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New tour firm features local ‘hidden gems’

Staff writer

History is very much part of the here and now for Joe Hirsch, and his knowledge of Kansas history recently compelled him to start his own tour business, which features several in-county stops and other locations across the state.

“I know way more about Kansas history than a 24-year-old should know,” he said. “Kansas history is very much the American story.”

Owner of Sunflower State Tours, Hirsch plans each tour and operates a 14-person bus with his wife, Nakita, and 9-month-old son, Lane. He also is a history teacher at Rural Vista High School, just north of the Marion/Dickinson County line.

“The idea has been snowballing since 2016,” he said. “This is my fourth year of marriage, but I’m a first-year teacher, first-year father, and first-year business owner, so it has been a busy year; yeah, just a bit stressful.”

It is apparent that he loves what he does.

On his “Hidden Gems of Central Kansas Tour,” he takes visitors to Peter Paul Lowen House, Friesen Dutch windmill, and Kreutziger School house as an example of Mennonite heritage in the area.

The tour includes a stop at St. John Neponse Catholic Church in Pilsen and the Father Kapaun Museum.

“I became enraptured with his story shortly after I visited the museum,” Hirsch said. “This guy should be up there with Dwight D. Eisenhower and Amelia Earhart. The people at the museum are so passionate; they really are the holders of his story.”

A trip to Florence to taste the “99.96 percent pure spring water” and tour historic places like the old opera house, now a market and bakery, and Hillcrest Cemetery, site of a mass Mennonite grave, also appear on the tour.

“The water drew us to Florence and then we just started exploring it,” he said. “Right now, we the tour includes dinner at the Town and Country but in July we may also do the Harvey House if we can get our numbers up.”

Memorable details like the original stairway and chandelier at the Historic Elgin Hotel in Marion also compelled Hirsch to put the hotel on his tour. Hirsch and Elgin owner Tammy Ensey have been considering working out a business relationship that might include a night at the hotel.

“It’s something we plan to do sometime in the future, maybe the fall,” Ensey said. “Tour companies like his are absolutely invaluable to our state and community. He will do specifically tailored tours, which is a great resource for bringing people in.”

Hirsch tries to take as many back roads as possible during tours. Private tailored tours are for large groups that want to explore a particular area in the state.

Hirsch’s other summer tours include:

  • Post Rock Scenic Byway Tour, which will visit the Kansas Originals Market, Vonda Stone Quarry, Garden of Eden, Lucas, and the Midland Railroad Hotel in Wilson, and end with supper at the Bunker Hill Café.
  • Stone churches of Ellis County, which visits six historic Catholic churches.

Last modified June 14, 2017

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