Interview of Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker, October 17, 2022
Interviewed by Deanell Reece Tacha
Nancy Kassebaum, still lively at age 90, recalled being a young girl in Topeka growing up with a famous father, Alf Landon. She described her motivation for entering a US Senate race in 1978 and turned to friends and the League of Women Voters in Wichita for help with that highly contested primary race. Kassebaum had a "special relationship" with the other Kansas Senator, Bob Dole. Her legislative interests in the U.S. Senate were foreign relations, Africa and apartheid, and a major health care bill she worked with Senator Ted Kennedy. Toward the end of her senate career she married Tennessee senator Howard Baker, and went to Japan with him as wife of the Ambassador. After Baker's death she returned to the ranch in Burdick, Kansas where she still follows politics closely.
When U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum took the oath of office, she became just the fourth woman elected to a full term to the Senate. When she took her seat in the U.S. Senate in December of 1978, there were no other female senators. Nancy Jo Landon Kassebaum Baker represented the State of Kansas in the United States Senate from 1978 to 1997. She is the daughter of Alf Landon, who was Governor of Kansas from 1933 to 1937 and the 1936 Republican nominee for president, and the widow of former Senator and diplomat Howard Baker. She was married to Philip Kassebaum from 1956–1979 with whom she had 2 children, William and Richard Kassebaum. In 1996 she married Howard Baker. He died in 2014. Kassebaum received degrees from Topeka High School, the University of Kansas (1954), and a graduate degree from the University of Michigan. Kassebaum worked tirelessly on policies such as reducing the budget deficit, international arms control, ending apartheid in South Africa, and reforming liability laws related to general aviation. In her last term, she chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources—only the second woman to chair a Senate standing committee. Kassebaum retired in 1997, but she remains an influential role model for women seeking elective office.
Deanell Reece Tacha: Senator Kassebaum, it’s such a privilege to be with you today on behalf of Humanities Kansas as we’re trying to capture the thoughts and history and the lives of notable Kansans. So thank you for being with us and thank you for your remarkable service to Kansas.
Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker: Oh, Deanell, thank you and thanks for all you’ve done. There’s so many times in the Senate, I would think, “Gosh, I need to ask Deanell about this.”
DRT: And occasionally you did.
NLKB: And I called. One time I remember very well, I called and you were baking cookies for the children for Halloween.
DRT: I probably was.
NLKB: You were.
DRT: That would be what I did.
NLKB: I think it was a Saturday. I’m trying to think back what issue came up that was really controversial. I thought, “I wonder what Deanell thinks about this.”
DRT: Well, we won’t say what we talked about, but probably we had advice for each other. I do remember one notable time in my life, point in my life. It was when I was back in Washington for new judges’ school after I had been confirmed. This will not probably surprise you at that time, but I was the only woman in new judges’ school for the new federal judges. And lo and behold, I got selected, or appointed might be the right word, by the Chief Justice to give the speech at the Supreme Court.
I was sitting in my hotel room, trying to figure out what do you say in front of all of these federal judges and the Supreme Court, and you called and said, “Do you want to go out to dinner?” And so I did, and we went to dinner, and I just kind of whipped that speech off when I got home. That was always a fun memory for me. You took my mind off it.
Nancy, you have such a long history in this state, and your family—you and I have shared family.
NLKB: And so do you. I think often of your mother. When I’d be driving around and visiting my constituents and just always your mother was very involved and supportive and you—you were young.
DRT: Once I was.
NLKB: But it was late at night, and I think I had a flat tire or a bad tire. I just remember calling you. It wasn’t far from your home.
DRT: It was Scandia.
NLKB: And your dad had someone come out. I think I had to change the tire. It was getting dark. But you and all of the family go back a long way.
DRT: Let’s talk about your family because it goes back a long way, too. I’m sure you will say that your family had a great impact on your willingness and interest in being in public service. Do you want to talk about your first memory of what it means to be in public service and what advice you got early on from your family?
NLKB: That’s interesting. I don’t think I got a lot actually. I’m sure I was always interested because I can remember being little with my neighbor across the road. We pretty much lived outside of the city limits in Topeka at that point. I wasn’t in school yet. But we made a dandelion rope with stems of dandelions across, and if a car happened to come through, she was on one side, and I was on the other on this road, and we yelled, “Wilkie or Roosevelt?” So I guess it was in me to follow what was going on at that time.
DRT: Who won the dandelion race?
NLKB: I know who won the president, but I’m not sure who won the dandelion race.
DRT: For the benefit of younger viewers who probably don’t know that history, are you going to tell about where you lived at that time? You said it was then on the outskirts. It’s no longer on the outskirts of Topeka.
NLKB: In a big house, a big, big house. During the war, half of it the folks shut off. So it was really kind of fun to be all together in a much smaller home than I grew up in. When I say it was outside the city limits, I remember going to Gage Park for grade school and then Boswell Junior High, and then Topeka High School.
I grew up hiking over to the woods, hiking down through the woods to a sandbar in the Kaw River with my friend, Betty Carman who was my same age and lived across the street from me to see if we could get a suntan. We’d spend endless hours there, and I look back and I think no parent was ever around. We’d walk probably four miles at least to get over to the sandbar down through the woods and the Kaw River and down the bluff.
So it was a very—it was not a growing-up period that I ever remember talking much about, public service, so to speak.
DRT: When do you remember that you first knew that your father was a very important figure in Kansas? What was your involvement at that time?
NLKB: Well, not much. I think that reflects back in a way on Mother and Father. Dad was not one who talked a lot about it at home. It was usually with a group of men at lunch when he was downtown in Topeka. I can’t remember that we ever had much of a dialogue on it at the dinner table.
Now we were all expected to be at the dinner table and on time, even if we were out in the woods somewhere. I was always interested in hearing about politics, and we went to the Republican National Convention the first time when we were pretty young, and the folks we went—I’m trying to think which convention it was. We were that young. But it was never anything that came up that much.
DRT: Again for the benefit of younger folks who may be watching or hearing this, tell just a snippet about your dad’s career, and what he did. Alf Landon was her father. Talk a little bit about that.
NLKB: Well, Dad came from Pennsylvania to Kansas following the oil industry. Dad was an oil man and drilled and went to Independence, Kansas and had a connection through Oklahoma with others who were drilling oil wells down through that area at that time. That was his real—he was not involved in politics unless it involved the oil industry and a lot of independent oilmen. It was expanding at that point.
Dad then was married and his first wife died. When Peg, their little girl, was born and was quite young when Dad’s first wife died.
DRT: I didn’t know that. Interesting.
NLKB: So after that, I think his interests moved away from Independence. It’s interesting. I think it was more than that he became more political oriented. Of course, the oil industry and the men in it at that time were and still are to a certain extent, but Dad was involved, and I think he was in the political area down around Independence, Kansas.
How he happened to move to Topeka, I’m not sure, but that’s where then he met my mother who had graduated from Washburn University. They were married and lived then in Topeka, at first, Independence, and then moved to Topeka. When they built the big house, I’m not sure. It must have been started around that time. I was born around 1932. So I remember the house a little bit. But that was unusual in a way at that time to have a house that big.
Dad then was pretty involved in issues involving the oil industry, and that was moving him into the political arena. He got involved—I should look in my history book—
DRT: See what they say.
NLKB: When. Exactly when. But, of course, ran for president in 19—I was just little.
DRT: Do you remember anything about what got him to run for president?
NLKB: No, I don’t. What I remember best was seeing the Wilkies come out to the house. By then, because they had a cocker spaniel and just had puppies, and I remember Mother now looking back—I don’t remember it at the time—saying, “Why don’t you come down and see? I know you would like to see these puppies.” Well, Mrs. Wilkie I’m sure really wasn’t that interested.
You know I remember things like that. Then I told you about the dandelions. What Dad was doing other than having run and defeated by Wilkie, I’m not sure. I need to go look it up.
DRT: Okay. None of us really remember all that well. Let’s kind of fast forward a little bit now. You went off to college. I’ve heard you talk about how college piqued your interest in political science.
NLKB: I was always interested in what was happening in the news, even before going to KU. We followed the news. You couldn’t help but listen because Dad talked at dinner. That’s where I was getting the news. Dad liked to talk. He didn’t necessarily expect an answer. But you did keep up and particularly when I would listen to a lot of things probably I shouldn’t have. I realized the political aspects of it all.
DRT: Talk about, again fast forward. You majored in political science, and then where’d you go from college?
NLKB: From KU. Well, I was interested in KU in the politics at that time. One thing I did there after going into a sorority two years, the Theta Sorority, and liked it a lot. But then the Dean of Women, the Assistant Dean of Women at that time was very intense on getting a program started where when you came to KU, you didn’t pledge the first year. Maybe you came in about that time. All the girls, freshmen girls, lived in the dorm, a big dorm at that time, North College.
DRT: North College is now Corbin Hall.
NLKB: I know. But I was very impressed with that concept. So I moved over as a counselor for the last two years of my college at the freshman dorm. One year, I had the floor. The second year, I was in my senior year then, my floor, I assigned the first floor, and there were a lot of Wichita girls on the first floor I had discovered that were going out at night through the window. This was new to me, and I did not know how to handle this. Eventually we did. But I remember well, that was my first challenge as a counselor.
But I think at that point my own political interest was just in the issues of the day. I wasn’t thinking of myself doing anything so much as interested. And Brown versus the Board of Education, and you look back on it, and you say—and then high school, Topeka High School, at that time, why wasn’t I more involved because it was something I always was interested in because I would talk about it at the dinner table if Dad didn’t. So it had been an interest always, but never anything I personally thought I could or would do anything about.
DRT: It’s interesting you have that Topeka connection. I think we all, as we look back at some of the civil rights issues and personal justice issues, we think, “Why didn’t that dawn on us at the time?” It just didn’t.
NLKB: That’s true. It made quite an impression though, probably with you as well as with me because it was—you read it. I was great at reading the papers, and I still do that. But it was great hearing it talked about, more from Dad’s side who I don’t think fully understood either exactly. It was hard for people to grasp that, I think, of what should be. I think looking back, it influenced a lot of people in ways we probably didn’t realize at that time.
DRT: Clearly you paid attention all through your school years. Let’s go to you then had a family and were a very busy person. At some point in your career or in your life really, you kind of decided you want to get into the fray. Do you remember when and how that happened?
NLKB: Well, I remember I ran for the school board. That’s why I’m such a strong supporter of how important school boards are and was elected. But at that time, I was very active. The children were 4-H and showed at the county fair. One of them had pigs and sheep and so forth, and then we’d haul on over to the State Fair, those that got that far. So that was part of my life.
And I always kept involved and helped in other campaigns. I remember calling for Dole when Bob Dole ran and others that we know through that period of time. It never occurred to me to run for anything other than the [Maize] School Board, which I was elected.
But my own life changed because my husband Phil was more interested in the radio station, which we had, but wanting to get one in California, and I said, “Well, that’s bizarre. I don’t think I want to go.” I think we’re thinking that’s not wise. And it just caused a real rift in the family. We separated, and ultimately we have been divorced.
I look back, wondering if I would have run, I always thought it would have been hard to do with a family and particularly then in this situation it was for me a chance to really move in a direction I don’t know that I would have. I was involved with the Institute of Logopedics at that time in Wichita and involved politically sort of with trying to get that continued and spread. But going any further never occurred to me until after separating. So that’s what led me to think on running.
DRT: Who or what got you to say, “Okay. I think I’ll run for the Senate.”
NLKB: I don’t know. I wasn’t my folks. No, Dad, I don’t think really thought that was a very good idea. It was a lot of my women friends in Wichita. The League of Women Voters were very active then, very active. I would not have gotten into it without friends who I knew just as you know growing up in Wichita and married and young children and then those who were very active with the League of Women Voters.
And there was an opening, an empty seat. [NOTE 3] That helped generate—they called a lot of people and then got lists of who I should talk to around the state that were active in the community. They were in in politics. I’m sure you know your parents were, too.
NLKB: And your mother was very active.
DRT: She was probably on your list.
NLKB: Yes I know she was and on everybody else’s list, too. No, it was putting together those lists and traveling around and talking to people that never had done anything like that before.
DRT: It was famous at the time that you really did travel around a lot and literally community by community. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? People didn’t know you very well at the time.
NLKB: No, they didn’t. I think they were surprised. Who is this person walking in this store and introducing herself? But before that, before as I was going to announce, Dad called, and he said, “So what do you think they’ll ask you at the press conference?” I was announcing that I was going to run for the Senate. I said, “Well, I can tell you one thing. It will be about abortion.” And there was this long silence, and he said, “Well, what business is that of the government?”
DRT: How prescient he was.
NLKB: How beyond his thinking of things political. And the other was guns.
DRT: It’s amazing to hear you say that because your dad probably was predicting exactly correctly where we have come.
NLKB: He thought I was foolish to even be thinking about it, and he said, “Well, I don’t know if you’re going to get elected, but then you know you wanted to do this.”
DRT: So you did.
NLKB: So there you go. But I know Dad well enough to know he didn’t want me to lose either because he would be thinking people would think he lost.
DRT: Oh, yes.
NLKB: So it was just as well to not have family that much. I always tried, if there were ways I could take the children around, they were still pretty active in that. They all graduated from K State, I hate to say.
DRT: It’s okay. It’s okay.
NLKB: Plus I always tried to be home every night.
DRT: For the children.
DRT: Probably during that quest for the Senate, you talked to Bob Dole somewhere along the way, and you’ve referred to him—you and he have a very special relationship. Do you want to talk about, did he encourage you?
NLKB: No. I think he was probably as surprised as everybody else was. It really threw the political circle to a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of people that you and I know at that point were questioning whether they were running, too. Bob, I don’t think really, that was after I was elected. It would have been hard for Bob to be too involved with one candidate at that point.
Through the years, Bob was very helpful. Helpful just because not always agreeing with me but realizing we both had sort of an independent streak. For that reason, I thought a lot of Bob, and I think as he grew older and I grew older, it was a connection that was awfully nice.
DRT: You came to the Senate, and you were the only woman at the time. I heard you answer this question, but I’d love your answer. What was it like to be the only woman in the Senate at the time?
NLKB: Well, it was quite an advantage, actually.
DRT: I love it. On another occasion, I heard you say it was fun.
NLKB: Yes. I decided that maybe that wasn’t the best answer because it was, and I knew it. I knew that they thought, “Oh, well, we’ll get Nancy on this committee, and now we can say we have women in the Senate. The Republicans you know were surging. And I didn’t take myself so seriously that I didn’t realize that they were looking at it as a certain advantage as much as anything. And so did I. I mean, it was a real help.
I always went home at night again because some of the children were there. Some were still away at K State. But I do remember Bob Dole one day, the Senators all had the dining room that was the Senate dining room opposite of the Senate dining room where other older family or friends could come as well with a senator. And then separate Senate dining room, there was a Republican table and a Democrat table, and no one else was allowed.
Well, I never particularly wanted to go in anyway, but Bob took my hand one day, and he said, “Come on. You’re coming with me. You’ve got to come in here with the senators.” I did, and I sat with the Republicans. I never went back there many times. It just wasn’t any fun. Sit with the ones you see every day on the floor, too.
In that way, Bob was a big help. Dad got involved and interested, but they never came to Washington.
DRT: Now even when you were sworn in?
NLKB: Well, I was in Topeka.
DRT: Did your dad swear you in?
NLKB: No. He was there though, right there up front. Who came out? I’m trying to think.
DRT: Oh, well, it was a long time ago.
NLKB: No, it wasn’t that long ago. It was at the Capitol. So a lot of friends who were there, and it was not a closed endeavor at all, and it was the chairman of the Senate. I can’t think of who that was.
DRT: It was someone who came from Washington and swore you in in Topeka.
DRT: You chose to do that in Topeka so your friends and family could be there.
NLKB: So they could be there. Probably Howard Baker was there at that time, too, because he was—
DRT: Little did you know.
NLKB: Little did he know or I know. But he was the Majority Leader at that point. I do know he came, too, when the Reagans came to see Dad for his 100th birthday.
DRT: Most Kansans at the time remember that. That was a great moment.
NLKB: At that point, Howard was an assistant to Reagan.
DRT: Let’s kind of switch to your Senate career and talk about the issues a little bit. What issues, when you got to the Senate, and as you proceeded to do a brilliant job there, what issues were you most interested in?
NLKB: Well, one was foreign policy. Now that isn’t the one that was the most interesting to Kansans quite at that time. That, and I think no finance so much as budget. We always had those discussions. We met once a week for lunch, and these all came up in how people, where they were going to be on the issue. This was the Republican open lunch. And transportation because of the railroads. That was one of the early issues I dealt with, the little Rock Island [Railroad].
DRT: The Rocket.
NLKB: Yes. Keep going. And, of course, the aviation industry. That was very important with transportation. Foreign policy. I like to think budget, but I can’t really remember it as anything other than arguing when the time came up to what the budget would be. So I’m not sure.
DRT: At the time, did other women begin to ask you about running for office? Did you have involvement with other women who aspired to high office?
NLKB: Well, anybody who came by visiting, yes. And you know, the same for Kansas. There were some from Kansas. It may have crossed your mind at one point.
DRT: Well, life takes different paths.
NLKB: Yes, it does. You never know. Then Sheila Frahm was quite interested, and she did run. So I tried to be open to—you know, it’s hard to tell someone, “It’s just kind of tough. What works for you might not work for me.” I think because being the first at that point was certainly an advantage. If all my other candidates running against me, men, had to really put up with a lot to think that this little woman all of a sudden was just sneaking in. How did she happen to get here?
So there were many advantages I had. Then as someone said, “Well, you’re just running on your dad’s coattails.” I said, “Well, what better coattail to run on?”
DRT: When you think back on your years in the Senate, can you think of one or two accomplishments that you’re most proud of?
NLKB: I can think of two, maybe. One that was accomplished was actually working with Ted Kennedy to get what became one of the beginnings of opening the health care issues. This was not that big, but it was so controversial, and it still is in many ways. I personally now today think that Kansas should have more Medicaid coverage, but this was something that with Ted Kennedy and myself, the bipartisan aspect, that you could carry your insurance with you.
DRT: Portable is the word these days.
NLKB: Yes, portable. If you were in another state or you were changing jobs, it was portable. That was a big first step, I would have to say. It was a first step that mattered I think particularly for me, it was nice to be able to show you could work across the aisle.
DRT: Let’s talk about that a little bit. Now we all tend to idealize the past, but it appears it’s very difficult these days to work across the aisle.
NLKB: It is, and I think it’s a real mistake. How it’s come to be that, I don’t know. On both sides, there seems to be—I think it’s because the public itself, and Deanell, I think this is a major issue. But before we move on, I want to point out another that I liked a lot, that I was very involved in.
DRT: Oh, please do.
NLKB: In working with in one way or another is Africa. I have a wonderful picture with Nelson Mandela after he was home in Johannesburg. But I urged the administration, the Republican administration at that point, to support the efforts to end segregation in South Africa.
I remember going to the White House. It was not successful, but it gradually came to be. Again, it was a first step. Sometimes you have to take those, I realize, looking back, and keep working with it long enough that eventually something does come about.
But I met some wonderful people involved in South Africa at that point who were working so hard, women, to bring the segregation. And then visited a lot of it because I chaired the African subcommittee of Foreign Relations, other places in Africa that were really interesting. And I think that it meant a lot to me because it was a way of life that I found just very different, and I look at Africa today as a whole, and I wonder, did we really make advancements? But then I look at our own, and I think of how divided we’ve become.
I don’t know. I don’t know how you feel about this. I think one thing here is we’ve lost an opportunity to really have a dialogue. We get all our news through computers and—
DRT: Social media and all of the technology.
NLKB: Which I don’t even do email.
DRT: I know, Nancy. It’s hard to get in touch with you.
NLKB: And it’s a shame. Everybody gets really annoyed, including the rest of my family. You can’t imagine what a relief it is, not to see all this email coming in. A lot of it doesn’t matter. IT isn’t even a family member, as you know, with all of it coming through. Where is the chance to have those meetings with either Democrats or Republicans and have a dialogue?
DRT: To that end, it interests me whether the title Democrat and Republican still has meaning. Do you think it does?
NLKB: No. I think you’re right. But I think you have to have something.
DRT: You have to have a bucket to put people in. I think you and I have always agreed that a two-party system is a very effective system and has been historically.
DRT: Whether the labels these days are good—
NLKB: And how do you get away from it? I think back to if the Republicans are having their committee meeting in Council Grove, I should drive in and participate. I haven’t. I know more in the Democrat Party actually than the Republican now under the circumstances, but that doesn’t solve the problem. I’m not sure what does.
I look at some of the midterm races going on right now. Take Georgia, for instance, which doesn’t apply to what we’re doing right now, but it’s an example that’s just gone awry.
DRT: In part because, back to your original point, we see these snippets in the media, and we know little or nothing in-depth about the issues.
NLKB: Well, except the Republicans want to keep their majority in the Senate.
DRT: Well, we know about that.
NLKB: And that doesn’t go away. I mean, it’s been true always. But today it’s different because again there’s not the dialogue they used to have. I look at the Republicans who are going down to Georgia now to speak to the candidate that I’m just sort of appalled. This is the part that I know it matters to the Kansas Historical Society.
DRT: We’re Humanities Kansas. We do like to hear all viewpoints on these issues.
NLKB: And have people care.
DRT: That’s right. And have people pay attention.
NLKB: And what is the future we’re trying to work toward?
NLKB: I’m not sure we think about it that much. That’s what worries me about the elderly and the schools. Both sides, I think are not getting really the attention they need to have. It’s different from when I grew up, different from when you grew up. I’m not sure I know the answer.
DRT: And the question is whether we’re passing on good information to younger people.
NLKB: Very true.
NLKB: Very true.
DRT: So they can learn to make their own decisions.
NLKB: And again that’s understanding the history that we’ve talked about a bit. I’ll have to say what’s influenced me more than anything is reading. I always said you’ll never be bored if you like to read.
DRT: I think you and I probably are Exhibit A. When you get a little older, I’ve become more and more voracious in my reading, just because it opens up so many worlds.
NLKB: Exactly. We read when we were young, and we’ve kept it up. I can’t say enough, and I don’t think—I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know the answer.
DRT: I’m hopeful that Kindle will take over TikTok. At least on your Kindle, you read a book. It’s the sort of in-depth understanding that troubles me, whether younger people are really getting that in-depth.
DRT: I don’t want to dump on them because they also know a lot of stuff that we didn’t ever know.
NLKB: That’s true. Or maybe even want to know.
DRT: Exactly. Scientific issues, for example. There’s a lot of curiosity among younger people about that.
NLKB: And you’re right. When I was that age, I don’t know if I cared that much either. I was more interested in hiking over to the Kaw [Kansas] River to get a suntan. But I also read a book when I went to bed at night. I always went to sleep reading.
DRT: Let’s shift now a little bit to a little bit later. Then you had a whole new career after you sort of got reacquainted with Howard Baker. Do you want to talk about that?
NLKB: Well, I watched the Tennessee game the other night. I don’t know if you saw that game.
DRT: Oh, yes.
NLKB: I thought, “I can’t believe,” but anyway—well, he would have been right there cheering. I went to a number of Tennessee football games with Howard. He didn’t go as often then. But we had, I did and so did Howard really, a wonderful experience in Japan because he was selected by President Bush to be our ambassador. So we were in Japan for four years.
DRT: Was that a bit of an uprooting for you?
DRT: It was fun.
NLKB: I just enjoyed it so much and made so many wonderful Japanese friends. I haven’t kept up, and I hear from them often, some wonderful women there that made it so interesting to me about Japan, and who they themselves took such an interest in things of theirs that were Japanese. So it was a sharing that I really enjoyed. I think Howard did, too. There were a lot of friendships there that I’ve kept up.
DRT: Nancy, when you think back over your career, what does Kansas mean to you? How does Kansas fit in all this? Are we as William Allen Wright was known to say “quite different”?
NLKB: Well, I don’t think we are, but I think we—maybe because you grew up in a small town while I didn’t grow up in a small town really—had a lot of ties, like in Whitewater and in a smaller community. And here the land that I have at one point was owned by a cousin of Mother’s. So there’s a tie back actually. She and her husband had a bank that is now a part of—it was sold a long time ago. Kay used to take my children when they were just little down to catch tadpoles in the creek, down at the farm where now we are, and they are long gone. I think there’s a tie to our land that for any of us that were close to where we could grow up with that tie, it is something I would never choose to leave.
DRT: And you really never did either.
NLKB: I never did.
DRT: Nancy, on behalf of all Kansans, which is a big presumptuous thing to say—
DRT: You have been a voice of moderation. You have been a thoughtful public servant. You reflect what I believe are Kansas values. Thank you. What would you like to say?
NLKB: And I thank you. I think the friends I’ve had along the way have made such a difference even when you don’t see them for quite a while, and it could be the one that’s in Japan, where I’ve been, or where I am now. I think I’m about six miles from my son and daughter-in-law, but I think what if I should tend to trip and fall down the stairs?
DRT: What if I fell?
NLKB: I wonder if there’s a whistle I should have that I could call somebody. No, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I think there’s something about Kansas that has provided roots for people that as you get older, you tend to look back. I think that’s one thing that is something that is unique about Council Grove or Herington or Whitewater or all the little communities we still have around us, how many people do go home if possible, at least to visit. I think actually they’re saying more people are moving back to smaller communities, are they not, in Kansas?
DRT: Well, we can all hope that that will happen. There are a lot of things that smaller communities need to be—well connected technologically in order to be productive, and one worries about the agrarian base of these communities.
NLKB: That I think is a real worry for us here in Kansas.
DRT: And water.
NLKB: And water. That’s true. So I’m not as active as I should be, and that bothers me. But on the other hand, I don’t drive. The family doesn’t let me drive outside of Morris County. So I couldn’t get to see you or anybody at KU or K State as that goes. But usually somebody’s going, and I can catch a ride.
DRT: You make it around quite a lot.
NLKB: But I don’t speak much. I did do a Dole Institute speech.
DRT: I was there that day. That was the one where you did a great job.
NLKB: You were there. That’s the last really I’ve been away from here. I’m surprised I even could get up and do it. But maybe when you really are interested in what you’re talking about, you do rise to the occasion. And Pia, have you met her? She’s Dole’s assistant.
NLKB: She’s going to be coming back out. She’s moving to Florida right now. I called with all the storms. She said, “I’m packing up right now.” So maybe we can see.
DRT: Get together.
NLKB: I don’t think she’s moving to Kansas.
DRT: Well, we could spend hours and hours on this. Let me ask you one last thing: When Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker sits down at her farm late in the night, what are the things that have given you the most joy?
NLKB: That’s a hard question to answer. I suppose that I’ve been so fortunate in having wonderful friends, a family that’s been very supportive. It’s hard when you lose family members, but you also have those that are there to support.
DRT: Well, all of Kansas loves you. So thank you.
[End of Interview]
NOTE 1. Alfred Mossman Landon served as the 26th governor of Kansas from 1933 to 1937. A member of the Republican Party, he was the party’s nominee in the 1936 presidential election; he was defeated by incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
NOTE 2. Wendell Wilkie ran against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940.
NOTE 3. The 1978 United States Senate election in Kansas took place on November 7, 1978. Incumbent Republican Senator James B. Pearson did not run for re-election to a third full term. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, the daughter of former Governor Alf Landon, won the primary election with 30.58% of the vote, defeating a large field of Republican candidates in the primary. She defeated Democratic former U.S. Representative Bill Roy in the general election, 53.86% to 42.41%.
Candidates in the Republican primary were Wayne Angell, former State Representative from Ottawa; L.C. Fitzjarrell, Stillwell; Norman Gaar, State Senator from Westwood; Bill Gibbs, Overland Park; Sam Hardage, businessman from Wichita; Jan Meyers, State Senator from Overland Park; Deryl Schuster, Shawnee and Ken Henderson.
NOTE 4. An August 17,2017 oral history interview by Betty K. Koed, historian for the Senate Historical Office in Washington DC has additional information about Senator Kassebaum Baker’s senatorial career. It is available at https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/oral_history/kassebaum-baker-nancy-oral-history.htm.
There is also a YouTube video made at the Dole Institute which can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ2r4uBRQ64. Interviewer is Betty Koed.
July 29, 1932
Member, Maize Board of Education
Case Worker, Office of Senator James Pearson 1974-1976
U.S. Senator, U.S. Senate 1978-1997
Morris County Public Library