To know Harper Kansas, you must know Rosalea, woman's life spent preserving the prairies
HARPER, Kan. (KAKE) - To know Harper Kansas... is to know Rosalea Hostetler and to know Rosalea... you have to know her hotel.
Rosalea is a Harper native, and although she's left town a time or two in her 85 years of life, she says she's always felt this nudge to return.
Rosalea says she's spent decades trying to preserve the history of her hometown. She hasn't given up yet, and it's safe to say she probably never will.
"I feel sad... because I know what used to be here. I know it can rebuild and revive... Everything always changes," Rosalea said as she walked downtown.
She's had a hard life. Many locals didn't understand her or her creative ways.
Rosalea has been trying to 'heal Harper' for as long as she can remember.
"All I ever wanted to do was save downtown Harper," she said in an interview with KAKE News and Hatteberg's People in 2003.
"People can find a peacefulness here that you can't find in a big city," she said about Harper. "So I just keep thinking something will work out. So far, they are not putting me in jail anymore. I am the oldest person to ever be in jail in Harper County."
Enjoying a cup of coffee at Casey's is what she does now.
"I don't have any place in Harper. It's warm. I've been going to Casey's since it first started down the street in one building," she said.
But don't think for a second that she's bored.
"I'm not bored... not a bit. Most people don't understand that... but that's okay. I'm not most people. I know that," she said.
Many, many, years ago you could find Rosalea on the corner of Oak and Main in Harper, or across the street at City Hall, fighting for what was hers-- her beloved hotel.
"I don't dwell on bad memories... I know everything always changes and I just wait," she said as she recalls her journey along the way.
There's not much left of where Rosalea's Hotel once stood. It's a vacant lot, but it's hers. A place she used to go to reflect, but not so much anymore.
"...some of the men that worked at City Hall would make fun of me... 'Get off of there.. It's gone.' I said 'yeah... But it's my memories, my memories are in there'," she said.
The Wall Street Journal did an article on Rosalea and her hotel in 1984 with a headline reading 'Proprietor of Rosalea's Hotel in Harper, Kansas Upsets Citizens With Her Penchant for Erotica and Cussing.'
She said people who visited her hotel, loved it. "...because they were the creative people. Back in the day, it was the 'hippies'. Way back before that it was the 'Cattle Drovers.'"
"....it was terrible, the attacks were awful," she said about the article. "I had to call a therapist to help me. He said 'you've got to move out of Harper'."
"I'm at a stage in life... I don't really have emotions like a younger person because I've been through so much. It's like.. 'oh, well here we go again'," she said.
Something she's learned while riding her life's journey in and out of her hometown is that change is inevitable.
Just like Harper's history.
"The Queen of the Prairies. The Intellectual Oasis of America and almost 5,000 people lived there. Today there are only 1,400," she said.
She said she bought the old historic Patterson House in Harper for $1,500 in 1968.
"Oh, I was elated. It was the 1883 Patterson House built by the Jewish developer," she said.
Her hotel was brought down in 2015.
She and the Balmer Fund could only show proof that around $21,000 was available to put towards the necessary work to repair and save her hotel, but $110,000 was needed for the necessary repairs. A demolition of the structure proceeded.
"I cant even describe the loss and sorrow I have gone through over this," she told KAKE News in 2015, before the hotel was set to come down. "It is so overwhelming, so evil."
"The City made up their mind, they were going to demolish it, no matter what. It needed some repair," she said.
She believes some of the building was probably weakened when a tornado came through town.
The City says there were concerns about the structural integrity of the two-story building and followed city code related to unfit structures.
"It was so awful. I still have the table where I was in the house across the street staying because they had run me out...wouldn't let me in, wouldn't let me get my things," she said, remembering the night the hotel came down. "... when I went back to get something, I was put in jail for trespassing."
The love of her life came toppling down, but not with her memories. She's been able to hold on to them... some good, some not so.
"I had decorated it very creatively because I didn't have money with collages and tin-foil. I didn't turn anybody away, I didn't care what their gender was... whatever... you know about back in those days they turned a lot of people away," she said.
One lasting legacy, the Balmer Fund, a non-profit she established in 1994, still exists.
"Preserving the history art and culture of the prairies for future generations," she said as she described what the Balmer Fund does.
The Balmer Fund has preserved four historic buildings downtown; you can see the outside of them are adorned and decorated with remnants of Rosalea's past.
"Rosalea ain't dead yet... It's really getting worn out...," she said as she pointed to a sticker outside one of her buildings. She said she put the sticker up to let people know that she was still around. "Because everybody was hoping they could kill me... get rid of me and I just let them know.... I'm still outliving you. I'm not dead yet."
Rosalea says it's her hope to get a roof on the Balmer Fund Cultural Hall and she hopes to open up a community for Jewish people of Harper Kansas.