Tom Feist revolutionized the publishing industry with a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case.
But to his family and friends around Spearville, his legacy is that of a tireless, common-sense entrepreneur who used the work ethic and honesty he learned on the farm to build a publishing empire.
Mr. Feist, 77, the patriarch of the Feist Publications family, died Monday in Wichita.
"Tom Feist believed in his people," said Gayla Kirmer, his personal secretary with the publishing firm. "He had faith in the people he trusted to take care of what needed taking care of."
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Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. John Church in Spearville. A commemorative vigil will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Burkhart-Ziegler Funeral Home in Dodge City.
Originally a farmer and rancher, Mr. Feist taught his children the principles of hard work and responsibility essential to financial survival, said his son, Jay.
"He taught me a lot about business," said Jay Feist, a Wichita entrepreneur. "I think farming and ranching makes you an independent person, where you rely on yourself to do things. It gives you a lot of confidence.
"So when he and my mother got into publishing, they knew that if they worked hard and hired the right people, they'd be successful."
So did Mr. Feist's neighbors.
"Tom Feist was no dummy," said Bruce Vierthaler, co-owner of the Spearville News. "He not only jumped into the phone book business and got out a phone book, but he changed the industry — both in how he put out the book with the maps and the coupons, and the copyright laws were changed forever because of him."
Mr. Feist was a lifelong Spearville resident, earning a bachelor's degree in education from St. Mary of the Plains College.
He taught history at Spearville High School from 1959 through 1972 and was a school board member.
Mr. Feist served as the president of Feist Publications through 2004, when the company was sold to Yellow Book USA. He also was majority owner of the Ford County State Bank.
"His management style was very easy to understand," said Mike Hitz, president of the bank. "Tom didn't micromanage the bank at all. In fact, he didn't know a lot about the bank, but he knew enough to know that if I didn't make the results — and he didn't ask for a lot — he'd get somebody else."
In 1977, the teacher and rancher's life changed when an advertising sales job for Mr. Feist's ex-wife, Roberta, became the seed for the family's telephone book empire.
"That taught us that by working hard and being dedicated toward something, believing in yourself, you can accomplish anything," Jay Feist said.
Mr. Feist partnered with the Vierthaler family in Spearville to publish the first Feist phone book in the spring of 1978.
Vierthaler, co-owner of the Spearville News, was in college that spring when his father, Lawrence, signed on to help Mr. Feist start the publishing business.
"We were just a small country printer," Vierthaler said. "I remember clearly standing here with Dad when Tom told us, 'We're going to do this phone book, but we won't do it if you won't print it.' "
So Tom Feist and Lawrence Vierthaler lined up some binding equipment to go with the family's web press, and away they went on the first edition for southwest Kansas.
"It was a mammoth undertaking," Bruce Vierthaler said. "We printed 32 pages at a time for a solid month, 8- to 12-hour days, and then slapped them on skids and ran them to the building next door where 10 to 15 housewives would assemble it and bind it."
Fourteen years into the phone book business came what Mr. Feist's family called his proudest achievement — the victory in 1991 before the Supreme Court in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service that rewrote the copyright laws for information.
Rural had sued Feist for copyright infringement, claiming that the information Feist copied from Rural's telephone listings was protected.
In an opinion authored by former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court ruled that copyrights apply only to the creative aspects of any compiled information.
Mr. Feist would like to be remembered for his penchant for accuracy and accountability, his son said.
"We worked hard," he said. "We learned to be very responsible feeding cattle. The cattle can't wait, you know, so you've got to feed them regardless of the weather.
"He was very conscious of how things looked. Dad wasn't sloppy at what he did. He was very careful, and he corrected us quite a bit to make sure we got things right."
The teacher in Tom Feist never took a back seat, Kirmer said.
"Whenever I'd type anything up for Tom, he'd get out his red pen and circle the things he wanted me to change," she said, chuckling. "Definitely always the teacher. Tom always wanted you to learn."