What started five years ago as a simple gesture by Peabody native Steve Meirowsky to enhance the town’s Wikipedia entry has grown into a passion for ensuring all Kansas towns are on the cyber map. Literally.
“The most recent thing I did was to go through a full edit, editing the full maps,” Meirowsky said. “I went through and added it to all the cities in Kansas, which was about 700.”
Almost 26 million registered “Wikipedians” have contributed articles and edits to the English edition of the popular online encyclopedia since its debut in 2001. Meirowsky is among the more prolific editors, ranking 1,059th among active contributors with more than 50,000 edits to his credit.
Meirowsky, a 1979 Peabody High School graduate, has written and contributed to articles about microcontrollers, his area of computing expertise, but he cut his Wikipedia teeth on articles about towns in Marion County, starting with Peabody.
“I kept going back to the Peabody article, and there was nothing there,” he said. “One day I said, ‘I’m going to learn this.’”
He learned not only how to add and edit information, but also how to create new entries — Aulne, Antelope, Canada, and Eastshore entered the Wikipedia universe in 2010, thanks to Meirowsky.
“Once I started doing the Peabody article, I started migrating to other towns in Marion County,” Meirowsky said. “My great-grandmother lived west of Aulne a few miles. My great-great-grandparents homesteaded north of Aulne.”
His interest gradually expanded to encompass the state, with particular focus on smaller communities.
“I kind of care more about the small, tiny towns than the big towns like Kansas City or Wichita,” Meirowsky said. “A lot of small towns don’t have any webpage at all. This is sometimes the only thing online about them.”
A career in computing was a foregone conclusion for Meirowsky, who as a PHS student helped to start the school’s first computer class in 1978. He also won 4-H state and national awards for electric energy projects. He parlayed his expertise in microcontrollers into jobs with numerous companies, including one with Honeywell developing software for the F/A-18 Hornet fighter attack jet.
But Wikipedia has become an avocation, and Meirowsky a historian. Staying true to Wikipedia’s intent to provide verified information, he’s always on the hunt for documentation for what he wants to add.
“With Wikipedia, you’re supposed to give references,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff I want to type in that I know about, but if I can’t find it in a book I can’t put it on.”
To that end, Meirowsky has been collecting whatever books he can find with Marion County history. He also has found an increasing number of sources online.
“Some of the older stuff is really hard to find, but they’re digitizing so many magazines and books,” he said. “Now it’s getting easier. There’s a lot of stuff coming online.”
Meirowsky said he found “drawings in an East Coast newspaper” for Gnadenau, an extinct Krimmer Mennonite village southeast of Hillsboro.
“We’re kind of blessed someone came through the area and did some drawings,” he said. “A lot of places the history is just gone.”
Wikipedia’s collaborative editing process means others make edits to Meirowsky’s work, and he does the same for other articles where he sees improvements can be made. He said his contributions are mostly adding content or clarifying what’s there, while others editors specialize in grammar or spelling.
“I’m an engineer and not many engineers are noted for writing,” Meirowsky said. “I’ve been spending more time on that for the past 20 years to make myself better.”
In addition to editing, Meirowsky monitors between 5,000 and 10,000 Wikipedia entries for new edits. He doesn’t check every edit that is made; trusting other editors who’ve proved reliable cuts down on the work.
The amount of time he devotes to Wikipedia is hard to pin down, Meirowsky said.
“It varies a lot,” he said. “During the winter I spend a lot more time; you can’t go work in the yard. When it’s nicer outside, I like gardening — I grow tomatoes and peppers — and working in the yard.”
Meirowsky said he welcomes people to edit city and school Wikipedia articles for Marion County, particularly with referenced new material.
“I want to expand some of these, but I haven’t gotten back to it,” he said. “Some of those where there isn’t enough information, I haven’t written about.”