Longtime Kansas journalist Kathleen Kelly Whalen, who made a career of her love of food and its preparation, died May 9, 2010, in Houston.


Longtime Kansas journalist Kathleen Kelly Whalen, who made a career of her love of food and its preparation, died May 9, 2010, in Houston.

She served as food editor and columnist for The Wichita Eagle for 40 years. Her life was a recipe in itself: Equal parts career, family and friends — and service to her community as well as to various organizations to which she belonged.

She was born on July 14, 1933, in Manhattan. She was a graduate of Kansas State University, where she received undergraduate and master’s degrees. She lived most of her life in Wichita and Harvey County before moving to Houston in 2005.

Widowed at an early age, she raised her son, Kelly Humphries, as a single mother. Her husband, Gary Humphries, a photographer for the Eagle, died in a 1959 plane crash while on assignment. Readers came to know Kelly as “Lanky Lad” through her newspaper columns.

In 1966, she married John Whalen, who preceded her in death. During that marriage, they lived in the Newton area.

Kathleen started working at the Eagle as a summer intern in 1953 and was hired full time in 1955. She worked at the newspaper until her retirement in 1995.

During her career and after, she was a popular speaker for many organizations. She spoke about food and home economics or hats and bandannas. Her hats and bandannas became a signature look.

She was a member and leader in various professional organizations, including the Kansas and Wichita Press Women organizations, the National Federation of Press Women and the Wichita Chapter of Theta Sigma Phi. She won numerous awards for her writing. Until her move to Houston, she was active in the Newton chapter of PEO and the Church of Christ.

Kathleen was an early board member of the Flint Hills Overland Wagon Train, an actual covered wagon experience, which she also promoted as its publicity chairwoman. She often served as the Wagon Train’s camp cook and even made bunnies out of bandannas as part of the entertainment.

In addition to her son Kelly, who resides in Houston, Kathleen is survived by her granddaughter, Lauren Humphries of Chicago; sister Jane Kelly of Medina, Texas; brother Michael Kelly of Wichita; and stepchildren, Hal Slentz-Whalen of Edgewater, Md., Janet Sue Whalen Dunning of Key West, Fla., and Pat Pollak of Jamul, Calif.

Her wish was to take one final ride with the Wagon Train — an event that also will serve as her final benefit for the Flint Hills Overland Train.

Those who would like to be present for the complete celebration of her life, including scattering her ashes, will take a day-and-a-half wagon ride with campfire meals and entertainment. Please e-mail Kelly at wagontrainks@earthlink.net to sign up and get information on costs. A shorter option is a 15-minute wagon ride and a campfire supper for $40. The deadline is June 4. For information on the Wagon Train, visit www.wagontrainks.com.

Those wishing simply to pay their respects should gather at 10 a.m. June 19 at the Town and Country Café in Florence. The group will caravan to the Flint Hills service site where there will be a brief ceremony; then the wagon train will depart.