Gannett Kansas recognizes six individuals as Distinguished Kansans for 2021. Jason Sudeikis was chosen Kansan of the Year.
They are as follows:
- Donna McClish, community
- Sheinelle Jones, journalism
- Bill Farmer, entertainment
- Hutchinson Community College football team, sports
- Lois Smith, theater
- Ximena Garcia, government
Following are why they are being recognized today.
Donna McClish, Community
Donna McClish, an urban farmer in Wichita, believes everyone is family. With a motto of “All are fed. No one is hungry,” she starts her work each day buying from local farmers and dairies, boxing up their fresh vegetables, eggs and cheese and delivering the items to nursing homes and low-income residences in central Kansas.
McClish formed Common Ground Growers and Producers — the only group in Kansas that delivers fresh vegetables directly to seniors and low-income families. It is also the only mobile market in Kansas.
McClish, who grew up on a farm in Sedgwick County, said it is important for everyone to be at the table — including farmers.
— Alice Mannette
Sheinelle Jones, Journalism
Journalist and Kansas native Sheinelle Jones enjoys helping others. As one of the co-hosts on NBC-TV’s “3rd Hour Today,” this Wichita Heights High School graduate brings her vivaciousness and wealth of knowledge to her audience.
On Dec. 19, her documentary “Stories We Tell: The Fertility Secret” aired. As executive producer of the documentary, which highlights stories of Black women’s infertility, her passion for helping women, especially women of color, was vital.
Jones hopes to educate women and their daughters about fibroids, which can strike any female, but according to Jones, may strike women of color disproportionately.
In November, Jones was inducted into Northwestern University’s hall of achievement.
— Alice Mannette
Bill Farmer, Entertainment
Walt Disney’s “Goofy” grew up in Kansas. Voice actor and comedian Bill Farmer, a Pratt native, watched cartoons as a child, and when he moved to Hollywood, he auditioned for a role with Walt Disney Studios.
Since 1987, Farmer has depicted the voice of Goofy. He can also be heard as Pluto and Horace Horsecollar and is featured on several Disney films, including “Beauty and the Beast.” This September, Farmer, who graduated from Pratt High School in 1971, was inducted into the Greenback, Pratt High School, Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Farmer attained the Disney Legend award.
— Alice Mannette
Hutchinson Community College football team, Sports
Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons head football coach, Drew Dallas, led the Blue Dragons to a 17-2 record in two seasons, including a Jayhawk conference championship, Jayhawk playoff championship and NJCAA Div. I national championship win.
The national championship, gained in a 29-27 victory in June over Ephraim, Utah-based Snow College, was the program’s first in school history.
The Blue Dragons football program has numerous players leaping to the NCAA to continue their football journeys at schools such as Auburn, Buffalo, Coastal Carolina and UTSA.
— Billy Watson
Lois Smith, Theater
Native Topekan Lois Smith in September became the oldest person ever to win a Tony Award for acting.
Smith, 90, was born in Topeka in 1931 and spent the first 11 years of her life there. She received the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for appearing as Margaret in “The Inheritance” at the 74th annual Tony Awards ceremony.
It was Smith’s first Tony Award and third Tony Award nomination during a long acting career, which has included appearing in various films.
— Tim Hrenchir
Ximena Garcia, Government
Retired physician Ximena Garcia is being recognized for her work to spread awareness regarding COVID-19, particularly to Hispanics.
Garcia, of Topeka, was appointed in March as adviser on COVID-19 vaccine equity to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly. She has worked with representatives from underrepresented populations and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to coordinate vaccine administration in socially vulnerable communities.
Since November, she has been the acting state health officer and Medicaid medical director.