KC has a class act of writers, leaders
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City has been dazzling the area with stars: Dan Rather, Mark Twain, Doonesbury himself, Willa Cather and many others. No, not at the Starlight Theatre. Not at the K…. At the library!
It’s an insanely great place, especially since R. Crosby Kemper III started interviewing famous writers…. You understand actors play the dead writers…. And the interviewer of the stars is a star himself, with a famous family name.
Kemper had been chairman of UMB Financial Corp., but in 2005 began as executive director of the Kansas City Public Library.
It was 101 years earlier that another Kemper, William, became president of Kansas City’s Commerce Bank.
William, whose father was in the shoe and grain businesses in St. Joseph, sold shoes on the road for four years. His favorite customer was banker Rufus Crosby. That may have been because Crosby had a pretty daughter, Charlotte — the future Mrs. William T. Kemper.
Rufus had moved to Grasshopper Falls, Kan., from Minneapolis, where his family was an owner of a flour company: Gold Medal. He liked to be where the action is, and with civil war looming, the action was in Kansas.
Rufus at age 21 became the youngest framer of the anti-slavery Kansas Free-State Constitution in Lawrence in 1855. He also opened a dry goods store that year. It was burned down in 1856 in a vengeance raid by southerners.
He went on to be known as the town’s Renaissance man. (The town, sadly, was renamed Valley Falls in 1879). He taught English, was a great reader, owned a newspaper and a bank, was a cattle trader, mayor and county commissioner. A good man, though one news article indicated he could be cantankerous, and he was “a radical Republican.”
William and Charlotte moved to Kansas City in the early 1890s to try the grain business. They named their sons Rufus Crosby and James Madison, for each grandfather. In 1903 William bought Commerce Bank, and Kemper loans, and donations, helped turn Kansas City into a boom town.
It seems the new Renaissance man is R. Crosby Kemper III. He taught English in China, is a great reader, got involved in politics and business, sold, wrote, edited and reviewed books and is enhancing the family tradition of education and expansion and even inspiration.
It inspired me to make a decision: I would read a book. I like boxing, so I read “Sucker Punch,” by Jack Cashill, Ingram’s executive editor, about Muhammad Ali and my favorite, Joe Frazier.
It was so interesting that I read another Cashill book, “Hoodwinked,” and that had an unusual outlook, too. I thought: Cashill is the greatest living writer in the Kansas City area.
He has written best-sellers and raised controversy with topics such as TWA, President Barack Obama and the Clintons. Incidentally, the term best-seller originated in 1889 — in a Kansas City Star article.
There are other greatest writer possibilities. Kemper himself suggested Candice Millard and Whitney Terrell. Others backed Steve Paul and C.W. Gusewelle of The Star and Shirley Christian, the area’s Pulitzer Prize winner. Mystery writer Nancy Picard was praised, too.
I was told that to identify the greatest writer, I should ask the greatest reader, who everybody agreed is Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books.
She likes Millard and Julie Garwood, both New York Times best-selling authors.
I went to the Kansas City Store to check its books. I noticed four departments, “History,” “Sports,” “Crime,” and “Gusewelle.” Gusewelle has his own department!
But I’ll stay with Cashill for No. 1. Nobody here can touch him when it comes to writing books of political significance.
Bob Friskel of Kansas City, Kan., is a retired journalist. To reach him, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.