For northeast Johnson County residents, preserving local history has become successful business

Courtney Mitchell with her audio recorder and a finished Voices in Time history on CD.
Courtney Mitchell with her audio recorder and a finished Voices in Time history on CD.

There may be nobody in Johnson County who’s gotten a better flavor for local history in the last several years than northeast Johnson County residents Courtney Mitchell and Lili Shank.

In 2008, Shank, a former KCTV anchor, and Mitchell, a northeast Johnson County native, launched Voices in Time, a company that takes oral histories primarily from seniors.

Over the course of the past seven years, the company has sat down with more than 600 people, documenting their stories of growing up, going to work, raising families and getting older. Because Mitchell, who lives in Prairie Village, and Shank, who lives in Fairway, are based in northeast Johnson County, many of their clients have come from the area, which has provided an interesting perspective.

Mitchell says she frequently passes spots in town that her clients have told stories about.

“You think, ‘Oh, that’s the hill where [the man I interviewed] said the goats used to graze,'” she said. “You get this sense of how much change there has been.”

You can listen to client Bud Shepherd describing “Goat Hill” and his family’s cattle to Mitchell in an interview here:

The business has now grown to include five interviewers, with historians working in Colorado and Nebraska in addition to Johnson County and the rest of the Kansas City area. Each interview session lasts about 90 minutes, and the clients receive a professionally edited copy of the recording on CD or flash drive.

“Many families want to get these histories, but it can be kind of awkward,” Mitchell said. “The process of having an interviewer do it makes it more comfortable.”

And, Mitchell says, the process is fascinating for her and Shank

“You learn so much about the area,” she said.