Henry Fortunato, who is credited with helping to raise the community and national profile of the Kansas City Public Library as director of public affairs, died at home Monday after a short illness. He was 62.
During his time at the library, from June 2006 to August 2015, Fortunato “revolutionized library programming,” according to a statement from the library. He and library Director Crosby Kemper III earned national attention.
The Kansas City Public Library received the 2014 Excellence in Library Programming Award from the American Library Association. In 2008, it received the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
The list of people who participated in library programs here includes actor Hal Holbrook, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Sandra Day O’Connor, journalist Dan Rather, law professor Anita Hill and author David McCullough.
Fortunato was also known as an avid walker, practically crossing the state of Kansas “because I could,” he said in an interview with The Star in 2012.
Fortunato considered himself an accidental denizen of the Sunflower state, having come here from New York for a job that didn’t work out. He then attended the University of Kansas for a master’s degree in American history.
“I started writing papers about Kansas topics and I got hooked on Kansas,” Fortunato told The Star. “So then I went from being an accidental Kansan to an unlikely Kansan. Then several years ago, when I got it into my mind that I wanted to start walking the trails and the back roads of Kansas, I became what my older son calls a naturalized Kansan.”
Fortunato was also instrumental in getting interpretive signs installed on Indian Creek Trail in Overland Park.
“Henry Fortunato was an original,” Kemper said in the library’s statement. No one who knew him will ever forget him. As much as anyone he created the library’s great public programming. He wasn’t just good, so frequently good, at what he did, he also wanted it to mean something to his adopted home in the heartland. And it did.”
Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. Friday at the InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton St., Overland Park. A memorial mass will be celebrated at noon Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Shrine of Saint Joseph, 1050 Long Hill Road, Stirling, N.J.