El Dorado banker known for generosity

01/23/2010 9:24 AM

01/23/2010 9:24 AM

El Dorado banker Cliff Stone and Butler Community College president Jackie Vietti had a good-natured debate that stretched out for years.

"I insisted that he was not only a benefactor but also a philanthropist," Vietti said. "Cliff insisted he was neither."

Mr. Stone's legacy refutes his claim, friends say. He played a significant role in virtually every major development in El Dorado for years, reshaped Butler Community College with his vision and contributions, and left a noteworthy imprint on the arts community in Wichita as well.

Mr. Stone, 91, died Thursday at Wesley Medical Center.

"If you look at all the good things in this region, I suspect you will find Cliff Stone's handprints on them," Vietti said Friday. "He so quietly went about making our corner of the world a better place."

A native of El Dorado, Mr. Stone attended Butler County Junior College and graduated with a degree in agriculture from Kansas State University in 1939.

He returned to El Dorado a year later when his father died and with his mother ran Stone Farms properties in Butler, McPherson and Finney counties.

Three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he married Sara Lou Connell of El Dorado. The following spring, he enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

He went on to become a B-24 pilot and his plane was shot

down on his 50th mission. He spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner of war. He came home with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf clusters.

Along with his mother, Mr. Stone purchased the Walnut Valley State Bank and Trust in El Dorado, and he served as its CEO for more than 40 years.

His interest in and influence on El Dorado was substantial, friends said.

Mr. Stone was a key player in saving what is now the Frontier Oil refinery at El Dorado, and he donated 600 acres of family land for the state prison east of El Dorado, said Steve Funk, who worked with Mr. Stone for 20 years leading up to Walnut Valley's acquisition by Commerce Bank more than 15 years ago.

Mr. Stone donated thousands of books to the city's library and was a vocal supporter of the El Dorado state lake in its developmental stages. He gave significant support to the El Dorado Historical Museum and Oil Museum.

Mr. Stone's philanthropy spread to Wichita as well. He was a strong promoter of Exploration Place in its developmental stages, Commerce Bank president John Clevenger said, and also supported the Wichita Art Museum and Center for the Arts.

"Cliff was always so gentlemanly," Clevenger said. "He helped me see a long-term view."

Mr. Stone's passion, though, was Butler Community College.

"He always insisted that were it not for his start at Butler he would never have earned a higher education degree, and so Butler always had a special place in his heart," Vietti said.

Mr. Stone contributed money for buildings, sculpture, scholarships and art on the Butler campus — even carpet squares set in the shape of a checkerboard and oversize chess pieces so students could play chess.

Yet those public contributions were only part of Mr. Stone's involvement, those who knew him said.

"He did so many things anonymously, countless acts of generosity, and no one ever knew about it," Funk said.

His wife, who died in 1994, was artistic and fostered a love of the arts in her husband, friends said.

"He wanted everyone to be well-rounded," Funk said. "He wanted everyone to experience success in business and understand and appreciate the world around them."

A service will be at 4 p.m. today at Trinity Episcopal Church in El Dorado.

Mr. Stone is survived by two children, Samuel Stone of Tulsa and Sue Hunter of Kansas City, Mo.; a sister-in-law, Mary Kay Connell of El Dorado; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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