Reflections on 20 Years of Heroes

By Joe Sweeney

Kansas City has a rich history of giving, and that produces lessons for us all.

    When you run a monthly magazine, you get 12 bites at the content apple every year, so you work hard to make them count. The nature of news means that, as we look ahead to each year’s editorial plan, we remain flexible enough to tackle new topics of interest to our readers and we try hard to keep the product fresh.

    One constant for Ingram’s, however, is our annual Philanthropy Edition. We bought the magazine in February 1997, and quickly determined that this region and its business community were badly underserved in terms of philanthropy-related coverage. 

    We like to think we have fixed that: This edition represents our 20th annual Philanthropy Edition since our initial effort on the subject back in ’97. But before we talk about that, let me tell you a story about why this subject is so close to our hearts.

    Before returning back to hometown KC, I launched and ran two magazines in St. Louis, including St. Louis Home & Gardens. During our time there, I knew my childhood friend Therese (Miller) Greene had also moved to the other side of Missouri. I heard of the tragic news that her young son Richie passed away. After months of grieving, I invited Therese to pen some thoughts about Richie for the magazine, and she did, producing deeply moving content for us as readers. It also proved therapeutic for her as a grieving mother. We called this column, “Community Cares.”

    From that seed grew a realization that if a publication is to truly serve its community, it needs to do more to support the causes and organizations that lift us up and inspire us, that make our cities better places to live—and thus, a better place to do business or build one, to find a job, to raise a family. It’s all part of a dense fabric with a complex weave.

    Once back in Kansas City, and fully committed to that cause, we set out to build an editorial framework for that coverage. A key aspect of it from that very first issue was a feature called “Local Heroes.” Each year, we identify a handful of business figures and others who have done what we consider extraordinary work to lift up, support and inspire not just those in need, but those who are in a position to do something about that very need.

    And we have seen some remarkable individual efforts over the years. In this issue, for example, you’ll read about Lori and Randy Ross, without a doubt the most incredibly committed couple I’ve ever heard of in terms of helping disadvantaged children get a square deal early in life. The Rosses tell us that they stopped counting when the roll call of foster children passing through their home topped 400. This, while raising their own family and expanding it with nearly two dozen adoptions.

    Over the years, we’ve heard the stories of people donating organs so that strangers might live, of parents losing a child and turning their grief into action, of corporate executives surrendering their weekends to fly medical patients across the nation for treatments, of thousand-mile bicycle rides for charitable causes, and of school-age students jumping into service before their teens to raise money for research and relief efforts.

    Eight years ago, we created a business corollary to Local Heroes, called “Corporate Champions.” It spotlights companies large and small that find ways to strengthen the community that sustains their own businesses.
As with our Local Heroes, we’ve seen what happens when companies go above and beyond with their philanthropy. And when you count the individual Local Heroes and the employees of those Corporate Champions collectively, their numbers are in the thousands.

    That’s a powerful amount of good being done. Some of our Corporate Champions engage in a form of tithing, giving 10 percent of pretax profits to charities. Others give employees generous amounts of paid time off to support their favored causes. Others forgo revenues by shutting down operations so their staffs can help build houses, deliver food to the needy during the holidays or package goods for food drives. It truly is remarkable the way individuals and companies perceive the call to serve, and the innovative ways they answer that call.

    For us, there’s a social value that comes from turning the spotlight on such activities. Just as our business awards and recognition programs reinforce the pursuit and demonstration of excellence in the workplace, our Local Heroes and Corporate Champions honorees show us the value of service, and they make the business case for such engagement.

    Over the course of 20 years, some of those we’ve recognized have passed away, and in a couple of cases, we’ve written about people who didn’t live to read about the Local Heroes who would follow in their footsteps the following year. But in telling their stories, a part of what they did has become a part of what we do. It lives on. And the many who remain with us are still showing us, every year, what it means to serve.

    At a time of the year when we pause to reflect on our blessings, I count every one of those Local Heroes and Corporate Champions among mine. Best wishes  this holiday season to them, and to all who have helped us in this quest.

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher

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