Story comes with a pretty tall order

A few weeks ago I wrote about why we study history and I quoted an article I’d seen in Parademagazine. Just a week or two after that hit the newsstands, The New Yorker carried a profile of documentarian Ken Burns. The article was called “Mr. America.” I tend to think of him as “Mr. American History,” but whatever.

I’ll also admit, in the sprit of full transparency, that I’m pretty sure I haven’t watched a

ken burns
The artwork that accompanied the Ken Burns’ piece in The New Yorker, Sept. 4, 2017

single one of Burns’ documentaries from start to finish. I’ve watch bits and pieces of The Civil War and Jazz and his latest, Vietnam, but I haven’t seen all of any of them.

It’s not that I’m not interested. It’s just that it’s hard for me to be THAT interested in any one topic, no matter how good the story and the storytelling. A co-worker was telling me about the four-part biography of LBJ he’s read … and it ends before be became president! Give me the Cliff’s Notes version, please.

Even if I don’t watch every bit of his work, I deeply appreciate what Burns does. We’re sort of kindred spirits; a couple of storytellers who have found their voice in the voices of the past. OK, OK, I’m no Ken Burns … I get it. I don’t pretend to be. I’m just trying to make a point here.

You see, one of the things in The New Yorker piece that I found most interesting was a quote from Burns about what, since the dawning of President Trump’s administration, has become known as “alternative facts.”

As my loyal readers will recall, as I was working on “For All Children Everywhere,” more than once I needed to correct some “facts” that had been reported over the years. I won’t bore you with the details (again) but I know Burns and his crew deal with the same issues. Even worse in their case, they’re often dealing in rather controversial topics, like war and peace. While some people might think the Civil War was the result of a failure to compromise, others will say there was either no room for compromise or there had already been plenty of it. (I’m not going there … just saying …)

Either way, there’s a chance to turn off one side or the other. There’s a danger in that kind of conflict. Burns has an interesting take on the subject, according to The New Yorker:

Burns frequently — almost hourly — says “Sometimes a thing and the opposite of a thing are true at the same time,” paraphrasing a remark made by Wynton Marsalis in “Jazz.” Burns uses the line less to acknowledge historical uncertainty that to advertise inclusiveness: a desire to guide all but the most sectarian or jaded viewers through an obstacle course of their own biases. He is not disengaged from his materials, but his sense of a subject, and his sense of an audience’s reaction to that subject seem to be fused. He once said, “I want to bring everybody in.”

As is not surprising given the vastness of his documentaries, Burns has some pretty big goals for the projects. Not merely educational, Burns believes his films, particularly “The Vietnam War” can help bridge the valley that still separate many of us.

Back in Parade, Burns said:

The seeds of many of the troubles that beset us today — alienation, resentment and cynicism, mistrust of our government and each other, breakdown of civil discouse and civic institutions, were sown during the Vietnam war …

Perhaps, if we listen to each other with open hearts, we can find some peace in the profound truth this epic tragedy can teach about the human condition, loyalty, resilience, justice, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.

That sounds like a pretty tall order for a history tale. Perhaps that’s because history is more than just a thing from the past. It’s alive today.

More about this next time.


Land near historic hospital on the block

Sometimes, it’s nice to know you’ve got the right idea.

As I wrote back in September (which seems way longer ago than it really is, I guess, owing to an especially busy fall) a piece of Children’s Mercy and Kansas City history is in danger with the impending demolition of the old Wheatley Provident Hospital.

But this week there was a glimmer of hope. The headline that caught my eye:

Transit Agency Pursuing Development in Big Way, Offering Strategic Block on 18th Street Near Crossroads, 18th & Vine

The story, published on a Web site by former Kansas City Star reporter Kevin Collison, says the land, just north of the Wheatley building, could act as a bridge between the booming Crossroads area and the historic jazz district of 18th and Vine.


The story says:

An entire city block along the strategic 18th Street corridor between the Crossroads and 18th & Vine Jazz District will be offered soon for development by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.

The block on the north side of 18th between Troost and Forest is currently a greenfield and is expected to be pitched by the authority as a potential residential project with lower-level commercial space.

Its potential redevelopment would help realize a long-time city goal of better connecting

Proud doctors and nurses, with Children’s Mercy founder Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson, on the steps of Wheatley Provident Hospital in 1923. Could new life be breathed into the building?

18th & Vine with the Crossroads by encouraging development in the corridor.

“Crossroads is booming and pushing this way and we know the city has double-downed on 18th & Vine,” said Brien Starner, director of economic development for the KCATA. “We’re the largest property owner in this area.

“We are the key catalyst to help development migrate between the Crossroads and 18th & Vine.”

This is, I tell you, exactly what I have been saying for the past year or more since I first set eyes on Wheatley. What I wrote in September:

Today, sadly, a piece of this proud story is threatened. KCUR, the public radio station at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, reported on August 7 that the “First Black Hospital in Kansas City is now on Life Support.” Unless something happens to save it, the stones of Wheatley-Provident Hospital could face the wrecking ball soon. As the story reports:

Vacant since 1972, the first black-owned hospital in Kansas City – where black doctors and nurses could practice medicine and receive advanced clinical training – sits decaying under 45 years of neglect.

Once a triumph of community-wide cooperation, the Wheatley-Provident Hospital remains on the city’s dangerous buildings list for an eighth year. Absent a plan for its rehabilitation, it could be demolished by 2019.

This makes me sad. Memories fade. Times change. People move on. But as the old saying goes, if we don’t remember the past, we may be destined to repeat it. And one of the things that reminds us of times are our buildings. They serve as monuments to by-gone days. And now, one of those buildings is in danger of being torn down.

For more than a year, I’ve had my eyes on the Wheatley building at 1826 Forest Avenue (just east of the Crossroads, which was recently voted Kansas City’s favorite neighborhood by Ink.) It’s overgrown with weeds. The windows have no glass. A sign on top of what was once the children’s ward says “Asylum,” recalling the building’s last use as a haunted house. It’s a sad sight.

But I see something better. I see history. I see promise, as nutty as it sounds. There are so many possibilities. A museum. Offices. A medical clinic. And more. None of them would be easy. None of them cheap. And none without complications.

I know I am not alone. There are others at Children’s Mercy who are talking with friends and colleagues looking for ways to save this old building. I took the marketing director of the Downtown Council (a former Children’s Mercy employee) to lunch last week and drove him by. We talked about exactly what the latest news is: bridging the area between Crossroads and 18th and Vine.

Today, it’s not pretty. There will be lots of challenges. But the news from the ATA is one step in the right direction.

We might just be on to something here. And that feels good.






The weather turns and it’s time for quilts

Fall is my favorite time of year.

I’ll be honest and say I think it really stems from the fact that my birthday is in the fall (October 18 in case you’d like to jot that down) and as a kid I was forever wanting my birthday to be here. Well, and then there’s Halloween. I’ve got a big-time sweet tooth that I honed working at a soft-serve ice cream stand when I was a teenager and it has only gotten worse (or better, depending on your point of view and the size of your waist.)

Besides birthdays and sweets, one of the other things I adore about this time of year is the cooling off from summer’s heat. Crisp fall mornings are the best, digging out of bed from under an extra layer of covers . Cool evenings as the sun sets (earlier and earlier … which I am NOT a fan of) usher us off the deck, away from the grill and in front of the fireplace with a book.

And there’s nothing better to complement the fire and book than a good old-fashioned quilt. We have several in our house to choose from. Handmade mostly by my wife, her sisters and mother. We have one my baby sister (who died last year at the age of 55) made us years ago that I can bury myself under to feel closer to her.

I don’t know much about quilts and quilting, but I know what I like. Most of my knowledge comes from talks at the

Quilts were popular items given to Children’s Mercy, as this photo from the 1910s proves. Volunteers still donate quilts to this day.

kitchen table with my mother-in-law and asking my wife (tongue in cheek, arm raised to avoid being hit!) why she cuts up big pieces of fabric only to sew them back together. I also learned a lot about quilts (or so I think) listening to audio versions of the Elm Creek Quilt books by Jennifer Chiaverini. Some good storytelling there, about quilts and family and history.

Like I said, I’m no expert, but I knew I’d found something special when I was searching one of the Children’s Mercy warehouses and came across an old quilt that had been haphazardly folded and stuffed inside a paper bag. I also knew this was no way to treat a quilt, whether it belonged in the Archive or not. So I rescued it, took it home and began investigating. That’s another great part about this job … the investigating.

As I unfolded the blue-and-white quilt on top of the guest bed at home, I had one of those deja vu thoughts. Not that I had seen this quilt before. I knew I hadn’t. But wait a minute, I know something about this quilt. I’ve read about it. Maybe even written about it. I

quilt and carol
Historic-quilt appraiser Carol Elmore, and her husband, look over the Children’s Mercy Double Irish Chain quilt.

stepped back, looked again.

It couldn’t be. Could it?

Could this quilt be nearly 100 years old? Could this thin, cotton-top quilt be one that lay on top of one of the beds at Nurses Hall when it opened on Independence Avenue next to Children’s Mercy in 1927?

If so, what a find. If not … what the heck is it doing here?

In an earlier post, I wrote a little about the quilts from Nurses Hall.

Another touch of home that decorated Nurses Hall were hand-sewn quilts on each of the beds. Katharine remembered the Double Irish Chain Quilt from her childhood home. She believed such a quilt would give the rooms a home-like quality. She spoke with the many Mercy Clubs supporting the hospital and the quilters did the rest, piecing fabric in shades of blue and white. The blues were the shades of the nurses’ uniforms and of the blue gingham house dresses. So popular did this Irish Chain quilt prove, that the wife of President Herbert Hoover ordered one in like blue-and-white for her son, according to the Kansas City Star. (Mrs. Hoover had become acquainted with Children’s Mercy during a visit to Kansas City. Well-wishers had filled her hotel room with flowers and she, in turn, sent the flowers to Independence Avenue to brighten the hospital.)

I wasn’t exactly sure what a Double Irish Chain Quilt was, but a little research and I knew I had one in this warehouse. Blue and white. In this paper bag. I had to learn more.

My cousin Colleen Janssen used to own the Fabric Corner stores in Emporia and Topeka. (I told you, quilting runs in my family. Both sides.) While she may be no expert on historic quilts, I figured if anyone I know would know someone, it would be Colleen. And I was right. She gave me the name and email address of a certified quilt appraiser who lives in Manhattan.

And, as luck would have it, or fate, when I contacted the appraiser, she just happened to be coming to Kansas City for a doctor’s appointment in a few weeks if I could wait and wanted to avoid the road trip to the Flint Hills. She’d be glad to take a look.

We met Carol Elmore and her husband at Children’s Mercy Hospital – Kansas one morning and showed them to a conference room where the quilt was spread out on the table.

Before she took a close took at the quilt itself, Carol shared a first-edition copy of the quilt book cover 2book, “The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America.” Inside the book, first published in 1935, was the story of the Children’s Mercy quilts:

One of the simplest but most effective of the colonial quilt patters is the Double Irish Chain. One of the many institutes of which Kansas City is proud is Mercy Hospital. When the question of furnishing Nurse Hall arose, Dr. Katharine Richardson … visioned the homelike atmosphere these quilts would give to the rooms in the hall … when word went forth that Dr. Richardson wanted Irish Chain Quilts for Nurse Hall, these women [of the Mercy Hospital Clubs] began making Irish Chain quilts and one hundred and fifty quilts were the results of their work, all hand pieced, in blue and white. Every quilt is beautifully quilted …”

I could barely believe it. I had not known of this book before that day, but here it was, in black and white, confirming the story I had recounted in “For All Children Everywhere.” 

And what about the quilt spread out before us? Carol took a close look. She studied the stitches. She felt the fabric. She took special notice of the batting, or material between the top and bottom layers. She noted that the quilt had a jagged edge and did not make a rectangle, like there were squares that were missing. Or there weren’t enough squares to finish the top. Then why would it have been quilted if it wasn’t all there?

The conclusion: the quilt top is quite possibly from the 1920s. The material makes sense. The colors. But the batting … well, it was a polyester or something. She could tell just by touch. How it bounced back when she squeezed it. It would not have been available to the Mercy Hospital Club ladies back in the day.

But the squares that made up the top?

Her best guess is that the quilt squares were pieced, but not sewn together into a complete top and quilted, in the 1920s. Reports from newspapers of the day are that as many as 250 quilts were made, far more than were needed. It’s possible, even likely, that what we found in the warehouse were leftover squares from the 1920s that someone, or a group of someones, found and decided to put together in the 1960s — when the polyester batting was available and widely used.

So it might not be one of the original quilts that made those young nurses feel at home, but it’s a part of that legacy.

We don’t know all the details for sure, but we know more than we did when we started. And that’s a lot of the work that we do here at the Children’s Mercy Archive World Headquarters. As long as we know more at the end of the day than we do at the beginning, it’s a success.

Researching this story led to uncover this little tidbit, too, from a 1984 edition of Quilters Journal:

“Dr. Katharine Richardson died in 1933 in her bed in Nurse Hall, covered by one of the blue and white quilts she had commissioned. Today, The Children’s Mercy Hospital is still giving excellent free care to children who cannot afford to pay, but at a new location. Nurses no longer board at the hospital and the blue and white quilts are gone and almost forgotten.”

Well, almost gone.

And that’s enough to warm your heart on these chilly fall days.







Turning the tables on the interviewer

Everybody knows someone who, ahh …  how should I say this? … always wants to be the center of attention.

Maybe it’s someone in your family who holds court at the holiday dinners and makes sure everybody hears his stories, even if we’ve heard them more than once. Or that co-worker who is always hitting “reply to all” on emails so everybody  knows her thoughts on a topic or exactly what they’re doing on a certain matter.

That person is not me, though my kids and grandkids might argue I do more than my share of storytelling at over pizza or falafel.

While I admit I do like the spotlight — public speaking is something I actually enjoy (call me weird) — I don’t crave it like some people. You know the type, don’t you. Many politicians fit the mold. Narcissism anybody?

As a newspaper reporter, I thoroughly enjoyed being the one scribbling in the notebook. When I collect oral histories, the camera is pointed away from me. When I was working on the The Book, I searched long and hard for people who knew the story better and differently than I did. I didn’t want to be the source, even when I was writing about times I had lived through and been actively involved in.

To be honest, I prefer to be the one asking the questions.

That’s what made last week a bit uncomfortable: I had been asked to take part in a talk

An empty TV set may not look intimidating, but when the red lights of the cameras come on …

show at the Foxwood Springs retirement community in Raymore, MO. My first thought was, sure, it would be a great opportunity to promote “For All Children Everywhere” and the story of Children’s Mercy.

One of our former employees — Marjorie Croy, who I wrote about here — lives in Foxwood, saying she moved there a couple of years ago so she would be more active than she would be staying at home. She was going to talk about her 25 years working in the administrative offices at Children’s Mercy and wanted me to join her. I thought it would be a good chance to conduct at oral history with her; get her to tell me her stories about those times, 1960 to 1985.

This all sounded good. It was the prospect of her or the host of the show asking me questions that gave me pause. Even though the immediate audience would be just a few hundred seniors living in Foxwood Spring, with social media and everyone having a video camera these days, who knows where your appearance will end up?Live TV is filled with opportunities for something to go wrong. But I didn’t panic.

Instead,  I recalled the times I trained doctors, administrators, nurses, patients and families before they did media interviews.

The first thing, I said, is “relax.” I often reminded them that this is not “60 Minutes” and they are not out to “get you.”

Even if there was a question I wasn’t prepared to answer or didn’t know how, there’s a technique called “bridging” that comes in handy. You see it all the time on TV interviews: a reporter asks a question and the interviewer doesn’t answer it, but uses some language to “bridge” to the topic they want to discuss. “Let me remind you …” “The real question …” “Another important point …” Watch the White House Press Briefing any day and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I’d also coach people to be enthusiastic. Avoid jargon. Never say “no comment.” Smile. Have fun!

It was time for the coach to take his own advice. I told myself this stuff works. I told myself they weren’t going to ask questions I didn’t know the answer to. After all, I really had written the book. When I pulled up to Foxwood Springs, I took time to breathe. To smile. To relax.

When it came time for the talk show — filmed as part of the closed-circuit TV network in the retirement community — I found myself stage right, two cameras pointed my way. A sound booth in the back with all kinds of bells and whistles. We did a sound check and the director did a countdown to let us know … 3, 2, 1 …. we’re on!

I looked at my new friend, Marj, and smiled. I took a sip of water and relaxed. The host reported the weather forecast, read a Bible verse and introduced her guests. Marj and I took it from there … tossing questions and comments back and forth like seasoned pros.

We told stories. We laughed. We showed pictures. And before we knew it, the director held up a hand to let us know it was almost time to go. 3 … 2 … 1.

Time flies when you’re having fun. And it was over too fast. The TV lights went dim and my time in the spotlight was over.

For now, anyway. I’m trying to find the number for that producer at ABC who introduced me to Dr. Oz …



Correction, correction! Read all about it

Nobody likes to make mistakes.

At least nobody I know likes to make mistakes. Most people want to be perfect all the time. Even though we know that’s impossible. Even though we know mistakes are bound to happen.

But, but … I find myself thinking … we’re trying soooo hard not to.

When I was in the newspaper business, mistakes were a daily problem. Of course in newspapers, there are lots of opportunities for error. Every. Single. Word. There are misspelling (been there!); there are misidentifications (done that!) There are factual errors when a reporter just flat out misses something. (Yep, guilty!) And of course, there’s fake news, but that a discussion for a different time, a different blog.

When we made a mistake at the paper, we did out best to correct it quickly. There was a standing place (on Page 2 at the papers I worked for) where errors were corrected. We admitted our mistake and we hoped to move on. Of course some people weren’t going to be satisfied. The biggest complaint was that the correction didn’t have the same prominence as the error — it wasn’t on the same page, under the same sized headline.

Maybe so. But I used to argue that the corrections were about the best-read part of the paper, except for maybe the sports scores or the weather. Please don’t make a mistake in an obit, either. And don’t you even think about messing with someone’s comics! One time in my newspaper career, and only one time in more than a dozen years, I remember re-running an entire story over again with the corrected information … sort of acting like the first, wrong, story hadn’t happened. Not sure how effective that was, but it’s what an influential reader/advertiser/friend-of-the-publisher wanted.

Well, I don’t have a corrections column for this blog. But I do want to make things right.

three windows
For more than 100 years, these stained glass windows have been a part of Children’s Mercy

So it is time to fess up: When re-telling the stories about the stained glass windows in our old chapel last April, I retold an error.

Retold. As in, the mistake has been made at least one other time. And I kept the falsehood alive. Ugh.

It should not have happened. And I am not making excuses. But let me give you some perspective.

One of the things I remember learning in journalism school (or maybe even earlier, at my dad’s side in his newsroom) is that you should always have at least two sources before you report something. Makes a lot of sense. And we tried to do that in the case of “For All Children Everywhere.” But because it was a history book, sometimes that just wasn’t possible. At least not possible as far as we knew.

Instead of two sources, there were times when we had to rely on what my editor, Monroe Dodd, called “the smell test.”  Does it smell right? Does it make sense? Is it logical? So, if we had one source (or even multiple sources that just kept repeating the same story without first-hand attribution) and the smell test was positive, we went for it.

I used the phrase “as the story goes” once or twice to suggest that this is the best we can determine given the age of some of these stories. At one point in the book, I even say, “it’s impossible to know for sure.” Impossible, that is, until it no longer is.

So we tried and I firmly believe we got very close to the truth in every single page.

And that brings us to the second part of the story about the windows. And just to be clear, this story is in the blog, not in the book.

I wrote, correctly, that one of the windows was donated by a group calling itself Multae Sorores, a Latin phrase meaning many sisters. But, in quoting part of a 1976 story from The Kansas City Star, I retold a error. (In my defense, albeit weak, I had one source and it smelled right.) I’m going to repeat the mistake again and then correct it … bear with me.

The Star story said, “Margaret talked with her neighborhood friends and Woodland School classmates, who banded together as the Multae Sorores – a noble name which her brother, who was then studying Latin in high school, deemed worthy of their mission. It means “many sisters,” although one boy, Dexter B. Croswhite, talked his way into the group. The children agreed to raise a handsome sum of money to be put to good use.”

This is The Kansas City Star. Bastion of fine journalism. A Pulitzer-Prize winning publication. Its main source for the story, the Margaret mentioned above, was in the club with Dexter. It seems like a very credible source.

The problem, I have just recently discovered, is that Dexter was not a boy! I know this for a fact now because two his Dexter’s grand-daughters recently visited the hospital to see the window their grandmother helped give Children’s Mercy. The way one of the granddaughters explained it, “The article incorrectly indicates that ‘one boy, Dexter B. Croswhite, talked his way into the group.’  This is not accurate. Although her parents gave her a masculine name, she was my maternal grandmother, and I knew her well for the first 25 years of my life.”

My apologies to Dexter’s family for repeating the error, both in this blog and during a recent tour with some other guests. I suspect it’s a little late to make it into The Kansas City’s Star’s corrections column.

But I know I feel better having corrected it here.

The truth, as they say, shall set you free.




Why do we study history, anyway?

It’s only common, I suppose, to try hard to justify the importance of the work we do. It’s good to feel like we’re adding value … to our pocketbooks, to our company’s bottom line, to other people’s lives.

At Children’s Mercy, we like to say everyone’s job is taking care of kids. Most of us here have great pride in that mission and the work that we do.

But sometimes, I hear a questions from co-workers or friends or neighbors or people I don’t know who happen to read this blog or my Twitter posts: What’s this history stuff all about, anyway? Why did you write the book? What are you trying to prove? How many lives is a book going to save?

Wow. That’s a lot to think about. And when you get one of those comments right before bedtime (I gotta stop checking email before I go to bed!), well, it can make for a restless night if you, like me, have a little man running around inside your head sometimes.

Don’t worry though, I sleep just fine most of the time.

But I like the questions. Why do we read about history? Why do we write about it? What do we expect to learn? How is it going to save the world? (I admit, I didn’t really set out to do the latter.)

Among the million things that were written about Steve Jobs after the Apple genius died in 2011 was something about the importance of education, even if you don’t know why you’re learning a particular thing. His life story taught us you just never know when or how you’re going to need it.

There are all sorts of folks who question their education. A lot of high school math students wonder, “Why do I need to learn math when I have a calculator?” Maybe you need to know basic math so you don’t look like a fool when I’m buying something from you that costs $1.93 and I hand you two one dollar bills and three pennies. (Hint: You owe me a dime in change, pal.)

In Jobs’ case, or so the story goes, he took a calligraphy class when he was bumming steve jobaround after dropping out of college. No reason, just seemed like the thing to do. Years later, working on the first Apple computer, recalling something about typefaces from that class, he added different fonts to the word editor and, as they say, the rest is history. Instead of a single font, we can now type in many, all because Jobs learned something without a specific goal in mind.

I admit it, I like to learn. During a recent discussion about what we’d like to do in retirement — if there is such a thing on the horizon — I told my wife I wanted to take some classes. “What do you want to learn?” she asked, figuring I wasn’t going to take up quilting like she does.

“I don’t know. I just like the idea … especially if I’m not going to graded! You just never know when you learn something that might come in handy.”

Just this week, I attended an event put on by American Public Square at the HarryColor_mark@4x S. Truman Center at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. American Public Square brings together not-like-minded people to engage in conversation, not confrontation, about important issues of the day. This week’s topic was the future of American Political Parties. I had no agenda going in. Coming out I had all sorts of things to think about. My beliefs were challenged; my alliances were questioned. I felt energized and re-educated.

This is why history is important. Energy. Education. Perspective. Knowledge. This is what “For All Children Everywhere” is all about. Really.

Oh sure, I could give you all the “marketing” answers about the value of the book. After all, I’m in the Communications and Marketing department and our job is to promote the hospital. Talk about its value. Its legacy. The unique qualities no other health care provider can touch.

But instead, let me put it this way: we look to the past to learn about the present and guide us to the future. Yes, it’s really that important.

A recent edition of Parade magazine featured what it called “Blasts from the Past,” a story about how Hollywood is spending a lot of time and money these days telling us stories from history. “The best stories,” the article begins in the Aug. 20 paper, “just might be from the past.”

“History instantly gives a story relevance,” the Parade piece quotes Ben Mankiewicz, the host of Turner Classic Movies, as saying. “We can relate to it.”

That’s what I hoped to do with “For All Children Everywhere.” It’s not just a dusty old tale from a forgotten time. As I dug into the archives, as I learned more about Kansas City and medical history, I gained a new perspective into the Children’s Mercy story. There is passion here. And commitment. Grit. Determination. Community. Philanthropy.

I’ve talked with a lot of Children’s Mercy employees who mention the pride they feel as a part of our founders’ mission. Most admit they’ve learned new things as they have read the book or this blog or listened to me over coffee as I recount the lessons of this journey. Just because the original stories were written a century ago doesn’t mean they aren’t still alive and apropos today.

From Parade:

The past is a moving target. As scholars turn over new rocks of evidence and modern forensics reveal fresh layers of insight, what we thought to be true is revised and updated in all forms of entertainment.

“History is not set in stone,” Mankiewicz says. “We’re learning more and more how things we grew up believing were kinda true. So hopefully, movies and TV shows will bring us closer to understanding what made us the way we are.”

It’s not just history. It’s life. It may be justification. But it’s also true.

And that’s why we do it.



Go ahead, answer the phone, be surprised

There have been a lot of questionable inventions over the years. You can use Google to find a list of some of the most useless, the funniest, the just-about-anything-you-can-imagine-est.

I wouldn’t even know where to start. But there is one I’m not so sure about that I want to bring up today: Caller

caller id phone
The screen on this phone allows us to avoid calls from people we might not want to talk to. But what else does it do?


On the one hand, it’s pretty impressive technology. The phone rings and you can look at it to see who is calling. Or at least who/what the caller’s number is assigned to. Nifty. Except, of course there are all sorts of way to fool it. Sometimes I can look at the screen on my office phone and it says “Unknown Caller.” If caller ID is supposed to be helping me, it’s not working.

I don’t know how to do it, but I guess you can block someone else’s caller ID from identifying you. Why do you want to do this? Do you want your call to be a surprise? Are you so annoying that if they know it’s you calling, the person on the other end won’t pick up? I tend to think it’s helpful if the people I’m calling know it’s me.

Maybe you’re one of those people who likes to screen calls. Some you’ll answer. Some not. But do you really need caller ID? We could, of course, simply not answer the phone when it rings. To some, that’s a pretty daring response. But I’ve always said, “If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.”

Some people can’t resist. Like Pavlov’s dogs. Ring! Answer. That’s why Apple felt compelled to include a “Do Not Disturb” feature in the latest operating system for its iPhone. You can set it so the phone won’t ring or ping or ding while you’re driving. I, of course, have another idea: Shut up, hang up, ignore it and drive! (But I digress.)

Maybe it puts me in the minority, but I like to answer the phone. I can remember as a child rushing to answer the phone when it rang at our house. This is

The phone in my house growing up wasn’t quite this old, but I have one just like this in the basement … somewhere.

back in the days before everyone had their own personal phone. Until I was a teenager, nobody ever called me. Being on the phone was a rarity. So when the landline (we just called it “the phone” back in the day; no need to distinguish it) would brrrrriiiiinnnnngggg … I would go running, sometimes trying to out race a little sister or bigger brother. I wanted to know who was calling. What was going on? What was their story.

As I’ve already written here, I have a natural curiosity that was stoked by a journalist dad who taught me that everybody has a story. At least one. And since stories make the world go ’round, talking with others, learning their stories, sharing your own … well, that’s what makes life such a blessing.

I mention all of this today because last week I took my own advice and I was richly rewarded. I want others to try it, too.

Immersed in some project — “other duties as assigned,” you know — the phone beside my writing station rang. The screen atop the key pad told me little: Unknown caller; 816 area code. But I answered it anyway. What the heck.

“Hello, Tom? This is Marj Croy,” came the quiet voice I immediately recognized as one from the proverbial little old lady. “I have been reading your book.”

Oh boy. Can you imagine how my mind was racing? Did she like it? Had she found a mistake? Did she want to order more for her friends and family and grandchildren?

“It’s just wonderful,” she said, easing my worries.

So we talked. And talked. When she mentioned how the hospital had changed since she was here, I perked up a bit more.

“Were you just visiting or were you a patient here?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I worked there for 25 years.”

No longer was I interested in getting off the phone and back to whatever that other project was.  I had no idea who she was, but I wanted more. I didn’t recognize her name from any of my research, but I switched into my reporter mode and the questions started to fly.


“I was hired by John Stockwell,” she said. Stockwell was the first professionally trained hospital administrator. He worked at Children’s Mercy from 1958 to 1962.


“I was secretary to the hospital administrator and to the Board.”

That was a very exciting time, wasn’t it?

“I started at the original hospital over on Independence Avenue before we sold it to the medical school.” She helped with the fund-raising to build the new hospital on Hospital Hill.


She mentioned names like Marion Kreamer and Adele Hall, two of the volunteer leaders of that time who raised money and, in more ways than one, helped transform Children’s Mercy from a charity hospital to a first-rate pediatric medical center for the whole region. She knew Fred Burry, Tom Holder and Stan Hellerstein, three of our esteemed faculty members. She worked with Ned Smull and Eric Jones, other early and instrumental administrators.

Where the heck were you when I was writing my book, “For All Children Everywhere?”

OK, so that last question I didn’t really ask her. But I thought about it. She certainly could have helped enrich the stories of that era. Her mind remains sharp as a tack.

As luck would have it, duty called and after a few minutes I needed to get off the phone. Marj mentioned that she was coming to the hospital on Oct. 18 for a tour.

“Mind if I tag along,” I asked? She said that would be lovely.

I plan to bring my audio recorder along and ask more questions. Maybe video, too. I can’t wait to hear more stories. I can’t wait to share them.

And then I said something I’ve said many, many times. This time with more conviction than ever:

“Thanks for calling.”

“Well, thank you,” came the response, like she knew I had caller ID. “I’m so glad you picked up.”

You have no idea how glad I am, too.