For four years, noted pedestrian Henry Fortunato, the Kansas City Public Library's director of public affairs, planned and prepared for his long-contemplated, trans-Kansas trek, an approximately 500-mile expedition on foot starting at his front door in Overland Park.
In September and October 2014, he finally did it. For 39 days, Fortunato traversed the state's back roads and rural highways, past farms and fields and through towns large and small. He met an array of memorable people, some a bit curious about the stranger walking briefly into their lives, many extending a welcoming hand, all - as Fortunato discovered - extraordinarily passionate about their own pursuits. He finished just across the Greeley County line, three miles into the Mountain Time Zone.
Fortunato discusses his eventful journey on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, at Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park. The illustrated presentation, A Long and Winding Walk Across the Sunflower State, begins at 7 p.m. in Hudson Auditorium in the school's Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art's Hudson Auditorium.
The event is co-presented by the Kansas Studies Institute at Johnson County Community College.
En route west, Fortunato spent a night at Truckhenge and climbed to the top of Topeka's state capitol dome with the lieutenant governor. He judged a chili contest in Wilson with the Czech Queen of Kansas and walked in darkness for nearly half an hour on a dirt road in blind faith that he would find the rural farmhouse where he was supposed to stay.
He also had numerous encounters with county sheriffs, visited a family living in a former missile silo, spent the night with nuns at a rural convent, gained firsthand experience with the unique qualities of Kansas mud, often found lodging through sheer serendipity, and tried to avoid becoming unnerved by relentless truck traffic, steady wind, and a visibly increasing population of reptiles.
By Day 39, Fortunato had deepened his appreciation for Kansas as a walking state, a vision for the state's future that he will share at the conclusion of his remarks.
He learned a little more, too, about his own personal journey, which in 17 years has transformed him from a dyed-in-the-wool denizen of the East Coast into what his older son calls a "naturalized Kansan."
Fortunato, who directed the University of Kansas' KU History Project while earning his master's degree in American history, was the 2013-14 Simons Fellow in Public Humanities at the school's Hall Center for the Humanities. He has spoken frequently on a previous, 240-mile hike from Overland Park to Wichita in 2012, and is weighing a book on his walks across the state.
Admission to his presentation is free. A reception follows. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407.