Former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker says it is amazing to see the number of women serving in Congress today.
When she was elected in 1978, Kassebaum was the only woman in the U.S. Senate, and the first woman to win a term without her husband previously serving.
Only 56 women in history have served in the U.S. Senate, but there are 25 women in the 100-member chamber today.
"That clock won't turn back," Kassebaum said. "There will be more. But the important thing is not just women there, or what number of men there. It's what they're saying and doing."
Kassebaum, 86, reflected Saturday on today's political climate, the performance of Gov. Laura Kelly and growing up in her father's mansion in Topeka, where she addressed a crowd of 100 at a Shawnee County Historical Society fundraiser.
Her father, Alf Landon, was the 26th governor of Kansas and the 1936 Republican nominee for president.
As a three-term Republican senator who remains widely respected in Kansas, Kassebaum made news last year when she endorsed Kelly, a Democrat, for governor. In response, the spokeswoman for Kris Kobach, Kelly's Republican opponent, called Kassebaum a tired has-been.
"Well, could be," Kassebaum said Saturday. "One is never a has-been, but you can be kind of tired some days."
A critic of President Donald Trump and divisive politics, Kassebaum said the Republican party left her.
She said many of her neighbors in rural Morris County support the president because they believe things need to be shaken up.
"We certainly have had that," Kassebaum said, "but I don't know that we have had with it a direction that gives us some sense of security that we know where we're going and how best to get there. We've lost touch, I think, with trying to talk in a dialogue that helps all of us reason together.
"I don't tweet, and just to do that and not be able to talk back and forth like we are today, I think, is a mistake."
Kassebaum remains supportive of Kelly and the governor's efforts to expand Medicaid. Providing health care coverage to low-income families would help rural communities like hers, Kassebaum said.
"She's trying," Kassebaum said of Kelly's efforts. "She doesn't seem to be helped by the Republicans in the Senate."
Like politics, much has changed in the 12,000-square-foot house where Kassebaum grew up. She hadn't been to the property since her mother's death in 1996.
Former Westar executive David Wittig bought the residence, which sits on 13 acres at 521 S.W. Westchester, a couple of blocks northwest of the Topeka Zoo. Michael and Kathryn Franklin purchased the mansion for $2.3 million in 2017.
Michael Franklin, a Topeka physician, helped his father deliver hay to the property as a child. He said he loved hearing stories and history about the house.
"We definitely feel blessed," Michael Franklin said, "and we feel a sense of responsibility to maintain it."
Those who purchased $75 tickets for the event were treated to a tour, including access to an underground lair where Landon hosted dignitaries and more recent furnishings — a 13-seat movie theater and basketball court.
When Landon's family moved into the house in 1938, there were just three houses in the area, Kassebaum said. There was nothing between the house and the Kansas River, a short walk north.
"We spent a lot of time hiking to the river, and we spent a lot of time on the sandbars in the river, and nobody ever seemed to worry or miss us," Kassebaum said. "It was a different time."
Yes, she and her brother slid down the railings on the grand stairway.
They also operated a Little Tots Pet Shop out of a chicken coop — "we were entrepreneurs at heart," Kassebaum said — where they kept parakeets, canaries and snakes. She ordered tropical fish but inadvertently killed them with bathtub water, and that was the beginning of the end of the enterprise.
The kids "played war" in the attic during World War II, with stick guns and a steel helmet that "added to all the excitement." She still has a large, stuffed rabbit that they squashed ketchup onto.
Now, Kassebaum said, some politicians act like children. She urged leaders to respect those who have differences and to avoid making promises they can't keep.
Women bring value to the political arena, Kassebaum said, because they are "a little better at seeking compromise."
"Compromise isn't a bad word," she said. "It is something that needs to be done when there are too-difficult issues and you're trying to find an answer."