Sunflower Village ‘sprung up like a mushroom’
This is the conclusion of a two-part look at the history of Sunflower Village believed to have been written by Floyd Talley, who was De Soto School District superintendent from 1961 to 1967.
The first school building was built in 1944. Before the completion of this building, children attended classes in various buildings. Some went to school in a building retained from Trailertown, and some were transported to the overcrowded De Soto Grade School. Mrs. Bartholomew taught the first kindergarten class at 202 Lane M, but later moved to the nursery building.
Additions to the school were made in 1945 and again in 1954. In 1951-1952, enrollment at Sunflower Grade School reached 1,029 in kindergarten through eighth grade. The building could not accommodate this many students. There were four first-grade teachers, each had two sections of one in the morning and one in the afternoon. One kindergarten teacher had three sections.
A new grade-school building was built on the east side of the new village in 1953 and an addition added in 1956.
The Sunflower Child Care Center, more commonly known as the nursery, was opened in 1945. It was designed to take care of children while parents were employed in war production work at the plant. Following the war, need for the service still existed, although it was no longer possible to operate it through Lanam Act funds. Arrangements were made for the services to continue, first by help of the village council and U.S.O. and later the Sunflower Civic Association.
A village non-denominational community church first met Aug. 15, 1943, in the Old Trailertown building. This was arranged by the Rev. C.L. Harnen, pastor of the De Soto Methodist Church. The Rev. W.O. Watson became the second full-time pastor in October 1944.
The need for Catholic services in the village was recognized early. The Rev. Lorenz Reith of Holy Family Church in Eudora arranged for mass each Sunday morning in the game room of the community building. Later, when the recreation center was opened, the use of the theater portion was offered. Subsequently, both the non-denominational and Catholic congregations met in the grade school.
When Sunflower was at its peak during World War II, the population of the village was approximately 6,000 people living in 1,432 dwelling units. The units were furnished with refrigerators, gas ranges and stoves for heating. Rent including trash and garbage removal ranged from $29 to $3.50 a month, depending on the number of bedrooms.
Sunflower sprang up like a mushroom. It was called the fastest-growing town in Kansas. The population turnover was high during the war when families moved from war plant to war plant.
When the war was over, Sunflower was faced with the prospect of folding up. Instead, the government authorized the use of empty units for service men from military bases in Olathe, Topeka and Leavenworth. The service families were gradually replaced by Kansas University students, and the place was nicknamed Jayhawkville. Approximately, 1,000 single male students occupied 26 buildings acquired by Kansas University. More than 1,000 student families moved into Sunflower also, and the nickname switched to Nursery Junction. Maternity and children's shops opened in the commercial section and a nursery was added to the recreational center.
By 1950, the college student population was decreasing, and Sunflower was on the decline. But the Korean War started and the ordnance plant was reactivated for powder production and Sunflower's population increased once again.
But with the war's end, the population again slacked off. In December 1955, the federal government transferred title of the housing units in Sunflower to the Sunflower Ordnance Works, which started selling unoccupied units to private buyers. By September 1956, there were 977 dwelling units remaining, with only 147 occupied.
Frank Rother, who had operated the grocery store for nearly 11 years, cancelled his lease March 16, 1957. Paul Milberger, who operated the theater, bowling alley and restaurant, dropped his lease in May.
In 1961, Sunflower was sold to Quick Way Homes and is now (1972) low-rent housing.
The two school buildings, Sunflower building and the annex building are now owned and operated by De Soto USD 232.