The Kansas City area’s highest honor for civic leadership in 2016 went to Donald J. Hall Jr., CEO of Hallmark Cards Inc.
About 1,800 people attended the 129th annual dinner of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, held Tuesday night at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Hall is the fourth member of the Hall family to receive the Kansas Citian of the Year Award from the chamber. Previous recipients include his grandfather, Hallmark founder Joyce C. Hall (1961); his father, Hallmark chairman Donald J. Hall (1972), and his mother, civic leader Adele Hall (1990).
As individuals and as a company, the Hall family and Hallmark have been key civic leaders for decades, giving time and millions of philanthropic contributions to a broad range of community improvement efforts, especially those focused on education, diversity and economic development.
Donald Hall Jr.’s selection by past award winners was introduced to the crowd through a video featuring comments from U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little of the University of Kansas; Hall’s brother, Hallmark president David Hall; and others.
“Don Jr. doesn’t just work in one part of Kansas City’s communities. He is ubiquitous. He works all around,” said Cleaver, a former Kansas City mayor who was Kansas Citian of the Year in 1999.
This year’s chamber dinner addressed the question, “What’s next, KC?” and several answers put bets on entrepreneurs as vehicles for regional economic growth. Planners asked attendees to tweet their own answers at #WhatsNextKC.
Featured entrepreneurs included Toby Rush, a co-founder of EyeVerify, a biometric security company; Major Baisden, founder of Iris Data Services, a legal technology service provider; and Jill Minton, founder of t.Loft health cafes.
EyeVerify recently sold to an Alibaba business unit for a price estimated at up to $100 million. Epiq Systems last year paid $134 million to acquire Iris. Minton’s company has grown from a farmer’s market stall to four cafes in the metro area.
Outgoing chamber chairman Terry Bassham, CEO of KCP&L, said one of the greatest accomplishments in the past year was working with other groups on the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, one of the chamber’s Big 5 priorities, which focuses on improving a specific core neighborhood.
“This fall, we opened the doors to 200 young smiling faces,” Bassham said of the new Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, a school based on the Purpose Built Communities model.
Incoming chamber chairwoman Karen Daniel, a vice president at Black & Veatch, said the region needs to continue burnishing its status in the fields of technology, health care, engineering and transportation.
“Making a plan to improve our community without including a broad coalition of its members isn’t really a plan,” Daniel said, stressing the need for racial, gender and age diversity.
The chamber’s top executive, president and CEO Joe Reardon, tallied the chamber’s anti-smoking efforts through the Tobacco 21 campaign, its support of Kansas City’s earnings tax renewal, and its expanded work through the regional World Trade Center.
Looking ahead, Reardon said the chamber continues to work toward realizing another Big 5 goal — building a new downtown arts campus for the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He also emphasized the need to overcome state line divisions and create a metropolitan transportation system.
In addition, the region needs “an international airport that is as convenient as ever but now ready to embrace the traveler from Seattle to Frankfurt,” Reardon said.