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The Range celebrates 100 episodes with some centenarians

Range 100.jpg
Hugo Phan, Courtesy photo
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KMUW
Evelyn Ellis, Jay McLeod and Mary Cummings

To commemorate our 100th episode, we decided to talk with some Wichitans who also know what it's like to turn 100.

The Range hit the century mark this week as we recorded our 100th episode.

The show launched on Jan. 17, 2020. Our initial program included a story about the newly unveiled Riverfront Legacy Master Plan and a sweet love story by Beth Golay on our En Route segment.

To commemorate our milestone, we decided to talk with some Wichitans who also hit 100 this year. All three were born in 1921, 100 years ago.

Warren Harding was president then and the country was trying to move on from World War I, which had ended three years earlier.

In Wichita that year, Walt Anderson and Billy Ingram opened the first White Castle hamburger stand. And in southeast Kansas, 7,000 women — nicknamed the Amazon Army by the New York Times — marched in support of striking coal miners.

Two of the Wichitans we interviewed for our 100th show served in World War II. One pursued a life in aviation after taking his first plane ride in 1936.

All three raised families. All have experienced joy and grief.

We talked with Mary Cummings, Jay McLeod and Evelyn Ellis about a number of things.

Interview Highlights

Love

Evelyn prom dress.jpg
Courtesy photo
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Evelyn Ellis, then known as Evelyn Ford, poses in her senior prom dress in May 1939. Ellis made the dress herself. She wore it to a banquet at the Lakeway Hotel in Meade. She was an accomplished seamstress who made all of her family’s clothes.

Evelyn Ellis: I told my mother, I said, "I think I'm getting married tonight." And she said, "Well, I hope he'll be good to you."

So we were married that night. We went to Dodge City with my brother and his wife. … We had a good, long life; 54 years before he passed away.

I guess we fell in love when we were little, and we didn't know until we got older. That’s when we found out we'd been in love all that time.

Mary Cummings: My high school boyfriend was there (in her hometown of Dunkirk, New York). He was just out of the service, too. He had been engaged in the service and had broken it off. I also had been engaged to someone in the Navy, in the service, and I had broken that off.

So we arrived back in my hometown … and we started playing a little golf together and going out together. And much to the joy of both of our parents; his mother hadn’t liked the lady he had brought home, that he was engaged to, (and) my mother and father didn't care for the guys that I grew up with.

Jay McLeod: I worked for TWA in Kansas City, and she worked there as well as the secretary. She was secretary to several rather important people in the company. And she did some work for me during the … early years of the war.

I think we probably went to a circus (on their first date) at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO, as I recall.

Influence

Jay: Person who had a great influence? I suppose I would say my wife. We were married for 67 years, and I suppose that my most important accomplishment was to help her raise two wonderful two children. My son and my daughter.

Mary: My mother. I think she was a lady who came from nothing. Her mother had died earlier.

I think just be good, be kind. Make the most out of your life.

Evelyn: I had an old lady that was my Sunday school teacher, and she said you better start preparing for your old age at that age I was then. Because you can't all of a sudden just be what you are and then decide you want to change overnight. You can't do it. You have to start getting yourself lined out for how you’d like to be.

And I remember she smiled a lot, and she saw that a smile can do things for you. And I tried to start practicing that early.

Jay McLeod cockpit.JPG
Patty Ringgenberg
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Jay McLeod became a licensed pilot in 1943 and spent his life in aviation, first with TWA in Kansas City and then Cessna Aircraft in Wichita. He also served as a Naval aviator in World War II. He served in the Naval Reserves until 1981, retiring with the rank of Commander.

Aviation

Jay: I would get on my bicycle when I was not working at home and ride that mile and a half to the airport. And there I became what is known as a hanger rat. I don't know whether you've heard that term or not, but in the old days, that was the kid that rode his bicycle to the airport and did all the dirty work that nobody else wanted to do for the sheer joy of being there.

I took my first airplane ride there when I was about 15 … in a Curtiss Robin. I took my first flight instruction there when I was about 16 years old. I don't think my parents knew I was doing all these things.

Living to 100

Mary: I don't think I ever did anything to excess. I just enjoyed golf when I could; tennis, bridge. Still play bridge.

I hoped I could play bridge at 100, and I can. I can hold my own.

Jay: I don't drink. I don't smoke. Things like that I'm sure had some effect on how well I did physically. I've had a wonderful life, really, healthwise.

Evelyn: There's no secret to it. I had Christian parents. They tried their best to make all seven of us like they wanted us to be.

We knew right from wrong, and we were taught that. We were taught to respect the elders and taught a lot of good things. We sometimes broke the boundary line, but don't all kids?

Christmas

Evelyn: Christmas was always great. We always went to our Sunday school Christmas program. And I remember one time with all my cousins, all of us are together, here came my grandparents out of a closet with a bushel basket full of candy for all those grandkids.

Mary: Christmas was always special. My uncle had a farm, so we always went out and cut the tree and put the tree (up) with the decorations that had been around for ages. But it was special, it was special. Not a big gift-giving Christmas because we were rather poor at that time.

Jay: I was never terribly impressed with holidays. Christmas was kind of nice. I don't remember anything I ever got for Christmas except a bicycle. I do remember that.

But I had an older brother and a younger brother. My older brother was about a year older than me. We fought over that bicycle for years because we just had the one between us.

Mary Cummings service.jpg
Courtesy photo
Mary Cummings served as an officer in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II. She served in Florida, doing radar and air traffic control work. She moved to Wichita in the 1960s when her husband, Bill, took a job with Koch Industries.

Being remembered

Mary: Average intelligence, just average. An opportunist in a way that most people don't know about.

Like people. Love bridge. Learned to play bridge in college.

I hoped I could play bridge until I was a hundred, and I can. I can hold my own.

Evelyn: Well, I turned into a seamstress and I … made most of the clothes that my family wore and that my daughter wore through college or from the day one that she was born. I sewed her clothes for her and her friends all wanted clothes like hers. So I was foolish enough to think I could sew for all those little girls that wanted to be pretty as my daughter.

Sewing … turned into my pride and joy.

Jay: I felt like I've accomplished in some form — I'm not great at anything — but most of the important things that I wanted to do, I've been able to do. And I think that's pretty remarkable.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.