Q&A: Professor emeritus Gus van der Hoeven reflects on life in Kansas

In March 2021, Gus van der Hoeven published a book entitled "Stop, Look, and Listen: This is Life in Kansas," with many of the stories he has shared on his radio program. (Deborah Adeniji | Collegian Media)

Gus van der Hoeven is a professor emeritus in landscape and environmental horticulture at Kansas State. In March 2021, he published a book entitled “Stop, Look, and Listen: This is Life in Kansas,” with many of the stories he has shared on his radio program.

Originally from the Netherlands and moving to the United States after living in Australia, van der Hoeven made Kansas his home in 1974. He worked as a landscape and environmental horticulturist with K-State Research and Extension until his retirement in 2000.

While at K-State, van der Hoeven began delivering weekly vignettes about life in Kansas over the radio with Paul DeWeese on the radio station K.S.A.C. He continues to share his stories on Wednesdays between 10 and 11 a.m. on “Agriculture Today,” hosted by Eric Atkinson. People can listen to the program on radio stations throughout the state and K-State Research and Extension’s website.

With a team of people including his wife, Anneke, his children and family and his secretary Christy Dipman, van der Hoeven started transferring his radio broadcasts into a book. His editor, Annette McHaney — who van der Hoeven said needs a special place in Heaven — prepared the book for publication.

Calling himself a Kansan “by choice,” he said “Stop, Look, and Listen: This is Life in Kansas” shares the sometimes-overlooked stories of living in the Sunflower State.

His book is available at the Dusty Bookshelf, Claflin Books and Copies, the Flint Hills Discovery Center and on Amazon.

Alex Hurla, Collegian staff writer: “What is your book, ‘Stop, Look, and Listen: This is Life in Kansas,’ about?”

Gus van der Hoeven: “They are my stories as I see them, but there are other people — Kansans — all around me who make the stories. … Having come to the state, and as I mentioned in the book, people apologized for Kansas. Now, I had other opportunities, but Kansas, I always came here by choice. I intended to show Kansans that they should be proud of their state. Kansas became not an obsession but a home for me.”

Alex: “What made you want to put your radio stories into a book?”

Gus: “The stories come about because of people asking me or telling me, ‘You got to put this in a story,’ including in my own family, Anneke did. I said, ‘Honey, I’m no writer.’ I love to put them out on the air. Boom! There they go. Bye! And I don’t worry about them anymore. I start worrying about, what’s next week? … The book was started because people told me, ‘Gus, you’ve got to write this down.’ I was too busy when I was working. I didn’t have time. Let me tell you, to put words between hardcover or softcover is work, and you need a lot of people who understand you because they want to change it.”

“I approached different people — KU and others – and they said, ‘Great idea, but take a few of your radio programs and elaborate on them.’ Impossible. You can’t do that. I can’t do that. I could not, and the contract I made with myself and Miss Annette, my editor, is we’re not changing [anything]. Yes, a dot here, a comma here, a misspelling there, of course. But the story is the story as told, as spoken, as a spoken word.”

Alex: “How did you select which stories from your radio broadcasts would go in your book?”

Gus: “The selection was done by Talina, my daughter. I started in a broad selection, right? ‘No, that’s not it. No, I’m not sure of that. No. Yes. Yes. No. No,’ and we put little markers there, but then the real selection is what tied it to Kansas, to land, to feeling, and at the same time, being. Talina really sat down, and it was a big job. Initially, I did it, and then she refined it. … She wanted to give an overview of what she thought was living in Kansas, and she probably looked at those which involved people. She may have emphasized people farther and closer — grandchildren, children — in the family, but also the animals I lived with.”

Alex: “What do you hope people — and especially Kansans — get out of your book?”

Gus: “I want Kansans to love their state, and take pride in it, and maintain it. I’m not talking political — that’s a totally different thing. This goes way beyond that.”

“The book will tell them that I want them to love their state and value it … I’ve always looked at Kansas as being the center — the university included … I think university — any university — but especially the land-grant universities, have a tremendous task to build the state itself. The lucky part of it is that most of our land is agriculture and is taken care of as agriculture.”

Alex: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

Gus: “The advice from me for Kansans is be open-minded, be together and love your state. And to love the state, you’ve got to love the soil and not abuse it.”