Remember the Luminaries . . .

I have to tell you that I really enjoy writing my Editor’s Note each month and keeping in touch with so many friends. To be honest, my column is among the final elements to finish each issue. This is one of those times and I’m really shooting from the hip, albeit my good one.

By Joe Sweeney

Not too far over the horizon, we’ll be looking at 2015. But before we get into the crush of the holidays, it seems fitting that we take stock of things for which we should give thanks.

As a business magazine wrapping up its 40th anniversary year of covering important business sectors, companies who are setting standards for success, and the executives who drive that push for excellence, we’ve had a chance to get to know many great luminaries.

On a personal level, I’ve been fortunate to know and be friends with many true icons of business, civic and philanthropic life in this region. I have no difficulty describing them as people of character who did far more than their fair share in building this great city.

Within a fairly short span, we’ve lost some of those giants:
•    R. Crosby Kemper Jr., was perhaps the last of his kind and a man of extraordinary character. The imprint Mr. Kemper leaves on this city is massive. Many of us share Crosby Kemper stories …and I can impersonate him pretty well, especially when telling the story of when Michelle and I met with him for advice on how to handle the Chamber when they launched a business magazine against Ingram’s—a longstanding member. He called us down to his office—right now—heard our concern and immediately teleconferenced in then Chamber president Pete Levi. “When you gonna be a bank?” he says with a smile and sense of pride to help a client and friend in need. “How many times have we quit the Chamber, Pete?” he says. That was long ago and while many supported us, all stood in the shadow of a very tall and good man who genuinely had our back.  

•    Adele Hall passed unexpectedly nearly two years ago and left us all in disbelief. What a lady! One of our most fond memories of Adele was over the course of the first three months of 1999. She would unexpectedly arrive at Ingram’s terrible offices in the Argyle Building—we could usually hear her laughing as she got off the elevator. To explain, our April 1999 issue had a National Lampoonish high school yearbook theme. We used photos of business and civic leaders and a few elected officials—photos taken when they were in high school or college. It was a challenge rounding those up, and Adele helped by delivering some truly outrageous photos of Don and other friends, contributing to what many believe was the largest betrayal of trust among spouses and executive secretaries in years. She was an extremely gracious lady and I’ll forever cherish her infectious smile.

•    I’ve had the pleasure to golf in the rain with Bill Grigsby, exchange the names of suppliers of belts and buckles for Santa suits with Jeff Comment, laughed with my dear friend Anita Gorman when Jay Dillingham fell backwards inside a small plane in Jeff City, closing the door against his cowboy boots. Jay belly-laughed for nearly 15 minutes.

I had the pleasure to help rebuild Mill Creek Park throughout most of 1986 with a board, including Ben McCallister and Miller Nichols. It was Miller who would preach that “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” We were to meet at the park Saturday at 8 a.m. for a big work day. I showed up to mow at 5:30 a.m. and heard a chainsaw on the hillside. Miller had a different idea of which trees were to be cut down. He was a maverick, but perhaps the only person I could take seriously when he’d say “We have cities to build!”
We cherish friendships with great people like these, and many others, far more than material possessions, and are blessed to have had the opportunity to serve the community as publishers of Ingram’s.

We all owe a tremendous debt to good people like these, but as I stop to look at that roll call of prominent Kansas Citians, I can only wonder: Is this city developing enough people who can fill their shoes? Who will be the next Don and Adele Hall? Who could ever replace a Crosby Kemper Jr., a Miller Nichols or a Jim Stowers?

Earlier this month, Ingram’s convened its 2014 Banking Industry Outlook, and Commerce Bank’s regional president, Kevin Barth, commented on the numbers of highly successful home-grown companies sold in recent years. We’re talking superstar companies that were on high-growth tracks, and big, long-established companies like Russell Stover. Losing the local ownership of those firms puts this region at risk of losing the next wave of philanthropists who have the means to back up their good intentions.

Some of that is the natural evolution of business, to be sure. But at the same time, it’s unsettling. I just hope that a decade from now, we’ll be able to add a lot of names to that roster of business leaders who deserve our unending thanks.

As we begin this season of thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to say “Thank you!” to our clients, patrons and great friends. God bless you all.  

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher