Nearly two decades ago, when Wichita school leaders were considering who should oversee plans to rebuild and renovate the district's aging buildings, they briefly considered hiring a big Boston firm.
"That would have been dumb," said Lynn Rogers, a former Wichita school board member. "Because we could not have asked for a person who was more knowledgeable and more engaged in the community than Kenton Cox."
Mr. Cox, an architect and partner at Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, managed countless school building projects for area districts and was the face of the 2000 and 2008 bond issues in Wichita. He died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 75.
"He has such a legacy in Wichita public schools," said Julie Hedrick, a Wichita board member who once worked as director of facilities for the district.
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"The face of our district is totally different because of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey and all the work that was done — from new buildings to remodeled buildings — and Kenton was so much a part of that."
A Wichita native, Mr. Cox graduated from North High School and earned degrees in architecture and architectural engineering from Kansas State University. After graduation, he became a commissioned first lieutenant and served in Vietnam, where he received a Bronze Star for outstanding leadership and bravery.
He joined Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey in 1971 and designed dozens of schools and other projects, including Derby High School, Wichita Northwest High School, Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Westlink Pathway Church, the Koch Industries "tower" building at 37th and Rock and the Emprise Bank building in downtown Wichita, which houses the Schaefer Johnson offices.
After the passage of two record-setting bond issues in Wichita, Mr. Cox became a fixture at Wichita school board meetings, where he presented plans and designs for more than 160 projects. He and his team designed several of the bonds' flagship projects, including the new Southeast High School at 143rd East and Pawnee and Northeast Magnet High School at 53rd Street North and Rock Road.
Mr. Cox was especially passionate about a $12 million addition to North High, his alma mater. He and his team painstakingly designed the addition to match the original architecture of the landmark high school, which was built in 1929.
"We always try to keep the feel of an old building, echo some of the features," Mr. Cox told board members in 2013. "You don't want it to look out of place."
Sam Frey, a college classmate of Mr. Cox's, worked with him for decades at Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey. He said Mr. Cox's work was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus style — a minimalist, modern approach that often favors bold geometric shapes.
"His was a style of simplistic expression — expressing material for what it was and expressing the function of the building without a good deal of ornamentation," Frey said.
He said Mr. Cox's dedication to educational projects reflected his commitment to public schools and the community.
"He really invested intellectually and emotionally in that whole process," Frey said. "He believed in the engagement of the community and the development of educational programs that expressed the desire and interests of the community."
Shortly after Wichita voters approved a $370 million bond issue in 2008, Mr. Cox told The Eagle the campaign was personal. This was the district where he, his parents and his three sons had gone through public schools.
"This is my home," he said at the time. "We just felt like the need was so great and that we really needed to improve these old schools."
Mr. Cox is survived by his wife, Gloria, and three sons — Steven, Scott and Chad — as well as three brothers, a sister and six grandchildren. A visitation with the family will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and a memorial service at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Pathway Church, 2020 N. Maize Road.