Junior Achievement – Lawrence Business Hall of Fame – Class of 2017
| 2017 Q3 | story by Hank Booth, photos by Steven Hertzog
The Junior Achievement (JA) purpose is very clearly stated: “JA inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy.”
JA is supported by three pillars on which its education model is based: financial literacy, workforce development and entrepreneurship.
With this background, thousands of Lawrence-area students have learned about the world of business right in the classroom. JA first and foremost is a partnership between the school district and the local business community. The classrooms, primarily first through eighth grade, are visited each semester by volunteer teachers who bring grade-appropriate curriculum for the students to learn. It is blended into the social studies portion of the school day. For the volunteers, there is never a boring moment; for the students, it’s a chance to learn firsthand from men and women who are now an important part of the Lawrence workforce. The personal experiences of the volunteers are always welcome. Most of the new teachers want to go back again and again for the experience.
The Junior Achievement Lawrence Business Hall of Fame first class was named in 2010. Each year since then, four business leaders have been added to the Hall of Fame wall, now located in a special section of the Lawrence Public Library. The Class of 2017 includes civic leaders from a wide variety of business institutions—barbershop, bank, car dealership and funeral home. They will officially be inducted at the annual banquet on Oct. 4 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. Each has a very different and interesting background, and each has added hours of volunteer time and financial resources in addition to building strong businesses during their careers.
“I have a hard time using the word ‘I’ when working on our community’s business.”
Those words summarize very well the attitude of a man who has served as the Lawrence mayor for six years and twice as chairman of the Douglas County Commission during nearly three decades as an elected official in Lawrence and Douglas County. While serving all those years in four different decades since the 1980s, Mike has been involved in hundreds of votes and has worked with many different fellow commissioners and a half-dozen city and county administrators. In a community where many elected commissioners choose not to seek reelection after a single two-year term because of the stress and strain, it speaks highly of his willingness and ability to communicate, and work out problems and find solutions to very difficult issues. Using the word “I” to describe how the work got done doesn’t fit Mike Amyx in any way.
Mike is perhaps the most accessible city or county official who’s ever been elected. At least five days a week, all you have to do to tell Mike how you feel about something on the agenda is walk in the door of the Tom Amyx Barber Shop, near the busy corner of Ninth and Massachusetts streets downtown. When he begins cutting hair shortly after 6 a.m. daily, he’s standing in almost the exact same place his grandfather stood when he first opened the barbershop in 1942. His father stood in the same spot and cut hair after that. Mike doesn’t miss many days of work but does take an occasional afternoon off under the orders of his wife of 42 years, Marilyn. Marilyn and Mike first met at Lawrence High School, where they both graduated in 1971. They married in 1975 and have one son, Chris, who now lives in Pratt, Kansas, with his wife, Brandy. Chris is an information technology specialist.
When Mike participated in the opening ceremony of the South Lawrence Trafficway earlier this year, it marked the completion of something he worked hard to get finished on the city and county commissions during so many years. Another roadway project also stands out for Mike as one of the most important during his career: The extension of 15th Street, from the city’s west boundary to the Trafficway, is also in his top group of accomplishments. Mike also lists the upcoming completion of the Wastewater Treatment Plan, on Lawrence’s southeast corner, as very important to his hometown’s future.
Now, at the age of 63, Mike has decided not to run for reelection to the city commission; but, don’t rule out another elected position in his plans for the future. In the meantime, stop by the shop, get a good haircut and share a few stories. That, along with his wife, is what he loves the most.
Writing about the business career of Hall of Fame inductee Larry McElwain really deserves two separate articles. There are two very distinct and different jobs in this brief history. Larry started the first shortly after graduation from The University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in public personnel administration in 1970 and from San Francisco College of Mortuary Science a year later. He returned to Kansas and started his first job in the funeral business in Emporia. Within a year, the McElwains felt the pull back to Lawrence, where Larry went to work for Bill Warren at Warren Mortuary. Ironically, a year later, Warren started working on a plan for Larry to buy the mortuary in case of his death. He died five days later, and that began the McElwain family’s ownership of the Warren-McElwain Mortuary. Larry’s dad and mom joined him in Lawrence in 1973, and another close friend and partner Phil Paden also joined the ownership group. Phil and Larry worked together as partners for 27 years. When the new group took over in the mid-1970s, the funeral home did about 17% of the funerals in Lawrence. When it sold in 2013, Warren-McElwain conducted nearly 65% of the funerals in this area. Larry also developed a very successful pre-need funeral program in 1988 with bank trust and life insurance funding programs. When sold with the funeral business in 2013, the pre-need program managed more than 2,000 prearranged and prefinanced funerals in Lawrence and Eudora. When asked about his original choice of career, Larry’s caring for people in the most difficult situations is evident. Simply put, “I was in a very high-touch business in a very high-tech world. Making that work for people during a troubling time was always rewarding,” he says.
Throughout his ownership of Warren-McElwain, Larry has lived by a credo of public service in Lawrence, the state of Kansas and nationally with the National Funeral Directors Association. Much of that volunteer time was spent with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, spending several terms on the board of directors; he was the chair in 2003 and 2004. That familiarity with the work of the Chamber in the community was, in large part, what led him to Career No. 2. In 2014, Larry was named president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, a job he still holds and thoroughly loves.
Larry says the reason for his passion for the new career is simple: “I love what I’m doing. I’ve loved this town since I first got here.”
Larry’s ability to work, oftentimes with feuding community groups with a variety of opinions on difficult issues, was evident in many duties he fulfilled doing various volunteer jobs.
Larry has helped raised two families while developing the funeral business and his volunteer work. His own children with his wife, Jan, are daughter Erin Hellmuth, of Coppell, Texas, who owns a volleyball academy with 300 young women participating; son, Davis, who is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, now stationed in Korea and in charge of military communications for the entire Korean peninsula; and daughter Anna, who, with her husband and two boys, live in Forth Worth, Texas.
He’s also helped to raise, with his second wife, Susan, her two daughters since they were 5 and 6 years old. Susan and Larry have been married nearly 20 years. Their daughters are Kirsten Long, who works with her husband at the Cerner Corp.; and Rebecca Stack, who is with Waddell and Reed.
A final thought about Larry McElwain’s chamber work perhaps says it best: “I’m working every day, all day to create jobs. Good jobs help hold families together. All of my work is really about meaningful employment for our residents,” he says.
After researching Business Hall of Fame inductee Jean Milstead and talking with her about her life, I can come to only one conclusion: Jean is a remarkable woman.
Most of her friends and people she’s worked with through the years in Lawrence probably don’t know she’s a farm kid who grew up on a small, 100-acre farm near the northern Illinois town of Decatur. She and her identical twin sister, Janet, had an older brother and a younger sister who tended to all the chores with the hogs and chickens. Their father grew corn and wheat, and her mom took care of them all. She attended small rural schools, and it was her high school principal who recognized her math skills and recommended her to the local banker at the Marengo State Bank. The bank needed someone to help with the transition when assigning checking account numbers to its customers. She had a wonderful supervisor at that bank who not only taught her accounting and the rules of banking, but also why things were done in a precise manner. Jean’s future in banking was secure.
Her next banking job was in Dallas, where her new husband went to college. She was working in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated, and she remembers the year following his death like living in a history book as the nation came to grips with the events that followed. After her husband’s graduation, the couple moved to Lawrence for his planned graduate school work; and, in the fall of 1966, Jean went to work for what was then The Douglas County State Bank. She started as an assistant cashier but moved quickly up the ladder and, ultimately, became a senior vice president. During her nearly 34-year career, she hired, trained and supervised just about all personnel in the bank. She supervised the first ATM installations in Lawrence. Later, she would manage the operational aspects of building the main bank location at Ninth and Kentucky in two phases; she also served as the liaison with the architect and builder for the 31st and Iowa facility construction. To top it all off, she kept track of the numbers, developing and maintaining the accrual accounting system for the bank. When the bank reached $25 million in assets, she supervised the full computerization of the general ledger and commercial loan portfolio.
Even with the heavy workload at the bank, Jean volunteered for many local organizations during four decades. Listing all of them would take a full single-spaced page and another filled with the awards she’s received in recognition of her volunteer services. She also spent several years serving interim terms for the chamber of commerce, including president and CEO in 2002 and 2003. When asked which of the boards and committees she’s worked with stands out and meant the most to her, she says there were two: “The Bert Nash Mental Health Center Board of Governors (member for 10 years), because we worked together to make mental issues something people in the community could better understand and accept. I also served two terms on the Lawrence Douglas County Planning Commission. Much of that time we were working on Horizon 2020 and had nearly 4000 people from every segment of the city and county involved. I’ve always liked to work on the big picture and long-term, long-range planning because of its effect on the future.”
The award that stands out for her is the Lawrence Chamber Citizen of the Years she received in 2015.
Jean and her husband of 33 years, Monte Milstead, are enjoying more free time now, but she still does volunteer work for United Way, sings in her church choir and is president of the Tennola Club (she can explain that one to you). She does look back at many people who have influenced her life, career and happiness during the more than 50 years she’s lived here. “I have truly lived a blessed life here in Lawrence and in my work,” she says.
There are two very specific ideals Miles Schnaer remembers well that guided his career in the automobile business and led to being named to this year’s class of the Junior Achievement Lawrence Business Hall of Fame. The first was, “You can’t be just a small part of the community owning a successful dealership.” The second was much more specific, and Miles remembers it came from his wife, Paula, his college sweetheart, and his two daughters when he was contemplating adding more dealerships and perhaps moving away from their home: “If you want to move, plan on going on your own.” That fixed the game plan, and Crown Automotive grew into one of the most successful dealerships in the Midwest.
Instead of heading out of town, Miles expanded his local Toyota dealership, adding Volkswagen to the flock and building one of the largest indoor showrooms in the Midwest. Now known as Crown Automotive, the dealership employed about 50 people when Miles first put together the local Toyota and Chevrolet franchises. Today, about 110 employees live by the philosophy of the owner, “Our customer service is what we sell. We work hard to exceed our customers’ expectations in every facet of our business.”
Crown has been a Toyota President’s Award Winner for 10 of the last 12 years and, in 1985 and 2001, winners of the Time Magazine “Dealer of the Year” award for Illinois and Kansas. The Illinois recognition was awarded to the first dealership Miles owned in Decatur, Illinois. Locally, the dealership was named the Lawrence Chamber Business of the Year in 2013 and Best Place to Buy a New Car in the Best of Lawrence competition since its inception.
Miles has certainly lived up to the admonition of not just being a “small part of the community.” He has served on the board of the chamber of commerce twice, serves on the board of trustees of Cottonwood Inc. and also as a director of Bill Self’s Assists Foundation. In addition, Miles and several fishing friends started the Crown Casting Club, which helped more than 200 young people get outdoors and learn how to catch the big ones (and some little fish, too). Every year, the club puts on a “Fishing Derby,” and every kiddo who wets a line wins a prize. Miles and his business have also provided financial support for many local groups, including the Lied Center, The Boys and Girls Club, the American Red Cross, Cottonwood Inc., Van Go, Visiting Nurses, the Lawrence Public Library, the Lawrence Schools Foundation and … . The list goes on and on, and every year, it seems to grow.
The Miles Schnaer philosophy, taught to him by his parents as he grew up, is very simple: “Treat people right, both customers and fellow employees, and do the right thing, and you will be successful. You have to be committed to excellence and believe you can be successful, and you will be,” he says.