finding its roots
Jul. 6, 2007, By STACIE SANDALL, Hays Daily News
DAMAR — Les residants de Damar vont de nouveau au pass amliorer le futur de leur communauty.
That is, Damar residents are going back to the past to improve the future of their community.
The French-Canadian settlement is undergoing a restoration project that not only will bring the residents back to their roots, but will be a more attractive community for potential retirees and those passing through to enjoy.
Debbie Pfannenstiel, born and raised in Damar, said her husband, Linus, saw a picture of a French cafe at their daughter’s house two years ago. After Linus came home, he decided renovate his old building in the same fashion. Meanwhile, natives Judy Bieker and Paulette Niernberger, who now live in Hays, came up with the same thought. When they went back to Damar, they saw someone already had started.
Debbie Pfannenstiel presented the idea to do the same throughout Main Street to the Damartian Group in August. That group of women thought it was a great idea, and the project was started. The women and their husbands began painting the outsides, adding wrought iron, shutters, flower boxes and signs written in French.
“We painted every building in town, and each one of them took on their own little personality,” Pfannenstiel said. “With the restorations, the buildings are so cute. The talent of these people has been amazing. It’s been so much fun.”
Pfannenstiel said around 1 to 2 years ago, St. Joseph Catholic Church, built in 1912, was named to the National Register of Historic Places and became a tourist attraction. It recently underwent $370,000 worth of restoration work.
“The church is the center of our lives,” said Cindy Newell, who grew up in Damar. “I thought we’ve got to continue with the rest of the town if the church is going to be kept up so nicely.”
Residents hope those coming through town will see Damar is a great place to retire, or at least come back and visit again.
“It’s a little quiet community, and I find a lot of peace there,” said Newell, who now lives in Hays with her husband, Vince, a Damar native. “There’s nothing like going home and not see it falling apart.”
In the spring, residents planted approximately 40 trees, and the city redid the streets with a grant a few of years ago.
Another incentive to beautify the town is the city celebration and antique car show July 21. The event includes live entertainment, a car show, kids games, a barbecue and a street dance.
“We’re expecting about 1,500 people this year,” Bieker said.
The community is pushing hard to have everything finished by then. The entire project is financed by private donations. Pfannenstiel sent out more than 1,000 flyers from coast to coast asking past and present Damar residents and their families for donations.
“A lot of little towns in western Kansas are dying off, and we didn’t want that to happen to our town,” she said. “We’re never going to have a town the size of Hays, but we have pride in what our grandfathers built for our grandchildren.”
Damar was settled in 1888 by Quebec Frenchmen. Some of the first families who made homes there were Francois and Euphrosine St. Pierre and Eseube and Georgiana Saindon.
“My mother is widowed and still lives there. We just wanted to preserve our French heritage,” Newell said. “It’s the only little French community around. People are aging and dying off, or moving away. There’s not many people left, but we want to preserve what he have.”
Damar, population 150, has two beauty shops, a bar and pool hall, pantry store, liquor store, post office, two plumbing and air businesses, a historical restoration business, professional house painter, document destruction business, the church, a middle school and a two-truck fire department.
With help from others in the group, the back room of the cafe has been fixed to look like an Old World French restaurant. Newell and her husband, chose to take charge of that design. She played in it as a child when it was a grocery store belonging to her grandparents, Joe and Rozella St. Peter.
At the celebration, the group will host a concessions stand to finance more work. The township hall, built about 100 years ago, needs sandblasted and painted, and they want to transform the insides to Old World French.
A semi-load of brick is coming to add landscaping and outdoor patios in front of some of the buildings. Sidewalks need replaced as well, Pfannenstiel said.
The Newells left for a week in Quebec on June 29. They toured the area and brought back some ideas for the rest of Main Street. They also wanted to bring back some Canadian flags to display alongside the Kansas and American flags.
Reporter Stacie Sandall can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 136, or by e-mail at
Damar Cafe to re-open
from Stockton Sentinel
The Damar Cafe (Restaurant Le Damar) held its grand opening on Friday, July 27, 2007. Chris Knoll has been hired as the restaurant manager.
This community-involved venture, which has 24 investors overseen by Denis and Jeannie Roberts, will have daily and nightly specials. Their hours have been set at 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday, and 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. The cafe will be closed on Mondays.