Outgoing Kiowa County Council on Aging (KCCA) Director John Wickland announced last Thursday that the 9-person governing board selected Haviland resident and Green Bean owner Kari Kyle to replace him as director, less than two months before their new multi-purpose building on Main Street is slated to open.
Wickland and the board began their search at the end of January, drafting a job description and advertising the position in The Kiowa County Signal, The Dodge City Daily Globe and The Pratt Tribune, as well as a newspaper in Hutchinson.
They received five applications total from Dodge City, Pratt and Kinsley. They also received eight applications from inside of the county. Three applicants were Haviland residents, five applicants were from Greensburg and they received no applications from Mullinville, Wellsford or Belvidere.
In a meeting Feb. 14, the board selected four applicants for interviews, which took place on Feb. 27 and 28. They subsequently selected Kyle after an executive session following the interviews.
“We are thrilled to have her,” said Wickland on Thursday. “She has all of the qualifications we were looking for. I’ve seen the way she connects with the seniors and her personality and how she has been received. I know the seniors like her and many of them already know her. That is one of the important things for us, connection and trust.”
Wickland will remain director while the Kiowa County Senior Center building is under construction. Kyle will officially start as the new director on March 15, overlapping with Wickland for about 45 days.
“My husband, Tim, and I wanted to become a bigger part of the community,” explained Kyle. “I’ve missed working with seniors. We have a lot of senior citizens come into the coffee shop, but I don’t have the opportunity to sit down and get to know them.”
Kyle will remain an owner of the Green Bean, the local coffee shop she opened in 2009, but will hand over daily operations of the business to her husband.
“This is an exciting challenge for me and I think it will be great and fun. I feel like I have the experience. I’ve opened a business, managed employees and managed the day-to-day,” she added.
Funded nearly 80 percent by county tax dollars, the council serves a disproportionate number of Greensburg senior citizens through their weekday lunch service, currently held at the United Methodist Church in Greensburg. Although Wickland and Kyle both explain that there are a number of circumstances that prevent seniors in other parts of the county from attending the lunch, they both agree that the center has and will continue to take a “countywide” approach to its services.
Wickland was asked if hiring Kyle, a Haviland resident and Greensburg business owner, was an attempt to further those efforts.
Page 2 of 3 - “We wanted a director that was willing and capable of reaching out to our seniors countywide,” he said. “Where they live specifically, or who they know was not that important. What mattered most was their capacity to serve the entire county and do an effective job.”
Kyle’s father John Unruh is the First District commissioner for Kiowa County, which includes Haviland and the surrounding rural areas on the eastern end of the county. Her mother Elvira Unruh is the manager of the Care-N-Share Thrift Store in Greensburg and is also a KCCA board member, though Wickland said she did not participate in any executive session discussions about the candidates. Kyle’s parents are also owners of Home Again, a senior assisted-living facility on Main Street in Haviland, and like Kyle, they live in Haviland and work in Greensburg.
“My vision for Haviland, Mullinville and the surrounding areas, even Belvidere, is to go out and talk to people,” said Kyle. “I’ve always had the most success meeting and talking to people face-to-face. [The new director] needs to have the time and energy to do those things, and I think I do.”
Funding the senior center, like many other current and previous construction projects in Greensburg, was a complex process including two rounds of funding requests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, design challenges and higher-than-expected construction bids.
Kyle was asked if she could handle such complexities.
“Yes,” she said. “Right now I don’t have a one thousand percent understanding of all of those things, but I will learn them like I’ve learned how to run a coffee shop, and everything else I’ve done in my life. I do well under pressure and I’m a fast learner. I’m ready to listen and to learn from people that may understand it better than I do. What I’ve learned is that when you are looking from the outside in, things can seem very daunting. But once you are inside of it, you can make progress one step at a time. You have to look at the big picture and also look at what’s right in front of you.”
Kyle will be handed the keys to the new building when Wickland exits later in the spring and in an interview last month Wickland said he hopes two years from now the new facility will be an all-day social place for seniors. Kyle was asked what she would like to see two years from now.
“I have a list of activities I’d like to see, but it isn’t about what I like, it’s what they want. That will be my focus. I’ll ask them what they want; I’ll ask them for details. There are things I’d like to implement, but the most important thing is that they come and they’re happy. People won’t take ownership in something if they don’t have a say in it.”
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