The Art of Community: How Creative Contributions Can Transform a Kansas Town

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Brett Crandall is a Garden City-based LGBTQIA+ actor, writer, producer, puppeteer, and activist.

Dear Cindy Crandall,

I wanted to congratulate you and your newly married husband, Doug, on your marriage. We are in 1983, The pleasure of painting with Bob Ross just debuted on PBS, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” has taken over your radio, and I’m sure Doug is looking for a teaching job.

Be on the lookout for a town called Deerfield. Of course, it’s hours away from your life and your family in Salina. The smell… isn’t great. You might be thinking, “Of course, but only for two, maybe three years, tops.”

Believe me when I say that in this humble town just west of Garden City, you will be a source of the most rewarding “thrills” you can find this side of the Sunflower State.

Cindy Crandall poses for a photo in 1994. (Brett Crandall provided the photo)

After working for a while at Deerfield Grocery and having your first children, Brooks and Bailey, you will apply for the position of co-director at the Deerfield Recreation Commission. It may seem like an administrative job at first, and the office is just a small office in high school. But this is where you’ll really start to spark the creativity of generations of young Spartans.

First, you may need some advice.

After having a few other kids, Brett and Bridget, you’ll learn how to run an official Bob Ross art class, taught by Sandy Simon and TR Matthews, in the new Deerfield Community Building. They will quickly become mentors to you as a budding artist. Over the years, they will encourage you to hone your own craft and eventually teach yourself.

Not only through Rec. Birthday parties, wine and paint events. There is immense satisfaction in the smiles on the faces of the students. They are shocked to know that they too can paint. All they need is a good teacher.

“Tot Lot” always takes place every Tuesday morning, where you prepare a new children’s craft every week. Countless parents are grateful for this chance to connect with their neighbors, while their children develop social skills and find tools to better express themselves.

Deerfield’s annual summer celebration can currently be hosted by the local fire department, but once you get involved the responsibility for the event shifts to the recreation department. It’s a lot of work, but your sisters leave Salina every year to fill in the gaps when needed.

Soon, Deerfield Days will be a bigger “homecoming” event than, well, a real homecoming. You’ll manage to come up with a new theme each year, gather parade floats, book entertainment and organize an art exhibition, of course. You’ll build traditions that Deerfield is very proud of, like having “The Best Fireworks in Southwest Kansas.”

Be sure to phone a friend for those grand mural projects, the fitness center you inevitably opened in 1999, and the city pool building. When years of bad weather have left your work faded, you partner with the high school art department to apply decals printed by local artists of all ages to have their work proudly displayed.

Over the years, you will hire generations of high school students as helpers with summer activities, including your four children. And in 2012, when their friend and longtime employee Josh “Chachi” Skipton passes away too soon, a new community center will be founded in his honor at that same Main Street grocery store. “Chachi’s Place” is a sanctuary designed with and in the spirit of public service, community and local excellence.

Chachi’s Place will then also serve as the director’s office. There you will continue to plan community events and trips for all occasions, perhaps occupying your artistic mind more often than you wish. But no one makes holiday crafts like you.

Nobody minds April Fool’s Day lunches, where the potatoes look like sundaes and the desserts look like meatloaf, like you can. No one champions the art of foraging like you can.

Finally, your commitment to accessibility helps foster a community garden, public tandem bikes and a new walking path. When you retire, you will receive a personal thank you letter from Governor Laura Kelly, another parks and recreation advocate.

Members of a painting class show the results of their work. (Brett Crandall provided the photo)
Cindy Crandall knows that showing people what’s possible sometimes means leading by example. (Brett Crandall provided the photo)

Know that you will retire to colorful and creative Lindsborg with Doug to be closer to your grandchildren. But you’ll be there to teach a class in Garden City alongside a friend on Friday, May 27 at The place of painting.

In the years to come, in times when you wake up late with your head full of ideas, know that mini miracles happen with every trade you make. Each brushstroke adds to a masterpiece.

I had the chance to witness your work, your approach, since my birth. Your advocacy of art and expression has given me enough courage to pursue my own career in the arts.

So from artist to artist, thank you for the lessons, Ma. They have and will continue to inspire and change lives.

Your son,

Brett

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