Madeline Stuart


When I was looking for an inspirational quote to start this as I always do, this just seemed to fit. In fact it jumped right out at me.

I am always adding to my list of all things Kansas that I want to write a story about to put in my Kansas History books. The name of this subject that I just found was so surprising and so Kansan that I had to take the time to write about her.

Lets start this off by saying that until today I did not know this woman’s name. In fact it was one of the stories that give me a bit of a story that eventually I end up having to dig in and find out more.

I had heard that the largest fabric store in Kansas was in Alden. This was many years ago. In fact I thought that it had been so long ago that the store had to be closed by now. It always seems that nothing lasts forever.

Many years ago I had been in Alden for the funeral of a great uncle. Alden impressed me as being a typical small rural town in Kansas that had seen its heyday and was just holding on. Since we were there for a funeral the only exploring was a quick run down main street to turn around and come back to the church.

Another time I was with a group taking the tour of Quivera National Wildlife Refuge and the ranger answered the question of one of the women from the Kansas City Area that was in the group about the oil wells on the area. The wildlife refuge is a natural salt marsh and when the Federal Government purchased the properties back in the 1950’s, part of the agreement was to leave the mineral rights with the land owners as part of the deal. The KC women did not understand why the government did not just take the minerals from the former land owners. (this is why I never dated a city woman).

Part of the statement was that a large area that we were in with oil production belonged to a woman at Alden who had the big fabric shop. Over the years there were just quick comments by various people about the fabric shop.

When I opened the Hutch News and went through the obituaries I was immediately grabbed by one. Sara B Fair Sleeper age 101. In it was a quick history of this extraordinary woman. And all the little bits and pieces came together and a story began to form.

Being a woman did not stop Sara from doing anything she want to and this was long before the women’s movement. She was born before women even had the right to vote. Yet this never stopped her from learning to be an astute business woman.

When her husband decided to take pilot lessons Sara was not going to sit on the sideline. She became a pilot. In fact she was a member of the Ninety-Nines. She piloted a Piper Cub and eventually moved up to a Piper Cherokee.

Not only would she fly anywhere but she became a world traveler. She was involved in the management of farm and ranch land. When Alden’s RR Depot was closed and had to be moved off of the railroad property or be torn down, she purchased it and moved it across the street and filled it with railroad and other artifacts.

The women of the town needed a good source for material for quilting and she purchased a large building and filled it with fabric, gifts, antiques, and furniture. This was the famed business that I had heard stories of years ago.

This is where I found out that what I had assumed was wrong. (the first thing my captain at the Fire Department taught me was the spelling of ASSUME: IT MAKES AN ASS OUT OF U AND ME).

At age 96 Sara decided it was time to retire. The fabric shop was sold and is still in business in Alden. In fact they have 5000 bolts of cloth. Now that is a lot of cloth.

The name Sara B Fair Sleeper is now on my list of stories to research and write. She is another example of a Kansan that was an extraordinary person and should not be lost to time. Eventually she will show up in one of my books.

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