, the two choirs combined to sing, 'He Ain't Heavy, He's my brother', which was as moving for its message as for its beauty.

After the concert, the boys went to a sleep-over/lock-in at the Baptist Church where they played basketball, ran around and talked with the boys from KCBC. They all seemed to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to share with each other. Hopefully, friendships and kinships can be formed which will last a lifetime.

We're Going to Kansas City...Hey, Hey, Hey

The mornings of all of our travel days had been bright and beautiful, however this time the fates conspired against us. We had planned to go to Branson Landing, a conglomeration of shops along Lake Taneycomo, but they are all separate and the walk ways are uncovered. They also have an extraordinary fountain made by the same designer as the lighted fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. An hour before we left, the heavens opened up and poured out rain, thunder and lightning. Since we were in a situation of biblical proportions, we made a mid course correction and headed for Dick's Old Time 5&10. I don't think many of our boys remember the days of local 5 and dime stores in the downtown of every small city. With the Wal-mart era, these are few and far between. They enjoyed the wide variety of trinkets and odds and ends which characterized these stores, some of seniors picked up bamboo curtains for college, while other boys obtained flip out combs and plastic models. We then boarded the bus for Kansas City.

The plains of Kansas and Missouri are a misnomer, for there are valleys and lakes, limestone bluffs and wide rivers which were formed again as the glaciers inched across North America. Lewis and Clark, during their exploration of the Louisiana territory, camped at the Kansas and Missouri rivers. This commanding view from that bluff became Quality Hill and a plaque commemorating the expedition lies near downtown. Although not established till later that century by fur traders with a need for beaver pelts, the town of Kansas City wasn't incorporated until 1889. They tossed around names for the site like Possum Trot and Rabbitville, but chose to name it after the local indian tribe the Kanza, and the town of Kansas was established in 1838. Now many of you may have heard the song, Kansas City, in Oklahoma and in many ways because of its location at the confluence of the two great rivers, Kansas City became a forerunner of Las Vegas. The papers called it a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. William Rockhill Nelson moved to town from Indiana and used his newspaper to instigate change. They created sidwealks, and large green spaces and hired a landscape architect to help celebrate the city's topography. They created the country's second largest city park and it now bears his name. He helped create the modern city we know today and for its prosperity and rich jazz tradition. The name 'Athens of the West' was a name borne from that time.

We arrived at the home church of Mrs. Roxanne Reith, where her father was a minister and they treated us to a delicious meal prior to the concert and a splendid reception afterwards. There was lots of fresh fruit for the boys, so Mr. Ross declared this the winner of the best reception award. We had a wonderful concert, the acoustics seemed made for a group of our size and a capacity house seemed to bring out the best in the boys. The only sad note was bidding goodbye to Henry Solberg, one of our seniors who will be going to some advanced music camps and leaving with his mother after the concert. His easygoing charm and understated humor will be missed. The boys then gathered for their homestays and the chaperones and the boys will sleep well.

Kansas City, MO