Category Archives: Memories

RIP: Señor Stan Schneck

For my lunch break today I took a scary ride on my motorcycle to Eudora.

The wind was blowing something fierce, but I was undeterred to make the trek. And for whatever reason, I decided to head there via I-70, taking the new Eudora exit to come in the north way into town. As I approached our neighbor to the east, I passed by the former home of Señor Stan’s Salsa.

The place looked a little run down from the last time I saw it in 2001. That didn’t surprise me much. I had heard Stan Schneck moved his operations from the little shack he had based his operations out of when I first met him. His pride and joy – a wonderful salsa that got its start here in Douglas County – had grown up. You could find Señor Stan’s Salsa at many grocers in the region and I often saw it when I was shopping in Hy-Vee here in Lawrence.

Tonight I heard some sad news: Señor Stan passed away Nov. 1 from complications of liver cancer.

Stan’s friend’s mother, of Mexican heritage, taught him how to make salsa, so he scratched his own itch. He wasn’t satisfied with other salsas and decided to give it a go himself. The dude was great to speak with. I love to be around anyone who is truly passionate about something, and Stan was really into salsa. He lived and breathed that stuff. It was as much a part of his essence as his own skin.

Stan’s product had an impact on a friend of mine who also died of cancer last year, Brandon White. Brandon loved, and I mean LOVED, the Jayhawks, and one night as were discussing excellent game-watching food, he mentioned that Señor Stan’s Salsa was his favorite.

Man, cancer is a real bitch.

I think the thing to take away from Stan Schneck’s life is this: find something you’re madly passionate about and go after it. As I mentioned yesterday, time is a precious, finite thing we’re given. Stan took his passion and did amazingly well for a little operation from Kansas. He touched other people’s lives with a flavorful concoction of all things, salsa.

Go do something amazing. Honor the memories of those who took a chance on themselves by taking a chance on yourself. You never know how much time you have left. Make it count.

Related: Chips Not Included from The Eudora News.

A memoir of 9/11/01

My brakes had been squealing so bad they simply couldn’t be ignored anymore.

Although not the most mechanically inclined, I knew I couldn’t wait for the inevitable grinding sound of steel on steel, so I made an appointment for a brake pad repair at a Midas shop for the early morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11.

I don’t remember the exact time when I arrived at the repair shop, but it must have been sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. I dropped off my 1999 Dodge Stratus, then hoofed it across the parking lot to my gym, the now-defunct Lawrence Athletic Club south.

In late spring of 2001 I had started working out and part of that routine was hitting the gym on Tuesday mornings. I was working as a reporter and page designer for The Eudora News and The De Soto Explorer, two small newspapers outside of Lawrence and owned by The World Company, the parent company of the Lawrence Journal-World. The News and Explorer staff – which would produce the newspapers from the office of the News in Eudora – would finish laying out both weekly papers and get them sent to the printers on Tuesdays. This typically resulted in late nights, so I was allowed to come in later on Tuesdays in a tradeoff.

Upon entering the gym, I didn’t get clued in to what was going on until I made my way upstairs to a mezzanine that housed the aerobic machines. As I reached the top of the stairs, I noticed every television was tuned to same television station and each had a live feed of the smoking World Trade Center building. I powered on the treadmill, stepped on the belt, and began my workout, watching the television like everyone else.

And then, the second plane hit.

There might have been some gasps or moans or something from others in the mezzanine, but I really don’t remember. The only thing I recall from my time at the gym was watching TV with this thought in my head … “This can’t be an accident.”

I worked out for about 30 minutes and then went back to the repair shop to get my car. I remember talking briefly with the clerk about what we had seen on TV, but neither of us were really sure what to make of it. Returning to my house, I cleaned up and headed to work. The first stop was in De Soto, then finishing off the evening in Eudora to put together the newspapers.

After an hour or so of being in the Explorer office, I got a phone call from our photographer, Roger Nomer, who was spending the morning in Lawrence before heading to Eudora later that evening.

Drop whatever you’re doing and go get gas now,” he said. “There’s talk in Lawrence of gas hitting $5 a gallon.

Gasoline, in the Douglas County area at that time, was around $1.75 a gallon. I drove down to a little station I typically got fuel from and filled up for the normal price. There wasn’t a person in sight. De Soto was a pretty typical small Kansas town and except for what you had heard on the radio or television that morning, you wouldn’t have suspected life was about to change. Everything seemed normal.

I called my editor, Elvyn Jones, and we hashed out a story idea. There was a senior center two blocks from the Explorer office, so I went down to discuss the events with some veterans and how the day compared to the Pearl Harbor invasion. (See “Terror Strikes Home”) I wrapped up my interviews, closed up the office and headed to Eudora to write my story and start putting the newspapers together.

The drive from De Soto to Eudora is a short one, at no more than five minutes. Nothing was unusual when I left De Soto and upon the exit ramp approach to Eudora, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary … at first.

Then, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was mass panic. Cars lined up for blocks toward the Kwik Shop gas station as drivers volleyed for a slot to fill up their tanks. The prices were unchanged, unlike some gas stations around the area who had been charging $5 and $6 a gallon out of fear, but the panic that had set in were draining the station’s tanks. The station had completely emptied the low-octane, most inexpensive fuel. The Eudora Police Chief, Bill Long, was keeping everyone cool, guiding traffic in and out of the gas station. After parking my car, I walked over to him and chatted for a few minutes. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember I went to speak to him with the intention of “hang in there” and not as reporter vs. cop.

Until I reached Eudora, I had been rather calm. But after seeing the line of panic people trying to get gasoline of all things, I started to panic.

How in the world am I going to be able to afford to get to work?” I thought.

The rest of that evening was typical for a weekly newspaper: there were stories that needed a final edit, there were pages that needed filled with copy, there were images that needed placed with a delicate touch to convey the journey of two small Kansas towns as they began their transition to a post-9/11 world.

The files were sent to the printer. The lights went off. The offices were closed. The staff went home, ending a very long day.

I drove home to Lawrence, in the still, darkness of night, and contemplated a sort of lost innocence at the beginning of the 21st Century.

And then, surrounded by three excellent roommates, I phoned my family members and told them how much I loved them.

This is how I remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Fair to middlin’

2010 Douglas County Fair

Growing up in southeast Kansas there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to do, but each year when the fair came to town it was one of the biggest highlights of summer.

The scene usually went like this: my sister and I would stay with our grandparents for a week, who lived on an 80-acre farm 30 miles north of my hometown of Baxter Springs just outside the former mining town of Weir. It was always a treat going there. My grandparents had a pond out back that was always open to fish in, provided cows weren’t in it cooling off from the summer heat. I had all the things a young Kansas boy was suppose to have: freedom to roam and explore, a vintage Red Rider BB gun to shoot, and vegetables to pick from grandpa’s garden.

Somehow it managed to be awesome, even without air conditioning.

After a glorious week, we’d load up into their ginormous, four-door Mercury Grand Marquis, riding in style to the Cherokee County Fair in Columbus where we’d meet up with my parents and head home after some fairtime fun.

It’s been moEmber rides the ridesre than 10 years since I moved to Lawrence and through I had heard of the Douglas County Fair, I never once ventured out to see what it was like. My experiences of my youth were so much fun and still so vivid, I didn’t want it to be tarnished by anything else. I didn’t think it would compare. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and as Will Rogers once put it: “Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

The Douglas County Fair was awesome. It had every bit of dirt, animal, farm smell and – dare I say it – redneckishness I had enjoyed in my youth. There were more Daisy Dukes there than a weekend marathon of The Dukes of Hazzard. They had airbrushed license plates for sale! Pictures of men in Speedos lying on air  mattresses that can be hung on the wall of your home (which my wife informed me was NOT attractive)! The ever-classic Playboy bunny icon mirror! Cotton candy, fried Oreos, turkey on a stick – everything you could expect in a spectacle like the county fair, and it was GREAT.

At the risk of sounding like some cheesy dad line, one of the best parts was seeing Ember (the oldest daughter) bounding from ride to ride. It caught me off guard; she isn’t the type to get on rides. I can’t even get her to ride the mechanical horse at Hy-Vee. Yet she wanted to try everything anyone over 36 inches could write and didn’t even blink. As she rode each one, I sat on the sidelines: part of me wishing I was young again and part of me deliriously happy to watch her smile from the same experience I once had.

There’s something about the fair, isn’t there? It’s intoxicating. It lulls you in. It wants you to enjoy yourself, empty your wallet, have some fun and forget about normalcy.

Sometimes, that escape from normalcy is exactly what we need.

Go have some fun.