Ben Craig, a leader in Johnson County business, civic and philanthropic circles for decades, has died. He was 87.
Craig had led the $12.9 million bond campaign that established Johnson County Community College. He founded the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. He ran Metcalf State Bank for 35 years.
“Ben Craig has probably contributed as much to Johnson County as anyone who has lived here in modern times,” commentator Steve Rose said Friday.
Rose recently wrote a tribute to Craig in The Kansas City Star that recalled Craig’s athletic youth in which he played baseball with the 1948 Baxter Springs Whiz Kids that included Mickey Mantle, his late arrival to the game of golf and a long list of accomplishments in between and since.
In the 1950s, Craig was named Outstanding Young Man of the Year by the Kansas City, Kan., Jaycees and Man of the Year by the Kansas City, Kan., YMCA.
Craig’s involvement was pervasive, and more than once he came to mind when local groups created awards to recognize community leadership.
He was the first person honored by United Community Services as Johnson County Citizen of the Year, created in 1971. A year later, he and his wife, Evadean, became the first recipients of the Friends of Education award from the National Education Association of Shawnee Mission.
Others now receive the Ben Craig Distinguished Service Award from the Overland Park Rotary Club and the Ben Craig Vision Award, created by the Overland Park Economic Development Council. The latter has been received by impact players such as the four men who founded the Corporate Woods office park.
Craig’s community involvement — the Deanna Rose Farmstead, Salvation Army, Overland Park Heritage Foundation, Overland Park Museum Committee, Johnson County Water Resources Association, Johnson County Airport Commission, Greater Kansas City Sports Commission — adds to what amounts to a lengthy list.
“I’ve seen it, and it’s pages and pages, single-spaced,” Rose said.
Mary Birch remembered her first meeting with Craig. She’d just been hired by the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce.
“I was petrified. He was this amazing leader,” Birch said of their long-ago lunch. “He found out I loved Overland Park as much as he did.”
Later, they teamed up to start the chamber’s Leadership Overland Park program, and Birch said Craig “religiously mentored” the young leaders it helped establish.
Craig was among The Kansas City Star’s Top 150 Most Influential Persons in 2000. He was dubbed “Mr. Johnson County” by Sun Publications, one of the “Living Legends” in the Kansas City area by Ingram’s magazine and a “Kansas City Catalyst” by the Kansas City Business Journal.
President George H.W. Bush named Craig a “Point of Light” in Kansas.
Rose’s tribute had declared Johnson County and Ben Craig inseparable. And if the longtime leader’s wishes are met, they will be.
“He wants a portion of his ashes thrown on Metcalf Avenue,” Rose said. “It’s absolutely going to happen.”
Information about services could not be confirmed Friday.