Alva Review-Courier -

Kiowa to host 80th Labor Day celebration – Cake Walk turns 50 years old, 35 years for 5K Run

• `Mr. Kiowa' Bob Hays remembers dates and more


August 21, 2019

Yvonne Miller

A longtime Chamber of Commerce President in Kiowa, Bob Hays has supported Kiowa's Labor Day celebration since he and his wife Grace (now deceased) came to town in 1968. Shown here in the 2011 Kiowa Pioneer Days Parade, Bob and Grace were parade marshals. They ride in the horse-drawn coach driven by Stoney Reif.

Labor Day is a federal government holiday for people to rest from their labors, but the majority of people in Kiowa, Kansas, usually don't get much rest that weekend. As they have since 1939, Kiowa's Chamber of Commerce plans a traditional weekend of fun events – with the focal point being the free ham and bean feed at Progress Park – and it wouldn't be Labor Day in the park without the Cake Walk, which started in 1969.

So, 2019 is a significant year as Kiowa's Labor Day celebration turns 80. The cake walk music has played for 50 years. Some women in the community have baked cakes for the cake walk most of those years. This year also marks the 35th anniversary of Kiowa's 5K and Fun Run, which started in 1984.

There's probably no one in town who knows the history of Kiowa's Labor Day celebration better than Bob Hays, who is often called "Mr. Kiowa." He was first chamber president in 1971. He and his wife Grace (who is deceased) were parade marshals for Kiowa's Pioneer Days Parade in 2011. Hays was chamber president at the time and he and a committee surprised Grace with the parade marshal status the morning of the parade.

An interview in 2011 with the Newsgram found just how active the Hays were in this community after moving to Kiowa January 1, 1968. Bob said they purchased a business from Eldon Weaver, which was located on the north side of Main Street, "before the fire." Then for 34 years, the couple owned and operated Gambles on the south side of Main Street (which is now Simpsons Hardware).

In 2011 he was a 15-time chamber president. In that interview he credited Grace for working side-by-side with him. "She's always been by my side – we've always worked together. Even to this day Grace reminds me of meetings and all the other things I need to do."

As a couple Bob and Grace have volunteered lots of time in the community in various ways, making many improvements to Progress Park. In 2011 they celebrated the 42nd year of running the Labor Day Cake Walk in the park. He continues to help today, although long retired.

When the couple moved to Kiowa, he said, "We didn't know very many people." He said with the help of the "Jaycee Janes" they started the cake walk on the park tennis court in 1968. "So many people were interested that the chamber asked us to move over to the area we use now and used the bricks for people to stand on for the next year," Hays recalled.

"The reason it's lasted is because you don't change the rules. It's popular. Everyone wins a cake."

He said they like to have around 75 cakes. He thanks the local grocery store for baking three or four cakes and having their cake mixes on sale the week prior to Labor Day weekend.

Hays thanked the steadfast ladies who've baked cakes for the Cake Walk for many of the 50 years. Some of those women have died or are simply unable to bake anymore. "I urge younger women to step up and bake a cake for us," Hays said of the popular Labor Day game that ultimately has a delicious culmination.

Hays said the money from the Cake Walk sales goes to help pay for the free ham and bean lunch that through the years is served to hundreds of people in the park that day. He said the cake walk usually generates around $500 to give toward the free bean feed.

"It's amazing that we still have a crowd," Hays said. He estimates that in the early days there were probably 4,000 people who took in the celebration. Through the years, he said they had an average of 2500 people. In latter years hundreds come to the park for the day full of activities including games for all ages, entertainment, other food booths and mainly visiting and fun.

Watch the Newsgram next week for more details about Kiowa's 80th Labor Day celebration.


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