Deanna Rose Farmstead: Ready the goats, here come the kids

From The Kansas City Star, April 1, 2017


Anytime you can take your children to bottle-feed two baby goats named Neville Longbottom and Albus Dumbledore, that’s a trip you pretty much have to make, right?

Well, yeah, and it’s that time of year again.

The goats are part of the 60 or so new kids on the block at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, which opened its 39th season this weekend at 13800 Switzer Road in Overland Park. The place draws about 450,000 visitors every year.

This year, though more likely in 2018, the park could see its 10 millionth visitor.

Other attractions, such as theme parks, fairs and haunted houses, like to come up with something new each year to keep the turnstiles churning. Same thing at Deanna Rose. This year, it’s a new prairie dog exhibit.

Dump trucks brought in 14 loads of dirt. Workers were out there on cold winter days putting it all together, and staff found a bunch of prairie dogs in Wichita.

But here’s the deal with the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead: The “new” there is often on the other end — children. Every year, the farmstead gets a bunch of new kids making their first visit and seeing everything for the first time.

Sarah Higgerson used to be one of the young visitors. She grew up in Overland Park, and Deanna Rose was her favorite place in the world. She visited often with her family. She graduated from Blue Valley High School, studied wildlife management and ecology at Kansas State University, worked for a while in a zoo and is now the animal care supervisor at Deanna Rose.

Ask Higgerson, or anyone who works at the farmstead, what’s the biggest draw at a place that has pretty much any animal from a 1900s turn-of-the-century Kansas farm, and the answer comes fast.

“Baby goats,” she said immediately. “I loved them way back then, and now I practically live with them. Guess I’ve come full circle.”

She now brings Erik, her 2-year-old son, to Deanna Rose.

“One of his first words was ‘goat,’ ” she said.

Every year, the farmstead comes up with a name theme for the new goats. This year: Harry Potter.

On a recent cool morning, Deanna Rose was a busy place. Some animals returned from winter hiatus. Workers spruced up attractions. Volunteer gardeners cleaned flower beds and planted potatoes.

No urgency, but with a clear understanding that after long winter months, another opening day was coming quickly and soon children would pour through the gate.

The scene that day made perfect bedding for these words from 1985: “Her spirit will be with us in many ways, in the sharing of our lives with others.”

Ed Eilert, then the mayor of Overland Park, spoke those words about Deanna Hummel Rose, a police officer who died of injuries suffered on the job in January 1985.

She had stopped a vehicle late at night and was trying to arrest the driver on suspicion of driving while intoxicated when the man’s car knocked her to the ground and ran over her. She later died of her injuries, becoming the first Overland Park officer to die in the line of duty. She had joined the department two years earlier.

More than a thousand mourners, including 750 members of law enforcement, attended her funeral.

The city paid tribute by renaming the farmstead, which had opened seven years earlier, in her honor.

Last year, members of her family visited. They had to have liked what they saw. Dairy barn, fishing pond, wagons, pony rides, ice cream parlor, mining camp, schoolhouse, American Indian encampment and general store.

And lots of animals.

But Deanna Rose is not just for children. Kathi Limbocker, Deanna Rose’s education programs supervisor, said the farmstead is a great place for anyone to get away from their hectic lives for an hour or so.

“People put their phones away when they come in here,” she said.

It was peaceful in the gardens two weeks ago. Fifteen or so members of the Johnson County Kansas State Master Gardeners cleaned out perennial beds and planted potatoes.

The group shows up regularly.

“The produce goes to a food pantry,” Phyllis Merrick said. “Last year that amounted to about 900 pounds.”

Nearby, maintenance supervisor Jerry Nissen checked out the new prairie dog exhibit. He’s proud of the work his crew did on the project. And he likes his job.

“If you talk to people about this place, they think this is pretty good gig,” Nissen said.

Fresca, the resident barn cat, roamed about. A windmill turned. Smoky, a Welsh pony, watched it all with only mild interest.

Deanna Rose has eight full-time employees, about 75 seasonal workers and even more volunteers.

“From age 15 to retired,” Limbocker said. “This place gets in your blood, and they come back year after year.”