Ever catch someone in the act of doing good?
We have. Again and again. For the past 17 years, Ingram’s Local Heroes awards have recognized the best of what the Kansas City region offers in philanthropy on a personal level.
The amazing thing with all of those individuals profiled to date is that no matter how many ways people find to give—whether it’s from their own treasure, their own time, their own talent or even from their own need—their stories without fail prove to be inspirational. It’s no different in 2013, as we shine the light of recognition on the personal efforts of retirees or active practitioners in the fields of health care, law, investments, personal expressions and publishing.
To read about their contributions is to feel a certain awe—the awe of knowing how very real and how very large is the need around us, and the awe that comes from realizing that each of us, in ways large and small, can make a contribution that will reduce that need.
It happened, as these pairings often do, by chance: Keith Ashcraft and his wife attended dinner with a college friend and his wife, along with two other couples. One of those new
faces belonged to the dev-elopment director for the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association. Talking to Ashcraft about the joys of adoption, she was preaching not to the choir, but to the pulpit—he and Connie had an adopted son and two adopted grandchildren. “And when I mentioned that I spent most of my time since retirement raising money for organizations, her eyes lit up,” Ashcraft chuckles. “She even offered to cut up my meat at dinner.”
Cultivating that relationship was a wise choice in her part. In the six years since that chance encounter, the former pediatric surgeon has helped raise more than $750,000 for the association’s capital campaign. It’s been just one of many efforts that have kept him busy since retiring from Children’s Mercy Hospital in 1999, but like the others, Ashcraft said, it was all about the right fit. “It’s a great organization, people dedicated to helping adopt and find foster homes for abused children. As a pediatric surgeon, I had seen so many children who had been abused, to the point of being killed.”
Even in a city known for big hearts, Ashcraft stands out. “Kansas City,” he says, “is an incredibly philanthropic community. You can find someone who can help you with almost any cause you can dream up, and if you establish relationships with foundations or private individuals, they know that when you’re working on something, it’s probably worthwhile.”
He practices what he preaches about finding causes that mesh with personal interests. “You’ve got to have some connection with the cause,” he says, and in his own case, that goes back to when he and Connie aligned with Della Lamb Community Services. “When you get to helping an agency that works with children who are abused or neglected or given up for adoption, that’s the thing that tugs at you and gets you interested,” he said. “You can’t go out and say you’ll do charity work this week and skip around next. You’ve got to have ties to it.”
Whether it’s sorting clothes at the Kansas City Rescue Mission, raising funds for Kansas City Hospice House’s new facility or any of the other causes he’s championed, effective philanthropy, he says, comes not just from raising money, but from kicking in, as well.
“I don’t know how much I have personally helped with raising, but one of the things that my wife and I believe is that, if you’re going to be involved in a capital campaign,
we should be givers, too,” Ashcraft says. “It helps if people that you’re asking know that you have ponied up, and that they can do the same.”
When it comes to personal philanthropy, Bill Busch is all business. And in his case, the business is dentistry. Busch has found that the skills he uses to make a living can also make an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of children whose families can’t afford—or have simply neglected—dental care.
Inspired and moved by a television news segment on a Baltimore boy who died from something as easily addressed as an abscessed tooth, Busch founded TeamSmile in 2007. But this wouldn’t be just any garden-variety free dental clinic. TeamSmile would have a twist that would draw kids to the dental chairs the way they’re drawn to candy, because Busch tied the venture in with sports. Specifically, with the Chiefs, aligning with a group that included punter Dustin Colquitt to hold a clinic at Arrowhead Stadium. “The fabric of every big community is its sports teams,” Busch says. “They exude health and fitness, and we wanted a platform that was fun and exciting—if it’s just dentistry, it’s hard to get people excited about it.”
Since then, Busch has drawn on a national network of connections to work with 25 teams hailing from six different sports—each of which, he says, draws a diverse demographic.
Dental care is a critically important but often overlooked component of proper health care in children, Busch noted. “Dentistry is one treatment that can fix things in a matter of minutes,” he says, and those fixes have long-term implications for success: “Whether it’s getting a job, or meeting that special someone, your smile has lot to do with it, and you also prevent a whole range of future developmental problems that stem from poor dental care.”
In some ways, the venture’s success was grounded in its geographic origins. “They don’t call it the heartland for nothing,” Busch says, “and the tip of spear for our philanthropy happens to be in Arrowhead.” TeamSmile has been able to leverage success in the relationships with pro athletes who move on to other teams in other cities and want to keep the ties going. “Organically, it grew on its own,” he says. “This year, we saw tremendous growth” that includes a trip to Atlanta, via ties with former Chief Tony Gonzalez, and to Denver, where Colquitt’s brother is also a punter.
In the years since its founding, TeamSmile has provided free dental care for at least 12,000 children, Busch says, thanks in large part to roughly 1,500 dentists who have joined the cause so far. And that outreach locally includes free dental services provided as follow-up care at North Kansas City Dental.
“I love my profession and wish I could work for free,” Busch says. But after the paying gig is finished, he gets his wife and four children involved with TeamSmile, too. “It becomes a family event—my wife, Natalie, face-paints, our kids escort others from one area to other, other families donate time and come with their kids; it’s a huge day of giving a big dental tailgate party.”
After losing a nephew to leukemia in 1984, David Frantze harbored resentment for a killer, and gave it due distance. But a few years later, after his brother Jimmy had become involved with the local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, David agreed to chair a new fund-raising event for LLS, the Spirit Fest. “I started as a volunteer chairing an event, and they asked me to join the board, and the more I got involved with it, the more I felt like it was organization making a difference,” Frantze says. “The form of leukemia that my nephew died of had a 50 percent chance of survival in the 1980s; now, it’s close to 90 percent. They accomplish stuff. I like that.”
Maintaining a long-term relationship with a cause can be emotionally taxing, but Frantze has been at it for a quarter-century. His service in different capacities with the organization—including a two-year term as national board chairman—has helped keep the fires burning, he says. And burn they have: The society says Frantze personally generated close to $500,000 with his own fund-raising efforts this past year, on the way to a record $1.18 million in overall contributions from the organization’s annual Black Tie Ball.
How does he do it? In a word: Relationships. Frantze, a lawyer with Stinson Morrison Hecker, has been a conduit between the national LLS research wing and the University of Kansas Cancer Center, helping form an alliance through which virtually all of the drugs that LLS works with are developed, formulated and processed in Kansas City. It’s one reason, KU officials say, that the cancer center was able to achieve its prized National Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute in 2011.
That unique link allows Frantze to leverage his relationships with business clients at the C-level, where he can provide assurances that donations made here will go to work here. “When I can say that all the money stays here, and, oh, by the way, the society and KU and NIH have put together a program, the only one of its kind in the world, and it’s right here in Kansas City and you’re helping to fund it—that’s an easier sale to these folks,” Frantze says.
He credits a mentor at Stinson, Don Chisholm, with providing the framework for his own service. “He told me, ‘service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy on the earth—you’ve been given a lot, you owe a lot,’ ” Frantze recalls. So he applies that not just to LLS, but to the Boy Scouts (Frantze has been president of the Heart of America Council for the past two years) and on behalf of Avila University, his alma mater.
And he passes Don Chisholm’s guidance along to younger associates at the firm. “You have to pick something you have a passion about,” Frantze says. “If you find something and it doesn’t click, find something else. But when there is passion for the cause, you get great results.”
In April 2011, the Feed America food bank network presented its Food Bank of the Year Award to Kansas City’s Harvesters—The Community Food Network. When the award was presented at the national conference in Las Vegas, then-CEO Karen Haren went on stage to accept. And Mary McClure was on that stage with her.
McClure doesn’t draw a paycheck from Harvesters, but it’s safe to say that the management consultant does indeed work there, in a wide variety of volunteer capacities. She was directing a program on strategic planning when she met Haren, and what she learned about Harvesters was enough to impress her to get involved. “I do the type of consulting where you learn all the warts of an organization, so I really get to know when an organization is excellent,” McClure says. “I was impressed with Harvesters’ excellence as an organization and the lack of warts!”
Feeding the hungry spoke to McClure on a personal level. “I grew up on a farm,” she says, “and it was always about growing food. I’m now a Master Gar-dener involved with Plant-a Row for the Hungry, so it’s still about growing food.”
A board member for Harvesters, with service that includes time as board chair, McClure said she got behind the program from the get-go, “building the demonstration garden, consulting on a new strategic plan and developing a team building program on hunger awareness for corporations—all before I joined the board.” And what she’s found during that service has drawn her even closer. “I’ve stayed involved because of those same reasons that I found at the start—the importance of the mission, the excellence and impact of the organization and the many ways I can volunteer that include both wearing a suit in the boardroom as well as jeans in the demonstration garden.”
Valerie Nicholson-Watson, Haren’s successor as CEO, says McClure has helped raise more than $2 million for Harvesters capital campaign and other programs. McClure says her contribution was inspired in large part by the level of need, calling the mission of Harvesters “a moral imperative.”
In addition to serving on corporate boards for QuikTrip and MRIGlobal, she’s logged board or volunteer service with the Women’s Employment Network, the Women’s Seed Fund Committee for the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Center for Management Assistance, Best of Missouri Hands/Missouri Artisans, and the Mayor’s Executive Committee for the Kansas City Safe City Initiative and Country Club Christian Church. A fringe benefit of her work with Harvesters, she says, is that she can tap into skills she’s never been able to apply at McClure Management Consulting or during a 20-year career with Hallmark.
For Steve Mitchem, the concept of giving isn’t simply a matter of choice.
“There are some of us who have been blessed and are fortunate enough to be able to give, and quite frankly, I believe we have that responsibility to get involved financially,” he says. “Some people can’t do that. I’m one of those guys who’s fortunate and can do that.”
And how: This month, for a third straight year, Mitchem will personally match, dollar for dollar, a fund-raising challenge he’s implemented on behalf of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City. Two years ago, a small network of business acquaintances pulled together roughly $25,000 at his request, and Mitchem matched that. Last year, his challenge yielded about $37,000, and his contribution provided what at that time was the largest single donation in DSG history, nearly $75,000.
He wasn’t expecting to do any public speaking when presenting that check, but the organization’s executive director, Amy Allison, asked Mitchem to address those assembled for the 2012 holiday celebration. “All I could say—because I get very emotional; if you meet these kids, they are so unbelievably special—was that I’m pleased to be here, and pleased to be able to give,’ and I challenged the board, if you raise $100,000 this year, I’ll match it,” Mitchem said.
“It came out without much thought, but I had board members come up to me immediately after and say, ‘You’ve really challenged me, and I want to be the first to give $5,000,’ and another said, ‘I’ll give $5,000’—it was an amazing response, and we have gone over the top with that goal.” So this year’s check to DSG will top $200,000, again the largest in the group’s history.
The notion for a personal gift-matching program, Mitchem said, was inspired by a friend who did the same for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. “I can’t take credit for it,” Mitchem says, but it seemed like a good strategy to adopt after his grandson was born with Down syndrome.
Mitchem, whose businesses under the Mitchem Holdings flag are based in the Virgin Islands, is a native of Ohio who came to Kansas City in 1983, and he now splits time between his home off Ward Parkway and his residence in St. Thomas. He spent 17 years with Tivol in Kansas City, rising to the rank of president of the jewelry chain, where he was part of corporate philanthropy at a high level.
Successful giving, he said, flows from an open heart and an open mind. “I’m not sure how you find the right cause, other than to keep yourself open to people who might approach you. You have to go out and make calls about things that are close to your heart, and there so many important things we can do.”
For Tom and Cindy Thornton, the call to serve is all about the power to change lives—and not just the lives of those you’re helping. “I’ve never myself volunteered, or seen others volunteer, and not walked away from that experience without great and positive things to say about it. It’s transformative—it really is,” says Tom, the retired chief executive for Andrews McMeel Publishing. “The minute you do it, you understand what that means.”
For the Thorntons, that call to serve takes many forms. Whether it’s the volunteer shifts at Kansas City Care Clinic—Tom at the front desk, Cindy tackling hands-on duties as a registered nurse—or cramming 125 pumpkin pies into the car for Thanksgiving meal delivery, or working the serving line for meals at Cross-Lines Community Outreach in Kansas City, Kan., or Tom’s service on the Olathe Health System board of directors, or Cindy on the clinic board or donating her bagpiping skills to help Ingram’s raise funds with its CEOpen charity golf tournament, the reward comes from the work itself.
“All you have to do is serve hungry people and see the appreciation on their face; it’s a great feeling,” Tom says. “You don’t do it for that, but you get that from it.” An instructive lesson in the change aspect he cites: He once took his grandson, about 10 at the time, to a food-kitchen shift. “How much will we get paid?” the lad asked. “I said, ‘You don’t get paid, but on the way home, you’ll understand why.’ And he did: It had that transformative experience, even for a 10-year-old.”
Cindy says she kept her nursing license current so that she could apply her career skills to the causes they wanted to support in retirement. They were particularly drawn to health-care venues, she said. “In recent years, there’s been more and more need at the clinic,” she said. “We have to turn down so many people a week, we’re overloaded, and it’s kind of heartbreaking.
She was recently asked to join the clinic’s board of directors, which she says has brought her full circle with health care. “I’m learning so much,” she says. “The staff, the people who work there, they’re there because their hearts are there. It’s a wonderful place to work.”
Tom says that the most important element for successful service comes during the assessment of where to apply one’s efforts. “We identified what our concerns and interests were, and health-care was a fundamental one,” he said. “We had known about the clinic and Cindy had volunteered there before” when it was known as the Kansas City Free Health Clinic. It has a new name that reflects a new reality—but a familiar need.