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Where Are They Now? Roxie Yonkey

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Dr. Erol Ozan, an information technology professor and author, understood how life’s journey is often richer through the unscripted and unplanned moments and destinations that seem like lost moments when he was quoted saying, “Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”  Our first “Where Are They Now?” person of 2022 also understands this to be true, as her time in Hamilton County that seemed part of some lost adventure, led to the beautiful paths that have shaped the journey of a lifetime.

Roxie (Lockwood) Yonkey was born in Hastings, Nebraska, to Gene and Mary Lockwood. For as long as Roxie could remember, “I always, always wanted to be an author, but no one I knew had ever published a book.” Further, she wanted to be a travel writer, “but who does that?” Her family did not have a lot of money as she was growing up, so they rarely traveled, much to Roxie’s great dismay. “I have always had wanderlust.” This internal yearning to see the world would serve her well in the years to come, but she just had to wait for that time in her life to arrive.

Through high school, Roxie perfected her writing skills to become one of the Adams Central High School’s best writers; however, her schedule never accommodated her participation in yearbook classes. This lack of fuel for her passion is perhaps why Roxie was less than engaged in school. She found it to be boring, which gave her a general distaste for the whole experience. 

Roxie graduated from Adams Central in 1980. Gene and Mary steered her toward Tennessee Temple Bible College in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “My parents made me go, but I was not suited for bible college because, essentially, I don’t like rules.” Roxie struggled with taking the college courses that never seemed to matter. She wasn’t able to learn what she wanted to learn. During her three years at Tennessee Temple, Roxie connected with the woman who would become her best friend, Debbie Phillips, but illness interrupted her time at Tennessee Temple. Debbie would become a long-distance best friend.

In 1983, Roxie returned to Hastings to recover. Rather than lose educational momentum, she enrolled in Central Community College in Hastings and pursued courses in the emerging field of computer technology. In these courses, she was introduced to large computers in main- frame rooms, which were kept very cold to keep the electronics from overheating. Two-inch bundles of cables spanned across the floor to carry the data to the slave terminals outside of the frigid, sterile rooms, filled with the whirring and clicking of the new thinking machines. It was at these slave terminals where Roxie learned to understand software and could make the computer do anything she wanted it to do. Even though coding was not her favorite part of the computer process, she found taking the computer technology courses “was the best thing I ever did.” 

She also took some general education courses. Instead of second-semester English composition, she was permitted to design her own class. She decided to write a novel. At the conclusion of the semester, Roxie received an A for her fictional writings; which was the last time she ever wrote a fictional work. After a mere a year and a half, she earned her Certificate in Computer Technology.

Roxie would next attend Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, which pleased her Baptist parents immensely. School still bored her, but the Christian service requirements opened an unexpected opportunity. At the volunteer fair, Roxie snagged a football poster to jazz up her sedate room a touch, when the woman at the table delayed her exit, “Hey, do you like football?  Come work in the athletic office and get a scholarship.” Roxie laughed that she was no athlete at all; however, she attended Liberty on a small athletic scholarship while she was the staff writer for Liberty University’s Athletic Department.

Her first job out of college was working for Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia, where Roxie worked a year in Sports Information. The job was more administrative than a writing assignment, but it paid room and board until she could find something else. Roxie applied for job after job, but as a recent graduate, she was always the runner up. She headed home instead. Roxie was despondent as she lived at home, frequently tearful at not having a job.

In February, 1990, Roxie answered an advertisement for The Goodland Daily News, in Goodland, Kansas. Her intuition said that Goodland would be her next job, but it didn’t happen.  Everything was computerized and right up her alley, but again, she was the runner up. She still endured countless interviews, and countless runner-up finishes. 

During this time, she interviewed at the local newspaper in Milford, Nebraska, which was only an hour and a half from Hastings. To her shock, they still used typewriters and, to add insult to injury, Milford had an opening because their person took the job with The Goodland Daily News. Utter despair was setting in until Goodland Daily called her to interview and Roxie was hired as the sports editor and general assignment writer. 

When Roxie Lockwood was hired in Goodland, she was trained by an exhausted general assignment writer, Eric Yonkey. He had been carrying the bulk of the paper’s responsibilities for far too long, while waiting for new writers to get hired in rural Northwest Kansas. Eric was perfect and they had a chemistry that developed into an instant friendship. After Roxie was trained, Eric was able to take off for two weeks, which is when he got engaged to a long-time girlfriend. 

The more Roxie got to know Eric, the more she liked him. “He checked off all the qualifications on my list,” she said. But he was engaged. She had never interfered with anyone’s relationship and she refused to start now. Roxie stuffed her feelings and they continued to work together.  Right before the wedding, however, Eric’s fiancé called off the wedding and Eric was heartbroken. Roxie felt bad for Eric, but was secretly glad that no one else would be marrying her perfect guy.

Eric wanted a fresh start, so he had purchased The Syracuse Journal in January 1991, and was able to work for himself.  Roxie came down for New Year’s, 1992, and stayed with Evelyn Drew.  Nothing happened … no spark … no New Year’s start to a new relationship, but the friendship continued. In the spring of 1992, Roxie’s position in Goodland was cut and she was fired.  Charity Horinek was getting married, so Eric needed help with editing while Charity was on her honeymoon. Roxie filled the gap and edited The Syracuse Journal for her best friend.

With the lack of stability in journalism, Roxie’s parents wanted her to get an education degree. Roxie was not a fan of continuing her education, but she could see that they had a legitimate point. Teaching would be a stable and guaranteed source of income, so Roxie went back to school at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

In the summer of 1993, Roxie returned to Syracuse one last time to visit her best friend and help get the paper published. Evelyn and Charity were not only Journal staff, but now matchmakers who got involved in the Eric and Roxie story. They could see how close Eric and Roxie had become and intervened to encourage the two to move the relationship beyond the friend zone. During a trip to Lamar, Charity and Roxie stopped at Porky’s in Holly. Charity broached the subject, telling Roxie, “You and Eric need to be together.” It was as though  all the obvious facts in the universe had been unveiled and were now available for conversation. Roxie blurted out, “I know!” Little did she know that Evelyn was having the same conversation with Eric at the office because she already knew the secret love Roxie carried for Eric. Roxie had just wanted Eric to ask her to be his girlfriend. She was tired of being the sidekick and best friend.  The friend zone was becoming suffocating. At the conclusion of this Syracuse visit, she had already determined that she would return to school and not return. Roxie Lockwood was done pining after Eric Yonkey, even though she knew in her heart that he was everything she ever wanted. 

When Roxie returned to Evelyn’s house, she was watching television, secretly sulking in her heart about the decision she was about to make to walk away from years of friendship and hope, when there was a knock at the door.  Evelyn answered the door, announcing to Roxie that Eric was at the door with his dog, Bouncer.  Bouncer was in need of water, so Evelyn asked Roxie to grab a bowl of water and bring it to the door.  Roxie didn’t want to, but Evelyn, in her best teacher voice, made Roxie get off the couch, get the water, and bring it to the door.  Skulking around like an insolent thirteen-year-old girl, Roxie did as she was told.

As Roxie crossed the threshold to the porch, her heart paused. The anger and dashed hopes simply melted away.  “A different man was outside. My boyfriend was standing there, looking at me in the way I had always hoped he would.” Roxie and Eric started dating and, three days later, they decided to get married within the next year.

Mark and Charity Horinek moved to Sublette later in the year. Eric decided that he would edit the paper. Roxie graduated from UNK in December, but she skipped her graduation to visit Eric. She edited the paper over break, then returned to Kearney. She intended to work on her master’s degree and substitute teach. That didn’t last.

Eric’s least favorite task was Charity’s job of editing the paper.  Roxie was emotionally finished with attending school anyway, so she withdrew from college to return to Syracuse and help Eric with the paper. Roxie thought the best edition they had was the very last Journal ever published by Eric and Roxie.  It was published on March 31, 1994,  and featured a high-speed chase on Highway 50 that ended in a one-vehicle collision.  Roxie and Mary Palmer went racing out to the scene where Roxie captured a photograph of the Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper, Randy Mosher, rendering aid to the fleeing suspect who had been thrown from the vehicle.  The rush of the high-speed chase for the scoop was exhilarating.   Eric sold The Syracuse Journal on April 1, 1994. 

Eric and Roxie Yonkey were then married on May 14, 1994.

Eric and Roxie returned to Goodland to work for The Sherman County Star between 1994 and 2000, when it was sold to The Goodland Daily News. Eric stayed with the Goodland paper, but Roxie did sales, “which was exhausting,” until 2008, when gas prices went through the ceiling. It wasn’t a good fit. Roxie put her education to use and became a substitute teacher.  “For eight, l-o-n-g years, I was a substitute for high school and middle school.”  Roxie, who didn’t like all the rules when she was in school, now struggled with making students follow those same rules. Teaching just wasn’t a good fit either. “What saved me was a part-time, summer job for the Sherman County Convention and Visitors Bureau.” In 2001, Donna Price with the Northwest Kansas Travel Council called Roxie to write “The Ultimate Guide to Northwest Kansas.” She loved this job, got lots of awards, started her website, and continued exploring and writing about Northwest Kansas attractions through 2019. It was everything she ever wanted to do. From 2014 to 2019, she garnered even more work in Kansas tourism.

In 2019, everything tourism went away. Now, what was she going to do? One night, as she was sitting at the computer, staring at the computer screen, heart-broken, she began thinking and praying. A presence in her mind asked, “What’s in your hand?” Roxie looked, “A mouse.” It was then she realized, “I guess I’m a travel writer.” She began blogging with her first post about the Butterfield Trail Museum in Russell Springs, Kansas. Her website and online identity, “Roxie on the Road,” was born. She was booked to speak at the Campground Owners Association in Colorado.  2020 was going to be a great year!

. . . And then the pandemic hit. During lockdown, or maybe just after the bans were beginning to lift, Roxie received a call from Sara Broers with the Midwest Travel Association. She was getting a request for some garbled task from something called “The Cheeseheads.”  Sara told her, “Say yes, no time to explain.”  Ten minutes later, Danielle Gay called to tell her that they were putting together a team of the Midwest Travel Association and they needed Roxie to write the Kansas and Black Hills portions of the travel guide. 

Later, Roxie watched a Facebook Live program about Reedy Press. Another opportunity unfolded as Roxie completed the application process and was approved to write the book, 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die, but she didn’t start right away.  The story had to simmer a bit . . . a plan had to evolve.

A tourism conference was coming up in Tupelo, Mississippi, so this would be a great opportunity for Roxie to blow the pandemic restrictions off and get some work accomplished to formulate the path for her book to take. She would see her brother in southern Mississippi, then she would attend a writer’s workshop in Gulf Shores, Alabama, since she was so close, and THEN she would write the book. The ideas were still simmering. She just needed an adventure to get those creative juices flowing.

In January, 2021, Roxie headed out for the conference from Goodland, stopping to visit a few things in the book along the way.  An intense storm winter was coming with frigid temperatures forecasted, so she didn’t tarry too long. In Oklahoma, the temperature became “brutally cold.” A tourism counselor told her, “You need to get out of this state.” Tourism suddenly didn’t seem like such a desirable quest, as she could now see the storm looming in her rear-view mirror at Tulsa, Oklahoma. By Muskogee, Oklahoma, she could feel the storm. She decided to extend her stay at Fort Smith, Arkansas.  After the blizzard stopped, “the trip from hell” began. She drove for 12 hours in what would normally take just over six; however, the further south and east she drove, the worse the weather became. Siri routed her to drive on a levee. Businesses were so busy that she couldn’t afford to take the time to wait for food, but at her next two tries, the businesses had locked their doors and left all the lights on. At Pearl, Mississippi, Roxie found a Waffle House and was simply starving.  Once inside the yellow-glow of Waffle House desperation dining, she learned that they had just run out of food. 

Exhausted and dehydrated, Roxie pressed on. She felt ill. It wasn’t any wonder, traveling without food or water.

At the conference’s first event, Roxie felt dizzy and sick. She had to lie down in the booth across from her friend, Sara, and another lady she hardly knew. Everything went dark until she heard a female voice calling to her and “went to the voice,” waking to see Melody Pittman, one of the organizers standing over her. Roxie had, in her “dark” time, had a seizure, vomited, and aspirated. They had called an ambulance, which was an hour away. When the ambulance arrived, “hunky firemen,” you know, like the firemen from the calendars, only with masks, arrived.  Roxie couldn’t help but briefly reflect on the unfairness of this moment when she is at her worst.  Regardless, Roxie was transported to the hospital.

At 12:23 a.m., the Doctor made the diagnosis, “YOU HAVE COVID.” He threw the care packet at her and it hit her in the shoulder. Exhausted, Roxie fell asleep, but woke up with her back killing her. She tried to adjust the bed, but she couldn’t. To get help, she stood in the hall, where a woman berated her for standing in the hallway. Roxie looked for the scarlet “COVID” on her chest. 

An hour later, Roxie was kicked out of her hospital room to stay in the waiting room, where there were no clocks, her phone was dead, and she had no idea what time it was.  At dawn, the workers came to the hospital. She then found out it was 5:30 a.m., but taxis were not available until 9:00 a.m.  Roxie made a call at 8:30, to find out that it would take two hours for them to come pick her up.

Roxie was finally delivered back to her hotel room by mid-morning. By that time, she was so sick, she couldn’t walk across the room.  In a call to Eric, she remembered telling him it took all her strength just to get from the bed to the bathroom, and she was 18-hours from home.  Driving was not an option because she didn’t have the strength. In the midst of the illness, there were lots of calls to check on her and develop a plan to get Roxie home. As the weather cleared, her aunt and uncle offered a plane ticket to send Eric to drive her home. Roxie cried with joy. Help was on the way! 

She packed the car the night before to conserve her energy for the two-hour drive to Memphis, where she would meet Eric’s plane. Packed and dreading hauling the suitcases down the hall, Roxie threw up an emergency prayer, “Please, God, Help me.” When she opened the door, there was a luggage cart to carry all of her luggage in one trip. “Thank you, God!”

The next morning, on the way to the airport in Memphis, Roxie had a flat tire, but there was no air available at the two places she checked. The third place had air and she could rest for a minute before the drive to Memphis. The trip was blissfully uneventful and, alas, her hero arrived to save her!  Eric arrived and started the drive back to Kansas as she rested, exhausted and frantic because, “I couldn’t get my brain to work. How was I going to get this book written if I can’t think?” 

They made it home without further incident. The great adventure had ended and, as Roxie started to feel better, she found that she could think clearer and the book began to write itself in her head. In a matter of weeks, Roxie wrote the entire book of 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die, completing the writing by April 15, and ready to submit to the publisher on May 1, 2021.  Roxie reflected, “My whole life has prepared me to do this.” 

On November 17, 2021, Roxie had been on a book-signing tour for several months and she was at yet another book signing for 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die at Round Table Bookstore, an independent bookstore in North Topeka, Kansas. Person after person came in and sat down at her table to talk with the travel author about where in Kansas they were from and where they had visited in Kansas. The conversations, sparked by Roxie’s interest and knowledge of their geographical area of interest and favorite sites, became animated and evolved into laughter and sharing of information that was sometimes even new to Roxie. That little girl from Hastings, Nebraska, who never got to travel was now, in fact, an author . . . a travel author, married to the man she had secretly loved and worked for . . . and that is why we still believe that dreams do come true, because sometimes, they really do.

Roxie and Eric continue to live in Goodland, Kansas, where he continues his work in journalism as the media correspondent for Western Plains Arts Association. He also works as a cook and activities assistant at Topside Manor nursing home. Together, they go on adventures and continue to write the stories and the books that will be forever part of Kansas history in Western Kansas. 

In Roxie’s story, Hamilton County was the stage for her greatest love story, as well as a foundational place in her career. Her advice to everyone living in or visiting Hamilton County is, “Go play in the sand dunes, go eat at the Black Bison. Don’t let yourself be limited by where you are. Don’t sit in your chair, go places instead.” Simply put, “Explore your world.” There are so many things to do and places to see, but if you run out of ideas, perhaps Roxie can recommend a good book to give you some ideas of what to do next.  After all, “Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”

 

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