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President's Message

July 2022

From the Business Perspective Newsletter

Thankful for giants

On June 18 we said good-bye to a cherished leader, Kirby Deeter.

Kirby passed away December 5, and the June memorial brought together Kirby’s family with friends from the Chamber, real estate, Rotary, and his vast faith and community networks to celebrate a life well-lived.

If you knew Kirby at all, you likely remember his ever-present smile, his laugh, and optimism. I never heard criticism from him; only support, patience and cheerfulness. His can-do spirit resulted in decades-long leadership roles and remembrances symbolized by plaques on display at the memorial. He was chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors in 1982 and he remained an ardent supporter of our advocacy and economic development efforts until his recent years of declining health. Similarly, realtors in Johnson County and throughout the state speak of his leadership, guidance and friendship.

Longtime Varnum / Armstrong / Deeter, Inc. (VAD) business partner and friend Ralph Varnum spoke of tenants calling to share their stories of Kirby’s kindnesses to them over the years. Ralph, himself no lightweight in the leadership department, served a double-term as Chamber Board Chair in 1978-79 and is actively engaged in the Chamber and development community.

Ralph reminisced affectionately about Kirby’s charm, noting that they had unofficially appointed him the firm’s “public relations department” to smooth over any feathers that he and others may have ruffled. While describing himself as the firm’s heavy, I recalled that Ralph is often the first to send me a nice note or email of congratulations or encouragement, and it occurred to me that together, Ralph and Kirby exemplified the spectrum of life’s success. In addition to VAD’s success as a real estate and development firm since its 1969 founding, both Ralph and Kirby impacted the community around them for the better, leading by example, mentoring, giving back through time and treasure, and always with a kind word.

I am thankful for both gentlemen. I didn’t have the honor to serve with them when they were on the Chamber Board, but I consider them “my” past chairs, nonetheless. They’ve provided wise counsel to me about Overland Park’s history, politics, growth, development and future. I’ll always recall very thoughtful conversations with both of them during the 2009 recession. While others offered gloom and doom, they were pragmatic yet optimistic.

Kirby and Ralph are just two of the giants upon whose shoulders we’re fortunate to sit as we look ahead. There are many more men and women who have led through numerous community boards and committees and elected office. Let someone know they’ve had an impact on you, then pay it forward with your own contribution. In the words of Tom Peters, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

Tracey Osborne Oltjen

written by

Tracey Osborne Oltjen, CCE, IOM

President & CEO