As with so many things in this life, Fate surely played a hand as Roger and Jeanne Blessing arrived at a party one evening in 2006. An invitation from an acquaintance was responsible for Roger and Jeanne’s presence that night. Upon walking into the home, and recognizing several notable, deep-pocketed Kansas Citians mingling about, Roger said to Jeanne, “We don’t belong here.” Still, the availed themselves of drinks and headed onto a balcony, where they encountered a woman rehearsing a presentation.
Roger and Jeanne began to chat with Emily Connell, the Executive Director of The Symphony in the Flint Hills, who was canvasing the state hoping to find enough patrons to get the event off the ground. As she painted her vision for the event to the Blessings, Roger suddenly knew why he was there.
“They had no idea what they were doing,” Roger said. The board was planning an event for 5,000 people, who would arrive in hundreds of automobiles, but had only a vague notion of how it would all come together. Roger, an architect, was a planner. He told Connell that night that he would handle the logistics, and for the next several years Roger and Jeanne mapped out the events, determining where cars would park, where people should sit, and generally making sure the flow in and out of the concert went smoothly.
According to Connell, Roger was completely integral to the ongoing success of the event.
“Roger and Jeanne were there from the very beginning, finding ways to weave the event into our lives, and, for the rest of the team, into our hearts,” Connell said. “Roger was the only person who could really picture what the event would look like and how it must function to take care of thousands of people out in a wild, natural environment.”
Connell declared Roger’s site plans “meticulous” and designed to frame the beauty of the Flint Hills, never trying to compete with the special beauty of the prairie or tame the environment.
“It has turned into a major happening, “Roger said. “When people ask me about going, I tell them, ‘If you are going for the music, go to the symphony downtown. If you want to see cows, hike the Flint Hills, but if you want to go to an event like no other, go to the Symphony in the Flint Hills.”
“[Roger’s] contributions were many. The major one was his enormous generosity – giving what is most valuable – the time of his life. And bring with that commitment his talent, experience and warm, appreciative heart, as well as his sometimes prickly, incisive mind and always life-full spirit,” Connell said.
Roger and Jeanne enjoyed the symphony a few times a year, but their real interest in this event were the Flint Hills. The couple, who recently celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary, were avid hikers throughout their relationship. They were frequent visitors to the Flint Hills where they walked the prairie and looked out over the majesty of the plains.
“I never have a camera. I don’t take pictures. But if I close my eyes, I can see the Flint Hills before me, and my car parked 100 yards over here, “Roger said.
The Flint Hills are made up of 9,936 square miles of tallgrass prairie, undisturbed by early settlers because of the rocky soil. It is so large and diverse, Roger said, so it is difficult to pinpoint one specific spot as a favorite. Cattle ranches dominate the area, and the Blessings got to know some of the ranchers, including the Hoy family, who operate a 7,000 acre ranch in the Cottonwood River Valley in Chase County.
“Once you get over the concern of a cow herd circling around you, you get more comfortable with the hiking,” Roger said. “Then, when a cowboy rides up and gets off his horse to talk to you, you really have a lot of fun. I’ve never met a cowboy who doesn’t love being a cattleman in a pasture like that.”
Connell told Roger that there would be people who came because they loved the symphony, and people who came because they loved the Flint Hills, but after a while they move on; but the people who loved the Flint Hills and the symphony, would be the core that kept the event going.
According to Roger, Emily was right in that respect. The Symphony in the Flint Hills is known nationally and, Roger says, some internationally.
Roger and Jeanne were a dimension in themselves to the Symphony, according to Connell. “They were intrepid, wry and encouraging,” she said. “How I miss them. I am grateful to have shared a grand adventure with them.”
This is the 12th year for the concert, which will take place June 10 at Deer Horn Ranch in Geary County.
“Singing Home on the Range as the sun is setting, there’s nothing like it,” Roger said. “That’s the finale.”