Lawrence Business Hall of Fame Laureates Inducted
| 2016 Q4 | story by Tara Trenary | photos by Steven Hertzog
Class of 2016
This past October, about 320 people gathered at the University of Kansas Student Union Ballroom dressed in black-tie attire for the Junior Achievement (JA) Lawrence Business Hall of Fame (BHOF) Tribute Dinner. The crowd was there to celebrate five special people: this year’s Laureate Class of 2016. These prominent individuals have displayed excellence in business and courageous thinking and vision, and are innovative and inspiring leaders in the Lawrence community.
Junior Achievement of Kansas is a nonprofit organization started with a goal to inspire and prepare young people with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy. Partnering with the business and educational community, JA of Kansas provides relevant, hands-on experiences that give students knowledge and skills in financial literacy, workforce development and entrepreneurship. The organization works with students from kindergarten through high school and serves nearly 28,000 children statewide, including more than 6,000 students in the Douglas County area.
“From our local board of directors providing support and direction for our district, the many businesses providing support for our fund-raising events, the outstanding businesspeople providing their valuable time to teach and work with our students, and the many teachers who allow our volunteers time in their classrooms to teach and interact with the students each year,” says Debbie Harman, Douglas County district director, who’s worked in some capacity with JA for the past 29 years. “We could not do what we do without the generous help and support of the Lawrence school district and the Lawrence community.”
In the 2015-2016 school year, JA of Lawrence had 52 local businesses that provided 171 businesspeople who volunteered in 277 classrooms. Many volunteers help in multiple classes throughout the school year. In the same 2015-2016 school year, the JA of Lawrence served 6,124 students in grades K through 12, although the majority of the classroom programs are delivered to students in K through 8, Harman explains.
There is a grade-level-specific JA program for each grade, which meets the requirements for the social studies economic unit curriculum. JA provides programming for every student in each of the schools it works with each year at no charge to the school or school district. “The students in our program are provided real-life examples of the roads to success of our local entrepreneurs and their contributions to our community. The Hall of Fame banquet provides funding for the programming the students receive in school,” Business Hall of Fame co-chair Bradley Burnside says.
With nominations taken throughout the year, Business Hall of Fame Laureates are chosen by an independent selection committee made up of local business leaders from the Lawrence community. “These individuals are honored not only for their success in business but for their dedication and commitment to the local community and the state of Kansas,” Harman says. A committee selected this year’s laureates based on criteria including business excellence, entrepreneurial spirit, community impact, leadership style, local influence and enduring legacy.
“Our Business Hall of Fame is the final piece of business education for our students, as well as the residents of our community,” Business Hall of Fame co-chair Ernesto Hodison says. “Those chosen for this award can be held up as role models to the children in our community. The laureates honored at the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame are prime examples of giving, caring and enthusiastic leaders.”
The five current and former Lawrence business leaders and community members chosen as this year’s Lawrence Business Hall of Fame Laureate Class of 2016 are Ross and Marianna Beach, Douglas County Bank (posthumous); Smitty Belcher, P1 Group Inc., specialists in construction, fabrication, facility maintenance and energy services; Mark Buhler, CEK Insurance; and Sharon Spratt, Cottonwood Inc., established to provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Ross and Marianna Beach
Lifelong Kansans, Ross and Marianna Beach, of Douglas County Bank, believed being successful in business and being a community leader went hand in hand. The couple met at Kansas State University, where they attended school, Ross studying engineering and Marianna studying industrial journalism. Ross worked in the oil and gas industry, owned Kansas Natural Gas, in Hays, and a radio/TV business, and finally bought a controlling interest in Douglas County Bank in 1964. The couple owned the bank for 50 years, always encouraging their employees to give back to their community, especially through JA.
In 1990, the couple bought a condo in Lawrence, finally moving there full-time in 2001. Although K-State graduates, Ross and Marianna were attracted to the culture and university atmosphere of Lawrence, as well as its possibility for growth. They shared a belief in giving back to their community and supported many community organizations, including The Beach Center on Disabilities, the Lied Center, the Hall Center for the Humanities, University Theatre at KU, the Community Shelter, Theatre Lawrence, the Lawrence Arts Center, the Lawrence Public Library and Lawrence Memorial Hospital, as well as endowing professorships in special education.
The couple also received many awards for their humanitarianism, including being honored by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas. Marianna was named “Kansan of the Year” in 1988, Ross in 2001; and each received the Distinguished Service Citation Award from the University of Kansas Alumni Association, Ross in 1977 and Marianna in 1990.
But their daughter, Terry Edwards, says of all the awards they received during their lifetimes, the JA award would mean the most to them. “They were selected by the very people with whom they did business and with whom they volunteered and with whom they lived. This is the greatest honor—to be recognized as a leader of and a contributor to your community,” she says.
Ohio native Smitty Belcher, of P1 Group Inc., began his career with a risky decision: quitting college to become a pipefitter in a refinery. Seemingly a good opportunity, Belcher ultimately completed a pipefitter apprenticeship, then went on to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business in five years while also working full-time. How did he accomplish so much so quickly? “Empathy” and “never being happy with the status quo,” he says.
Belcher has lived in Lawrence since 1983, having been introduced to Huxtable and Associates owner Mel Huxtable, and agreeing to work in his business for six months without anyone knowing his plan: to purchase the company, which he ultimately did. In 1998, Huxtable and Associates and A.D. Jacobson Co. merged to form P1 Group, the company of which Belcher is now the CEO. It is currently a $220-million business and has received multiple awards for excellence.
Belcher attributes his success in Lawrence to “establishing relationships, networking and delivering a service that was consistent and exceeded expectations.” He says his biggest achievement in business is being able to provide employment to more than 1,000 associates and their families. “I was able to achieve this by surrounding myself with people who wanted to work in a business that has a culture of family values,” he explains.
Belcher’s advice to the young people of JA: “Always keep a positive attitude, never be satisfied and never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.”
He says the JA award is a personal one for him: “I have been fortunate to be honored on a national level where two or three may have known me, but it is very humbling to be honored by my local community—friends, business associates, community leaders—who really know me,” Belcher says.
With experience in real estate and insurance for more than 30 years, Mark Buhler, CEK Insurance, has called Lawrence home since he was 4 years old. His great-grandfather came to Lawrence as a member of the Immigrant Aid Society in 1854 to settle the town, ultimately losing his farmhouse to fire in Quantrill’s Raid.
Buhler graduated from Lawrence High School and the University of Kansas, and began his career at Lawrence Savings Association. After nine years in lending, he began work with Stephens Real Estate and eventually became a partner in the firm. He returned to insurance several years later to work with Calvin Eddy and Kappelman (CEK), where he is currently a managing partner.
To Buhler, making a difference in the community through public service is an important role. In Lawrence, “You can make a difference. It is not too big to get involved.”
And get involved he has. Buhler has served as a member of the planning commission for Lawrence and Douglas County, as well as two four-year terms on the Douglas County Commission. He also represented his community in the Kansas State Senate for two years, is involved in the Lawrence Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Lawrence Schools Foundation, with past involvement with Boys and Girls Club, the Cottonwood Foundation and United Way, among other projects. “If you don’t get and stay involved in your community, then you live with the decisions that others make for you,” he says.
Buhler advises future young entrepreneurs: “Listen first before you act. Study the success and failures of others attempting the same endeavor. You always learn the hard way, but you do get better. That is called experience.”
Buhler was surprised he was chosen as a recipient of the JA Award. “One of the nicest honors of my life. A total surprise, and I’m not sure why me and not some others, but I am very proud,” he says.
With more than 40 years of experience in service to persons with developmental disabilities, Sharon Spratt, CEO of the nonprofit Cottonwood Inc., believes strongly in the statement, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
She has lived in Lawrence for 28 years and believes it is a vibrant and welcoming community with strong education, arts, recreation and business climate, which all make it a desirable place to live. She says business and community leaders must possess a vision for their businesses and “be resilient, possess strong values, be able to work well with a variety of people and never give up.”
Spratt has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University and has completed graduate coursework at the University of South Florida, Fort Hays State University and the University of Kansas. She has worked with community service providers in both Kansas and Florida, and has served with various local groups and on local boards, including InterHab; Lawrence Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; KU Center for Research Inc. Board of Trustees; Douglas County Bank; Douglas County Visiting Nurses; Douglas County Dental Clinic; Leadership Lawrence; Lawrence Rotary Club; Lawrence Parks and Recreation; and the Executive Committee of the Lawrence Chamber of Board of Directors, among other community activities.
She has also received numerous awards, including the InterHab Mark Elmore Award for Distinguished Leadership in 2011, the Buford M. Watson Jr. Public Service Award by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and the 2012 Athena International Award, as well as being named the 2015 Lawrence Rotarian of the Year.
Spratt says being involved in one’s local community is one of the most honorable duties there is. “It is very necessary for the vitality and preservation of our society,” she says. “Many times, we receive more than what we give. I think it is … one of the best ways to stay healthy—physically, mentally and emotionally—and to live a purposeful life.”
She believes young people should remember to “always be trustworthy and dependable. Be ready to work hard and volunteer for the things you believe in. And every now and then, do some things for yourself to keep balance in your life.”
Spratt says she’s honored to be recognized and inducted into the JA Lawrence Business Hall of Fame and feels blessed to have had so many wonderful teachers, friends and family supporting her along the way. “It’s important to be successful, and it’s important to be significant. Hopefully, through my work at Cottonwood and in other ways I have been involved in the community, I have achieved some of both.”
Congratulations to the 2016 Junior Achievement Kansas Business Hall of Fame Laureates! To view their tribute videos, visit www.juniorachievement.org/web/ja-kansas/lawrence-bhof.