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Making A Home Out On The Ranch

Peggy Lowe
Harvest Public Media

It’s not every day that a trip to the drug store can change your destiny.

For 20-year-old Nan Arnold, it was a day in 1956 in Ashland, a small, dusty dot on the open range of western Kansas near the Oklahoma border.

Nan had landed her first job as a music teacher at the Ashland school just a year before. She lived with the store’s owner because her parents thought she was too young to live alone.  

Henry Gardiner, just back from the service, was in the drug store that day to buy film for his camera, as his family was getting ready for a trip to Kansas City to the American Royal Livestock Show. The store’s owner brought the two young people together.

“And she kept saying ‘I want you to meet this nice young man,’” Nan said. “When he called me that evening he said, ‘Miss Arnold,’ because she introduced me as Miss Arnold and she didn’t give him my name. So he called me up and asked me for a date.”

I love a good get-together story and Nan’s was especially poignant. I found her way out there in Ashland, population 855, just 50 miles south of Dodge City, when I was doing a story on the local hospital. The doctor there told me that the Gardiner family was legendary in cattle country and that I should meet up with Nan.

So I met her one morning in the Ashland Health Center’s long-term care unit, where her husband of 55 years now lives, his memory fading even as his wife’s was as clear as the big blue skies out there.

I asked her about their first date and here’s what she said:

“He came to get me in his mother’s Packard convertible. We went to Sitka, Kansas, and bought gas and then we drove to Adobe Springs, down in Oklahoma, which is a little golf course down in the country. We just went for a drive.

“We came back and danced to the radio on the cement slab. And that was our first date.

“I decided that night I was going to marry him but he didn’t decide that for a year and a half.”

Nan laughed as she remembered that night, recalling that she called her parents and said, “I think I’ve met the right one.”

More than 50 years later, Nan told me the story of how she became a Gardiner, part of a family that championed the Angus breed when Kansas was still Hereford country. Listen in to Nan’s story and hear how the business that started in her kitchen became an internationally known Angus breed company.

And hear how a 20-year-old girl put down her roots on the Kansas open range.

“This is my home and I love it,” she said. “I think it’s a very unique place.”

This is the second installment of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s new series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click hereto explore more My Farm Rootsstories and to share your own.

Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, is a collaborative public media project that reports on important agriculture issues in the Midwest. Funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Harvest Public Media has reporters at six NPR member stations in the region. To learn more, visit www.harvestpublicmedia.org, like HarvestPublic Media on Facebook or follow @HarvestPM on Twitter.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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