The United States, which celebrated its 237th anniversary on July 4, owes much to its founding fathers. The Southeast Kansas Humane Society, which marked its 40th anniversary on June 23, has a founding mother.
The United States, which celebrated its 237th anniversary on July 4, owes much to its founding fathers.
The Southeast Kansas Humane Society, which marked its 40th anniversary on June 23, has a founding mother.
“If something in my life made a difference, this is it,” said Sherry Strecker. “I’m happy to claim it.”
She has actually done quite a bit in her life, including being a successful business women when that was still unusual, owning and operating Strecker Title Agency, Inc.
Strecker was also active in city government, and was serving on the Pittsburg City Commission in June of 1973 when she called a public meeting at the City National Bank that ultimately lead to the formation of the SEK Humane Society. However, she stressed that the meeting was a private effort to form an organization in the face of recent reports of animal cruelty.
“There had been some animal abandonments and other things, and I was hoping to establish a humane society so that we could eliminate abandonment and abuse,” Strecker said. “At that time apparently there was not a state law on abandoning animals.”
A total of 52 people attended that meeting, and a standing committee was formed. Members, in addition to Strecker, were Mrs. Walter (Peggy) Smith, Norma Caldwell, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Cannon, Winona Krantz, Paul McPherson, William R. Cottrell, Mrs. Frank Adelman, Terry Frieden and Deborah Lezerich.
John Cason, general manager of the Wichita Humane Association and a representative of the American Humane Association, came to assist in the formation.
The name of the new organization was selected in 1973. The group wanted to Terry Frieden, a KOAM Radio personality who went on to become CNN Justice Department producer, organized a fundraiser involving a softball game and a dog show.
“The land for the shelter was donated by the Blair family,” Strecker said. “They were coal people, and the land where the shelter is located is part of the land they still retained. Rex Crowley, National Bank president, called me and said the family had the land and would donate it. I was ecstatic when I heard about it.”
The late Bess Timmons, beloved Pittsburg philanthropist, wanted to help.
“Bess Timmons called and said she would like to give us money to buy a mobile home to put out there for at least a temporary headquarters for a caretaker,” Strecker said.
However, the donated land was a wilderness and much work needed to be done before anything could be built or moved in.
“I knew Crawford County Commissioner Pete Murry and appealed to him,” Strecker said. “The county agreed to grade the land and the road out there, and I believe they might have helped lay the original sewer pipe. A young man named David Turkington, a student, did some back-breaking labor out there. So many others, groups of young people and a lot of individuals helped.”
Page 2 of 3 - Groundbreaking for the shelter was at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 3, 1974.
Strecker was also pleased when Kansas passed a law making it illegal to abandon animals.
“I had met Bob Whitaker, a state senator from Augusta, at some functions, and he pushed it through, or at least we got the legislators thinking about it and put a bug in their ear,” she said.
Strecker served as charter president, and was also president the following year.
“I was on the board a number of years, but haven’t been actively involved with the Humane Society for several years,” she said. “I got it going and turned it over to people who could run with it.”
One who is still running is Mary Kay Caldwell, who came on board in 1977 and has been board president for numerous years. She has dealt with everything from investigating horrendous abuse cases — one of the worst involved a malnourished, neglected pony — to coming up with ways to come up with money to continue operations.
“Mary Lou Konek and Dorothy Lacy started our annual chili feed,” Caldwell said. “At first each board member was responsible for getting 10 pounds of meat. Now we use 540 pounds of meat, nine-gallon cases of beans, nine-gallon cases of Hunts tomato sauce, 25 pounds of onions and secret spices. We still use the recipe developed by the late Dario Costantini. We get wonderful homemade pies donated to us.”
She said that the Doggie Bag resale shop opened in June of 1987.
“We’d have rummage sales, and one year we had a lot left over,” Caldwell said. “I’d read about a Humane Society in California that had a thrift shop and decided to try it.”
The first location was at 1301 N. Broadway, an old building across the street from the Pittsburg Community Middle School.
“We did it for a month, and I said if we made our rent and lights, we’d do it another month,” Caldwell said. “We did it month to month at first.”
One of her favorite days was the dedication of the Faithful Friends pet cemetery on the shelter grounds, which occurred on Oct. 3, 1987.
“That’s the day of St. Francis of Assisi,” Caldwell said.
The society also holds an annual blessing of animals near the saint’s feast day. The late Rev. Wayne Pontious conducted the ceremony for many years. Caldwell said that the animal-loving clergyman also blessed dead animals that he saw along the road.
“Sometimes he couldn’t always tell what it was lying there in the road, and said he’d blessed more rubber tires that way,” Caldwell said.
She and Strecker are both amazed the SEK Humane Society has lasted 40 years, but attribute it to the generous support of the community and the dedicated work of many people over the years. A large number of the original group are now gone.
Page 3 of 3 - “I believe I’m the last surviving original board member,” Strecker said.
The last two charter members, according to Caldwell, are Peggy Smith and Dolores Kennett.
“Dolores was on our board for many years and is now an honorary board member,” Caldwell said. “She does all our thank-you notes and still works so hard. She puts in a lot of hours for us.”
The Humane Society held a celebration for the 35th anniversary, but didn’t for the 40th.
“We’ll have a big celebration for our 50th anniversary,” Caldwell said.