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Ozarks Marvels: Innovation for the Common Good

Ozarks Marvels: Innovation for the Common Good

Missouri Humanities’ 7th Annual Springfield Symposium is a tent pole program in our 2024 Signature Series: “Missouri Marvels: Humanities, Discover, and Innovation.” Through a series of interactive program sessions, this experiential humanities symposium invited participants to move around Springfield — indoors and outdoors — exploring innovation for strengthening communities in the Ozarks

Ozarks Marvels: Innovation for the Common Good showcases innovation for strengthening communities through leveraging creative ideas and implementing strategies and collaborations that enhance communities’ social fabric, resilience, and well-being. Sessions highlighted how organizations and individuals in the Ozarks are considering the role of the humanities when implementing innovative strategies to address community needs. 

This event took place April 12th – 13th in Springfield, Missouri. All sessions were free and open to the public. Click one of the buttons below to read more about each session.

Friday, April 12th

Culture, Community, and Caves (Panel Discussion & Live Musical Performance)

Friday, April 12

Missouri State University’s Kentwood Hall – Crystal Ballroom (700 E. St. Louis Street, Springfield, MO)

For centuries Missouri caves have played vital roles in the local culture and sense of community. This opening session will highlight caves as innovative spaces where culture and community flourish. Music, dancing, dining, and other community-based cultural activities happen in caves, past and present. A panel of experts will share their stories and discuss how caves, of all places, support culture and community in unique and surprising ways. 

To honor the long-standing tradition of live musical performances in local Ozark caves, Emalee Flatness, a dedicated Ozarks folksinger and musician, and accompanying musicians Dennis Pritchard on the old-time fiddle and Lillyanne McCool on the bluegrass banjo, will bring to life the sounds of a historic cave performance. Whether you grab your dancing shoes or prefer to relax and listen, let the music transport you to another time! You can watch the performance HERE.

In partnership with Missouri State University Libraries and Missouri Folk Arts, we explore the intersection of culture, community, and caves—and the profound ways in which this underground natural landscape shapes human experiences and traditions.

Meet our Panelists & Musicians:

Tom Peters (Moderator)

Tom has been a librarian for 37 years. Since 2012 he has served as the Dean of Library Services at Missouri State University in Springfield, the Birthplace of Route 66, the Queen City of the Ozarks, and the Crossroads of Country Music. He is enamored by the history and culture of the Ozarks Region. Peters currently divides his time between Springfield and tiny McClurg in northeast Taney County, Missouri, home of a longstanding weekly old-time mountain music jam session. 

Emalee Flatness (Musician)

Emalee, a dedicated Ozarks singer and musician from Willard, Missouri, now residing in Ridgedale, is committed to preserving traditional Ozarks music, including old-time and classic country. A National Winner of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge in 2019, Emalee is known for her original song “Bring Him Back to Carolina.” A recent graduate of Missouri State University with degree in history and a minor in Ozark studies, she performs with the Springfield-based Honkytonk Renovators and the Homestead Pickers at Silver Dollar City.

Lillyanne McCool (Musician)

Lillyanne is a banjo player from Mountain View, Arkansas, who has one foot planted in the old-time world and the other in bluegrass. She won four state championships for her clawhammer style and won the National Old Time Banjo in 2018 at the age of 15. She is best known for her work with the award-winning Twang All Girl String Band but can also be found playing with her family string band, The UpJumpers. Lillyanne enjoys teaching the banjo and watching her students embrace the mountain music she loves.

Dennis Pritchard (Musician)

Dennis is a traditional old-time fiddler who started playing at the age of 13. He was inspired by his maternal grandfather and learned to play by ear. He has performed with: Table Rock Opry, Apple Town Barleen Family Country Music Show, Spring Creek Boys, Missouri Boatride, and at Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama as “Fiddlin Jake.” He has shared the stage with great musicians including Dean Webb, Carl and Pearl Butler, Red Sovine, Vernon Oxford, and Billy Grammer. Dennis enjoys fiddling at round and square dances.

Wayne Glenn (Panelist)

Wayne (known as the “Old Record Collector) is a long-time local radio personality (now retired), author of over a dozen books about the history of Christian County, Missouri, and an avid collector of music records and Missouri Ozark history documents and artifacts. Wayne also has direct knowledge of cave concerts. He interned with Loyd Evans, the founder of the Farmarama country music shows held in Fantastic Caverns in the 1960s.

Bruce Herschend (Panelist)

Bruce was born and raised in Branson. Both of his grandmothers and his father were involved in ownership and guiding in Marvel Cave, the cave where Bruce spent much of his childhood. Bruce has worked in cave development with numerous show caves, and is the owner/manager of Talking Rocks Cavern (since 1991) and Adventure Cave Tours (since 2022), both of which are located in Branson West, Missouri. 

Rachel West (Panelist)

Rachel was raised in Texas and has lived in the Ozarks for over a decade. She has devoted her career to educating others about the identification and use of the edible and medicinal plants that grow wild throughout the Ozark region. She is the owner, lead instructor, and founder of Eating the Ozarks, which offers foraging classes and certifications, wild-infused meals (including cave dinners), and special event catering in southwest Missouri.

This session is made possible in partnership with Missouri State University Libraries – Ozarks Studies Institute and Missouri Folk Arts.

Saturday, April 13th

Clean Water for Life: Connecting Innovation, Water, and Community (Discussion & Tour)

Saturday, April 13

Watershed Center (2400 E Valley Water Mill Rd, Springfield, MO)

Mike Kromrey, Executive Director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, lead us through a free-flowing discussion on how old wisdom, innovations, diversity, and community are linked in charting humanity’s journey toward clean water for Ozarkers and for (all) life.

Meet Our Tour Guide:

Mike Kromrey

Mike grew up in Ozarks and his lifelong passion for nature developed into a vocation at the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks (WCO).

Mike joined the WCO as a staff member in May 2006 and has served as the Executive Director since 2012. He previously worked with the James River Basin Partnership, Missouri Department of Conservation, and Missouri State University (MSU) while earning his degree. Mike earned a comprehensive biology degree with an emphasis in ecology, evolution, and systematics, and a Master of Science in biology. Mike currently serves on a variety of local and state committees related to water and sustainability.

This session is made possible in partnership with the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks.

Food Is Medicine: Bridging the Gaps Between Food, Community, and Healthcare (Panel Discussion) 



This panel discussion explored innovative and transformative approaches to healthcare that invest in community-directed strategies to prevent, manage, and treat diet-related illnesses in the United States. By supporting the production of and facilitating access to nutritious food across a health continuum, approaches to Food is Medicine support immediate and long-term resources for people, communities, and systems. 

We heard from Springfield community leaders implementing a shared vision to build stronger communities in the Ozarks through advancing Food is Medicine interventions, promoting community wellness, and equitable access to healthy local food.

Program participants learned how to contribute towards these goals by connecting with resources that service healthy foods to the community. They also had the opportunity to visit the Midtown Carnegie Branch Library’s “Free Produce Community Fridge” to see “Food Is Medicine” in action.

Meet our Panelists:

Dr. Kristi Crymes (Moderator)

Dr. Kristi Crymes, DO, is a family physician, additionally board-certified in lifestyle medicine. She serves as faculty and Associate Program Director at the CoxHealth Family Medicine Residency in Springfield, Missouri. Within the residency, she holds the role of Director of the Lifestyle Medicine Program. Dr. Crymes collaborates with Springfield Community Gardens and interdisciplinary colleagues to develop and deliver the HealthScripts program. This program, based on a relationships-first, farm-to-clinic approach, employs food as medicine to prevent, treat, and reverse chronic diseases in primary care.

Maile Auterson

Malie is a fourth-generation Ozarks farmer. As a founder and Executive Director of Springfield Community Gardens (SCG), she has led its expansion since 2010 from one garden to 17 community gardens, two market farms, and a training hospital farm. Maile has overseen the delivery of over 2 million pounds of fresh produce to food-insecure neighborhoods. She has worked with city planners for the Forward SGF 2040 Comprehensive Master Plan to promote urban agriculture and relocalization of the food economy, has been featured in Forbes magazine, and was appointed to the Missouri Food Security Task Force by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Her dedication to local foodways was highlighted at The Smithsonian Institute Folklife Festival and she is recognized by The Missouri Foundation for Health as a Food Justice Visionary.

Gina Marie Walden

Gina has devoted twenty-six years to the Springfield-Greene County Library District, where she is the Circulation Manager at the Midtown Carnegie Branch Library. Dedicated to providing the community with access to fresh, healthy produce, she has been instrumental in the creation of the Heirloom Seed Library and the Midtown Community Fridge. With a passion for books, seeds and veggies, Gina Marie has hosted many events and given presentations focused on seed saving, gardening, and cooking.

Mark Ellis

Mark, M.D., M.S.P.H., currently affiliated with CoxHealth East Battlefield Clinic, has served as a Springfield family physician since 1999. He is a physician lead for HealthScripts, a USDA-supported program that builds partnerships between food-insecure patients and Springfield Community Gardens, providing fresh produce, community, and shared educational experiences. He is an Associate Professor and Associate Clerkship Director with the University of Missouri School of Medicine-Springfield Clinical Campus. A Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, he completed his M.D. at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and his Family and Community Medicine residency and post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine.

Christine Peoples

Christine is Timmons Hall’s education coordinator for the Springfield Greene County Park Board, formally an African American church now located in historic Silver Springs Park. Christine is the Founder of Meet & Greet Ministries, a mobile neighboring outreach ministry that promotes family and neighborhood wellness through a sense of place. leadership, health, hospitality, art, and culture. She invites individuals to reimagine social studies and the power of people and place led by her grandparents and the black church within all that they carried.

This session is made possible in partnership with Springfield-Greene County Library District and Springfield Community Gardens.

Regional Sustainability & Lasting Livelihoods: Investing in Rural Innovation in the Ozarks (Panel Discussion)


efactory (405 N Jefferson Ave, Springfield, MO)

Investing in rural innovations is essential for fostering economic growth, workforce development, improving quality of life, and addressing the unique challenges faced by rural communities.

This panel discussion with Innovate SOMO – an innovation network founded by efactory and Codefi – New Growth Community Development Corporation showcased how they are strengthening rural Ozark communities through initiatives and programs that support innovation, entrepreneurship, tech job creation, and collaboration across southern Missouri.

We looked through this topic with a humanities lens, tying in Ozark culture, economic history, and regional skills. Additionally, we addressed how the work, along with leveraging rural assets, is trickling down to the lived experience of Ozarkers.

Meet our Panelists:

Chris Kempke (Moderator)

Chris Kempke is the Cultural Community Development Director at Missouri Humanities. With 8 years of experience in rural economic and leadership development, he has led various projects spanning economic planning, community arts, tourism asset mapping, and COVID-19 recovery efforts across Southwest Missouri. As a founding committee member of the Missouri Creating Entrepreneurial Communities Conference, Chris is dedicated to fostering community growth and resilience. He holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Applied Anthropology from Missouri State University.

Dr. James Stapleton

Dr. Stapleton, a nationally recognized entrepreneurship champion, has over 30 years of experience as a creative and tech startup founder, coach, investor, and regional entrepreneurship ecosystem developer. Co-founder of Codefi in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in 2014, he has supported the launch of 80 startups, raising $50 million in equity capital and creating over 300 jobs. In 2022, Dr. Stapleton partnered with the efactory at Missouri State University to launch the Southern Missouri Innovation Network, connecting regional nodes and communities across 47 counties. With a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University, an MBA, and an M.S. in Education, his expertise spans tech-based economic and workforce development.

Patty Cantrell

Patty Cantrell is a writer, facilitator, project developer, and a founding leader of a rural community development corporation called New Growth in west central Missouri affiliated with West Central Missouri Community Action Agency. Since its inception in 2018, New Growth has expanded to 20 staff, supporting rural innovation and resilience through microenterprise credit building, small business assistance, rural transit, and local food supply chain development. Patty, with a master’s degree in business administration from Drury University, currently works with the USDA Heartland Regional Food Business Center, collaborating with leaders from five states to drive regional economic growth and sustainability.

Mark Wallace

Mark Wallace, with a background in primary special education, has dedicated the last four years to advancing economic and workforce development in the Ozarks. As the Head of Regional Networks at Codefi, he leads initiatives at local, regional, and state levels to foster sustainable socio-economic progress. Alongside his wife Stephanie, Mark actively engages with mission-driven organizations in Springfield, addressing institutional gaps in foster care, homelessness, and human trafficking prevention, while serving their community at Emmaus Church.

This session is made possible in partnership with efactory and New Growth.

From the Page to the Park: How Literature and Greenways Connect Community (Presentation & Reading)

Saturday, April 13

Jordan Valley Park – Outdoor Amphitheater (635 E. Trafficway Street, Springfield, MO)

Participants basked in the natural beauty at Jordan Valley Park while listening to literature in the park’s outdoor amphitheater. We highlighted how greenway innovation strengthens community connection, identity, and wellness. 

We learned about Forward SGF’s “UnGap the Map” Initiative, a multi-year plan to create a highly connected system of trails across the region to better connect residents to the area’s natural environment, and we heard from regional poets and writers as they read original works inviting attendees of all ages to connect with nature through the literary arts. 

Our writers read pieces that portray Ozark’s nature, landscape, and culture, and reveal how place-based identity finds its way into their writing.

Meet our Readers & Presenters:

Katherine Gilbert (EMCEE)

Katherine, Associate Professor of literature at Drury University and serves as Director of the Humanities & Ethics Center, is known for her expertise in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, law, and gender. Beyond academia, she is a published poet, recognized for her literary talents since childhood. Recently honored with a fellowship for poetry, her work resonates with themes of nature, identity, and the human experience. Katherine is also on the Missouri Speakers Bureau, through which she gives talks on the artist Rose O’Neill and the novels and films of Gillian Flynn.

David L. Harrison (Reader)

David became Missouri’s 7th Poet Laureate in July 2023 and also serves as Drury University Poet Laureate. David Harrison Elementary School is named after him. Harrison has degrees in science from Drury and Emory University and two honorary doctorate of letters. Of his 108 published books, many reflect his passion for nature. His book about Riverbluff Cave is buried in a time capsule in Phelps Grove Part. His work has been translated into a dozen languages and anthologized more than 200 times.

Jennifer Murvin (Reader)

Jennifer is the author of the forthcoming chapbook She Says (Small Harbor Publishing) and story collection Real California Living (Braddock Avenue Books). Her stories, essays, and graphic narratives have appeared in The Southampton Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, DIAGRAM, The Florida Review, Catamaran Literary Reader, CutBank, Indiana Review, Post Road, American Short Fiction, The Sun, The Cincinnati Review, and other journals. Jen is an Assistant Professor of English at Missouri State University, serves on the faculty at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing, and is the owner of Pagination Bookshop in Springfield.

Kate Murr (Reader)

Kate is a writer from the Ozarks. Her work has appeared as an installation at the Springfield Art Museum, on albums by Molly Healey, and in various literary journals, including Midwest Review, Guesthouse, and Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozark Studies. A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson, Missouri State, and Drury, Kate lives in Springfield with two nearly-fledged teens and a copper-colored lab named Artemis.

Angela Duran (Presenter)

Angela is a passionate urban planner for the City of Springfield, with a keen interest in creating walkable cities that prioritize pedestrian-friendly environments. With a background in community and regional planning, Angela is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in urban areas by promoting accessible, safe, and vibrant spaces for people to walk and connect with their surroundings. Angela enjoys front porches, street trees, wide sidewalks, turning parking spaces into parks, and finding any excuse to visit a new city. She was previously a Placemaking Specialist for Better Block SGF and managed a Community Improvement District for Historic Commercial Street in Springfield, Missouri.

Rex Ybañez (Reader)

Rex is a Filipino American musician, poet, and organizer in Springfield, MO. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Rex has been published in Interim Poetics, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and Doubly Mad. Formerly, Rex has emceed for Poetry Out Loud and hosted Show Your Colors, a BIPOC-centric visual and performance artist showcase. He now works at Drury University as the University Writer/Editor and volunteers his time as the Arts & Culture team leader in Springfield Tenants Unite, the city-wide tenant union that fights for safe, accessible, and truly affordable housing.

Sara Burge (Reader)

Sara is the author of Apocalypse Ranch (C&R Press), and her poetry has been published in or is forthcoming from CALYX Journal, Willow Springs, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Louisville Review, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, and elsewhere. She grew up on a small farm in the West Plains area, so cows and dirt roads tend to appear in her poems whether she planned for them to or not. Currently, she teaches creative writing at Missouri State University, where she serves as the Poetry Editor of Moon City Review.

This session is made possible in partnership with the City of Springfield, Missouri Arts Council, Ozark Greenways, Humanities and Ethics Center at Drury University, and Pagination Bookshop.

Thank you to our partners


Presented in Partnership