Dinner honoring McPherson County Student Art Show organizers.
Once upon a time there was a young ambitious art teacher whose passion to help kids was unequaled.In the mid 1970’s when the time was ripe for intellectual and creative thinking and the arts were thriving, Betty Jo Houchen had a vision for the McPherson Arts and Crafts Association. The McPherson Art in the Park was born of that vision. As it became an established and well known event, she saw an opportunity to use some of the earnings to establish a scholarship for a McPherson High School Senior pursuing a career in the arts.
The first scholarship was given around 1975-76. A committee comprised of Arts and Crafts Association members reviewed the portfolio entries and chose the winner.
As Betty Jo was establishing Art in the Park and the scholarship program, another Student Art program was coming to an end. A few years before, Elizabeth Liljegren along with Stan Sargent and Peoples Bank had begun an Art Fair for McPherson High School Art students. It was held in the parking lot south of the bank on all schools day. The bank funded the construction of display panels. As student interest in the fair waned, Art in the Park grew in popularity and the scholarship program continued to be well funded as a result.
It became apparent to Betty Jo that something more than a scholarship program would provide opportunities to all students. It could be an extension of the former Peoples Bank Art Fair. The Student Art Show exhibiting the work of all the students was the result. It was held in the community building and the Arts and Crafts Association funded the hiring of a juror to award ribbons and choose the scholarship winner. Who better to be the chairperson than the dedicated and tireless supporter of children’s arts, Betty Jo! Many Arts and Crafts Association members volunteered to help with the work.
Geneva Flickner, Moundridge art teacher, was one of those volunteers. Together, she and Betty Jo expanded the Student Art Show to include all the High Schools and Middle Schools in McPherson County. Geneva assumed the role of chairperson for a time and other people stepped up to co-chair as the program evolved.
The Arts and Crafts Association was based in the Firehouse Gallery in the south end of the community building. Classes, meetings, workshops, storage and a gallery were housed there. Holding the Student Art Show in the Community building worked well until the city decided to remodel the gallery for use as municipal court. At that time, the Student Art Show was moved to the Park School Gym.
Sometime in the late 1990’s the Arts and Crafts Association dissolved and Leanne Kilmer assumed the role of chairperson of the student show. Betty Jo became a full time fund raiser soliciting businesses in order to raise the money for the scholarships and to fund the show. She was dedicated to the fact that “the show must go on”.
As Leanne refined and made significant additions to the program, the Gallery , soon to become VAAM, inherited the Arts and Crafts Association art collection. The decision was made to sell the collection in order to fund the scholarships.
With the help of Michaela Groblocher, VAAM began the Art in the Garden dinner and tour in 2001 as a fundraiser for the Student Show and Scholarship. Betty Jo continued her fundraising efforts and from 2004 to 2011 Dr. Walter Jones contributed to the scholarship fund.
Leanne ended her tenure and Betty Jo and Elizabeth became co- chairs in the 2002-03 school year. VAAM continued to be the sponsoring organization with Betty Jo writing grants to secure operational expense funding as well as continuing her efforts to find scholarship sponsors. By 2012 she had helped establish the funding for the Norene Ketcherside Scholarship working with the McPherson Community Foundation and Jim Ketcherside.
VAAM has transitioned into the McPherson Arts Alliance which is now the sponsoring organization.
Betty Jo has worked tirelessly over the years to secure scholarship funding. In addition to those previously mentioned, Dick and Bev Hess, Rex and Shirley Morris, and Larry and Lorna Stroup have generously stepped up to the plate to help young students pursue an education in the arts.
A dinner honoring Betty Jo Houchen, Elizabeth Liljegren and Leanne Kilmer for their many years of service and dedication to insuring that the Student Art Show would continue, was held June 19th at the McPherson Country Club.
This year, as Betty Jo and Elizabeth step down, they are leaving the County Student Show in good hands with Lori Martin Price becoming the new chairperson.