In the early years of the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, PATRICIA (PAGE) SMITH was one of 24 youth from across Kansas who traveled from Topeka to Washington, D.C. The Nortonville native was selected for the experience by Leavenworth Jefferson Electric Cooperative (now part of FreeState) after entering an essay contest.
To help with her essay, Smith asked her father, James Page, to tell her when they first got electricity on the farm.
“He said about 1951 or 1952,” Smith remembered. “I said, ‘You mean I was born before electricity!?’”
She recounted the stories her father told her about how the electric cooperatives were working to bring electricity to the rural areas.
“My dad said the farmers had to clear the right of way,” she added.
When it was time to go on Youth Tour, the students met in Topeka and traveled to Washington, D.C., on a train.
“I remember feeling like I was weaving back and forth after we got off from the train,” Smith recalled. “When we left Kansas, everything was fine and dandy, but when we arrived in Washington, D.C., a tornado hit Topeka. The fact that Topeka was struck by a tornado while we were there still stands out in my mind.”
Smith was glad that they missed the most destructive and deadly tornado in Kansas history. Luckily, the rest of their trip was not nearly as hair-raising, but just as memorable.
“We got to tour the White House including the Oval Office. Outside of the White House, we listened to a speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson,” she recalled. “I can’t remember anything he said, but I remember seeing Lady Bird Johnson.”
Smith enjoyed watching the Secret Service, and revealed that many of her photos were snapshots of the president’s security.
“Later, when we were at a restaurant, we ran into one of President Johnson’s daughters. She had just gotten engaged and showed us her engagement ring,” Smith said.
Smith and the rest of the delegation toured the U.S. Capitol where they were able to visit both the Senate and the House of Representatives galleries.
“I remember seeing Sen. Ted Kennedy and some more famous people from the news,” she said. “We also got to have breakfast with our congressmen at the Capitol.”
The Kansas students also met with then Congressman Bob Dole.
“Getting to meet Bob Dole was a very memorable experience and we got to have our photo taken with him, she said. “Later, he sent us each a signed photo. I have admired him since meeting him.”
Smith said the students were treated with many opportunities during the trip, including tours of Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a visit to the Lincoln Memorial.
“We also climbed up the stairs of the Washington Monument,” she added.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Smith said. “I still have my essay somewhere in a safe place!”