Business, civic leader George Fahnestock had huge impact on community

01/15/2010 12:00 AM

03/05/2012 10:42 AM

George Fahnestock was the founder and owner of a nearly 30-year-old heating, plumbing and electric company.

But "Mr. Wichita," as former Wichita State University athletic director Jim Schaus called him, was more than a successful businessman.

The native Wichitan was a civic leader, serving on the boards of numerous local nonprofits and taking a lead role on a couple of major community projects.

Sedgwick County sheriff's officials said Fahnestock, 62, died of a single gunshot wound at his home Thursday. Foul play is not suspected.

Fahnestock was the public face of several efforts to build a downtown arena, which eventually succeeded in 2004 and led to the construction of Intrust Bank Arena, which opened this month.

In 2008, he took a lead role in the campaign for the successful $370 million bond issue for Wichita public schools.

His death will leave ripples throughout many parts of the community, friends and associates said.

Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers said he was "physically sick" to learn of Fahnestock's death.

"There was just so many things he did," Rogers said. "He served as the conscience for Wichita business. He just gave and gave and gave."

Rogers said during the school bond campaign "there were times I was really down, and he was so optimistic that it could be done."

Fahnestock actively served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including Goodwill Industries, the Kansas Humane Society and the Lord's Diner, where he was chairman.

Russ Meyer, chairman emeritus of Cessna Aircraft, called Fahnestock's death a "tragic loss for the community."

Meyer and Fahnestock worked together to open the Boys & Girls Club on 21st Street and on education issues, including the recent school bond issue.

"George believed in the programs; he believed in the Boys & Girls Club, and he believed in what we were doing with the school board," Meyer said. "He's going to be missed big time."

Jon Rolph, executive vice president of Sasnak Management, which owns the Carlos O'Kelly's restaurant chain, said Fahnestock was a role model for the right way for business people to practice civic involvement.

"George was such a bright light in this community," Rolph said. "He really made a life of helping others."

Rolph said he got to know him when Fahnestock was president of the board of the Wichita Children's Home.

"It was clear in my mind that George was interested in helping (the children), not himself,'' Rolph said. "And that's what I think made him effective."

Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, said Fahnestock continued to serve on his organization's board, though Fahnestock hadn't been as active after the passage of the arena sales tax.

But Hanson said he continued to seek Fahnestock for counsel on a variety of issues.

"He was so upbeat, and he was a guy you could go to for advice," Hanson said. "I always said he had a golden tongue."

Fahnestock's counsel was also sought at WSU, where president Don Beggs said he was a key sounding board for the university and its athletic department.

Fahnestock attended WSU and was a center fielder on the university's 1966 baseball team. He also was a donor to and fundraiser for WSU, and contributed to the university's $25 million expansion and renovation to Koch Arena.

"George was a strategic thinker in the sense of how we could work to be better within the constraints of the resources we had," Beggs said.

"George wasn't hung up on doing the popular thing; rather, his goal was for us to be the best we could be, and then figure out how to do things better.

"He was a man who constantly challenged us to do better, a man who thoroughly loved this institution and this city."

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