Etta Blanche and Kathryn Charlotte Smith grew up on a farm on the Anderson-Franklin county line near Richmond, Kansas during the early part of the twentieth century. Their parents were Charles Albert and Sarah Featherston Smith. Their grandparents, Albert Rodney and Nettie M. Van Aerman Smith came in a covered wagon to the Richmond area from Wisconsin after the Civil War. According to Albert’s diary, he passed through the area while serving in the Union Army from Wisconsin and he liked the farmland that he saw. A program for the 1951 dedication of Richmond gymnasium-auditorium states that Mrs. Nettie M. Smith was the first teacher in the first frame school building that was erected at the southwest edge of Richmond in 1874.
After Etta Blanche and Kathryn Charlotte graduated from Richmond High School, they pursued college degrees despite the tough times of the Depression. Both eventually found success in the field of education. Kathryn graduated from Baker University, Baldwin City, KS with a degree in music and attended some summer sessions at Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia. She taught music, English, Latin, etc. in various grade and high schools. She married Alfred L. Wilcox on April 13, 1963 at Minneapolis, KS. She died May 18, 2001 and is buried in Richmond Cemetery, Richmond.
Etta Blanche attended Baker University for one year, took the county examinations to receive a teaching certificate, and taught in various one-room country schools while attending Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia in the summers until she obtained her degree. She taught in Richmond, Highland Park in Topeka, Salina, and Kansas City, Kansas schools, received her Master’s Degree in Supervision and Curriculum from Columbia University, New York City, and retired as an elementary principal in Kansas City, Kansas. Her teaching career spanned 45 years. She was selected as Kansas Teacher of the Year in 1963. While teaching she was active in educational organizations, serving as president of Kansas State Teachers Organization and serving on Emporia State Teachers College Alumni Board of Directors.
In 1969 Etta Blanche married Carl O. Dahlgren. After retirement, they traveled extensively, but Etta Blanche continued her volunteer involvement, serving as president of Kansas Retired Teachers Association and as a District Director of American Association of Retired Persons as well as caring for family. Carl died in 1996.
Looking for a way to bring knowledge of agriculture to young people and wanting to honor their parents and grandparents, Etta Blanche and Kathryn Charlotte gave leadership and funds to provide the Smith House at Kansas Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, Bonner Springs, Kansas. The house, very similar to the old Smith home near Richmond, was dedicated in July 1996. In 2003, Etta Blanche added the Smith Event Barn, a 50 by 70-foot structure designed to resemble a typical turn-of-the-century Midwestern barn. It is used for special events and educational programs and is rented out for parties and meetings.
Etta Blanche died in March 2004 and she left a legacy of education, history, and faith, bestowing parts of her estate to schools, churches, historical societies, the Ag Hall of Fame, National Teachers Hall of Fame Foundation, and a health advocacy group. Franklin County Historical Society is honored to be one of the recipients of her generosity.