On the side of a barn, both homage and hope for the future

The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Leslie J. Reynard, Ph.D., is an independent researcher, consultant and CEO of the Kansas-based Center for Applied Communication Research.

Our century-old pink barn sits in an unfortunate path on a dangerous curve on old US Highway 59 in rural Douglas County, just south of Lawrence. More than once, an over-serviced driver has climbed the hill and launched his vehicle from the south side of the building. Whenever this happened my husband Joe Skeeba had to rebuild much of the impact wall, leaving an obvious repair.

This was the case in mid-September 2001. A neighbor who was helping with the construction suggested that Joe, an artist, paint a flag over the scarred area. We accepted and added the word “UNBREAKABLE” above, to honor those affected by the tragedies of September 11 that had just occurred.

A bicycle club poses in front of the restored painting. (Ken Fangor)

Over the next two decades, what used to be called “The Pink Barn” became a destination known as the “Flag Barn”.

Families have come here to take annual photos in front of his flag; at least one bridal party commemorated a wedding with a photoshoot there; someone sent us a copy of a magazine with Flag Barn on the cover; and a friend texted me from a Topeka grocery store to show me our tastefully matted barn in a pretty wooden frame, decorating the wall of his cafe.

Over the years the colors faded, but the flag was still there.

In May 2019, when a massive F4 tornado ravaged Douglas County, winds aboard blew branches from our redwoods and blew the word “UN” out of the picture. If you walked past our barn on Old US 59 Highway, you would see a decaying structure with a faded paint of Old Glory on the side with “… BREAKABLE” written in blue letters.

After a tornado swept through Douglas County in May 2019, the word “unbreakable” was damaged. (Leslie Reynard)

Joe recently got a call from Chris Koenig, a young man who first saw our barn 20 years ago, driving home from college shortly after the events of September 11th. He remembered the impact it had had on him. He told Joe that the attacks on our country had put him in deep distress and that he was struggling to face the reality of what had happened.

“But then I saw that flag and UNBREAKABLE… And it helped me,” he said. Chris asked if he could repaint and repair it in time to commemorate the anniversary of the attacks.

Chris devoted his spare time and his own resources to the repair, with Joe recreating the word as it originally appeared. On the morning of September 11 – around the same time the planes hit the World Trade Center that morning in 2001 – they mounted UNBREAKABLE in its place above the flag.

It has been two difficult decades in America and elsewhere. Yet some truths remain evident to those for whom democratic ideals are their “rules of the road” and not just part of boring junior high civics classes.

The irony of nature’s relatively mild reminder in this 2019 storm that everything can shatter is not lost on us. Democracies can certainly be broken and communities can be put to the service of other masters.

Joe Skeeba and Chris Koenig work on the side of the barn, bringing both the flag and the floor back to their old vibrancy. (Leslie Reynard)

Good democracy is accomplished daily as a collective expression of shared values. Institutions increasingly appear to lack care and education mechanisms, so providing care and caring for neighbors, local and global, is the right and responsibility of individuals. Democracies are born from the acts of people like Chris who express their idealism through small, practical acts and through teachings of the type provided by families who come to our barn to record the growth of their children against the backdrop of an American flag. rustic hand painted. .

Our hopes coincide there.

We dedicate the sentiments on the wall of this old barn to anyone passing through who needs a little hope. We commemorate all that was lost 20 years ago. We send our respect, thoughts, love and prayers to all who were touched by these events as well as to those who are suffering today in a world that seems to have become definitely saddened on September 11, 2001.

“Realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul, and it is only through idealism that we reconnect with reality. – Henri Bergson

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.

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Margarita B. Bittner

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