Les Norman, former Royals baseball player, now a sports radio host, shared moving stories and his love for Lee’s Summit as keynote speaker at the 10th Annual Mayor’s Character Breakfast.
“There’s a character flu going around,” Norman said, referring to Lance Armstrong and his long-delayed admission of cheating and of baseball players also using performance enhancing drugs.
He said some sport stars deny being on a pedestal, but it’s not true, and they send a message for their lack of character.
Norman, who lives in Lee’s Summit with his family, wants to broadcasts different news. He began doing profiles on his show “Breakin’the Norm” at the suggestion of his wife, who challenged him because so much of sports talk was dominated by bad news and controversy. Now he works to find stories that inspire and motivate.
He told one anecdote interviewing a young woman who wanted to be a rodeo clown, only to be paralyzed when a bull charged her from behind, while she was trying to distract another bull. Now in a wheelchair, that woman now plays basketball. And how during his Kansas City radio show the crew was sobbing at her story, and he was trying to keep his cool, but she was popping wheelies in her chair.
He asked her how she stayed upbeat.
She replied, “Look, these people don’t tell me who I am... this wheelchair doesn’t define me, I define me.”
Norman said his career took him to many cities and Lee’s Summit stands out for its community members of great character who have already affected his family’s lives for the better.
“In Lee’s Summit I see that every day, in so many ways,” he said.
He praised its police officers, fire fighters, teachers and community volunteers.
Lee’s Summit Cares Director Roby Little said the 10th annual Mayor’s Character Breakfast, Jan. 24 at the Pavilion at John Knox Village, had a record crowd, nearly 600. It concluded with presentations of the annual awards.
The Fristoe Group, Inc, received the Ethics in Business Award, given to President Daren Fristoe.
The breakfast concluded with Little and David Carlson reading essays about the honorees which were writing by residents who nominated them.
Robert and Marlese Gourley received the Lifetime Achievement award, representing the entrepreneurial spirit that is so strong in the Lee’s Summit community.
Gourley has owned and operated companies in industries as diverse as food brokerage, meatpacking, beer distribution, graphic design/printing, banking, retail photo lab operations, natural gas distribution and a variety of investment partnerships.
In turn, the couple spent many hours and dollars in supporting Lee’s Summit organizations and charities.
Robert Gourley recently wrote a book titled “Make Money for Bob” with the intent of helping new entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls of starting a new business. He’s donating the proceeds to charity.
Gourley dedicated the book to his wife, who he said was his best business partner.
“Without Marlese’s keen advice, unbelievable tolerance, unwavering support, and unconditional love, this book would not exist, because there would be no Bob Gourley success story,” he said.
An excerpt from the book: “Embrace serving on civic and charitable boards as an opportunity and an honor. When a community has been good to you, it’s your obligation to give back It’s not enough to live and work in a community - you must participate in the life of that community... the rewards are immeasurable.”
Anne DeLano, their daughter, said that through their many activities her parents modeled good character.
Very involved in their church, they served on ministry, advisory board, fund raising, and volunteer work. They served Hillcrest Transitional Housing, the Red Cross, Lee’s Summit Community Hospital, Lee’s Summit Symphony, Lee’s Summit School Board, Kansas City Community Foundation, ReDiscover, helped fund college scholarships and many other organizations. They adopted families at Christmas.
“At a young age we were involved in helping the less fortunate in our community, our parents always saying to not prejudge a person, but to put ourselves in their shoes, be compassionate and help them fit in and feel comfortable,” DeLano said. “We knew to follow the Golden Rule, be compassionate and not judge people or situations.”
Perseverance: Holly Knipp
Lee’s Summit Police Officer Holly Knipp was on patrol July 6, 2012, when a structure fire was reported nearby. She was the first officer to arrive and saw the interior engulfed in smoke. She found a resident upstairs asleep. She couldn’t wake him, so began using first aid. He awoke but had an ankle injury, so she next assisted him going down the stairs, supporting his weight with her body. As the reached the bottom of the stairs, another officer arrived and helped them to safety.
Responsibility: Police Sgt. Mike Murray and Sgt. Rod Schaeffer showed exceptional display of kindness and respect for their work to fund and plan a retirement reception for Motorcycle Officer William “Billy O” Oothout. Oothout was seriously injured in a crash breaking in a new motorcycle, which had defects. He was unable to return to service after 28 years to the Lee’s Summit Police Department. Oothout loved his motorcycle assignment, and it was sad incident, but the ceremony was an uplifting event for Oothout providing him with a dignified and positive conclusion to his work as a police officer.
Family: Kylie and Andy Ewing
Kylie and Andy Ewing saw that some teens struggle in Lee’s Summit, even while the community has a low crime rate and schools among the best in the nation. Some face self-mutilation, teen pregnancy rape, drug addiction, parents in jail and even homelessness.
The Ewings dreamed of a way to help teens and founded Pro Deo Youth Center in 2010, in their home, turning their living room into a coffee shop and family room to a computer lab, where they mentor and welcome teens for fun nights and weekly meals, serving nearly 500 teens a month.
Compassion: Dawn Myers
Dawn Myers a teacher in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. She had worked with one of her students for some time and knew the family well, when the child’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. The following school year the parent met with the teacher to let her know she was not responding to treatment and prognosis was not good.
Myers worked to keep school days as routine as normal for the student.
She asked the family to share pictures of the student and mother so that she could create a special keepsake of the student’s preschool years. When the mother went into hospice in October, Myers went to visit and share with the mother one last time the wonderful things the student had been learning and the growth they’d seen over the years, and reassure the mother her child would be in good hands. The student’s mother passed away two days later.
Citizenship: Ron Cox
Ron Cox, during the past several years, has served as President of the Lee’s Summit Soccer Association. He learned that three of his young players had cancer. While attending an event of the Dalton Burner Foundation he approached the foundation director and asked what the soccer association could do to help the families. He learned one of the issues is a need for blood, plasma and bone marrow donations.
Cox suggested they work together with the Community Blood Center to organize a blood drive and began reaching out to the community for support and the Missouri Comets soccer team. The blood drive in 2011 was one of the largest in the metropolitan area in years, collecting nearly 200 units. It became the Annual Kinds Kick’n Cancer Blood Drive.
Loyalty: Jordan Hoffman
In 2011 Jordan Hoffman’s aunt was diagnosed with leukemia. Her treatment was successful, the disease going into remission, but she was left with huge medical bills and no way to pay them.
Hoffman, a freshman at Lee’s Summit High School, planned a benefit concert, asking her friends to lend their musical talents, and in August more than 200 people attended the concert raising more than $6,000 to help pay the medical bills.
Kindness: Shery Batliner
Shery Batliner, guidance secretary at Summit Lakes Middle School, spent time and her own money organizing donations for a family who lost everything in a fire and helped them find a new apartment. She also transformed a small room into a nursing mother’s sanctuary and started a “BackSnack” program to send food home with students in need, solicits donations, shops for the items and created a food pantry at school.
Batliner attended the funeral of a new student’s mother, in south Missouri, and after that she helped her learn how to cook, and assisted in cleaning and getting that family’s home ready to be put on market.
Cooperation: Kelly Christensen
Kelly Christensen, a mother who has a full-time job as an investigator for the U.S. government, in 2012 helped the Lee’s Summit North football team, leading the auction committee. She recruited other volunteers, solicited donations for the auction, where about 400 guests raised money to buy new helmets and safety equipment for the team.
Empathy: Heath King
Heath King, Chief Financial Officer at Lee’s Summit Medical Center, rarely deals directly with patients. But in September that changed when a woman seen in the emergency room, a victim of domestic violence. She returned home but was afraid to stay, and made arrangements to go to a shelter, but didn’t have gasoline in her vehicle and her spouse had taken all her money and credit cards. She returned to the hospital for help. The patient advocate called King to get gas money out of petty cash.
He spoke to the woman, followed her to a nearby gas station, filled the gas tank at his own expense and followed her until she was safely on the highway headed to the shelter.
Courage: Samantha Drehle
Samantha Drehle was driving home after school when a small dog ran in front of her car. She slammed on her brakes and the dog ran into the “Duck Pond” at Raintree Lake. Instead of just continuing home, she decided to see what became of the dog. It was mired in the muck of the lake. Drehle realized the dog could drown in the frigid water. Sacrificing her favorite pink jeans, she waded into the lake, slogging her way to the dog, picked it up, only to be bitten on the hand. She ignored the wound and witness tossed her a blanket to wrap around the dog. She took the dog home, warmed it and called animal control. The owner, who had just adopted the dog, was located and after quarantine it was returned.
Honesty: Greg Narron
Greg Narron, a 25-year employee of the Lee’s Summit Water Department, was in the field when he found a wallet in the road containing $300. He found identification in the wallet and walked a half-block to the address, but no one was home. Instead of turning it over to a supervisor, he wanted to return it personally, so later in the day he returned and spoke to the resident. The wallet belonged to the resident’s son. Narron refused an offer of reward money.
Generosity: Ed Lipowicz
Ed Lipowicz quietly volunteers for many service projects, but one of the biggest was through the Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church Impact Project.
Rhonda Van Sickle, a Lee’s Summit teacher, was suffering from late-stage cancer and it was difficult for her to keep up with her house and three boys.
Ed Lipowicz, was one of the volunteers, and his passion for the project was contagious. He got more help from The Rotary Club of Lee’s Summit. His crews and Rotarians replaced plumbing, flooring carpeting, volunteers working 14-hours a day for a week to repair the home.