Fort Hays Prisoner of War Camp

Did you know that the Fort Hays Experiment Station, located south of Hays, was once used as a German prisoner of war camp? Farmers in the area were facing a serious farm labor shortage around August 1943 due to many of Ellis County’s young men being at war. Arrangements were made to contract for labor using prisoners of war at the Concordia camp beginning in September 1943. Before the men could be brought to the Experiment Station, modifications to the buildings had to be made. A large feed barn was converted into barracks and a meeting house was made into a mess hall. The two buildings were enclosed in a 6 foot high fence with floodlights around the area.

A farm labor association was set up to assist the farmers in getting men from the camp to do labor. L. C. Aicher, who was superintendent of the Experiment Station, was named chairman of the association. The Experiment Station was also needing labor for the work around its grounds.

Guards from the military and the prisoners arrived on September 11. The men began working on September 13, and farmers were charged $3.25 a day for each man. The cost to the association was $2.82, and the extra monies went to help pay for the modifications and transportation costs. Most labor was used by farmers, but there were some businesses and schools that also had the prisoners work for them. Fort Hays Kansas State Teachers College was among the schools which hired the prisoners to do labor.

Two German prisoners working with a college employee on removing trees south of Picken Hall in the autumn of 1943.
Picture from the University Archives – Wooster Photo Collection.

The German prisoners of war were used as laborers in Ellis County up to the end of the war in 1945. The camp closed in November 1945.

The Special Collections and University Archives received a collection of pictures that were taken by L. C. Aicher during the fall of 1943. The collection of 17 photos was donated to us by Tom Osswald, whose father served as a military guard at the camp in September-November 1943. These photos are donated in memory of Lawrence E. Osswald (Corporal US Army 480th MPEG Company, Ft. Hays, Kansas, September-November 1943) by his son and family. Corporal Osswald was from Wilmington, Delaware.

The photos have been added to the library’s digital collection and you may view them at http://contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15732coll14

Much of the historical information in this blog was found in “At Home in Ellis County, Kansas 1867-1992 Volume 1.”

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Fort Hays Traditions – Concerts

I was asked to speak at an event sponsored by the student alumni group, Tigers4Ever, last evening at the Robbins Center. The panel discussion was on the traditions of Fort Hays State, and one tradition that was talked about was the concerts. After Gross Memorial Coliseum was opened in 1973, the Memorial Union Activities Board sponsored a number of concerts which featured big name rock stars and country stars, as well as comedians.

Mac Davis was featured in the opening concert on October 18, 1973, and Henry Mancini followed two days later. Comedians Bob Hope and Lily Tomlin were here in 1974 and 1976, respectively. David Brenner appeared as the opening act to Barry Manilow on October 18, 1975. The top five concerts in attendance were as follows:

  1. John Cougar (October 16, 1982) – 7200 – this was the only sell-out of all the concerts and was during the time his album “American Fool” with hit singles “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane” were at the top of the charts.
  2. J. Geils Band (April 17, 1982) – 7070 – this was just after their “Freeze Frame” album with the single “Centerfold” had gone to the top of the charts in early 1982.
  3. Pat Benatar (November 13, 1982) – 6990 – in August 1981, her video for “You Better Run” was the second clip ever aired by MTV.
  4. Chicago (March 7, 1975) – 6989 – they came here right before their 8th album, “Chicago VIII” was released on March 24.
  5. Alabama (April 6, 1986) – 6558 – this was the first of two concerts they did here in the coliseum, and Alabama had released their first “Greatest Hits” album in January. The second time they were here was two years later on April 15, 1988 with an attendance of only 2800.

     

The last concerts from 1991-1996 featured all country artists including Sawyer Brown who were here three different times with opening acts Chris LeDoux, Diamond Rio, and Toby Keith. Clay Walker was the last concert played in the Gross Memorial Coliseum on April 13, 1996. The Memorial Union has hung the concert posters along the hallway next to Mondos and the Cody Commons in their basement. The complete list of the concerts is available in the University Archives.

 

John Cougar pulled FHSU student Mary Beth Bechard onto the stage with him – from the 1983 Reveille

 

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