Front Page » Memorial: Honoring Jan Garton

Memorial: Honoring Jan Garton

Editor's Note: Jan Garton joined the writers' communities of Everyday Citizen and the Kansas Free Press in October 2009. On November 9th, 2009, Jan died in Manhattan. She is survived by a brother, James Garton of Tulsa and sister, Marci Garton of Albuquerque, and by a large community of friends in Manhattan and throughout the state of Kansas. This page will remain a memorial to her.

Jan authored one piece at Everyday Citizen entitled What If Whales Could Scream? Here at Kansas Free Press and Everyday Citizen, we are honored that Jan Garton was among us, even if just a short while. She will leave a lingering memory for a very a long time in many communities in Kansas.

Goodbye, Jan. We honor your generosity, your concern for others, your unending work on behalf of those less fortunate and your stewardship of our earth. Swift journey.

The following bio, though written in third person, came from her, in Jan's own words:

Born in Texas to two native Kansans, Jan Garton lived in Kansas for all but five years. Her birthday is celebrated with Winston Churchill and Mark Twain (well, not WITH them, but they do share the same date).

Politics and government fascinated Jan very early; she became a Democrat [in fifth grade] the year John Kennedy was elected President, as did a lot of people, probably. In high school, she thought being a United States Senator was the highest calling anyone could aspire to. She's changed her mind since then.

Jan was born a lesbian, though that prospect both depressed and horrified her until halfway through college when she read the book Lesbian/Woman by two women who recently were able to be married in California before one of them passed away. Today, the book would be dated, but then it was transformative.

After graduating college with a degree in history (very useful...), Jan spent a summer in Massachusetts banding birds. Even though she was right by the ocean, she would climb trees to look out over the landscape, attempting to capture a sense of the wide open spaces left behind in Kansas. It didn't really work.

After a few years working at a horticultural nursery (and a MS in Journalism), Jan went to work for UPS. Getting up to start work at 4 a.m., her day was done at about 9 a.m. -- and the rest of her day was free. She did that for 26 years. When she retired, Jan immediately jumped into the congressional campaign of Nancy Boyda (KS-01), whom she had met during her previous attempt to unseat the incumbent. Boyda won in 2006. Jan worked part-time for her office for a year before officially retiring again.

In the last months of her life, Jan had been fixing up her house, using skills learned when a friend and her gutted an old house and remodeled it.

Why was she inspired to write? Jan told us, "I'm greatly concerned about the future of this planet -- or at least with the future of all of the critters and surroundings that are familiar to us. I'm saddened that we Americans value money and things over ecological diversity. I'll be writing about that."

On learning of her untimely death, Christopher Renner, Manhattan talk show host, activist and writer here at Kansas Free Press added this about his friend,

Jan was dedicated to the causes of justice and peace. In her activities in Manhattan she always worked toward making sure that people who did not have access to health care, a living wage were heard from. She was a proud Democrat and worked very hard to make the county party active and responsive to its members.

I remember one time in particular after she retired we were talking to the Human Rights and Services board of Manhattan to change the city discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation. She stood up and gave a wonderful testimony to what this city needed to put that in the ordinance, and she blew everyone away. No one asked her or expected her to do that, but she knew it was the right thing to do. And that's how Jan lived her life.. she did the right thing when it was called for.

Ron Klataske of the Audubon of Kansas, offered this on October 10, 2009,

Cheyenne Bottoms Conservation Leader Dies

Jan Garton was vital in conservation of Cheyenne Bottoms in the 1980s when the water rights of that internationally important resource were threatened--and it appeared that the future for this unique area was destined to be a largely and usually dry remnant of a once great wetland. Jan Garton, with the partnership of Sil Pembleton, and others including Joyce Wolf led a statewide campaign to restore priority water rights for Cheyenne Bottoms. Jan devoted at least a decade, working as a volunteer advocate day and night, to Cheyenne Bottoms.

Success was achieved in the Kansas Legislature, with a succession of governors--and in the critical legal battles that equally involved the Kansas Wildlife Federation. In 1990 Jan Garton was honored with a prestigious Chevron Conservation Award, the third Kansan to be recognized with a Chevron Conservation Award, the country's oldest private conservation award program judged by a panel of independent conservationists. The award was originally created by the late outdoor writer Ed Zern in 1954.

In a multi-faceted campaign, one of the most novel ideas that Jan advanced was development of 'Save Our Bottoms' seat pads presented to all members of the state legislature. They were attractively designed to serve as a constant reminder of Cheyenne Bottoms. Bumper stickers with the similar message have only recently vanished as the many vehicles that displayed them have been retired.

I thought of Jan Garton and Sil Pembleton on Saturday while visiting the Wetlands Visitor Center at Cheyenne Bottoms. One of the things usually missing from official display is the vital role of public citizen conservation advocates in pushing governmental agencies and lobbying other institutions to do the right thing to protect our natural heritage of wetlands, wildlife, prairies, rivers and more. As a leader for the Kansas Audubon Council and the Northern Flint Hills Audubon Society, Jan provided the passion and intellect that was the catalyst for turning the fate of Cheyenne Bottoms from one of dryland fields to a wonderfully managed wetland complex.

I wish Jan could have been there to have seen all of the Whooping Cranes that called Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira home this past weekend. Her spirit will undoubtedly be under the wings of the magnificent birds as they lift in the thermals when they prepare to continue their migration.

If Kansas, like Missouri, ever develops a conservation hall of fame, I trust that Jan will be honored with a plaque and an accompanying 'Save the Bottoms' seat cushion in a case nearby.

John Green, of the Hutchinson News, wrote:

Woman's tenacity saved wetland
Jan Garton left a legacy of conservation in work to save Cheyenne Bottoms

Most tourists don't know it, but they owe their enjoyment of the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands to Jan Garton's tenacity.

The wetland, a major stopping point for migrating birds in the Central Flyway, was drying up and state wildlife officials seemed resigned to it, which is where Garton came in.

"Jan provided the passion and intellect that was the catalyst for turning the fate of Cheyenne Bottoms from one of dryland fields to a wonderfully managed wetland complex," said Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas. ...

"The bottom line is, the Cheyenne Bottoms wouldn't be what it is today without the work of Jan Garton as a catalyst to make things happen," Klataske said. "She was tenacious."

Back in 1984, Sil Pembleton, the newly elected chairwoman of the Manhattan chapter of the Kansas Audubon Society, and Garton, a newly named conservation committee chairwoman, decided the chapter needed an issue its members could "rally around."

Though some 150 miles from where they lived, Garton suggested the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands near Great Bend, and the pair of conservation neophytes went on a fact-finding mission.

"We went to Pratt and requested to meet with someone involved in the management of Cheyenne Bottoms," said Pembleton, who now lives in Minnesota. "We knew the former manager had a restoration plan he'd talked about previously, so we went down to request a copy."

...So the two women and other members of their chapter, including Joyce Wolf, now of Lawrence, launched an effort to save the wetland.

"Jan was the hardest-driving conservationist," Klataske said. "She pushed the idea that this was unacceptable and that the governor, the state Legislature, Kansas Wildlife and Parks, and other entities had to be mobilized to re-create a vision for the Cheyenne Bottoms."

... Her efforts didn't stop there, said Wolf, currently recording secretary of Audubon of Kansas, but continued with development of the wetlands visitors' center, which opened in April.

"Once the funding was in place, it made sense to upgrade the facilities and to have a true visitor/education center," Wolf said. "We met with different people in Wildlife and Parks about the things they thought and the features we thought should be included. Those meetings continued over a couple of years. She was certainly instrumental in making sure the facility came to fruition."

For her efforts, Garton was named Conservationist of the Year by the Kansas Wildlife Federation in 1987 and in May 1990 was awarded the distinguished Chevron Conservation Award, becoming only the third Kansan to receive the award originally created in 1954 by the late outdoor writer Ed Zern.

The wetlands weren't her only effort, Pembleton said. She was engaged in drafting a state water plan, she battled for a living wage in Manhattan for workers receiving government contracts, and she spoke out on issues of environmental justice...

"She was fearless in voicing what she thought was the right and ethical thing to be doing," Pembleton said. "Sometimes emotionalism gets people a bad name, but she had the passion and perspective for looking at the facts.... She just cared about this Earth and the people on it." (for the full story, click here)


I lived in Manhattan, KS for several years and became well aquainted with Jan Garton through KSU women's sports and activities. I worked for UPS in the late 70's and early 80's and one year my boss asked me if I knew anyone that could help us with the Christmas rush. I immediately thought of Jan, and she stayed on for 26 years. We remained friends over the years, even though she consistently kicked my butt in racquetball on a regular basis. I last saw Jan during the induction of Coach Judy Akers into the KSU Hall of Fame. The world has benefitted a great deal from Jan Garton and she will be missed by many. It really doesn't matter about the circumstances related to when an individual takes their first or last breath - what matters is the time in-between. I will miss Jan Garton and love her unconditionally, and am very proud to say she was a friend of mine.

Deb, thanks for offering that comment about Jan. We absolutely agree with you about "the time in-between."

I have lived in Manhattan off and on since the late 70's with my most continuous residency was from 1987-2004. I can't quite remember when I met Jan. Regardless of whenever and however we met, it just seemed as if I had always known her.

We mostly crossed paths in connection with local Democratic party or local grassroots activities. Every now and again we would get together for breakfast early on a Sunday morning and just chat about whatever happened to be on our minds at that particular time. I enjoyed those chats immensely because there was absolutely no pretense where Jan was concerned. With her you always knew where you stood and why.

I admired her for what I perceived as her great powers of self-command; someone who was determined to do things the right way for the right reasons. I learned a lot from Jan about persistence and the courage of one's convictions. Unfortunately, I didn't think I was quite done learning from her yet, but I guess that wasn't for me to decide.

In any case, I hope to do her proud as I continue to support the causes that brought the two of us together over the years. I too am very proud to say she was a friend of mine. I will miss her.

Debbie, thank you for that wonderful vignette of Jan.

Memorial Gathering for Jan Garton Announced

Jan's friend, Margy, invites all friends of Jan to attend a Memorial Gathering. Margy wrote, "Jan's memorial gathering will be held on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2:30 p.m., at the Manhattan Public Library, 2nd floor auditorium. Please come and bring your reminiscences of Jan, along with any memorabilia you may wish to share, such as photos, Jan's writings, her hand-made birthday cards, items from the Cheyenne Bottoms effort or Nancy Boyda campaigns - the sky's the limit, just as it was for Jan's imagination! It will be good to join together in our sorrow and in our good fortune at having known Jan Garton."

The following obituary was printed in Kansas newspapers:

Jan Garton, 59, Manhattan, died Monday, Nov. 9, 2009, in Manhattan.

She was born Nov. 30, 1949, in Borger, Texas, the daughter of Chet and Phyllis (Gallentine) Garton.

Jan grew up in Chapman and was a long-time resident of Manhattan. She received her bachelor’s in history and her master’s in journalism from Kansas State University.

She worked for Blueville Nursery while in college and then for UPS for 26 years.

She was vital in the conservation of Cheyenne Bottoms in the 1980s when water rights of the wetland were threatened. In partnership with others she led a statewide campaign to restore priority water rights for Cheyenne Bottoms. In 1990, she was honored with the Chevron Conservation Award -- the country’s oldest private conservation award -- only the third Kansan to be so honored.

Upon her retirement from UPS, she joined Nancy Boyda’s congressional campaigns and worked for Rep. Boyda’s office for a year before retiring a second time.

Survivors include her brother, James Garton, Tulsa, Okla.; her sister, Marci Garton of Albuquerque, N.M., five nieces and nephews and other relatives. She was preceded in death by her parents.

A cremation is planned with a memorial gathering at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21, at the Manhattan Public Library, 629 Poyntz.

Memorial contributions in memory of Jan Garton may be made to Audubon of Kansas, 210 Southwind Place, Manhattan, KS 66503, or another environmental organization of the donor’s choice.

The Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home, 1616 Poyntz Ave., Manhattan, KS?66502, is handling the arrangments. Online condolences may be left for the family through the funeral home website at

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