Dear Bank of Prairie Village Community
I mentioned in a prior letter, this summer reminded me a bit of the summers of my youth. Perhaps, it was there all along and I never noticed it. However, it seems like these past few months have been “The Summer of the Youthful Bike Patrols.”
Driving home and around town, it has been a treat seeing so many very young children learning to ride a bike for the first time. Yes, many had training wheels with fancy baskets, ringing bells, and handle bar streamers. Lots of giggling and squealing. Even from the my car, I could almost feel the excitement as the little ones began to learn their balance – and almost feel their young minds race with the new found freedom afforded by their bikes and tricycles.
Many of the new riders were clearly under their parent’s sharp eye. As I started noticing the “new” riders I also recognized the slightly older ones—say the 9 to 10 year olds who had advanced to a bit less supervision.
I am sure I’m like all the other cautious drivers around Prairie Village these days – driving well below the speed limit, a foot constant on the break, an alert eye scanning for dashing and darting children playing in yards, curbs and on the street corners.
I saw a pack of 4 or 5 what must have been 10-year-old boys, riding their bikes roughly parallel down one side street. This vision of adventurous boys, riding as a pack on a carefree summer afternoon, brought back a flood great memories.
In a smaller town like Salina, before the era of internet and video games, a young boy’s bike was the magical vehicle of freedom and adventure. One could ride virtually the entire city and into the surrounding country side in less than twenty minutes. Afternoons, without structured activities, were measured in lazy hours – as opposed to 45 minutes practice sessions. Exploration and the attendant (but mostly benevolent) mischief were part of the rites of passage. One learned how to balance fishing poles, tennis rackets, golf bags, firecrackers, baseball cards and ICEE slushies – all while riding with one hand.
In college I got the impression the Kansas City guys did not enjoy the complete bicycle freedom Salina offered. However, the experiences many shared of bike trips for slushies were not too far behind.
Somewhere, in the push to structure every waking minute of children’s lives into organized sports, various instructional camps, educational activities and then video game marathons, the freedom of riding one’s bike to the shopping center, ball park, school playground, or to the creek, has become more a middle-age memory, rather than a current rite of passage.
The COVID confusion and the need for children to just get out of the house and enjoy sunshine, has to some degree, brought back youth bike riding. Seeing the pack of boys on their bikes, I could only imagine the exhilaration and adventurous thoughts racing through their minds.
Although, my horse riding experience has generally been limited to trail rides on ancient and, I dare say, very stubborn horses, like every middle-age man my age, etched in our collective minds is the vision and concept of Fredric Remington’s Four Cowboys sculpture—the thought of just being able to ride, free, loose and carefree across a vast prairie. I can think of no friend my age who has actually fired a revolver while riding a racing maverick – but I know virtually all have fantasized their “four abreast juvenile pack bike riding” as a possible substitute.
Like so many other memories, I’ve tended to keep episodes of youthful bike riding adventures to myself. Even so, once and awhile a junior high buddy might reminisce of an almost forgotten day on our bikes. I did ingloriously spill a cocktail over myself and a lawn chair recently when a grade school friend reminded me of the afternoon we discovered a wayward fired bottle rocket could turn a ripe, late June wheat field into an instant inferno – looking something akin to a napalm blast from the movie Apocalypse Now.
Fortunately the nearby rural volunteer fire department trucks managed to quickly and efficiently control the situation. That was the day I learned to believe in miracles. Somehow the fire crew decided that a mythical “heat lighting” strike on that very sweltering day “must’ve produced” the incriminating wheat field spark. Yes it does take a Village to raise rambunctious bike roaming 10-year-olds. (Now you know why my sons always wondered why I was reticent in fully participating with the other Dad’s in neighborhood firework celebrations.)
In the midst of the COVID confusion and the accompanying bike-riding renaissance, I thought it absolutely perfect timing a new sculpture was gifted and erected in the heart of Prairie Village. I do not think there was much fanfare or publicity regarding our new bronze statue. If there was media coverage—it was clearly under my radar.
Like Remington’s Four Cowboys, the sculpture on the Southeast corner of 71st Street and Mission Road brilliantly captures the sense of exhilaration of a boy, his bike and Prairie Village freedom.
The sculpture is entitled “Fifties Freedom in the Village.” The caption states “Children Growing Up in Prairie Village in the 1950s were part of a True Village. Many Experienced an Exhilarating Sense of Freedom Roaming on Bicycles.
The sculpture was given to the city by Brad Johnson, SME ’68 “In Honor of his Bicycle Riding Friends” The artist is E.S. Schubert, SME ’96~ In Honor of His Art Teacher, Mr. Chuck Crawford.
This wonderful addition to our landscape carries the vestige of a time when our community was young, every street dotted with new home construction sites, and our streets enjoyed a much slower traffic cadence. Its timing is perfect – as for at least just this one summer, time rolled back a little as the young juvenile bike riding adventurers put down their video games and took to the streets again.
I hope others will see it this sculpture as the community treasure it is – and that it encourages both parent and child that video gaming is not the only way to spend a fine lazy summer afternoon. Well done, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Schubert and Mr. Crawford – and thank you for rekindling our often dormant sense of exhilaration.
Thank you for letting us be your bank and bankers – Don’t ever hesitate to call me on my cell phone at any time if we can help you –together let’s see if we can’t reach that place in that young boy’s imagination and see where our bikes – and life leads us. -- My best~Dan
Bank of Prairie Village
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“The Bank of Prairie Village ~ Home of Blue Lion Banking”~ cited March 2020 by the Kansas City Business Journal as one of the “Safest Banks in Kansas City for Your Money.”
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