JoCo on the Go Podcast: Celebrate notable JoCo women during Women’s History Month

On JoCo on the Go, episode #131, March is Women’s History Month. While we don’t have the time to tell every story about Johnson County women, past and present, who have made their mark on our community’s history, please join us as we share some stories of JoCo women who were true trailblazers in areas such as holding elected office, serving in county leadership or law enforcement, fighting for social justice and many other aspects of society. We think you will learn a lot from two Johnson County Government employees who are treasure troves of historical information and stories.


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Time Subject
00:34 Introduction
01:49 The woman who helped start the Johnson County Museum
03:34 Women who have served as County Commissioners
08:33 Women who have served cities throughout the county
10:44 Women who have driven positive change in the larger community
14:27 Contributions from women in everything from the library to law enforcement
22:22 How to learn more about the women who have helped make Johnson County what it is today


Jody Hanson 00:01

March is Women's History Month and it's the perfect time to honor and celebrate some notable women in Johnson County, who have made their mark during the decades. On this episode hear from two county employees with expertise on Johnson County history. They'll tell us some of the stories of significant Johnson County women and the impacts they have made.

Announcer 00:20

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Jody Hanson 00:34

Thank you for joining JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Jody Hanson, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Women's History Month has its history going back to when the President proclaimed the week beginning March 7, 1982. As Women's History Week. Since 1995, presidents have issued proclamations designating March as Women's History Month. These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements they've made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. Today, we have two Johnson County, history experts to talk to us, about some of the great women in history past and present. Andrew Gustafson is the Curator of Interpretation for the Johnson County Museum. We also have Gerald Hay, a longtime member of Johnson County's public information office, who I would call a treasure trove of JoCo history. Thanks to both of you for being here today. Andrew, let's start with you. I understand there is a woman of note who helped start the Johnson County Museum where you work, which celebrates a milestone anniversary this year. So can you talk about that?

Andrew Gustafson 01:49

Yeah, sure. So this year is the 55th anniversary of the Johnson County Museum. So pretty exciting for us. And a person I think, you know, worth noting is Marguerite Barkley. In the early years of what became Johnson County Museum, there were lots of women involved in leadership and preserving history of the county. But she really stands out. She has a long lineage in Johnson County, going back to the 1860s and 1870s when our ancestors arrived here, but in the 1930s, she got involved with the Shawnee Mission Indian Historical Society, and was involved in that group for a long time. And over the years, that group sort of changed and shifted focus. And by the 1960s, they were raising money for a new building for what would become the Johnson County Museum in 1967. And for a long time, after that, I think about 15 years, she served as chairwoman of the board, and was really active in promoting and preserving Johnson County history and getting people interested in the history of the county. And really just bettering this place that she lived in for the future. And it's also worth noting, I think, really interesting that her husband, John Barclay, was the driving force behind what would become JCPRD, the Parks and Rec district and helped establish Shawnee Mission Park and Antioch Park. So a really powerful couple. And Marguerite certainly holds her own in the history of the county's organizations.

Jody Hanson 03:12

Wow, we are so lucky to have those two as a as a couple that were here. And I know, we're talking about women. But Gerald, I know you, you know a lot about John Barclay.

Gerald Hay 03:24

He was also a Congressional Medal of Honor winner from World War One he’s a Missouri guy, but we claim him a lot in Johnson County.

Jody Hanson 03:34

So yeah, power couple of their time. Interesting. Gerald, I know you have done some research on the topic of notable women in Johnson County history, quite a bit of research. So a lot to talk about there. Let's start with our Board of County Commissioners, if you can talk about the makeup of women on our board in the past, and then today.

Gerald Hay 03:57

Okay, well, what's unique about this board, this is we have four women members, a majority of the board. That has not occurred since the 1990s. Back then, they had five commissioners and four of them were women. Bruce Craig was the lone male on the board for about five years, if I remember correctly. But the, you know, the first woman to be elected as a commissioner was Johnna Lingle. And she was basically, you know, she served, let me get my notes real quick, in 1982 and basically what was unique she was also the first woman mayor, of Lenxa and served, I believe, 10 years, eight to 10 years, and she became a county commissioner and served for 20 years, and she was also elected the first board chair person, you know, the year after she was elected, she was reelected, chosen Chairman five times, I believe. Bu itt was different back then and the chairman position was appointed within the board. It was not elected, like it is now. That didn't change until the charter was approved in 2000. And Annabeth Surbaugh was a county commissioner for 10 years prior to that was elected our first woman chairperson. She served until 2011. And, you know, that position has been maintained by Ed Eilert.

Jody Hanson 05:42

And so that that's good history on them. I know we've got we've only had about 12 women serve on the board. Is that correct?

Gerald Hay 05:50

Well, basically they represent 10% of the number of Commissioners who have served. There's been like 160 commissioners altogether elected since the first commission was seated in 1857.

Jody Hanson 06:06

And so some women like Sue Weltner, Suzy Wolf, you mentioned Johnna Lingle and Annabeth Surbaugh. There's Janet Leick, Dolores Furtado, Elaine Beckers-Braun and Joan Bengtson. So you would really consider those real trailblazers, that sort of opened doors for what we have today as a board with four women on it. Becky Fast is in the first district. Charlotte O'Hara is in district three, Janee Hanzlick is district four. And then district six is Shirley Allenbrand, who is also our vice chair. So nice to see these women getting positions of leadership and serving our county in that way. I'm wondering Andrew or Gerald if you want to talk about women who have held other leadership positions in government on all levels and sort of where you see the impacts there.

Gerald Hay 06:56

Well, I can go first, if you want to. Back in 1982, the county government went from a kind of commission to county administrator role. And basically the county administrator was appointed or hired by the county commission. Since then, since that 40 year period, we've had seven positions like that. The county administration position would change after the charter to a county manager position. And Penny Postoak-Ferguson is our first woman county manager. And, you know, she's ambitious. She started off as the assistant county manager back in 2010. What was unique about that the first assistant county manager was Bernice Duletski, who was basically joined a county in 2005. So Penny basically replaced Bernice, and now she is the county manager, the first one in Johnson County history.

Jody Hanson 08:09

And I think that's, you know, it's great to have her as our county manager. And we also appreciate the women who have served in other leadership roles within our organization department heads, both past and present, and other leadership roles in our organization. Andrew, anything else to share about women serving in government?

Andrew Gustafson 08:27

Gerald is really, as you said, the treasure trove there, especially when it comes to Johnson County government.

Gerald Hay 08:33

Well, you know, if we go to the next level of government, we're talking about city governments. And back in 1890, Edgerton elected the first woman mayor and I guess that’s the 19th century is, and an all-woman Council and a police judge. But they only served for like six months because they got upset with the rules that were in place at the time about women's serving in leadership. And basically, they were replaced by an election that basically put the old men back in, you know. But, you know, the 19th amendment was approved in 1920. From 1920 to present, back in the 20th century, it would take over 50 years for the next woman mayor to be elected to in Johnson County. And that was Margaret Jordan back in 1971, who became the mayor for one term in Leawood. Johna Lingle was first woman in Lenexa and when Johna Lingle became mayor, Margaret Jordan became the first woman district attorney. And so there's just kind of like a musical chairs routine back then. And it’s interesting that the you know, Leawood Mayor, Peggy Dunn has been serving over for 20 years in that city.

Jody Hanson 10:03

And it's nice for I think the public to see, um, you know, women in those positions, especially maybe younger girls, or young women that maybe are thinking about politics, you know, the more you see that happening, maybe the better you think your own chances would be. So those are some great stories there. We might come back to that in a little bit. Andrew, I'm going to switch courses just a little bit. I know the Johnson County Museum, as you know, recently launched an exhibit about the history of redlining in Johnson County. So a lot of good history there. But specifically, you know, when we're talking about women in history, what role have women in Johnson County played in social justice or civil rights efforts?

Andrew Gustafson 10:44

Yeah, they've really played leadership positions, and boots on the ground for making real change in Johnson County as a community. So the exhibit Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation opened at the end of January, and it's up through January of 2023. So a lot of opportunity to engage there. And just some of the stories you'll see from Johnson County's perspective there relate back to a few individuals. So Ruth Schachter is a really fascinating person. She was a Jewish woman, she moved to Fairway in the 1950s, and was very involved in civil rights, equal and affordable housing, women's rights and more in the community. And she served in local, regional and statewide, even national, leadership positions. She was president of the National Association of Human Rights. She was a Kansas commissioner on civil rights, the first woman chair of the plains state region for the Defamation League. She was a president of the Shawnee Mission Housing Council. So a lot of organizations that she was involved in, including actually the Kansas Advocacy Council on Civil Rights. And that was an organization it was very involved in the fight for fair housing, and in 1970, was very helpful in passing the Kansas Fair Housing Act. So the other thing that she got involved in is Olathe had an urban renewal project and grouped in a neighborhood nearby their historic black community known as Fairview, and a lot of the residents there, were going to lose their homes through demolition. And she created a project called HERE Homes Rehabilitation. And she would come in with assessors and figure out what things needed to be fixed in the home so that they wouldn't have to be demolished, but could be brought up to code. So just some really amazing things. When she was at the end of her career, she said civil rights, that's been my life. So she died in 2018 at the age of 96, a very full life of work on behalf of her community. And I think a couple other people to mention, Corinthian Nutter This is a story we tell a lot at the museum. She was an educator. But in the 1930s and 1940s, when she started out teaching, she was limited to an all-black school. She was black herself. And she taught at the Walker school in South Park, which is part of Merriam today. And South Park had two schools, one for white students and one for black students, and had built a brand-new facility using taxpayer money but only let White students attend there. And so parents got involved and there was a student walkout about 40 students, black students walked out of this very unequal facility. And she supported the students. And that meant that for about the next year, the full school year, she was teaching in church basements and in parents living rooms. There were fundraisers, bake sales and fish fry sales to raise a salary for her but she wasn't being paid by the school district. And she testified before the Kansas Supreme Court in this court case, it was called Webb vs. School District #90. It is a desegregation case. And she said schools shouldn't be for color they should be for children. And I think that's such a powerful quote. And ultimately, that case did lead to the integration of the South Park School. All students went to that brand new school. And even though it was integrated, she was not hired back in that district. She went on to teach in Olathe at the all-black Lincoln school for another several years through 1954. And she's been honored by the NAACP, the American Association of Women, several educational organizations. She passed in the early 2000s at the age of 97. And I'll point out one more. I just find this topic so fascinating in relation to the South Park School events. Esther Brown, she described herself and I love this as a housewife with a conscience. She saw something happening in her community and got involved she wasn't a leader. She wasn't an educator or somebody involved directly in the situation. But she saw something unfair or unequal in her community and got involved. And so she helped raise funds for Corinthian Nutter and the other educators for the black students. And she was letter writing, going door to door getting money to send to the NAACP to get involved in that case for legal funds. And she was a Jewish woman herself and she met with some pretty stiff resistance to what she was doing, was called lots of nasty names. And there were several others things that happened in that community against what they were doing. But, you know, she was very instrumental in helping to desegregate that school. And ultimately, that led to the desegregation of the Shawnee…Shawnee Mission Rural High School, which is North today. So somebody who saw something and got involved, you know, how to how to better their community, even though it didn't personally affect her, she had no children. So, just really incredible stories there. The exhibit is full of those types of stories. It's also very difficult content and very heavy content. But there are some uplifting things that you can come away with coming to that exhibit.

Jody Hanson 15:34

So those are fascinating stories. Thank you for sharing those. I'm sure there's so many more. And as you were talking about that the one thought that I something I thought of was Johnson County Library. I don't know all the details, but it wasn't that a group of women volunteers who kind of started what today is our Johnson County Library. It just so many examples like

Andrew Gustafson 15:54

That was in that era, you know, the postwar suburbanization era, people were making community out of what had been farm fields before. So suddenly, you had need for PTAs, you had needs for a library organization. You had needs for museums and things and so, and fire departments and police departments as well were volunteer at times. So it was a time for people to see what the community needed and come together in that regard. So you have a great connection.

Jody Hanson 16:22

That's great. And you know, you just said, law enforcement. And so I like to take the conversation there. And, Gerald, I know you've got some information on this. So we have a history of women in law enforcement, dating back early, early years. And people might not know the story behind one of our most popular attractions in Johnson County, which is Deanna Rose in Overland Park. That's not just the name of a place to go with your family. There's a deeper story there. So talk to us about some of that.

Gerald Hay 16:54

You know, there's been a couple of benchmarks in law enforcement that Deanna Rose was basically one of the first women in the Overland Park Police Department. And she was she was killed in 1985, basically, during a traffic stop. The person basically got in the car and ran her over and she died, I think five days later, and she was only 26 years old. And she was the first woman police officer in history of the Overland Park Department and in the state, I mean, the state of Kansas, to be killed in the line of duty. And, you know, that year Deanna Rose Farmstead for Children was renamed in her honor. And another milestone was the first woman police chief in Johnson County, was Ellen Hanson, from Lenexa. And she, you know, basically she retired, I mean, she served for I think, 21 years as police chief but she was there with the department, going through the ranks up into the police chief, for 38 years. And she retired in 2012. And immediately, basically, when Kansas City, Kansas, the department there needed an interim police chief. She served in that capacity for about a year and was the first woman police chief in Kansas City, Kansas police history. I think she's retired now. But just recently, in fact, earlier this year, the Lenexa Police Department hired its first I mean, its second, police chief. Her name is Dawn Wayman. And she's been, I think, assumed her duties in February. So, you know, they're still they're still very active in law enforcement.

Jody Hanson 18:58

So Dawn Layman was the second woman to serve as the Lenexa police chief, you said, and then Ellen Hansen was the first woman police chief in Johnson County history.

Gerald Hay 19:08

Also Johnson County, yes.

Jody Hanson 19:11

Then you had, I know, something about the first woman who was elected sheriff in Kansas. So I know that's getting out of Johnson County. But when was that?

Gerald Hay 19:20

Oh, that was a that was Mabel Chase. And she was working for one term, in Kiowa County, and she served from 1926 to 1928. And what was neat is it is believed that she is the first woman Sheriff elected in the nation. There's two women sheriffs prior to her in Texas and Tennessee, but they were appointed. They were not elected. So Mabel Chase basically earned her little notch in history.

Jody Hanson 19:55

That's interesting. So just we're getting close to wrapping up We could probably talk about amazing women in history for a lot longer. But each one of you do you each want to point out maybe one woman, we haven't talked about? Anyone else that you feel like had a strong impact in Johnson County either past or present.

Gerald Hay 20:15

I would go with the basically Trish Moore. Trish Moore was basically started with the county in 1975. And she was hired to run a department called the Department of Resources at the time, and was now the Department of Aging and Human Services. She was a one woman show with one desk in a small office in the courthouse. And she immediately made an impact in setting up the department. She set up her first multi service centers. She started The Best Times which, you know, has got my passion.

Jody Hanson 20:52

You have a special connection to that.

Gerald Hay 20:54

She started in 1982, and basically had an outreach of about like 2000. And it was it was God awful looking newspaper, but, you know, she tried. But now it is basically a publication that reaches 80,000 plus, and, you know, with full color and whole nine yards, and five women editors, there's five women that are just ahead of me. So to set it up, had five women, you know, and basically then here I came.

Jody Hanson 21:28

So they were, they were trailblazers for you, opening the door.

Gerald Hay 21:30

They lead the way. Yes.

Jody Hanson 21:33

Well, we're glad to have them and we're glad to have you in that position.

Gerald Hay 21:36

And really, if you look at county government now, we've had women in leadership roles as well, who’ve led corrections, women who led libraries. We have women who led park and rec. We currently have women running the museums. We have women running our wastewater, we basically have women who are in charge of our emergency management and communications. So they're still, they're still in leadership.

Jody Hanson 22:06

Yeah, a lot of lot of women to celebrate in the present, in addition to the ones that we've been talking about, from our past, Andrew, anything to wrap up with, and I also I was hoping you could let us know where people could get more information if they want to keep learning about notable women and Johnson County's history.

Andrew Gustafson 22:22

Yeah, sure. So Gerald mentioned the 19th Amendment Centennial that happened back in 2020. And the museum we put together a digital exhibit, you can still find on our website, if you go to and go to Learn, you'll find one about the 19th amendment. And you can find a lot more information about women's rights and also women in politics, and other leadership positions in the county there. You can also go onto our social media, Instagram or Facebook and search the hashtag #jocochangemaker, and you can find a list of men and women but lots of women we've highlighted who've been involved in different aspects of Johnson County's history. And then of course, every day, you can come to the Becoming Johnson County exhibit our main exhibit and the Redlined exhibit we mentioned where there's lots of history, and you can access that history from home at And you can read our blog posts there. Go back and look at historic photographs and newspaper coverage and things The Squire is there. So lots of ways to access Johnson County history, including women's history.

Jody Hanson 23:24

Those are great resources, lots of options for people who want to continue celebrating Women's History Month and then you know, you can also check out the museum anytime. Doesn't have to be in March. That's right. Well, well, Gerald and Andrew, thank you both so much for being here. I think we learned a lot today and got the chance to celebrate some Johnson County notable women from our past and those still with us and leading today. So thank you both for being here. Thanks for listening and Happy, Happy Women's History Month to all the women who are benefiting our community each and every day. Thanks so much and have a great rest of your day.

Announcer 24:01

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County Manager's Office