Linda Brantner battled illness with the same grace and sense of humor that infused her life.
She used to tease her friend Junetta Everett about being emotional, but Everett recently promised she wouldn’t be that way in Mrs. Brantner’s final days of a lengthy fight with cancer.
“Well, that’ll be a first,” Mrs. Brantner joked.
Mrs. Brantner died Sunday at age 66.
“Despite all of her illness, you always felt good when you talked to her,” said her friend Marilyn Pauly, vice chairman of Commerce Bank. “She just was always upbeat until the very, very end.”
Mrs. Brantner briefly was an art teacher early in her career but then took a business route, eventually becoming president and CEO of Delta Dental of Kansas.
“She never aspired to be president of Delta Dental,” Pauly said.
What she aspired to, several former co-workers said, was customer service.
Everett, who is Delta Dental’s vice president of professional relations and worked with Mrs. Brantner for 25 years, said Mrs. Brantner believed “service had to be the cornerstone to provide customers in order to make the company grow.”
She said Mrs. Brantner wanted claims to go out quickly and accurately.
“She would ask all the right questions.”
Nancy Umholtz, an executive assistant at Delta Dental, also worked with Mrs. Brantner for the two and a half decades she was there. Umholtz said there were 15 employees and revenue of $7 million in 1988 when Mrs. Brantner joined the company. Revenue was at $175 million when she became CEO in 2006, and by the time she left in 2013, there were 110 employees and revenue of $258 million.
“People really liked working for her,” said Michael Herbert, Delta Dental’s current president and CEO.
However, he said, “She didn’t suffer fools easily. You had to do the job. She wasn’t a pushover. But if you did your job, she had your back.”
Everett said she and Mrs. Brantner could sometimes strongly disagree, but “at the end of that, we’d say, ‘Now where we going for lunch?’ ”
Umholtz said Mrs. Brantner was like an older sister to her and had a “mentoring spirit,” especially to the women of Delta Dental.
“She counseled them on what they needed to do to move forward in their careers,” Umholtz said. “She fought a lot for benefits in the company … that were more family oriented. Back in the ’80s, things were different then.”
Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the Wichita State University Foundation, remembers her close friend for her “big, engaging smile,” intelligence and quick wit.
“She did so much, and then she still had this personal approach to her leadership style that drew people to her,” King said. “She just had a warmth and presence about her. Very humble.”
King watched Mrs. Brantner work on the foundation’s board.
“She had an ability to think in a large-scale way,” King said. “She was comfortable presenting her case.”
King said Mrs. Brantner also could compromise, “but she never compromised her principles.”
Two years ago, Mrs. Brantner and her husband, Doug, went into the restaurant business with a Planet Sub franchise and continued to open more.
“She said she went from being a VIP to a VUP,” said King, who laughed about how her friend called herself a “very unimportant person.”
That’s not how Doug Brantner saw his wife.
“I named her my vice president of everything.”
Everett is still working on her promise to not be emotional, and she said she’s taking inspiration from her friend’s final days.
“It’s really been hard, but to see her keep her sense of humor … and continue to be Linda, it’s what makes me continue to be strong.”