For all the good works he did in Kansas City, Mike Darby was never known to claim credit or seek attention.
And on Friday night, when he finally would have been honored publicly at a charity gala, he wasn’t there.
Instead, friends, family, fellow cyclists and leaders of local nonprofits were left baffled and hurt by Darby’s unsolved killing on Thursday. The longtime co-owner of Coach’s Bar & Grill at 103rd Street and Wornall Road was found dead about 6:30 a.m. on Indian Creek Trail, a half-mile east of the bar.
In addition to being popular around town as a friendly and generous bar owner, Darby was well-known as an organizer of the Tour de Hope, an annual fundraising bike ride that raised thousands of dollars for the Hope Center, a youth outreach agency on Kansas City’s east side. On Friday night, Darby and his business partner Chris Carle were scheduled to receive Distinguished Community Leader awards for their support of the Phoenix Family, a nonprofit that helps low-income families, at the group’s Heroes vs Villains gala.
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Police have not yet officially named Darby as the homicide victim found by a cyclist Thursday morning, but friends and family have identified him. His death is one of four unsolved killings along Indian Creek Trail, or trails connected to it, over the past nine months that police said showed “obvious similarities.” All four were older white men — three were killed while walking dogs.
At the gala on Friday night, leaders of the Phoenix Family decided to continue with their tribute to Darby even as they mourned him. Darby in particular had been an unfailing supporter of the nonprofit’s efforts to help low-income families, said Kimber Myers Givner, executive director of the group.
“It’s just devastating,” Myers Givner said. “He’s definitely an unsung hero who was doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Phoenix Family board member Ken Eidson and wife, Wanda, led a celebratory toast to honor Darby. Ken Eidson informed the crowd of Darby’s death, while Wanda Eidson implored participants to enjoy the evening.
“Let me tell you something about Mike Darby,” Wanda Eidson said. “He was one of those people that always wanted to have a good time. He would have wanted us to continue to to approach life as he did — with love, joy and a spirit of giving.”
Darby, who was semi-retired, made the same impression at the Hope Center on Linwood Boulevard. The Tour de Hope bike ride Darby helped organize raised between $12,000 and $15,000 each year, helping the center keep up its programs for kids of all ages.
Most years, Darby didn’t even get to participate in the ride itself because he was busy providing food and drinks, mostly at his own expense, according to Hope Center executive director Marvin Daniels. But in his last Tour de Hope earlier this month, Darby did ride: trailing behind the very last cyclists, a mother and two daughters, to keep them company while one child struggled with a broken bike.
“He was just letting them know, I’m not going to leave you behind,” Daniels said. “You’re talking about an individual who was humble — very, very humble — as an owner of a restaurant, very philanthropic, really caring about people.”
Darby’s son, Brian, said he didn’t always understand that dedication to helping others. Brian Darby’s focus was more on the family business. Since then, he’s been astonished at all of the people who have approached him to tell him of kindnesses Darby did — loaning money to employees, running errands for people.
“Now I see what he was doing,” Brian Darby said. “He was building his legacy up. He was looking out for the community.”
The city felt Darby’s loss in ways both large and small. Members of the cycling community rode out to the trail where Darby’s body was found to cry.
On social media, people connected with Darby through their shared memories at Coach’s. A Tennessee Volunteers college football fan wrote of finding a place where he felt welcome. A married couple remembered their first date.
Friday night, the Phoenix Family and others across Kansas City remembered Darby as “one of the good ones.”
“A true, true hero to us,” Myers Givner said. “It’s just such a loss for Kansas City as a whole.”
Visitation for Darby will be Sunday evening, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Church of the Ascension, 9510 W 127th Street in Overland Park. The burial will be Monday at the church.
In lieu of flowers, the Darby family suggested contributions to The Hope Center or the Phoenix Family.