WILLIAM E. STOKE, who made his first acquaintance with the community of Great Bend in February, 1876, for a number of years capably sustained relations of an editor and publisher to Barton County, finally retiring from that profession to take up other business interests. Mr. Stoke has the characteristics associated with most successful newspaper menan inquiring mind, the ability to mix with men and affairs outside his immediate personal interests, and the courage to explore untried fields, counting experience a test of life's success as much as money.
Mr. Stoke was born in Jefferson County, Iowa, January 21, 1855. His father, John Stoke, a native of Monongahela County, Pennsylvania, was a carpenter, specializing in stair building, and gave his life to his trade. He moved to Iowa in the early '50s, and soon after the war settled in Wyandotte County, Kansas. He died at Topeka in 1888, at the age of sixty-eight. He was a republican and a strong abolitionist wherever he lived. He was a member of the Methodist Church. The maiden name of his wife was Rachel Bemburger, a native of Ohio, who died in Topeka in 1898. They had four children: William E.; Belle, who became the wife of S. P. Wilcox and died in Topeka; Frank, who died at Hammond, Indiana; and Luella, wife of Frank Dunlap, of Topeka.
William E. Stoke received his first schooling in Iowa and in 1870 accompanied his parents from Kenkuk County, that state, to Wyandotte County, Kansas. He attended school there, and also worked in an office. That was the only experience and training he had when he left home and started for Western Kansas. For a time he was at Emporia, where he was employed as an office boy in the Plumb Bank and as an apprentice to a painter. In 1876, the centennial year, he started with Colorado as his goal, but on reaching Great Bend stopped to look around and visit friends. The visit became a standing connection when he remained to learn the printer's trade with J. A. Hoisington, then owner of the Great Bend Register. He finished his trade in that office and was with the Register and Democrat until 1880. The next five years he was employed on the Kansas City Times under Dr. Morrison Mumford as foreman and makeup man and later in the Times' auxiliary department making patent insides for country papers, now known to the craft as "boiler plate." During those five years Mr. Stoke had married and had saved a little capital, which he brought back to Great Bend in the spring of 1885 and established a small job printing shop.
There is considerable history contained in one of the first pieces of work turned out by his shop in the form of a directory of Great Bend. It was issued in 1886, and contains the names of 915 local residents, only fifty-three of whom are still in the community. At that time Great Bend, according to the statisics[sic] furnished by the directory, had a population of 2,233, while now more than 5,000 people live on the townsite.
Eventually Mr. Stoke traded his job shop for a half interest in the Barton County Democrat, which had been founded four years previously by the firm of Tracy & Anderson. Mr. Stoke was instrumental in beginning the publication of the first daily newspaper, the Great Bend Daily Graphic, with which he was associated as a partner with Dewey Langford until July, 1887. The daily having proved unprofitable was discontinued about that time, and Mr. Stoke went on with the publication of the Weekly Democrat, publishing it alone until 1904. He then sold a half interest to W. P. Feder. In 1905 the Beacon, the Alliance paper, was purchased and consolidated with the Democrat, and in 1906 Stoke and Feder started another daily, the Daily Rustler. This came into competition with the Daily Tribune, and it was soon found that the town could or would not support two dailies. As his partner insisted upon this feature of the enterprise, Mr. Stoke sold his share of the business to his partner in July, 1907, and then retired permanently from the newspaper field after twenty-one years of hard work and a considerable degree of success.
Seeking recuperation from the long and continued strain of journalism, Mr. and Mrs. Stoke traveled through the West to the coast and to other points for several months. On returning home they determined to embark their capital in the florist business. While on their tour they investigated the greenhouse proposition, and they started their first plant with 4 000 square feet under glass. In 1908 their cut flowers and plants first came into the commercial field, and the Stoke Greenhouses have made a steady growth, and at the present time 14 000 square feet are under glass and they do both a retail and wholesale business.
During his newspaper career Mr. Stoke served as postmaster of Great Bend in Cleveland's second term. When his party had control of the county he was also county printer. He attended every democratic convention within reach, including the one which nominated Governor Hodges. Among his old political associates were John Martin, Governor Glick, Tom Moonlight and Ed Murphy. He was secretary of the congressional committee when Jerry Simpson was elected to Congress. He also knew personally Tom Fitch, Senator Harris and all the old party wheelhorses. Before automobiles made campaigning a comparative luxury, Mr. Stoke traveled over the county "day and night" working for the success of his ticket. He was a spectator in the Democratic National Convention of 1908, and also attended the convention of 1896 held in the old Coliseum at Chicago, where he listened to Mr. Bryan's famous "crown of thorns and cross of gold" speech.
Mr. Stoke has had numerous connections with fraternal work. He is a member of the Knights of Pythias, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Modern Woodmen of America, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and the American Insurance Union, and has filled all the chairs in the Ancient Order of United Workmen. He was the first president of the county organization of the Anti-Horse Thief Association.
At Kansas City, Missouri, in 1881, Mr. Stoke married Miss Luella Miller. She was born at Chariton, Iowa, June 5, 1858, daughter of A. L. Miller and Mary Bland Miller, being the oldest of their family of two sons and four daughters, five of whom are still living. Mrs. Stoke came to Kansas from Iowa in 1878, and was connected with the early schools of Great Bend as a teacher. Mr. and Mrs. Stoke have two daughters, Miss Nina M. and Bessie. Bessie is the wife of William Edman, of Great Bend. Mr. and Mrs. Stoke have five grandchildren, John William, Elizabeth, Stoke, Nina Bess and Helen Louise.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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