16th Annual Celebration of Orphan Train Riders to Feature Local Legends and Arizona Foundling Fiasco


May 31 through June 2 will find Orphan Train enthusiasts from across the nation making their way to Concordia for the 16th Annual Celebration of Orphan Train Riders. Beginning on Thursday, May 31, local descendants of Orphan Train Riders will be honored. Photos and stories of these Riders will be featured on the big screen in the Broadway Plaza, followed by Talking Statue tours with live presentations by the Brown Grand Players community theatre group. The evening will conclude with a brisket dinner. Major underwriters for the celebration include Cloud County Tourism, Rolling Hills Electric, Concordia Tractor, Inc., Elk State Bank, Funk Pharmacy, F&A Food Sales, and First National Bank of Hope. Corporate Sponsors are USD #333 and Jacksons Glass.

Friday, June 1, will begin at the National Orphan Train Complex with welcome remarks and screening of the new visitor informational video. Speakers include Terry Stahl of the Topeka Genealogical Society’s Writer’s Group, presenting information on the group’s newest book, The Stachelbeck Brothers: Orphan Train Riders to Kansas. Attendees will also be able to tour the museum where a new temporary exhibit featuring local Riders will be on display.

Following a change of location to the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse auditorium, keynote speaker John Shontz, Helena, Montana, will share how The Orphan Train Project helps put the “train” back in orphan train. Since 2014, the group has provided detailed itineraries of orphan train riders’ journeys from the east to new homes across the United States. Anyone with an interest in the history of trains and railroads will appreciate Shontz’s presentation which begins at 11 am.

At 1:15 pm, Curator Shaley George and Head Researcher Lori Halfhide will outline one of the most prolific events of the Orphan Train movement. In 1904 in the mining communities of Clifton and Morenci, Arizona, race, religion, and equal rights collide with the arrival of children from the New York Foundling Hospital. The events that led to the kidnapping of the children and the lives of the key players will be detailed.

One repeating feature of the Celebration includes hearing stories of Orphan Train Riders from their descendants. Beginning at 3:15 pm, descendants from across the country will be on hand to speak about how the orphan train affected their Riders and influences their families today. Then New York actress, author and Cloud County Community College graduate Suzanna Pitzer will share her experience writing a new children’s book about a tin elephant which is in one of the displays at the Orphan Train Museum. Friday evening will end with a repeat performance of Cloud County Tourism’s Chair-ity Auction featuring uniquely decorated chairs. Funds raised will be used to purchase a life-sized bronze replica of placement agent Anna Laura Hill.

Back by popular demand is the Mystery Bus Tour. Last year the tour was to Orphan Train sites in Concordia and Cloud County as well as Wayne and Republic County. The bus leaves the NOTC grounds at 8:30 am on Saturday, June 2, and lunch is included. Return time is estimated at 3:30 pm.

The President’s Award Banquet will conclude this year’s Annual Celebration. Held at Marla’s Joy Teahouse on Saturday at 6:30 pm, the banquet requires advance registration. Other than the meals and Mystery Bus tour, all presentations are free and open to the public. Tickets for the Plaza brisket meal, the Mystery Bus tour, and the President’s Award banquet are available at Cloud County Tourism and at the NOTC office. A complete schedule of all events and full registration are available at NOTC or on the website at www.orphantraindepot.org. For more information, contact the NOTC office at 785-243-4471 Tuesday through Saturday.

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Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.