By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — It has been three years since Newkirk Main Street (NMS) has held their annual banquet. In those three years, 10 businesses have opened their doors to the community, and new facilities compliment the Kay County Courthouse Downtown. It has also been three decades since NMS was inaugurated as a community organization. On a cool, wet Tuesday evening, April 19, the Senior Citizens Center was alive, and supporters walked through the doors to celebrate not just NMS, but the community as a whole.
The banquet began at 6 p.m., but participants were arriving long before that to find their places at the numerous tables decorated for the special night. Church of Christ Rev. Scott Dutton opened the evening in prayer, while NMS Organization Committee Chair Mary Austin served as Emcee.
“I thought it was a fun evening, and a good time to get together,” Austin said.
NMS Board President Holly Cline had a clear view of the event from the Center kitchen, as she took care of food preparations and cleanup of the dinner.
“I think it went well,” she said. “I think it was nice to see people after several years of no meetings.”
It was one off the most exciting NMS events in several years, as supporters were thrilled to get out and celebrate Newkirk.
Following the opening of the evening, attendees were treated to a special potluck dinner, with tables covered in a variety of colorful dishes. Equity Bank provided the meat, which was prepared by Stagecoach Catering, while NMS volunteers provided sides and desserts. There was more than enough for everyone to consume.
One early highlight of the evening was a recognition of businesses that opened their doors since the previous banquet in 2019. Some were brand-new, including Community National Bank, Capone’s Hoagies, Opal Nutrition, Carolyn Kahle’s Then and Now and Blue Ember Creations. Others were simply rebranded under new ownership, like 56 Feed Co. (NAPA Auto Parts), Newkirk Mercantile (Finders Keepers Antiques) and Loftis-Wetzel Insurance (Eisenhauer Insurance). Albright Abstract and Miller-Stahl Funeral Home are likewise under new ownership, but are maintaining the same name
New business owners attending the banquet were gracious for the support.
“I was really surprised that there were 10 new businesses in Newkirk,” said Kaycee Brandon of 56 Feed Co. “I was really appreciative of the recognition.”
As the evening moved on, attendees were seen slowly walking around several tables where a variety of antiques and other historic item were gleaming in a silent auction fundraiser, with most objects going to the highest bidder. An estimated $500 was raised for NMS activities.
“This benefits the design grant account for improvements to building facades, and exterior upgrades and renewals,” said NMS Director Alyssa McCleery.
The biggest highlight of the evening, however, was guest speaker Brent Wheelbarger, of Trifecta Communications, who unveiled an upcoming smart device app, known as TimeFrame, which seeks to increase knowledge of Newkirk’s history by allowing the overlay of historic photos over modern scenes of Downtown buildings. Cited as a form of “augmented reality,” the system works similar to geocaching, where users find points Downtown and overlay the app with a historic photo.
It is a project that has been under development for more than a year and is the first such technology in the state of Oklahoma. Several other communities are also looking at their own version, including Cache and Guthrie.
“I’m excited we’re the first community to do the app. I feel it will give more opportunities to market our community to others,” McCleery said.
McCleery isn’t alone in those sentiments.
“I thought it is a neat way to bring the past to the present, and I hope people enjoy it, the efforts that others have put into it,” said attendee and community supporter Marcina Overman.
The evening soon wound down with the announcements of the winners of the silent auction bidders, and as everyone walked out into the evening, many left with a new excitement about the Newkirk community.
That was hardly the end of the banquet, however, and many took new memories and experiences home with them.
Looking at the crowd at the start of the banquet, one saw a team of community supporters with the single thought of promoting Newkirk. While true, there was a variety of backgrounds coming together for the community. Some were new to Main Street and the banquet, including NMS Board member Scott Kempenich, who began as Newkirk Public Schools superintendent in 2020.
“I am so blessed to be in a community that strives to improve on a consistent basis,” he said. “We have many new businesses from the last several years and we are continuing to recruit other businesses to Newkirk.”
NMS volunteers were not the only volunteers at the event, including Overman, who works at Newkirk Public Library and serves through the Kildare Chapter of Oklahoma Home & Community Education.
“I thought it was a lovely meal, and I appreciated Mary Austin’s comments about the acts NMS is doing, and that it takes everyone to help out,” she said. “Not everyone pays full attention to what the organization is doing, and it was more of a one-on-one conversation with what NMS is doing.”
There were also younger generations in greater numbers, showing that the youth also want change. Those included Cline’s daughter, Acie Cline and friends Jozie Peri and Hannah Cross, who stayed to help clean up at the end.
“The young ones are going to stand on the shoulders of our giants, and it’s our people who are going to set us apart,” Chamber President Debbie Leaming said. “We have to have businesses coming here, and these are the people that are going to be doing that.”
Kempenich sees the TimeFrame app as a way to bridge those generations.
“I am really excited to see the augmented reality app go live in Newkirk. I think it could be a great tool to create interaction between the youth and the historic pictures and stories of Newkirk,” he said.
One overlooked aspect was finally being able to mingle together when human contact has been sorely lost.
“I thought it was a good medication for our soul to get back in the community, have those face-to-face conversations. We need that contact,” Leaming said.
At the end, though, it really was about the Downtown district and new businesses, as more people are feeling a new excitement about the future of Newkirk.
“It was nice to be able to recognize all the new businesses we have, and they all have different products for a lot of different people,” Cline said. “There’s not a lot you can’t find in Newkirk anymore.”