Opinion Columns & Blogs

Entrepreneurship runs in local family


Research shows that entrepreneurship tends to run in the family, though it doesn’t mean that if you were raised in the family business you have to go into it.

Cases in point are George Elder and his wife, Katharine, as well as George’s mother, Becky.

The Elders have lived on their mini-farm near Kechi for more than three decades, after Becky (granddaughter of Walter Love, Love Box Co. founder, and daughter of the late Bob Love, the company’s long-term owner) returned to Wichita in her early married years. She and her husband, Philip, have raised seven children, all now doing their own things.

One of those “things” is the 3-year-old Bramble Cafe and dinner hot spot Elderslie Farm (eldersliefarm.com), which grew out of George’s suggestion that the couple use what the family was growing in the field for a “farm to table” eatery. From a small breakfast bar at the outset, the venture has grown over time. As featured in a recent dining report by The Eagle’s Denise Neil, Elderslie is about to become a full-scale seasonal restaurant and events venue, featuring its you-pick blackberry brambles and farm gardens, after the current renovation is completed this weekend.

The Kechi area north of Wichita is a growing hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. Among other things, it has long hosted one of the metro area’s leading glass art specialists, Rollin Karg, and, even older, Chisholm Creek Flowers (1898). More recently, Kechi has spawned a yoga retreat facility, the Yoga Barn; Cozy Leaf herbal teas; and another of Elder’s projects on the farm: a sawmill turning native Kansas lumber into custom furniture.

George Elder clearly gets his entrepreneurial drive from his mother, who has applied the business skills she learned from her father to education. Since 2003, she has been the principal of the Northfield School of the Liberal Arts, a private school a block from Friends University. Northfield, founded in 1993 by Becky’s brother Bob, included 12 Elder-Love cousins among the school’s first students, which now number about 80 annually, covering grades 6-12. Many of these students have been previously home schooled, and come to Northfield for more structured learning.

Northfield is innovative in several important ways. It concentrates on a liberal arts education, grounded in the classics, with all students having to master Latin. The school also has a cooperative relationship with Friends University, which allows students as young as 10th grade to enroll in college classes for credit.

Northfield has been committed to reaching out to students from modest means, and is able to do so with an annual tuition of just $5,000, well below the $13,700 average cost of educating Wichita public school students.

With a modest endowment from the sale of the Love Box Co. in 2006, the school can offer financial aid, which benefits 40 percent of the student body. Well more than 90 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college.

Wichita, like the rest of the nation, needs a rebirth of entrepreneurial energy. A good start is for company founders to encourage family members to follow in their footsteps, but by pursuing their own dreams and passions. The Elders are living examples.

Robert Litan, a Wichita-based attorney and economist, is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Twitter: @BobLitan.