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Influential B

Progress 2013

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in Franklin County

Most Influential They are the power brokers, the forces of change, the shapers of Ottawa’s and Franklin County’s ongoing development. Strong leaders are needed in any community that wants to push itself forward. Certain people whose voices and guidance carry weight with fellow residents emerge, their influence felt across the lines of education, government, religion and other areas. These are the movers and shakers who make progress happen. The second section of The Herald’s annual Progress edition explores Franklin County’s most influential residents — people who have touched

the lives of community members through their leadership, service and giving. Among these most influential folks are businessmen and women, philanthropists, farmers, pastors, educators, public servants and builders of a brighter future. They’re people whose influence is used for the greater good, not their own egos. Those featured in Progress were picked from suggestions by area community members and economic leaders, as well as Herald editors. Their selections certainly aren’t meant to be all-inclusive, but are hoped to highlight individuals who have best exercised their influence, as well as to

showcase a wide diversity of contributions. The next edition of Progress is expected to feature more community members whose work resonates throughout the county. The third section will take a look at the area’s leaders of tomorrow. In case you missed it, the first Progress section put a spotlight on legendary individuals from Franklin County’s past. Join The Herald for a closer look at those who have shaped and continue to shape the local community. Want to help salute a local legend or most influential resident? Send a letter detailing your views to letters@ottawaherald.com


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Progress

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013


Progress

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Page S3

‘Our stakeholders are the students’ surplus — the largest surplus in the school’s 146-year history, according to school documents. The university will mark its 150th anniversary in 2015. “Kevin is a guy I have admired for his leadership for more than 15 years, long before he was president of Ottawa University,” Wynndee Lee, vice chair of the OU board of trustees, said. “Kevin has this amazing ability to listen to discussion around him and synthesize what is being said, and then create the opportunity for action toward the goal. When I first knew him in the late ’90s, I wanted to be a fly on the wall at his work place so I could learn more from him.” Eichner credited the college’s staff, generous donors and many supporters and partners in the community with OU’s ability to turn around its financial picture in a short amount of time. “We have brought in a lot of new talent, and we’ve been able to increase our enrollment, which is an important part of how we were able to turn the financials around,” Eichner said. “We had a lot of fundraising success, thanks to

By DOUG CARDER Herald Senior Writer

Since taking the helm of Ottawa University in July 2008, Kevin Eichner said one of his goals has been to prepare students for a “life of significance.” “Higher education is the only institution in the world that takes serious the job Eichner of developing the whole person in every dimension — intellectual, spiritual, physical, artistically — so that each student receives a wellrounded education,” he said. Those who know Eichner said the OU president has demonstrated — from his days as a student to his successful career in business — that he is the embodiment of OU’s motto: “Prepare for a Life of Significance.” Eichner, who graduated from OU in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in social change, was active in sports, politics and music while at the university — three areas of interest for him also as a student at Shawnee Mission South High School. “When I was 16 years old, my dad transferred from a little town in Iowa, so I went from attending a school where there were 1,100 people in the whole town to Shawnee Mission South, where there were 2,800 kids in the high school, including 275 kids who were out for football,” Eichner, 61, said. “It was a big change in my life, but a welcome change and a great experience for me. I was active in sports, student government and music in high school.” Coming to Ottawa University in fall 1969, Eichner said he played on the football team as a starting middle linebacker. He played varsity all four years of his collegiate career, where he said he also was a punter, played special teams and some offense. During his senior football season in 1972, Ottawa defeated the Friends University Falcons in the Mineral Water Bowl by a score of 27-20. “We had a lot of success and we finished ranked sixth in the nation my senior year,” he said. Eichner said he was equally enthusiastic to have the opportunity to sing in OU’s concert choir and ensemble choirs. He also was the university’s first presidential scholar — a scholarship OU continues to give today. “They gave out two that first year, and I was fortunate to get one of those,” he said. Eichner said his education at OU helped him embark on his business career. “There’s no question about it that the development of the whole person changed my life,” Eichner said of his OU education. “I know how powerful that is, and I think that’s always been in the DNA of Ottawa University.” Eichner earned a master’s degree in business administration, with concentrations in marketing and organizational behavior, from Harvard Business School in 1977. He co-founded Enterprise Bank and Trust, which operates in St. Louis, Kansas City and Phoenix, and had his own consulting company for 15 years. He also served as chief executive officer of MetLife subsidiary GenAmerican Financial and most recently as CEO of Enterprise Bank and Trust before coming to Ottawa University. During his business career, he maintained ties with the university, serving as a member of

some significant gifts and some new donors, which are part of the lifeblood of any institution. We’ve also been able to augment some partnerships in the community.” Eichner said OU’s Angell Snyder School of Business, School of Education and School of Arts and Sciences have strengthened faculty and programs.

See EICHNER, Page S11

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Kevin Eichner, Ottawa University president, speaks to students and faculty during the convocation last fall at Ottawa University’s Fredrikson Chapel, 1011 S. Cedar St. its board of trustees since 1982, including a stint as chairman. “You could say this is my third stint as a chief executive officer,” Eichner said. “Leadership, marketing, finance, accounting, HR and operations — those are all as applicable at OU as they were in any business I ever ran. The No. 1 difference is that we are a not-for-profit. Instead of a

company with shareholders, our stakeholders are the students, staff, church and community. “Everything I’ve ever done has been called into play here, and it’s good to have that repertoire to draw on,” Eichner said. “It’s also helped that I had been involved with the university as a board member since 1982 and chaired the board. Those

experiences also have proven very valuable.” Eichner’s business skills and familiarity with the university and community have proven useful as he has helped turn around OU’s financial outlook. The university had a $5.5-million deficit when Eichner took the helm in 2008. But by 2011, the university had turned that deficit into a $3.8 million

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Progress

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Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Renaissance man a homegrown leader By DOUG CARDER Herald Senior Writer

John Coen has worn many hats in his lifetime. Dairyman, banker, political aide, Sunday school teacher, school board member, husband and father are but a few of them. In September, Coen, 56, added president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce to his list of accomplishments. A lifelong local resident, Coen was tailormade for the role of Chamber president, Mike Skidmore, Chamber board member, said. “Growing up here, obviously John knows the county and city very well,” Skidmore, who was chairman of the Chamber board when Coen was hired, said. “John is a progressive thinker. We had some good applicants who were very qualified, but John was the best fit. The job was made for him. I know he’s only been on the job for a few months, but I think he has done a great job.” After graduating from Kansas State University in 1981 with a degree in agriculture education, Coen said he wanted to get active in the community and meet more people. “Right after I got out of college, I joined the Chamber and became active in the Franklin County Farm Bureau,” Coen said. “I think it’s important for people to be active in their Chamber, because I think a strong Chamber is the backbone of any community.” Coen, a 1974 graduate of Ottawa High School, attended Eugene Field Elementary School until the fourth grade, then switched to Lincoln Elementary School when his parents moved to a farm northwest of Ottawa, he said. With a strong interest in agriculture, Coen soon became involved in working at local dairies and eventually he and his wife, Cherry, a teacher at OHS, operated an 80-cow dairy from 1984 to 2006. They also farmed 300 acres of land. Avid gardeners, the couple continue to live on the farmstead today, where they raised four now-grown children, Whitney, 29, Jessica, 27, Chelsy, 25, and Todd, 22, who is a senior at Kansas State University. “All three daughters are getting married this year,” Coen said. “Even though we are emptynesters, we are still very active in our kids’ lives. I think if parents take an active role in their children’s lives when they are growing up, they will continue to involve you in their lives once they’re grown. Cherry and I are enjoying this phase of our life.” Coen has remained active in the community, serving on several local boards, including the Ottawa school board, the Ransom Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees and

Photo by Matt Bristow/The Ottawa Herald

John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, stands Tuesday in his office at the chamber, 109 E. 2nd St., Ottawa. the Franklin County Farm Bureau board of directors. Coen, a longtime 4-H leader, chaperoned Franklin County 4-Hers to Washington D.C. for the Citizenship Washington Focus program during a 12-year stretch. “I took more than 100 4-H members to Washington from 1999 to 2011, and now they range in age from their early 30s to a junior in high school,” Coen said. Coen also said he enjoys being active in the Westminster Presbyterian Church, 401 W. 13th St., Ottawa, as a Sunday school teacher and elder. A 1999 graduate of Leadership Kansas, Coen served on Gov. Bill Graves’ Vision 2000 Task Force for Agriculture. He also was active in the Franklin-Douglas Dairy Herd Improvement Association, which at one time had a membership of about 60 dairy herds in the area. “There were 60 herds involved in the association, but there were probably about 100 herds in the area at the time,” Coen said. “Now, I think there are five or six dairy herds left. The dairy industry has changed a great deal. As with many farming operations, the economic realities are that you have to be big to compete.” Coen said he was discussing those economic realties with then-Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, in 2006 when Schmidt soon called back and offered Coen a job on his staff. Coen sold his dairy cows that year and worked on Schmidt’s staff

as a special assistant until he resigned in 2008 to run for the state House of Representatives, which proved unsuccessful. He also served as legislative director for Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris, and then worked as assistant vice president of Kansas State Bank, Ottawa, from 2009 to 2012 before succeeding Tom Weigand, who left the Ottawa chamber last April to guide the Junction City Chamber of Commerce as its new president and chief executive officer. “John would have been my choice,” Weigand said in late August of Coen’s selection to be his successor. Coen began his new duties in early September. “He’s a lifelong Franklin County resident with experience on numerous boards, and in banking, agriculture and politics. I think he’s an outstanding selection, and I think he will be successful.” Sara Caylor, a member of the Chamber’s 2012 board of directors, was on the selection committee that unanimously approved Coen’s selection. “John is down to earth, and he can relate to just about anybody,” Caylor, who also is Ottawa’s mayor pro tem, said in an earlier interview. “I was impressed that John has been a Chamber member since college. He really values the Chamber.” Caylor said Coen is much more than just a businessman and banker. “He is a great family man,” Caylor said. “Whenever I see the Coens, I think, ‘There is

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over 40 years,” Skimore said. “We also carpooled back and forth to K-State. When I heard John was running for office, I said, ‘That’s John.’ I have always seen John in leadership positions. He’s always known how to deal with people. I can’t think of anyone that doesn’t like him.” Coen said when his selection was announced in late August that one of the biggest challenges the Chamber faced at the moment was helping its membership cope with lean economic times. “One of the biggest challenges is the simple fact we’re not seeing economic growth right now,” Coen said. “Businesses are not expanding. They are just managing what they have,

and one of the Chamber’s roles is to make sure we are providing value to our membership to help them prosper.” Coen said he remains committed to growing the Chamber’s membership and helping the Chamber and community prosper. “I think Ottawa has a bright future,” Coen said. The Chamber should continue to grow under Coen’s leadership, Skidmore said. “John has a genuine concern for people,” Skidmore said. “If a person has an issue, John will sincerely listen to them. He doesn’t dig in his heels. John is flexible enough to change, but he still holds true to his principles. That’s a rare talent that most people don’t have.”

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an all-American family.’ I think that is an important quality to have in a leader, because we want to promote Ottawa as the all-American community.” Coen made a run for the state Senate last year, but was defeated in the August primary by nowstate Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker. Though he was unsuccessful in his bids to become a state legislator, Coen said he gained valuable experience from both campaigns. Skidmore, a vice president and branch manager of Goppert State Service Bank in Ottawa and Pomona, said he wasn’t surprised by Coen’s decision to run for office. “I went to middle school and high school with John and have known him for

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Progress

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Page S5

Modest volunteer boasts decades of service you need to be. ” With its emphasis on economic development, Edwards said, the county’s future prospects look good. “I think Franklin County has some of the brightest possibilities of all the counties in the whole state,” Edwards said. “With our highway system and the intermodal coming in. … We’re in what I think is a golden triangle here being between Topeka, Emporia and

By BOBBY BURCH Herald Staff Writer

It might not be “War and Peace,” but Almeda Edwards’ resume still makes a hefty thud. Her laundry list of volunteer and professional work is enough to make most anyone question exactly how the lifelong Franklin County resident found any time for herself — or for anything besides service to the area for that matter. Yet when approached about how she managed her lengthy and diverse work for the county, Edwards’ modesty quickly is on display. “I know lots of people that are more involved than I am,” she said. A 1956 Wellsville High School graduate, Edwards became involved early in area governance and took a job with the Franklin County Treasurer’s Office. A former farmhand, Edwards juggled duties in the city with her chores tending to cattle, crops and the farm’s accounting, she said. During her first few years with the treasurer’s office, Edwards said, she felt compelled to help area women in their professional needs. Soon after, she joined the Ottawa Business And Professional Women’s Club, where she served as a board member and president for about 20 years, she said. Edwards enjoyed her professional work so much, she said, that she eventually entered the treasurer’s race and was elected to serve two terms, from 1960 to 1964, when the office had a term limit. Also during that time, Edwards acted as the secretary treasurer of the Kansas County Treasurer’s Association. Soon after, Edwards’ first tastes of service to Franklin County blossomed into other areas of the community. She soon became more involved in politics and was chosen to serve as the vice chairwoman of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee, a position she held for 20 years. Edwards also served as her precinct’s committeewoman. In the early 1970s, Edwards teamed with other area residents to form the Friends of the Ottawa Library. The group, which still operates today, organized fundraising events, including book and plant sales, that benefited the library’s programs. Under her leadership as president, the program flourished and collected thousands of dollars for

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Courtesy photo

Almeda Edwards and her husband, Kenneth Edwards, are shown a fall 2011 photo taken at their rural Ottawa home. the library. In addition, Edwards acted as Franklin County’s representative for the northeast Kansas library system, which provided library services to rural parts of the county. The library work dovetailed nicely for Edwards’ next, albeit simultaneous, volunteer service. During the Ottawa Municipal Auditorium’s renovation in the 1970s, Edwards volunteered selling tickets, organizing events and increasing awareness for the efforts on behalf of the community staple at Third and Hickory streets, she said. “It became apparent that they needed some citizens to support that and I was one of the organizing members behind the — well, at the time we just called it the support group,” Edwards said laughing. “It wasn’t a very glorious name.” In the 1980s, Edwards delved deeper into her service to Ottawa’s youth and their education. From 1980 to 1987, Edwards served on the Ottawa school board, while simultaneously serving on the East Central Kansas Voca-

tional Cooperative board. After those stints, Edwards helped to ensure that Ottawa’s children would continue to receive quality education and developed the Ottawa Public Education Trust. Most recently, Edwards helped to raise funds for the failed Ottawa YMCA effort, and also served as a trustee on the Franklin County Historical Society’s board. Her extensive volunteerism and service wasn’t planned or necessarily intentional, Edwards said, involvement with friends and civic associations kept leading to more opportunities to help. “It just kind of crept up on me, I guess,” Edwards said. “It’s who you are involved with and who you associate with, and one organization seems to lead to another. ... And the next thing you know, you’re involved in some other thing.” Staying involved in local and state government, she said, is imperative for people to improve their community. Active engagement in forums, such as Ottawa’s legislative coffee meetings, is crucial, Ed-

wards said. “I’m always disappointed there isn’t a larger turnout at [the legislative coffee meetings] because they are so critical to everyone,” Edwards, who will serve as moderator for the March 2 forum, said. “There are so many new legislators that really need our input ...Those [legislative coffee meetings] are very important. I’m usually up by the front row because that’s where

the Kansas City area. ... I just hope that people will appreciate the value, and the treasure that we have here in Franklin County. People need to have a positive attitude about their community.” In 2011, Edwards celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband, Kenneth, with whom she had one son, Jason. Edwards now is enjoying grandparenthood, she said, and lives north of Ottawa at the Edwards family farm.

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Progress

Page S6

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Harnden’s calling: Professional servant By MEAGAN PATTON-PAULSON Herald Connections Editor

Whether it’s been serving as a pastor or selling real estate, Jerry Harnden said, he always has enjoyed helping others discover potential. And both professions have been rewarding in their own ways, he said. “All of us should see our vocation and our work in a servant way,” Harnden said. “We’re all interdependent — whether it’s serving as a pastor or as a real estate agent. We’re trying to look after someone’s best interest. Harnden, 71, works as a Realtor for Prestige Real Estate, 406 S. Main St., Ottawa, but many might know him from his 12-year stint as pastor at the Ottawa First United Methodist Church. Harden grew up in Shawnee. Although many pastors start out doing something else as a career, only later pastoring a church, that wasn’t the case with Harnden. He attributes his immediate calling to the ministry to a pastor he had when he was a youth. “I saw all the good he was doing with people and what a supportive individual he was in their own personal lives,” Harnden said. While in high school, Harnden also attended a mission trip, which even further interested him in a career as a pastor. He attended Baker University and a ministry school in Kansas City. He was pastor at the Ottawa First United Methodist Church from 1980 to 1992. In that time, he and a group of other people began work on the church’s endowment program to make the church financially sustainable and provide scholarship opportunities for students, he said. “We spent a lot of energy getting that developed,” Harnden said. He also served at churches in Shawnee, Edgerton, Richmond, Princeton and Greeley, for a grand total of 51 years as a pastor, he said. His wife, DeeAnne Harnden, taught in the Ottawa school district and at Ottawa University. He started selling real estate in 2003 — a “second

Photo by Matt Bristow/The Ottawa Herald

Jerry Harnden stands Friday in his Ottawa home office. Harnden said he found both his career as a Methodist pastor and as a real estate agent to be rewarding.

“All of us should see our vocation and our work in a servant way.” — Jerry Harnden, Ottawa career,” he called it, which has proven to be as enjoyable as the first. Through the years, he has owned and renovated several homes in the Ottawa area. He also has been active in the Kiwanis Club and on the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce. Harnden said he was surprised to be considered among the most influential people in Ottawa and Franklin County because he’s just tried to do well by the community through the years. “There are times as a pastor you go out to visit someone in a nursing home, and in your own mind, you’re going there to bolster them and make

them feel better,” he said. “But sometimes, you come away feeling better than you went in. It’s a very rewarding vocation.” He said other than a few minor setbacks, he is in good health and will continue selling real estate for as long as he is able. He is looking forward to what the future brings for Ottawa, he said. To the community’s future leaders, he said he would offer this piece of advice: “You need to feel like you’re being a service to the community,” he said. “You’ve got to like people. You’ve got to want to be of assistance to people, whatever your career.”

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Progress

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Page S7

Farmers grow agriculture awareness By CRYSTAL HERBER Herald Staff Writer

With a farm as a classroom, Russ and Sandy Sylvester are real-world teachers. For the past two decades, the Sylvester family has used its time and resources to educate Franklin County third-grade students in the importance of agriculture through the “Day on the Farm” activities. The couple has become key in breaking the disconnect some young people have between the farm and the dinner table, Darren Hibdon, extension agent with Frontier Extension District No. 11, said. “I think Russ and Sandy have been great ambassadors of agriculture here in Franklin County,” Hibdon said of the couple he has known for more than 20 years. “They have shown strong leadership. “They’ve been very supportive of community activities. They’ve always been there to showcase agriculture and let others know of the good things that agriculture has to offer,” Hibdon said. “I think they’re very, very deserving of [being named among the county’s most influential residents].” The Sylvesters were humbled that people would consider them influential, the couple said Monday, while on vacation near Phoenix. “Honestly, we just never have felt like we fell in that category, but we feel pretty proud that somebody might feel that way,” Sandy Sylvester said. “We just feel it’s important to be involved in the community in which we live.” On their family farm at 1792 Kingman Road, southwest of Ottawa, the Sylvesters have raised wheat and soybeans. The Midland Seed Company, another aspect of the Sylvester business, also operates at the Kingman Road location. The seed company provides custom seed varieties for several types of crops.

File photo/The Ottawa Herald

Robin Dunn, with Dunn’s Landing, standing center, talks to students about her draft horses October 2, 2012, during “Day on the Farm” at Sylvester Ranch, 1792 Kingman Road, Ottawa. Russ and Sandy Sylvester open up their farm each year to teach Franklin County students about agriculture. The Sylvesters have lived on the same homestead in Franklin County for 47 years, having also reared three children and nine grandchildren. They are active in the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, various Frontier Extension District programs, the Franklin County Farm Bureau and the Kansas Soybean Association. The couple’s desire to be generous with their time and resources was passed down to them, Sandy Sylvester said, from their parents. In addition to their upbringing, the tight-knit community and good friends Franklin County offers are what motivated their continued effort to better the community, she said. “We feel blessed to have so many friends that share our same philosophy,” she said. “We give a lot of

credit to our friends too.” The couple has received recognition for their service to the community. In 2010, the pair received the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Image Award. They agree their work with “Day on the Farm” might have influenced the understanding of agriculture in many young lives, but Sandy Sylvester said they have never done it for the accolades. “Being farmers, we also feel it’s important to educate folks and young people about the importance of agriculture,” she said. “It’s very important to our country and our world because we all like to eat.” Day on the Farm originally started as a Williamsburg High School FFA program on a different farm for students from Kansas City to learn about

Sandy Sylvester said they consider themselves privileged to be able to

agriculture, Russ Sylvester said. After that program ended, the Sylvesters and the agriculture committee of the Ottawa Chamber decided to take it on for the children of Franklin County, Russ Sylvester said. For about 15 years, third-grade students from Franklin County schools converge on the farm each fall. They are given the opportunity to learn first-hand the operations surrounding the production of food, Russ Sylvester said. “Normally we have about nine different stops [on the farm tour], and they go out to each one of these stops. There’s soil conservation, the grains, the dairy,” Russ Sylvester said, adding FFA students from the area high schools also present agriculturerelated projects to the students.

offer their facilities for the “Day on the Farm” program. After so many years playing host to the event, Russ Sylvester said, it still is interesting to see what the students learn through the experience by later reading their related school assignments. “Not everybody learns the same thing, but they all learn a little bit of something,” Russ Sylvester said. The program’s activities allow students, both from farming and non-farming backgrounds, to become more in touch with where their food comes from, Hibdon said. The day is important to the future of agriculture, he added. “This activity that they’ve allowed to take place out there and backed 110 percent has been very influential in a lot of kids’ lives,” Hibdon said. “I think that’s just one of the ways they’ve had a great influence on the youth of Franklin County.”

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Progress

Page S8

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Felix breathes new life into hospital By DOUG CARDER Herald Senior Writer

As a respiratory therapist for 17 years, Larry Felix said, he worked with scores of patients who were suffering from every imaginable affliction. Felix cared for a 1-pound infant who was so premature the baby’s eyes were still sealed shut, he said, and he held the hand of a 104-year-old man as he died. Felix has worked in every hospital setting as a respiratory therapist, he said, from air ambulances to burn centers. “I took care of patients that were victims of violence, accidents, disease — every kind of trauma,” Felix said. “I’ve seen everything imaginable.” Those experiences helped prepare Felix for his current role as Ransom Memorial Hospital’s chief executive officer, he said. “I think it gave me the sensitivity I need to do the job,” he said. “I insist that our hospital be a respectful place, and we are as accommodating to our patients’ needs as possible.” Felix, who has worked in a hospital setting for the past 40 years, has been CEO of Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., for the past 13 years. He started his career on the ground floor. After graduating from Ponca City High School in Ponca City, Okla., in 1973, Felix said he went to work at age 17 in a hospital in that community, washing respiratory therapy equipment. Felix said he suffered from severe asthma as a child that was so debilitating he missed one-third of his third grade school year. “At various times, doctors told my folks they didn’t know if I was going to survive. They didn’t have the medicine and the treatments they have now,” Felix, 57, said. “Since I suffered from a respiratory disease as a child, I decided I wanted to become a respiratory therapist so I could help other people.” Felix, desiring to continue his education but remain in a hospital setting, earned a bachelor’s degree in hospital administration from Ottawa University in 1986. He said earning his undergraduate degree at OU made the Ransom job appealing because he enjoyed the local community. Before coming back to Ottawa nearly 13 years ago, Felix said, he first completed his master’s degree in hospital administration at Wichita State University in 1990 and eventually became chief operating officer of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center of Northern Oklahoma in Ponca City — the same hospital where he got his start washing respiratory equipment. Felix said he spent 10 years as an administrator at the Ponca City hospital before being attracted to the CEO opening at Ransom Memorial Hospital. Keith Gaeddert, who has been a member of the Ransom Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees for about 19 years, said he

Photo by Matt Bristow/The Ottawa Herald

Larry Felix, CEO of Ransom Memorial Hospital, stands Tuesday in one of the recently renovated areas of the hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa. was chairman of the board when he offered the CEO job to Felix. “Larry has many appealing qualities, but one of the ones I like best is his honesty,” Gaeddert said of the decision to hire Felix. “He appeared to have a great passion to see that the hospital succeeded. When Larry took over, we weren’t in the best of shape. We had gone through some rough times. “Larry has been very successful, and he has turned the hospital into one of the finest hospitals in the area,” Gaeddert said. “We just completed [in 2012] a $9 million addition and renovation project at the hospital. And the hospital has no debt. Not too many places can say that, period.” Gaeddert said various national hospital care rating services have consistently given high marks to Ransom Memorial Hospital under Felix’s watch. “We’ve won five-star awards here and there, and we’re always rated among the Top 10 percent in the U.S.,” Gaeddert said. “These are patients [being surveyed for] the ratings by independent rating services, so that speaks to the satisfaction of our patients.” Felix said the credit really goes not to him but to everyone who works at the hospital — doctors, nurses, food service, custodial, other support staff and volunteers — for the hospital’s success. “Health care in Ottawa is safe, effective and efficient — with a high level of respect and compassion for our patients,” Felix said. “The credit goes to all the staff at the hospital who make this happen. I’ve tried to provide

leadership and encourage a positive culture, but the staff gets the credit.” Gaeddert said Felix has helped assemble a good medical staff in Ottawa that supports Ottawa’s needs “very well.” “I’m very pleased with Larry,” Gaeddert said. “I think Larry is very personable, and he came in here and dug in and provided the leadership that we needed. The hospital is a vital entity within the community.” The hospital’s renovation project included a new surgery suite, new Family Birth Place unit, new intensive care unit, remodeled private rooms, express care clinic and digital mammography area — along with many other facility improvements and equipment upgrades. “I think we have leapfrogged over other hospitals around us in terms of finishes and technology,” Felix said as he prepared to do the walk-through of the finished project before an open house in March 2012. The renovation included 26,000 square feet of new space that expanded the hospital’s surgical center and obstetrics and gynecology area. “This has been a tremendous undertaking, but it was absolutely worth the wait,” Felix said at the open house. “It looks fantastic.” The hospital also has attracted several new specialists to the community in recent months, Felix said. “I’m very pleased with the results of the $9 million addition and renovation project, but I think I’m even more proud of the composition of the medical staff we’ve assembled and

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of the scope of care we can provide,” Felix said. Felix said the hospital’s technology allows surgeons to perform numerous minimally invasive surgery procedures — completed with small incisions and cameras — that often are outpatient procedures. “About six weeks ago, I had gallbladder surgery [at Ransom], and the whole process took three hours — from check-in to the time I went home,” Felix said. “I had the surgery on a Wednesday and I was back to work on Monday. I only took two pain pills — I really didn’t experience much pain at all. When Mom had her gallbladder out, about 20 years ago, she was in the hospital 11 days.” Felix has always worked for hospital systems that treated anyone who walked through the door, regardless of their

ability to pay, including Ransom Memorial Hospital, he said. Felix said he is hopeful looming national healthcare reforms will not hinder the hospital’s ability to continue this policy, or force it to curtail any services. Outside the hospital, Felix has been active on various boards, including the Ottawa University Board of Trustees for the past nine years. He also has been active with the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin County Development Council. Felix said he continues to be active with the First United Methodist Church, 203 E. Fourth St., Ottawa. “I enjoy helping out at the church with anything they need done,” Felix said. Felix and his wife, Leanna, have two grown children, Jessica, who is a nurse in the intensive care unit at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Mo., and

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Brian, who is a lineman for the Kansas City Power and Light Co. in Kansas City, Mo. Felix said he also loves spending time with his granddaughter, Kaylee, 3. In his spare time, Felix said, he also likes fishing, boating, swimming and other outdoor activities. Felix said he enjoys working at the hospital and in Ottawa. “I’ve had opportunities to go elsewhere, but I enjoy what I’m doing,” Felix said, “and Leanna and I really like living in this community.” Gaeddert said he is pleased to have Felix at the hospital and in the community. “Not long after Larry got here, we got out of debt and have been out of debt ever since,” Gaeddert said. “Larry’s also very active in the community with the Chamber, FCDC, his church — he’s an allaround good guy.”

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Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Progress

Page S9

From grave digger to philanthropist By BOBBY BURCH Herald Staff Writer

WELLSVILLE — Some say it’s better to have luck than skill. But in the case of Thomas James “T.J.” Bivins, both have helped amass a bounty he’s frequently forked over to his friends in Franklin County. “I’ve been so lucky in so many ways,” Bivins, Wellsville, said. “And I think if you’re lucky enough to make money, you should be able to share it with those who aren’t so lucky.” Born in rural Miami County, Bivins attended Wellsville High School before holding a handful of different jobs, ranging from grave digger to toilet cleaner. The now-88-year-old had no qualms about getting his hands dirty and was willing to tackle nearly any task — as long as the price was right, he said. “I’ve been in all kinds of businesses to make a living,” he said, holding a photograph of himself working atop a 60-foot power line without a safety harness. “Height doesn’t bother me. They called me the climbing truck driver.” In addition to a gritty work ethic, Bivins also maintained a vital entrepreneurial spirit, he said. That spunk manifested in Bivins through various avenues, including via sales. Whether it be selling machinery and cars or simply trading his service, Bivins’ salesmanship was often enough to entice anyone, he said. “I could sell a blind man a pair of glasses if he wasn’t careful enough,” Bivins joked, noting that he’s bought and sold homes, bulldozers, diamond rings and airplanes among other items. “You could sit here for two hours and try to think of something that I haven’t bought and sold at one time, but you’d have a heck of a time doing it.” Bivins eventually developed his own business, New and Used Equipment, from which he sold machinery, in addition to moving once-stationary buildings. To relocate the buildings, Bivins handcrafted a 20,000-pound, 30-gear flatbed truck he dubbed the “Shack Packer,” he said. With the truck and his crew, Bivins moved houses and commercial buildings throughout Kansas. Among his first building moves was a large house in Miami County. “The [owner] came to me and said ‘I don’t want to tear my house up,’” Bivins said of the early 1960s job. “So I said, ‘Well, I’ll move it.’ ... There were two chimneys but we moved the whole thing. It was pretty heavy.” A few months after, the

“Seeing their smiling faces is worth a lot more than the money to me. ... I love this town and I love Franklin County.” — TJ Bivins, Wellsville the Bivins family. Bill Lytle, mayor of Wellsville, agreed with Samsel, saying Bivins always looks out for those around him. “He’s a modest, community-minded man,” Lytle said. “He really cares about the community and the people in it.” Through the years, Bivins has donated money

to dozens of organizations, he said, including Hope House, the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance and also to the Wellsville public pool. “I enjoy giving money away,” Bivins said. “Seeing their smiling faces is worth a lot more than the money to me. ... I love this town and I love Franklin County.”

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Wellsville resident T.J. Bivins stands Tuesday with a Guinness Book of World Records certification — which details the record he set for constructing the slowest moving mechanical object ever built — at his Wellsville home. Franklin County Historical Society approached Bivins about moving what’s now a mainstay in one of Ottawa’s most centrally-located parks. Out of his own pocket, Bivins moved the Dietrich Cabin from about two and a half miles southwest of Princeton to Ottawa’s City Park, Fifth and Main streets. The structure now features a plaque illustrating the cabin’s history “It was a rough [move],” Bivins said of hauling the mid-1800s building, which was built by German brothers Jacob and John Dietrich. “Another mover said, ‘Hell, you couldn’t move that six inches.’ And we moved it for nothing.” Asked how he developed such an in-depth knowledge of engineering and machinery, Bivins said “by making mistakes.” “And I’ve made my fair share of ’em,” he added. His mechanical knowledge became known globally, as Bivins eventually earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Using his self-taught engineering skills, Bivins constructed what’s now the slowest moving mechanical object ever built. The machine, which Bivins named “Slow Poke,” requires 3,800,007,600 years to complete one revolution. While he’s received some offers for the machine, Bivins said, he enjoys having it around the house and has even loaned it to several schools. A few years ago, Bivins said, a professor of engineering

at Kansas State University asked to borrow the machine for his classes. The school also toured with the machine to area high schools for educational opportunities. After years of successful business, Bivins began to give back to his Wellsville community and to Franklin County. He offered to build the Wellsville Firehouse himself, though the city was at first reluctant, he recalled. “I said ‘I’ll build it and you can just rent it,’” Bivins said. “Well, they did and they paid me back — every cent. I charged them half the interest of the bank.” Bivins also has been known to give to folks in need in Wellsville. Whether it be a small loan, or some money to turn the water back on, Bivins has been happy to give. “They were always helping somebody,” Ron Samsel, a family friend, said previously regarding

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Progress

Page S10

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Personal challenges inspire desire to help By MEAGAN PATTON-PAULSON Herald Connections Editor

“At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself.” In everything he does and teaches others to do, Richard Jackson said, he tries to keep those powerful words in mind, day in and day out. That, he said, and his faith. Through the years, Jackson has held a vital role in influencing and contributing to the community — in everything from being on the Ottawa City Commission to being the CEO of the East Central Kansas Economic Corp. — his current title. And at 69 years old, he has no plans to give it up any time soon, he said. “I enjoy the things that we do here,” he said. “Every day is a challenge, some more than others.” Jackson grew up in Rochester, N.Y., a fact few people know or realize about him, he said. “I spent most of my early life as part of the system and a ward of the state,” he said. “ ... I understand what welfare is about because I was part of that system.” He spent time in many foster homes and eventually wound up in an orphanage for several years. “I think that’s where I began to find myself,” he said. At that time, Jackson was involved in athletics and was interested in eventually coaching sports. Initially, he was targeted as a high school dropout and various people tried to steer him into an area of a vocational trade, but one mentor at the orphanage convinced Jackson to follow his dreams and make something else of his life. “My goal was to drop out of school when I became 16, but he recognized that I had some potential and wanted to go into coaching, and the only way that was going to happen was to graduate out of high school and go to college,” Jackson said. After earning his high school diploma, Jackson attended Ottawa University, graduating in 1968. He had planned to go into teaching, and was offered two different positions in opposite parts of the country. “One was in Wyoming, and I didn’t think that was a place I wanted to be in the middle of the winter, and the other was in Iowa,” Jackson said. He ultimately didn’t take either position, instead applying for a parttime summer counselor position at ECKAN, which quickly turned to full-time work. Jackson started working with adults who were looking for jobs. For a while after, he headed the state’s poverty programs under former Kansas Govs. Robert Docking and Robert Bennett. In 1977, he became the director of ECKAN, a position he has kept ever since. Jackson also served as a city commissioner at the time the Youth Action Council was formed — a group he said he’s proud to have played a small part in developing. “It was driven by the youth — a group of kids coming together and saying they’d like to be more involved in the community,” Jackson said. “They designed the program. They put the rules and regs together. The only thing I said was I’d like to have it as diversified as we possibly can.” Through the years, he’s learned a great deal about life, hard work and collaboration. “You don’t have to do everything yourself,” he said. “You have to allow

other folks to be part of whatever success you have. Being on the city commission, you have to allow your colleagues to share in those successes. Don’t take things personally. Respect the other person’s point of view. It’s OK to have disagreements, but we need to be respectful about that.” Jackson said he feels lucky to have had the privilege of working with people who have shared his vision. “I’ve said many times, you lay the groundwork for future generations,” Jackson said. “You’re planting the seed, and along the

way it’s cultivated and taken care of, and some day it blossoms. But it’s an effort from everybody involved.” He’s also learned that sometimes, a little perspective is needed to see the big picture. “Sometimes, you’re too close to the situation,” Jackson said. “I’m not sure many people understand that there’s a lot of things we can offer. I’d like to see the community as a whole become more involved and try to be positive and find ways to move us forward. You can always be negative. It takes a little more work to

be positive and proactive.” Jackson said in the future, he hopes to see more youth involved in making Ottawa a great community. As a candidate for the Ottawa school board in the coming April election, he might get the opportunity to help influence even more young people. “I’d like to see more people step forward and invest their time in the community by being part of boards and clubs and commissions and getting themselves involved,” he said. “I think the community has a lot of potential.”

File photo/The Ottawa Herald

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Progress

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Page S11

Lee develops passion for serving others By CRYSTAL HERBER Herald Staff Writer

Wynndee Lee’s view from her office’s large picture windows is that of north Ottawa, across the Marais des Cygnes River. The top floor of Ottawa’s City Hall provides a wide view of the community the city official loves and serves. “We live, work and play here,” Lee said. A resident of Ottawa for 31 years, Lee serves in many aspects of the community, from her professional life to her volunteer services. As director of planning and codes administration for the City of Ottawa, Lee comes in contact with a plethora of different people, she said. From business owners looking to expand their buildings to individuals seeking to build a deck onto their homes, Lee and her staff of six have seen it all, she said. “We interact with thousands probably by the time we’re done,” Lee, 46, said. Lee has been planning and codes director for the past 10 years. Previously, she served as assistant director in the same department, as well as city manager for another small Kansas community. She and her husband, W. David, made the decision to move back to Ottawa when he took a position in the city, but also because she thought it was a community she could help to advance. “I came back because I thought, having lived here two times previously, I do have some of the roots of the community but I also have been exposed to other things and I want the community to move forward and want to be a part

Photo by Matt Bristow/The Ottawa Herald

Wynndee Lee, director of planning and codes for the City of Ottawa, stands Tuesday in her office at Ottawa City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. of that change,” Lee said. One of her key duties in the planning and codes department is to influence development, Lee said. That doesn’t always involve someone erecting a new structure, she said. It also is about redevelopment and making good investments in the community, she said. Some such examples are the Neighborhood Revitalization incentive program and Curb Appeal Awards that Lee’s department awards. Such programs provide incentives for residents to make sure their properties are presentable and thereby

help raise property values. But Lee said she is interested in promoting more than just structures being built or renovated in the community. People are drawn to the amenities, she said. And her office, along with several others in the community, are working to provide some low-cost amenities for everyone to enjoy, she said. It’s about developing communities, she explained. “We’re trying to think of amenities that benefit people but have low cost. The dog park is one of those examples,” Lee said. “It’s a very low-cost thing,

but it provides a new place to form a community with people who have common interests.” City staff has been working with members of the community and representatives from Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, 3173 K-68, Ottawa, to develop one or two dog parks in the area, but has just begun the process, Lee said. The next steps include discussions about location, amenities and costs, she said, as well as raising the necessary funds. Additional amenities, like a dog park or playground, will only add to the other great features Ottawa and Franklin County have to offer, Lee said. “Ottawa is positioned in the state phenomenally well, and I think we’ve taken advantage of that more in the last 10 years,” Lee said. “We’ve finally kind of come into a lot of our own.” Lee is a tenacious, dynamic woman, as well as a hard worker, Richard Nienstedt, Ottawa city manager, said. He has worked with Lee for about six years, he said, but knew her before he took the city manager position. Their departments work closely together, he said, so he is confident in saying Lee is among Franklin County’s most influential leaders. In his dealings with Lee, Nienstedt said, he has witnessed the integral role Lee plays throughout the city. “I think that she participates in the community. She participates in her church. She has strong family values and she is very well known professionally — not only in this community, but also outside the community,”

Nienstedt said. Lee serves with several board and volunteer services. “I do service work ... because I want to help improve the lives of other people,” Lee said. First and foremost, she said, her Christian values are the driving factor behind her desire to serve. In addition, other people who served as volunteers were mentors in her life, she said. Her service work is a means of paying that forward, she said. The ability to give back to her community holds a special place in Lee’s heart, she said, because she understands many people are dealing with less-than-ideal circumstances. That knowledge comes from experience. For a short time, as a single mother, Lee was homeless and unemployed. “While people may think ‘She’s got a higher education. She’s in a higher position. She has no idea what it’s like,’ I actually do know what it’s like,” Lee said. “And so as a result, I think it’s important to help when you can help.” Lee assisted in starting Franklin County Habitat for Humanity as part of the 1993-1994 Leadership Class Franklin County project. She and the class were tasked with rais-

ing the necessary $3,000 to begin a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate of Habitat International. Lee was a key player in that process, Lisa Rivers, former Habitat board member and chair of family support committee, said. “She was also employed by the city at that time, so there was a group that came together to get a feel for what was the problem was as far as housing, and they realized that there wasn’t enough affordable housing in Franklin County,” Rivers said. “So she made that known to her leadership class and that’s why they decided to make that their project.” Lee has served on the Ottawa University Board of Trustees for 13 years, as well as serving on committees at her church and the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce. Her calendar is filled, she said, with service work, but she doesn’t mind staying busy. “Usually I’m trying to make sure that I am involved in things that help some individuals take a step up like Habitat does,” Lee said. When Lee is not promoting the community or serving others, she said, she enjoys spending time with her family, which includes two daughters and a son-in-law, reading and scrapbooking.

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EICHNER: Ottawa University expanding focus (Continued from Page S3) “The university has had a good run,” Eichner said of the first three years of the university’s 12-year Vision 2020 plan to grow the university and its enrollment. “It’s been a lot of hard work by everyone, but it’s been very gratifying.” At a community First Friday Forum in early 2012, Eichner told attendees the university’s enrollment was at its highest point since fall 1975, touching 9,000 students throughout its network. “I think 5- to 7-percent growth at our OU campus in Ottawa is reasonable,” Eichner said in a recent interview as he talked about the school’s continued enrollment growth projections. Student retention between the fall and spring semesters of the 2011-2012 school year was 92.5 percent, Eichner said in an earlier interview. “When I arrived, I said we didn’t want to recruit students, we wanted to recruit graduates,” he said. “Our retention rate now is very high.” Eichner continues to be bullish about the university’s growth. Now in its second phase of Vision 2020, OU also is seeing a surge in its online enrollment. “We’ve seen great growth in our online enrollment,” Eichner said. “We are working to develop the next generation of what online education will look like in the future — we call it our virtuoso project — and we are going to have some big news on that front soon.” In addition to its campus in Ottawa and online virtual campus, the university’s other campus locations include Ottawa University-Arizona, Ottawa University-Indiana, Ottawa University-Wisconsin and Ottawa UniversityKansas City. In a telephone interview from Phoenix, where the

“Above all, you have to be focused on the students, and their goals and objectives, to help them achieve success.” — Kevin Eichner, Ottawa University OU board was gathering for an annual meeting at Ottawa University-Arizona, Eichner said OU is hoping to grow its enrollment in that major metropolitan area of the Southwest. “Phoenix is an extraordinarily competitive market,” Eichner said. “We are considering starting a residential campus out here [its campus locations in Phoenix, Chandler, Ariz., and Surprise, Ariz., do not offer residential student housing], but nothing has been decided yet. It would be a huge initiative, but we are certainly going to take a look at it.” Eichner, who also sings opera and continues to have a passion for music, said he’s also pleased the college’s music programs are continuing to grow at its Ottawa campus. “Our music program is an important part of our tradition,” Eichner said. “Historically, we’ve had some terrific musicians and music educators in particular at OU. “When I arrived, we only had eight students in the choir. Our goal is to have at least 200 students involved in the music program at some level in the next two or three years at our Ottawa campus, and we are on track to do that,” he said. “I think our focus on music has helped enrollment and the cultural atmosphere of our campus. I’m very pleased to see the growth in our music program.” A university like Ottawa is very complex, with a lot of facets to serve the diverse needs of its student population, Eichner said.

“There’s never one button you can push to make a university successful. It’s like playing a piano — you cannot play just one key — you have to have your fingers on a lot of keys to make music,” Eichner said. “To be successful, you have to increase enrollment, be successful at fundraising and marketing, and invest in the right kinds of things like the music program,” he said. “You have to strengthen retention. Above all, you have to be focused on the students, and their goals and objectives, to help them achieve success.” Eichner and his wife, Marylin, a graduate of Ottawa University-Kansas City, have three adult sons, Adam, 29, Andy, 28, and Kyle, 26. “We are very proud of all three of them, and we had our first grandchild last year. This is a very exciting time in our lives,” Eichner said. “I laugh out loud when friends of mine from the corporate world ask me what it’s like to be semi-retired as president of OU. They don’t have a grasp for what we do. If you’re a semi-retired college president, then you need to retire all the way.” Eichner said he enjoys playing golf and he works out every day. The Eichners also have a house at the Lake of the Ozarks, where they like spending time on the water, he said. He also said he is active in the First Baptist Church, 410 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. “Pastor Joel Fredrikson and I went to college

together, and it’s been fun being reunited,” Eichner said. “When we were both in college, I don’t know if anyone would have envisioned us being here. They probably would have said, ‘Who would have thunk it?’” But Eichner said he is pleased to be back at the university — where OU’s chapel now is named for Joel Fredrikson’s parents, Roger and Ruth Fredrikson — and in the community. “We’re really happy to be in Ottawa,” he said. “We really enjoy the community and the relationships we’ve built here.” Lee, OU board vice chair and the city’s planning and codes director, said she was pleased Eichner returned to serve as president of the university. “I have been given the opportunity to watch, learn and continue my admiration for his leadership skills,” she said, “but more importantly, Kevin is a person with values and convictions that I also admire. I am so glad he has decided to be a part of making Ottawa University a better place and for enabling Ottawa to be a better community as well.” When asked about how he would like his legacy at Ottawa University to be remembered, Eichner paused for a moment. “Honestly, I don’t think a lot about that,” he said. “You always hope that the institution is on much firmer ground and that the university has distinguished itself, and students have benefited from their OU experience. “Ottawa University is a great place to work and teach and be a part of a group of people who really care about impacting the world in a positive way,” Eichner said. “Our motto is ‘Prepare for a Life of Significance,’ so I hope when people look back at what we did they will say it was emblematic of a life of significance.”

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Progress

Page S12

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Longtime pastor celebrates love, Word of God By MEAGAN PATTON-PAULSON Herald Connections Editor

In all his years as pastor, and later senior pastor of a local church, the Rev. Afton Oglesby said, he always has tried to live by one simple rule: Love each other. “You love people irregardless, and you show compassion irregardless,” Oglesby, senior pastor of Community Revival Center Church, 2749 Montana Road, said. “We always stayed on that team, and this church has people that know how to love one another.” Next year, the church Oglesby and his wife, Marlene, started out of their own home, is expected to celebrate its 50th birthday. It will be an exciting time, he said, and something special is sure to be planned. “We’ve really been blessed because of good people who have surrounded us with their love and compassion,” Oglesby said. Oglesby grew up in Missouri and came to Ottawa in 1965. His family started the church out of their home at 313 S. Cedar St., and they later moved to 807 King St., where they led a congregation for more than nine years. When they stumbled upon their current building, which

“We’ve tried to influence people’s lives by trying to be an example.” — the Rev. Afton Oglesby, Community Revival Center Church, Ottawa was for sale at 2749 Montana Road, Oglesby said, the asking price was too high. Eventually, though, the price decreased, and gave Oglesby and his son, Dan Oglesby, a perfect opportunity to expand their church. “I came out and looked at it, and I said, ‘This is the place,’” Oglesby said. “We’ve been here ever since.” Oglesby still has vivid memories of the first service inside the new building, which was July 4, 1976. “I remember it very well,” he said. “It was one of those exciting times.” Oglesby led the church until a few years ago, and has since taken on the role as senior pastor. His son, Dan Oglesby, now is the pastor.

“Thank God for that,” Oglesby said. “When you get up to my age, and I’m 84, it’s good to see a young man step up and take the role.” Because the two are so much alike, preaching together at first was tough, Dan Oglesby said. But the two eventually found their groove. “We try to let the spirit lead in everything we do,” he said. “There were times when I walked up to preach, and I felt something just wasn’t right, and I could tell he had the message for that particular time and particular congregation that was present. We’ve learned to work it out like that.” Dan Oglesby said he’s learned a lot from his father, including the value of hard work. “Even at age 84, he is a very hard worker in the kingdom of God,” Oglesby said of his father. “He’s always busy doing God’s business somewhere.” Some of Afton Oglesby’s accomplishments include starting the county’s first Protestant Christian school, which was through the church, in 1979, and bringing a nationally known youth speaker to all four of Franklin County’s school districts.

The operation has truly been a family-oriented one, Afton Oglesby said. “I have three sons, and they’re all in church with me, and their kids are also going to church — some of them here and some of them live in Kansas City,” he said. “From time to time, they come here. This is still home to them. We’ve tried to influence people’s lives by trying to be an example.” The church has a congregation of 100 to 120 people on any given day, he said. “Sometimes more, sometimes less,” Oglesby said. “A lot of it depends on the weather. We have some people who have been with us 38 to 39 years.” Through the years, there have been some technological changes in the way Afton Oglesby delivers his message. In 2011, he started using Skype to teach Bible lessons to a group of 20 or so college students in the Philippines. Those weekly lessons continue today, he said — something he’s proud to have been a part of. “They are so responsive and so excited about that time,” he said. “And I’m excited about it too.” In 1999, Oglesby formed the HELPS Ministry Fellowship In-

ternational — a support group for ministers around the world (including one in the Philippines). In 2006, he finished a book, “Can you believe this?”, which discusses losing his mother when he was 6, his rebellious childhood, his prosthetic eye and his calling to the ministry 50 years ago. In his life, Afton Oglesby has served with churches in Texas, Baldwin City and now Ottawa. “I love this place. I really do,” Oglesby said previously about the church. Oglesby said although he administers the word of God, he tries to remind people he’s just like them — a person. “A lot of the time people like to put pastors on pedestals, but we’ve tried to teach and preach against that here, that Jesus Christ is Lord, we’re not,” he said. So far, the church hasn’t planned anything for its 50th birthday next year, but Oglesby said he’s sure it will be commemorated in some way. “Of this community, the people we’ve got acquainted with and know, seeing God change lives is one of the greatest deals we can ever speak about,” he said.

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If the late Raymond Gibson were alive, he most certainly would be pleased to see the fruits of his and his wife’s labor being put back into Gibson the community, his wife said. “We always said that whichever one of us was left would have to make some tough decisions on our giving, and I think he would have been pleased with most of the things I’ve gone ahead and seen through,” Marguerite Gibson said. Gibson, 88, and her late husband together owned and operated Bing-Go Dog Food Company in Ottawa for 40 years. In recent years, the Gibsons have expressed their philanthropy through financial contributions to many entities, including Ransom Memorial Hospital, Ottawa University and a pro-

posed YMCA project, which ultimately was unsuccessful. The Gibsons spent most of their life in Ottawa, operating their dog food company and serving in various capacities throughout the community. Raymond Gibson served as a RMH trustee, and Marguerite Gibson served as a board member of the hospital’s Charitable Association and is a longtime active member of the hospital’s auxiliary. They largely were private people, Marguerite Gibson said, but they always were proud to be part of the Ottawa community — a reason they’ve continued to give back. “We were very fortunate in our business and worked hard at it, and we did well and invested well, and we just wanted to give back to something good for the community,” she said. Raymond Gibson died in 2000, and shortly after, his wife made the decision to close the plant. Since the couple didn’t have any children, Marguerite Gibson said, they

decided to spread much of their accumulated earnings throughout the community. That started in 2003, when Gibson donated $880,000 to the hospital for what originally was planned as a five-part renovation. The final phase of the multimillion dollar renovation was completed in 2011. Gibson’s gift had just one catch — she wanted to remain anonymous, at least until the project was complete. She was afraid she would be bombarded with questions or requests for financial donations, she said. Hospital officials fiercely guarded her secret, refusing to release any details about the mysterious benefactor before the rededication ceremony a year later, according to Herald archives. Gibson kept the secret from even her closest friends. The idea for a donation to Ransom Memorial Hospital came years before, when Raymond Gibson underwent a five-way heart bypass surgery in 1995. He and Marguerite talked about pos-

sibly buying equipment to outfit a room in the cardiology department or something similar, but the plan did not materialize. “My only regret is he didn’t live to see this,” Marguerite Gibson said previously. The hospital recently named a new medical building, at 1402 S. Main St., Ottawa, as the Raymond C. and Marguerite Gibson Medical Arts Building. “The Gibsons have a long-time connection to the hospital and have helped in many ways other than their generous philanthropy,” Larry Felix, hospital administrator, said previously. “Their generosity has also been seen in many other ways in the community.” The couple’s next large gift came in the form of a $1 million pledge to Ottawa Community Partnership, Inc., in its campaign to build a YMCA recreation center on property owned by OU at 11th and Mulberry streets. See GIBSON, Page S13

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Progress

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

Page S13

School leader opens door to difficulties By CRYSTAL HERBER

grown children and two grandchildren, with triplets on the way, is making plans to retire at the

Herald Staff Writer

RICHMOND — The doors to Buddy Welch’s office seldom are closed. Students can see or come in as they please to talk to Welch. And that is just the way the Central Heights Middle School principal likes it. Welch has been principal for more than a decade. In that time, he has seen many students walk the halls of the small, rural school. It is his extraordinary ability to connect with the students, James White said, that makes him an influential member of both the Central Heights schools and Franklin County. “He interacts with our students every day and does an outstanding job of meeting the needs of the kids that he does work with,” White, Central Heights schools superintendent, said. White has worked with Welch for the past four years as school administrators in the district. While he was honored to be named one of the county’s most influential residents, Welch said, he wasn’t that surprised by the news. Through his many years in public education, and as a student in the district, he has developed bonds with many people, he said. “I think I’ve had a lot of connections with a lot of different people,” Welch, 53, said, citing his dealings in Ottawa, at Central Heights and around the area. “I have a lot of interaction with a lot of different people.” Welch can name several members of the Central Heights student body whose parents he had in school as students several years ago, he said. It’s good, he said, to see them return to their hometown school with their children. Welch taught physical education and drivers education, as well as coached, before he took over as a school administrator in 1992. He always had known he wanted to be a coach, Welch said. Teaching life skills — like responsibility and team work — through sports was one of the reasons Welch said he entered coaching. Even though he no

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Buddy Welch, principal at Central Heights Middle School, is shown in his office on the school’s 3521 Ellis Road campus, near Richmond. Welch is considered one of Franklin County’s most influential residents, in part, because of his long career in public education and coaching. longer coaches, basketballs still sit on a rack in the corner of his office in the center of the middle school building. The Viking light blue walls are partially covered with plaques to commemorate past basketball and baseball tournament wins. Welch spent 26 years as the basketball coach and started the baseball program from scratch in the 1990s, coaching for six years and winning a state championship in 1999. After his retirement from coaching in 2006, Welch was honored during a Viking home basketball game when the school named the gym floor in his honor. “It was really special,” Central Heights boys coach Rusty Cannady said at the time of the ceremony. “You’re standing there in awe and actually seeing a legendary man speak to you.” Cannady’s Vikings became the first team to win on the court that bore Welch’s name that February night in 2010. Of his coaching style, Welch said it largely depended on the types of players he had on the team. Some players

responded better to loud verbal motivation, he said, while others were motivated more by quiet conversation. “I think you’ve got to know your kids, and I think that was more my style — recognizing the kind of kids I had and making sure I treated them in the way they could be successful,” Welch said. As an administrator, he said, he wanted to continue teaching life skills to students. Being highly visible to his students, Welch said, is part of the process of building trust so he can teach those life skills. Besides greeting students as they get off the bus in the morning, Welch teaches a leadership class to eighth-grade students. Each day might present a new challenge, but Welch said he thinks he is prepared. “I love my job. The thing I love about my job is I don’t do the same thing every day. I come here and you never know what’s going to be here when you get here,” Welch said. A portion of what Welch tries to impart to his students is development of the proper social skills, he said. The sixth- through

eighth-grade years are perhaps the most important formative years in a child’s life, Welch said. For that reason, he keeps the doors to his office wide open to invite students in if they need to talk. “I think, to me, that’s one of the bigger things kids need to know is those social skills to be able to interact with people because there’s so many out there now that can’t,” Welch said. When Welch encounters a student with behavioral issues or poor social skills, he said, he takes a special interest in him or her. He enjoys seeing a student develop through time into a well-adjusted individual ready for high school and life, Welch said. His persistence in developing strong individuals is evident, Superintendent White said, in the students coming out of Central Heights Middle School. “If you’re talking about influencing the lives of youngsters, absolutely there’s no one around that I know of that is more influential and thought highly of than Mr. Welch in dealing with kids,” White said. Welch, who has three

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GIBSON: Couples’ gifts helping future generations (Continued from Page S12) The organization later announced its efforts had come to an end because it was unable to raise the funds needed to proceed with the project. That was tough for Gibson, she said, and she hopes that future community giving isn’t hampered because of the experience with the failed YMCA bid. “I felt, it’s a lesson welllearned,” she said. “ ... I think (the YMCA) would have been a good thing.” In 2012, Gibson, on behalf of her late husband, made another $1 million pledge to Ottawa University’s library/student center, which is to be named in their honor. “She is a neat lady; she’s very generous and very wise,” Kevin Eichner, OU president, said previously of Gibson. “We are very grateful for her donation and her commitment to Ottawa University and to the

end of this school year to spend more time with his family and work on a farm he owns with his brother.

“It’s been a good, good life.” — Marguerite Gibson, Ottawa Ottawa community.” The university is in the midst of a drive to raise $10 million to renovate the existing student union into a new library and to build a new student center directly south of the new library, Eichner said. The Gibson Student Center — complete with student lounges, a new cafeteria and other amenities — would connect with the current commons building. Depending on funding, the timetable for the construction of the center likely will begin this year or next. Gibson said she’s looking forward to the ground breaking of OU’s new buildings. “I always felt good about

giving in what we could,” she said. “We were kind of private people, but it was good until this last little experience [with the YMCA project]. That kind of put a damper on it. But I’m looking forward to OU. It’s growing, and with Kevin Eichner as president, he’s committed so much toward Ottawa to help different areas. People should be appreciative of that.” When Gibson dies, she said, her financial legacy

will be put into the Franklin County Community Foundation to help future generations. “I think that will help Ottawa, and I hope it is well cared for,” she said. Many people have asked Gibson why she continues to give, and she often has a simple answer: It was the right thing to do, and it felt good. “It takes a community to raise a child, they say, and it will take the community to build this center,” she wrote in a 2011 letter to The Herald, asking others to give to the YMCA project. Gibson said she’s grateful of her time in Ottawa, and she’s happy with the legacy she’ll leave behind. “It’s been a good, good life,” she said.

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Progress

Page S14

Weekender, February 23-24, 2013

PO Box 60 101 S. Hickory Ottawa, KS 66067 785-229-3600 www.ottawaks.gov www.facebook.com/ottawaks

Ottawa City Commissioners: Linda Reed, Mayor Pro Tem Sara Caylor, Mayor Blake Jorgensen, Gene Ramsey and Jeff Richards

With a population of 12,649, Ottawa is the county seat and the largest city in Franklin County. Ottawa is a thriving city that has managed to grow, yet maintain its small-town culture. Ottawa respects diversity and tradition, and takes positive steps to protect both. Commissioners and employees of the City of Ottawa take great pride in providing services to the citizens of Ottawa, and work to continue to improve the city that we call home.

Imagination Playground in a Box comes to Ottawa!

NEW sidewalks – grant funded!

Ottawa Municipal Airport receives $2.14 million federal grant to replace runway.

New Police vehicles enhance department services.

The 28th Annual D.A.R.E. Camp for incoming 6th graders was another great success.

Annual Play Day in Forest Park

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