A painting of the May Dennis farm, that hung in the Cannonball Chapter of the American Red Cross for years has been donated to the Pratt County Historical Society Museum.
The scene on the painting is an old farmstead with weather worn buildings among overgrown vegetation. While the setting and buildings are unfamiliar, the former owner has a unique history in Pratt.
May (Fincham) Dennis is long gone but her donations to the city of Pratt are still appreciated. An oil painting, commissioned by the former Cannonball Trail Chapter of the Red Cross, shows the Dennis farm located two miles east and one-half mile south of Cullison.
That painting has been donated to the Pratt County Historical Society Museum through the efforts of a former head of the Pratt Red Cross, Evelyn Hillard and a Red Cross Volunteer, Loretta Looney. Hillard, who will be 105 on July 15, presented the painting on Tuesday, June 27, to museum curator Charmaine Swanepoel.
The painting, done by the late Vernice Hopkins and titled "Toll of the Years," is dated January 1975. The painting is in brown tones showing the house, barn, bushes, trees, a windmill and a barbed wire fence line. Hopkins painted the picture in 1975 after former Red Cross director Evelyn Hillard decided the Pratt office needed to do something to honor Dennis for her generous contributions to the Red Cross and to the city.
Hillard knew Hopkins was a painter and thought a painting of the Dennis farmstead would be an appropriate tribute for Dennis' contributions. Hopkins was a secretary for George Barrett, a lawyer of the time. The Red Cross paid Hopkins $300 to paint the picture that hung in the Red Cross office for decades, Hillard said.
When the Red Cross Cannonball Trial Chapter was closing, Looney was afraid the picture would be misplaced and she wanted to make sure the painting stayed in Pratt because Looney is a distant relative of Hopkins. So Looney asked then Chapter Executive Officer Donna Meier Pfeifer if she could have the painting. Meier Pfeifer agreed and put Looney's name on the back of the painting. When the office closed, Looney took the painting home but was unaware of the story of the painting until recently when she was visiting with Hillard who told her the story of the painting. It was decided at that meeting that the painting should go to the historical society museum.
In her estate, Dennis left $106,000 to the Pratt Red Cross, $106,000 to the city of Pratt, $106,000 to the city library, $106,000 to the Salvation Army in Wichita and $106,000 the Methodist Children's Home in Newton, Hillard said.
The donation to the Red Cross allowed them to purchase the building they occupied at 114 North Main in Pratt until the office was shut down a couple of years ago.
Many Prattans know about May Dennis Park located on the northwest corner of the city. The area is in a flood plain and the city of Pratt purchased the area for $125,000 in 1948 as part of a flood control project, said Mark Eckhoff, Pratt Parks Superintendent.
The park was originally called Rock Island Park because it was located next to the Rock Island Railroad that is now the Union Pacific Railroad. The railroad roadbed on the south side of the park forms a dam that protects the city area to the south of the tracks.
When Dennis left the money to the city, it was stipulated in the will: "to the Park Board of the City of Pratt, Kansas...to be used to the best available purpose for the establishment and promotion of a children's playground and recreation center in the city of Pratt, Kansas, preferably to be established in the second or third ward of the city of Pratt, Kansas," according to the book "Lemon Park and the Pratt Municipal Parks" by the late Dorotha Gray Giannangelo.
Eckhoff said the money from the will was used to purchase playground equipment, build shelter houses and purchase plants for several of the cities parks. Because of the donation to the city park system, Rock Island Park was renamed May Dennis Park in 1953 and the park was developed with a shelter house, play ground equipment, baseball and soccer fields and a restroom.
Several years ago, a disc golf course was added to the park and was host to the Pratt Disc Golf Club Hot and Cold Classic Tournament on June 24.
May married Sidney Dennis in July 1888 and they had one child, a son Basil, born in 1889. According to Hillard, the story goes that Sidney came home drunk one to many times and May drowned him in a rain barrel in 1935 at age 73. She spent some time in a mental facility after that but was eventually released and never spent time in jail, Hillard said.
May died in 1953 at age 83 and Basil died in 1964 at age 75. All three are buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.