Jan 23, 2023

OPINION: 'So is it worth it?' — the future of Phillips County

Posted Jan 23, 2023 4:41 PM

Phillips County Review

On Saturday morning, more snow was falling upon older snow as I pulled into the icy Phillipsburg Post Office parking area.

The day was dreary and grayish-white, with the division of sky and earth being barely perceptible against a similarly dreary and grayish-white background, as a light but persistant snow was drifting down.

Parking next to the only other vehicle at the post office, a flatbed truck I recognized, I exited my car thinking "this just might get interesting."

Approaching the entrance to the building, an elderly man stepped out, mail in hand, saying, “Hello Kirby, I’ll hold the door open for you. My daughter-in-law probably wouldn’t hold it open for you, but I will.”

Chuckling, I responded “It doesn’t surprise me that you say she wouldn’t.”

“You know who my daughter-in-law is,” he said more as a statement of fact than as a question.


“Do you know who I am?” he asked in follow up.

“Yes I do. Maybe your daughter-in-law will be willing to hold the door open once she sees the value of investing in growth in Phillips County like I do,” I responded.

“I doubt if that happens. I know I won’t live to see the value of that growth you’re talking about,” he said. Pausing a moment and scrunching his face, he added, “I doubt if you’ll see it either.”

“Maybe not,” I said.

“So is it worth it?” he asked as he turned and walked away without waiting for my answer.


As I continued on my original mission and got my mail, the elderly man’s question immediately brought to mind my own grandmother, Fern Elder.

Grandma Fern lived to the ripe old age of 92. In her “younger” days when her years numbered around 80, she was planting a tree in her yard in Kirwin.

I asked her the usual questions regarding its species and such. In the course of the conversation she commented that eventually her tree will grow to be tall and strong, and “provide a good shade in the hot Kansas summer sun.”

Which quickly led my questioning to come around to “how long will it be until it gets that way?”

“Oh, around 30 years or so,” she said.

“Thirty years! Is it worth it? That won’t benefit you. Why are you going to all this trouble?” I said.

“Kirby,” she answered, “I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this for the next one.”


The profound nature of her answer quickly ended any debate on the matter, and even made me feel a bit small, although that was certainly not her intent. It also made me feel proud.

The 30 years she spoke of have since come to pass, and when I’m in Kirwin I sometimes go by and look at her tree. It’s tall and strong, and provides a good shade in the hot Kansas summer sun, for the next one, just as her wise counsel predicted it would.


Back in the 1870s and '80s and '90s our ancestors — yours and mine — set the stage for Phillips County to become one of the economic crown jewels of northwest Kansas.

Likewise in the '30s, '40s and '50s, there was another major surge of large-scale investment in the future of the county from which we have all, every single one of us, benefited.

And for those old-timers who invested heavily into the future of Phillips County, you and I were “the next one.”

Those heady Phillips County boom times in the mid-20th century even set the stage for the business that the family of the now-elderly man from the post office started in the 1960s. That business continues to prosper to this very day.

Each generation of the man’s family has since improved upon that business — not because the results of their hard work which they will pass on through “for the next one” is something the older generation will be seeing, but because it is our duty to make sure that those who follow us are placed on solid footing for the future.

Right now we are at a monumental crossroads in the history of Phillips County, and as a consequence are going through a terrible debate in regard to growth, and whether it is “worth it” or not.

With a third of one BILLION dollars being invested in Phillips County right now, what is happening out at TAMKO, and Amber Wave, along with the possible addition of hugely significant major industry coat-tailing behind Amber Wave, will affect the future of Phillips County for the next hundred years — just as the work of those who came before us did for us.

And it is the obligation of every one of us to provide the support needed for that future at this key moment in time, including investing financially in it.

If not for ourselves, then “for the next one.”

Now, back to the old man’s question to me at the post office on Saturday — “So is it worth it?”

My answer? You damn right it is.

Phillips County Review editor Kirby Ross was named the top Kansas editorial writer in his circulation class by the Kansas Press Association in 2018 and 2022. The overall editorial pages of the Phillips County Review were named as the best in their class in Kansas by the KPA in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Republished with permission.