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The same hospitality, good food

Patricia and Mike Miller--The Barn

Photo by Clarke Davis
Patricia and Mike Miller are making some changes at The Barn Bed and Breakfast Inn as spring arrives. Helping out is their daughter, Kyra. Their son, Alex, will join them this summer after completing the term at Pittsburg State. The Barn is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

 

by Clarke Davis
It’s spring at The Barn Bed and Breakfast Inn and a few changes are taking place.
Those artificial flowers have been tossed and replaced by real ones, the waterfall and gurgling brook have been renewed, and the giant lawn mower has been made ready.
“I’m having that old trash container boxed in so it won’t be an eyesore,” said Patricia Miller, owner and innkeeper.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the bed and breakfast inn that sits along Blue Mound Road just south of Valley Falls.
To celebrate, Miller is offering three couples a free night’s stay at The Barn through a free drawing. Local people can drop by the B&B and sign up or just ask to be entered through their website or on Facebook.
Miller reminisced one day last week about those 30 years as she pored through two large scrapbooks. She was just entering her teen years when her parents, the late Tom and Marcella Ryan, began opening their home to guests.
It was close to being the first B&B in the state and it’s estimated that 400,000 people have passed through the doors to spend the night or attend the many functions.
Patricia has vivid memories of the original barn that once held hay and horse stalls. When she was a child it contained farrowing stalls for sows and when those were gone and the barn was empty it became a children’s playroom where she watched older kids shoot pigeons.
All of a sudden one day their dad called them in to announce, “We’re pouring concrete and putting up two-by-fours.”
“OK!” the kids thought. “Dad’s got a project.”
The project was to turn the old barn into living quarters. There would be a dozen bedrooms with private bath, large living room areas, and a commercial-size kitchen to handle produce that would be grown in the garden.
Tom and Marcella were farmers facing hard times in a time when many or most small farmers had to leave the land.
Patricia said her dad believed families would have to almost band together to survive.
“I know he always wanted a place his children could come back to,” she said.
But there’s no crystal ball and things didn’t turn out that way. Patricia’s sisters, Mary and Catherine, visited an aunt in Hawaii and then wound up living in Alaska. Her brother, Thomas III, moved to Minnesota.
That left a pretty big house (or barn) for just three people. It was Patricia’s aunt, Geri Ha, a Continental flight attendant, who suggested the idea of a bed and breakfast and it wasn’t long and Tom and Marcella were having a lot of people for supper.
The scrapbooks contain the story. There was statewide publicity and the Ryans’ hospitality soon had the place booked full well into the future, which meant it was time to add on.
The new addition added more rooms, a swimming pool, large dining and reception area, along with amenities such as a hot tub and exercise room.
“I had a front-row seat as a child watching it develop,” she said. “I saw every success and every setback.”
Patricia grew up flipping pancakes for breakfast, helping Mom prepare supper, and changing the bedding to get rooms ready for the next arrivals. She ultimately became the manager for 11 years until 2008.
Because the B&B is in a rural area, the Ryans soon became aware that they would have to provide supper for their guests.
“And Dad didn’t think it was right to send them off with a continental breakfast, so we soon began cooking a complete breakfast,” Patricia said.
Meal preparation resulted in an increased workload, but the Ryans learned that the food was a big part of what made them popular.
It also created additional employment in the area. Michelle Foster is a key person in the operation, Miller said, and countless high school youths have worked at The Barn.
“We now have some second generation youths on the payroll,” she said.
The Barn always advertised being a getaway for rest and relaxation, but Patricia says rest and relaxation now mean doing something. She and her husband, Mike, are putting thought into what more they can do to keep people entertained, and yet not divert from what has been so successful.
Adding a pool table was their first innovation and Mike is now conducting a study of what it takes to create a disc golf course.
“We have young people tell us that disc (or frisbee) golf is really popular and we have the space for it,” she said.
The innkeeper said she has learned that it is important to network with all the other attractions in the area, because people coming here want other things to go and do.
Crooked Post Winery, Old Jefferson Town, Perry Lake, trails at Perry State Park, the local museum, and the county’s golf courses are some of the first things guests are informed about.
“There are also services that people need when they get here,” she said. “I had to find someone who would give a couple a pedicure recently. I called locally, but wound up sending them to a place in Atchison.” The Barn offers Swedish massage.
She also plans to network with local food producers for fresh produce and meat.
“People today are interested in where and how their food is grown,” she said.
The real advantage for The Barn is its quiet country living — the reason city folks come here — yet it is within an hour of major cities and attractions for others.
A large percent of the guests are repeat customers and many have been coming to The Barn for years. While the guest book lists people from every state and many foreign lands, most of the guests are Kansans. Patricia remembers when they were hosts to a Chinese delegation here to watch a wheat harvest.
One never knows why some people come to The Barn, but Miller told about one recent couple who had been there often and complimented her on keeping things the same. They told her that they had come there because they had an important decision to make that they couldn’t seem to do in their own living room. They were able to resolve whatever it was by getting away.
Gone is the hog call to supper. Still an old farmer, her dad would yell out “soo-ee” sometimes when the chow was ready.
“I have the hardest time calling people as though they are pigs,” Patricia said, “but I did once when I was asked by someone who missed that.”
The Ryan children lost their parents 18 months apart. The father died of cancer last November, but not before turning The Barn operation over to Patricia and her family, the only ones interested in continuing what the parents had created.
Patricia had gone to school and became a registered nurse. She has been employed by Stormont-Vail Healthcare for over eight years but remained a part of The Barn operation. She still works an occasional shift at the hospital and intends to remain a part-time nurse while operating The Barn.
The Barn is large enough to accommodate numerous groups through the week including quilters, scrapbookers, church retreats, and young couples’ retreats. A number of businesses book in annually for daylong seminars and weeklong conferences.
Patricia believes the outlook for the business remains bright. The weekends from now through October are booked. She said local people who need to book a guest on the weekends can check with her. Sometimes there are one or two rooms left over or there’s been a cancellation. There are almost always rooms available during the week.
She told of one repeat group of quilters who came recently and spent part of the week.
“I felt like I was kind of being watched. I think they wondered if the place was going to be the same,” she said. “But when they left they booked for the next three years. I guess I met the test.”
“I always like to say, ‘don’t fix something that isn’t broke’,” Miller said, indicating she intends to stay with the same recipe that built the business: great hospitality, good food, and listen to what the guests want.
Patricia’s family consists of her husband, Mike, a mail carrier who helps with maintenance, lawn mowing, and countless other chores, their son, Alex, a Pittsburg State student who is headed for the University of Kansas to major in chemistry, and daughter, Kyra, who will graduate from Jefferson West High School in May and head for Washburn University as an art major. Both Alex and Kyra grew up working at The Barn.
The four siblings share interest in the farmland. Tom III and his wife, Gina, reside nearby on the farm, and Gina is a part-time employee at The Barn and provides massage service along with Sandy Slater. Their daughter, Megan, also helps out.
A cottage on the farm is reserved for when the sisters visit and Catherine has two daughters who enjoy spending time and working at The Barn during the summer.
Patricia said she has never been happier, convinced she is doing what she truly wants to do while staying connected to her nursing career.
The Miller family spent their Easter vacation in Washington, D.C., touring the sites on the National Mall during cherry blossom time.
They’re home now, listening for the next knock at the door.

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Posted by on Apr 7 2016. Filed under Featured, The Vindicator, Valley Falls. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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