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Kent Frizzell’s career took him to Topeka, D.C. and Wounded Knee

Kent Frizzell
Kent Frizzell Courtesy photo

During the 1960s and 1970s, Kent Frizzell was one of the most recognized names in Kansas politics.

The prominent Wichitan won almost every election he ran in – he lost a run for governor in 1970 – and is credited with helping to bring a peaceful resolution to the standoff between the American Indian Movement and the federal government at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973.

Mr. Frizzell died on Oct. 26 in Tulsa after a lengthy illness. He was 87.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Sharp Chapel at the University of Tulsa.

Dale Kent Frizzell was born on Feb. 11, 1929, in Wichita and grew up near Second and Meridian. His boyhood friends were Vern Miller and Bob Stephan. All three would grow up to become Kansas attorney general.

Mr. Frizzell grew up in a house across an alley from the Miller home. The Stephan family lived across the street from the Frizzells’ house.

“I remember going with his brother Greg one night on Halloween night and putting some tin cans on somebody’s porch,” Vern Miller recalled Thursday. “He was a quiet lad, real popular in high school.

“We were running around with some girl who turned out to be a movie star – Vera Miles.”

Indeed, Miller graduated from North High School in 1946, Mr. Frizzell graduated in 1947, Vera Miles in 1948 and Stephan in 1950.

“I always thought there had to be something in the water,” said Gregory Kent Frizzell, presiding U.S. District Judge for the U.S. District Court for Northern Oklahoma and Mr. Frizzell’s son. “They all grew up within a block of each other.”

Mr. Frizzell attended Northwestern University on a Methodist oratory scholarship and received his degree in economics from Friends University. He spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and received his law degree from Washburn University in 1955. He served as a Kansas state senator from 1965 to 1969. He was Kansas attorney general from 1969 to 1971.

Longtime Wichitans may recall that on Sept. 18, 1970, when a closed-circuit television performance of “Oh, Calcutta!” was scheduled to be broadcast live from the Eden Theater in New York City to the Vogue Art Theater in Wichita, it was canceled by Mr. Frizzell. As Kansas attorney general, he issued a strongly worded statement declaring that the nudity-filled stage show was obscene and should be banned.

While her father campaigned, Angie Frizzell recalled Thursday, she appeared in countless rallies and parades as a child.

I remember wearing sandwich boards and eating lots of cherry pie. We also had butterscotch bars that we called Frizzells, and people would bake those for us.

Angie Frizzell, Kent Frizzell’s daughter

“I remember wearing sandwich boards and eating lots of cherry pie,” she said. “We also had butterscotch bars that we called Frizzells, and people would bake those for us.”

Mr. Frizzell then became involved in politics on a national level – in 1972-73 as assistant U.S. attorney general for land and natural resources and as a solicitor and undersecretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

In the 1980s, Mr. Frizzell moved to Tulsa, where he became director of the National Energy Law and Policy Institute at the University of Tulsa.

He also was a member of the Reagan-Bush transition team.

He had all his wits and mind up to the end. From a son’s view, he was a great man. He just had a raw talent.

Judge Gregory Kent Frizzell, Kent Frizzell’s son

“He had all his wits and mind up to the end,” Gregory Frizzell said of his father. “From a son’s view, he was a great man. He just had a raw talent.

“You look at these guys – all of them from west Wichita – and there had to be something going on in the culture of Wichita that drove them.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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