Phil Blake, the World War II veteran who for nearly two decades helped rescue dilapidated and forgotten war memorials across Wichita, died Wednesday.
He was 90 years old.
“When Phil took this on as a project, people were not honoring the memorials with care and with caregiving, and thus not honoring the veterans,” said Ken Holmes, a longtime friend of Mr. Blake’s and his former business partner.
But Mr. Blake took up the cause “with enthusiasm” and dedication, Holmes said – leading restoration efforts and helping to establish World War II Memorial Inc., which oversaw construction of a World War II monument at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Wichita.
“He was unique, special and one of a kind,” said Ted Ayres, Wichita State University’s vice president and general counsel, who chairs World War II Memorial Inc.
“He left me, us, with many more things to accomplish.”
Mr. Blake was born Dec. 26, 1923, in Wichita. Some of his earliest memories were playing on the Spanish-American War cannon in Riverside Park. He told The Eagle in 2006: “I rode it like a horse, stuffed firecrackers down its barrel and slaughtered the enemy whoever they happened to be.”
In 1928 the family moved to Watonga, Okla., where Mr. Blake grew up.
“The poor Blake family arrived just in time for poverty and dust in Oklahoma,” said his daughter Laura Auchterlonie, of Wichita.
Mr. Blake joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and served three years in the South Pacific. After he was honorably discharged, he attended the University of Kansas where, in 1950, he received his degree in mathematics. That same year, he married Minnie Howard.
He taught math at Junction City High School until 1952 when he and his wife moved to Wichita, and he began working in the engineering department at Boeing. Mr. Blake worked at Boeing for 17 years and then 23 years as a safety consultant. He retired in 1994.
Not long after that, he began looking at Wichita’s war memorials, most of which had fallen into neglect.
Over the next two decades, Mr. Blake helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve Wichita’s existing monuments for all wars and veterans. Among the projects he led were the restoration efforts for the Spanish-American War Memorial in Riverside Park, the Bicentennial Memorial Flag Pavilion and other memorials.
Mr. Blake also helped restore the Double V Memorial in McAdams Park and lobbied city officials to change the name of the street that runs by Veterans Memorial Park to Veterans Parkway.
“Phil Blake stood for veterans, for folks in the military, for the American Way,” Ayres said. “He stood strong in representing all those interests and making certain veterans were never forgotten.
“He wrote, promoted and cared for war memorials. Many people who have loved ones honored by these various memorials owe Phil Blake a huge debt of gratitude. When no one else cared, he did.”
Mr. Blake is survived by his three children: Sally Marie LaMont Dubey of San Rafael, Calif.; Laura Auchterlonie of Wichita; and Kenneth Blake of Ortonville, Mich.; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending.
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle