Personal involvement — with students, with employees’ families and with sometimes troubled neighborhoods — was the common thread this year among the people who were named Kansas City’s kindest citizens.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Kansas City Star
The winners of the Maxey Dupree Humanitarian Award all touched lives on a personal level as they helped residents in the Ivanhoe neighborhood, students at Oak Grove High School and families at Burns & McDonnell.
The Maxey Dupree Awards this year went to Betty Crooker of Fairway, Randy McClain of Oak Grove and Greg Graves of Stilwell. They were chosen for special recognition from among thousands of essays and videos submitted by students throughout the area for the Synergy Services Kindest Kansas Citian contest. The award is named for a former crossing guard who was known for his years of kindness.
About 6,000 students submitted essays with their choices for kindest Kansas Citian. In addition to the three Maxey Dupree winners, Synergy also named William Chrisman High School in Independence as the Rita Blitt Kindest School. Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, and David Lynch of Children’s Mercy Hospital were named to the Kindness Crew, a sort of “hall of fame” of kindness.
Synergy Services provides services to treat and prevent violence and abuse.
Maxey Dupree winners
Betty Crooker is “not your average middle-aged woman,” to next-door neighbor Mary Margaret Sullivan, a sixth-grader in Prairie Village. “She is a hero,” Sullivan wrote.
Crooker was one of the founders of the Front Porch Alliance, a 14-year-old group organized to help residents in the Ivanhoe neighborhood in Kansas City.
Front Porch Alliance started when Crooker and her friend Ginny Beall decided to walk through a Kansas City neighborhood in the urban core and talk to residents about how they could help. At the time, the Ivanhoe area was troubled with drugs and crime, she said.
She organized the group through the Village Presbyterian Church of Prairie Village. Over the years, thousands of volunteers became involved through several existing agencies and non-profits, providing tutoring for the children, neighborhood clean-up, life skills and fitness classes. In the process, Crooker said, the volunteers have also become friends with the neighborhood.
“I’m truly honored, but I wish everybody could have been up on the stage,” getting the award, she said. “You don’t do something that big without a lot of people.”
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The over 600 students at Oak Grove High School will miss friendly greetings in the hallway when principal Randy McClain leaves, senior Cole Doherty wrote in his nomination essay. McClain knows every student by name, often taking time out to chat with them and sometimes even helping their families when trouble comes.
“He is our father figure. He advises us on proper appearance, behavior and language,” he wrote. Doherty credited a well-behaved and respectful student body to McClain’s influence. “We don’t want to let Mr. McClain down.”
McClain has worked in the school district 33 years, the past eight of them as principal, but retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year. However, he is still working temporarily to advise the district on construction of a FEMA safe room and performing arts center.
McClain has helped families cope with tragedies and has raised money to award scholarships each year in memory of his daughter, Heather, who was killed in a car accident in 2006. He has awarded three $1,000 scholarships each year, except once, when there were eight $800 scholarships, McClain said.
McClain said he grew up in a small school and wanted to keep the same feeling at the larger Oak Grove. “I graduated with 10 kids in my class,” he said. McClain said he’s humbled by the award. “There’s nothing very special about me, but I’ve been blessed to know a lot of special people.”
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It was the little acts of kindness and attention from Burns & McDonnell CEO Greg Graves of Stilwell that most impressed his nominator, Colin Thomas Wood.
Graves went the extra mile by providing Colin’s Flat Stanley, a school project, with a binder and taking him to a Royals game, something that greatly impressed Wood, now a fifth-grader. “He is a great and generous man. I wish he could win first because he deserves it more than anyone in the universe,” Wood wrote.
Colin, the child of a Burns & McDonnell employee, also said Graves helped expedite his mother’s gall bladder surgery. “Mr. Graves made sure my mom got fast medical attention and he got her the best doctor,” Colin wrote. He also cited Graves’ work to raise money for Science City through the company’s foundation.
Graves said he was surprised but overjoyed that Colin’s was one of the winning essays. “Colin’s a really special kid. You can see that in his essays,” he said.
William Chrisman High School’s programs on character and its efforts to integrate general education and special education students were cited in the essay that won Chrisman the Rita Blitt Kindest School award.
The school has activities throughout the year to promote kindness, including “Spread the Word to end the Word,” a day in March to get people to stop using the “R-word.” In addition, there’s the Chrisman Café, run by some special education students as a coffee and snack shop for students and staff, a “special ed fan club” to cheer on students in Special Olympics and a character program to promote good moral values.
Students also have many opportunities to serve their community in blood drives, class projects and other charitable projects.
Two people were recognized in Synergy’s Kindness Crew, which the organization describes as a hall of fame.
Jane Chu, president and CEO for the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, has helped build attendance at the center, which has attracted more than 400,000 people since its grand opening in September 2011. The Kauffman Center is the home of the Kansas City Ballet, Symphony and Lyric Opera and also the venue for other productions, including children’s theater and visiting artists.
Daryl Lynch, director of Children’s Mercy Hospital’s Adolescent Medicine division, is in charge of the Teen Clinic there, which is the largest adolescent medicine program between St. Louis and Denver. He has been an advocate for public health issues that affect teens, and has provided guidance for troubled adolescents.