It happened on August 9 this year. I turned 80. An octogenarian. OMG.
For most of my life, I thought “octogenarian” was synonymous with “old.” Just like this word cloud says.
But you know what? I changed my mind. I’m now going with the slogan that 80 is the new 60 (or at worst, 65).
To support my case, I’m going to talk about some nonagenarian friends who were octogenarians for ten years. I’ll sprinkle in a little baseball. With all the current talk about a potential downtown stadium for the Royals, a good place to start is Charlie Wheeler.
Charlie Wheeler (95): It’s easy for me to remember Charlie’s birthday. It’s August 10, the day after mine. I’ve known Charlie for over 50 years, starting back when he was Jackson County coroner. He has also been a county judge and state senator; an announced candidate for governor, vice president and the presidency; and is best known for his two terms as mayor of Kansas City (1971-1979). Earlier this month, Wheeler was lauded during President Joe Biden’s infrastructure speech in Kansas City. Biden was referencing Wheeler’s promotion of a bullet train:
“You know, back in the early ‘70s – probably ’74, I think it was – there was a guy named Charlie Wheeler who talked about this – your mayor. Seriously. There’s no reason why it should be two hours faster to drive from Kansas City to St. Louis than take a train. No reason.”
Charlie did not get his bullet train, but he was instrumental in the creation of the Truman Sports Complex. A detailed account was in Hot Stove #97, but the short take is that Charlie and his fellow judges on the county court (Charles Curry and Alex Petrovic) took a bond issue to the voters in 1967 to build stadiums for football and baseball. Below, a mobile model that was used to promote the bond campaign. At the far right is Wheeler, and behind him, Alex Petrovic.
This year, the Chiefs are playing their 50th season at Arrowhead. In 2022, the Royals will play their 50th season at Kauffman. A big thank you goes to these visionary judges. Below, Charlie in the Buck O’Neil “Legacy Seat” at Kauffman in 2013, accompanied by Alex Petrovic.
I often run into Charlie at Grand Street Café where he meets weekly with old friends to talk about current events – lots of politics. The group has been meeting for decades. Charlie is not the oldest. That would be…
Howard Sachs (96): I wrote about Judge Howard Sachs and his illustrious career last year when he turned 95 (Hot Stove #140). Judge Sachs is not a sports fan, and in no way part of the target audience of Hot Stove. But he knew that I had written about Charlie Wheeler and the 1967 bond issue and so he drew me aside one day at Grand Street to tell a story of his involvement in that election.
Sachs was working for Spencer Fane. The firm represented the new Sports Authority which was promoting the 1967 bond issue. The mobile stadium exhibit (shown above) was on exhibit in the Spencer Fane conference room. Potential supporters would come by to hear the pitch of why they should support the bonds. One day, the attorney representing the authority had a conflict, so Sachs filled in. When asked to describe the two stadiums, Sachs had no idea which was baseball or football. I thought the judge might be giving me hyperbole, but Ron Bodinson confirmed that this was still part of Spencer Fane lore when Ron clerked at the firm in 1972.
Below, Judge Sachs and his sons Adam (left) and Alex at a 2019 ceremony marking Sachs 40th year on the bench. Fun fact: Adam is a big-time sports fan, chair-elect of the board of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Chief Legal Officer of the Kansas City Royals. Those sports genes must come from Susanne (his memorable mother, RIP).
Harry Jonas (95): Dr. Harry Jonas has long been known in medical circles (OBGYN, dean of the UMKC Medical School, AMA official, etc.). Rita worked at the medical school when Harry was dean.
My connection to Harry has been politics. When I got out of law school in 1967, my high school pals Bill Lochman and Jim Graham lured me into a Young Democrats club closely affiliated with the Committee for County Progress (CCP). Harry was one of the leaders of the CCP which was instrumental in the election of the three county judges who brought us the Truman Sports Complex.
In 1972, a new county charter went into effect, and a 15-member legislature was elected. The members chose Harry to be chairman. Former Chiefs player Fred Arbanas (RIP) was on that first legislature and would go on to serve a record 42 years. The closest race in that election was for the legislative seat won by Mike White – by one vote (14,071-14,070). Two years later, Mike was elected county executive. A fourth member of that legislature was Mamie Hughes who you will hear about below.
Harry turned 95 this month, and Steve Roling and I took him to a celebratory lunch (photo below). Some of the topics: In 1968, Harry helped secure the CCP endorsement for Tom Eagleton in Tom’s first race for the Senate. This would later become very relevant to Steve’s life – he was an Eagleton staffer in DC and KC from 1974 to 1981. In 2004, Harry was the founding Board Chair of the newly-formed Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City (now known as Health Forward Foundation). The first President/CEO hired by the board to run HFC was…Steve Roling. Harry also gave us the interesting history of his suggestion to Bess Truman that there should be a Harry Truman statue in Independence. She agreed and told Harry he should do it. And that’s how Harry became chair of the committee that in 1976 dedicated the statue of the walking Harry Truman on Independence Square.
Mamie Hughes (92): Mamie Hughes’ service on the county legislature is just one role she has filled in local and national government. Her service to her community and the cause of civil rights and women’s rights is enough to fill a book (which she has thankfully written: Mamie Who? The Life and Times of a Colored Woman, published in 2016 when Mamie was 87).
In recent years, my contact with Mamie has been at events for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum where she is a long-time officer and executive committee member of the board. In 2018, she received the Randall Ferguson “Board Member of the Year” Award presented at the Buck O’Neil 107th B-Day Bash.
The Monarchs jersey she received sported her name and Buck O’Neil’s #22. When the Broadway Bridge was renamed the John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Memorial Bridge, she said that Buck “was just like a big brother” to her and the new bridge name was appropriate because Buck “gave himself to building bridges among people.” Just like Mamie has.
Dick Berkley (90): The three-term mayor (1979-1991) of Kansas City is an avid Royals fan. I remember running into Dick in St. Louis in 1985 when we were both in the midst of attending all seven World Series games. We liked the result. Below, from 2018, Berkley sitting in the Buck O’Neil legacy seat. Left to right, Dick, his wife Sandy, Kristi Wyatt (Dick’s chief assistant during his terms as mayor) and Jerry Wyatt.
In Berkley’s first run for mayor, he faced three strong opponents in the primary. Because of my political work in those days and being a past Jackson County Democratic Chairman, I sometimes got quoted in the paper. KC Star Reporter Bill Turque asked me about the race and quoted my “elaborate baseball scenario for the election.” I likened Dick Berkley and his fund-raising success to George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. The cash-light Joel Pelofsky was Bill Veeck, hustling owner of the White Sox who seemed to be holding his franchise together with chewing gum. Incumbent mayor Charlie Wheeler was maverick owner Charlie Finley. Bruce Watkins was Jackie Robinson, attempting to become the first Black mayor of the city.
Berkley and Watkins won the primary, and Berkley won the general and went on to serve 12 years as mayor. But the strong Bruce Watkins effort set the stage for future Black candidates, and one of the architects of that campaign was…
Ollie Gates (90): Ollie Gates, one of the barbecue barons of Kansas City, was a close friend of Bruce Watkins. He played a major role in organizing support for Bruce in the mayor’s race. I worked on the race with Ollie, and he was a savvy and decisive leader. Dick Berkley thought so too – after the election, he appointed Ollie to the prestigious Board of Parks and Recreation.
Just three years later, the groundwork laid by Ollie and his allies led to the election of Alan Wheat to Congress. Then to a string of Black mayors – Emanuel Cleaver, Sly James and Quinton Lucas. They all stand on the shoulders of Bruce Watkins (I wrote about the 40-year arc from Watkins to Lucas here). Below, Ollie Gates hosts Congressman Alan Wheat and President Bill Clinton.
As for the barbecue, Ollie’s status is legend. In a long overdue acknowledgement, Ollie and Arthur Bryant (RIP) were inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame this year.
Law Firms Where Lonnie Worked: From law school to retirement, I worked for three law firms. Below, I’ll feature a nonagenarian from each, but first, how I got to each firm.
After I graduated from engineering school at Rolla, I went to law school at UMKC. The intent was to combine my engineering education with a law degree to become a patent lawyer. One of the top boutique patent firms in Kansas City was Hovey, Schmidt, Johnson and Hovey, and I was lucky enough to clerk at the firm for all three of my years at law school. I learned a lot about patent and trademark law and got a great offer from the firm when I graduated.
But by then I decided I wanted to be a trial lawyer, so I instead went to work at Popham, Thompson, Conway, Sweeney and Fremont. I worked on low and high dollar litigation matters, tried some cases, took a ton of depositions and answered a lot of interrogatories. But after 12 years, I realized I was not going to be an elite trial lawyer…
So I joined my UMKC law school classmate Jim Polsinelli on the Plaza. Finally figured out what I wanted to do. I’m now retired after almost 40 years with the firm, but they still let me have an office where I can type my Hot Stoves. Covid has taught me I can also do this at home.
Bob Hovey (90): The Hovey firm had (and still has) some of the best patent and trademark lawyers in the country (the specialty has since taken on the lofty title of “intellectual property”). I could not have asked for a better place to learn how a law firm operates and what it takes to be a lawyer. The lawyers were generous with their time and support for my future career. This made it especially hard when I let them know I was following the siren call to trial work.
One of my mentors at the firm was Bob Hovey who was well known as a top trademark lawyer. Some of my favorite work involved his cases. Bob retired in 2006 after 50 years of practice. Below, from 2014, when Bob accepted an award from the Kansas Bar Association recognizing his stellar career as an intellectual property attorney.
I was not sure about Bob’s age until a recent email exchange. He had responded to a Hot Stove, ”Sure enjoyed your ramblings today.” I responded that I hoped he was doing well, and this came back: “So far so good! Turned 90 on the 9th of September. Still here…health OK…enjoying life, and the farm, and your Hot Stoves…we missed you when you went off to the big time…but it seemed to work, and you went with a good guy [Jim Polsinelli] and y’ll built a very successful operation.”
Bill Bundschu (90): When I joined the Popham law firm in 1967, it was one of the most active trial firms in the city. In those days, many cases ended up before juries, and it was not unusual for the Popham firm to have two or three trials a week at the Jackson County courthouse. Most of my work was with Tom Conway and Tom Sweeney, two lions of the trial bar.
And then there was Bill Bundschu. Bill’s unique position was being the only partner who was not a trial lawyer. He was the corporate/tax/estate/anything-else-but-trial lawyer at the firm. When he met someone new, his opening line was how to pronounce his name – “Bundschu – like a bunch of shoes.” After Bill retired in 1996, he returned to college and got a masters in history. He wrote several books on local history, including two about his family (they owned Bundschu’s, a department store on the Independence Square where my mother shopped when I was a kid; it was across the street from where the Truman statue now stands).
If you Google Bill, you can’t miss the biking. For many years, he was a recreational runner. In 1989, he won a bike in a store drawing and became a cycling addict. In 1996, when he was 65, he biked from Independence, Missouri, to Durham, North Carolina, to attend the 40th reunion of his Duke law school class. In 2006, he did it again at age 75 for the 50th reunion.
I spoke with Bill last week, and we talked about the Popham days and his biking adventures. He provided a piece of cautionary advice for us octogenarians: “Being 90 is not for sissies.”
The Popham firm is one of the oldest firms in Kansas City, opening in 1918. To mark its 100th anniversary, the firm hosted a party at their offices in 2018. Above is a clip from a group photo of the current and former Popham lawyers at the party. I’ll point out the ones who overlapped with me at the firm. Starting at the top right is the bearded Hollis Hanover. I’m below his right shoulder and Mike Maloney to his left. Below Mike is Bill Bundschu. Lower left is Sandy Midkiff who I hired as a Popham clerk when she was in law school. Lower right is Bob Russell – he and Mike Maloney dumped the dregs of their dockets on Hollis and Lonnie when we arrived at the firm. And they taught us a lot. Maloney, Midkiff and Russell became circuit court judges. To Mike Maloney’s right are Bill Hubbard and John Kurtz who left Popham to form their own firm. John is quite the Hot Stove loyalist. When he receives a post, he forwards it to a mailing list of about 50 (not a typo) people.
Paul Vardeman (91): When Mike White and I joined Jim Polsinelli on the Plaza in 1979, we brought the lawyer count up to nine. Our master action plan was to never grow to more than 25 lawyers. Three years later, we got lucky when Judge Paul Vardeman left the circuit court bench and joined the firm. I hold him responsible for fouling up our growth plan. He gave us a prestige boost and we never stopped growing. Today, 900 lawyers in 21 offices.
Paul got a 91st birthday shoutout in Hot Stove #154, including a report on his scrimshaw expertise. For many years, a group of retired/former partners have gathered to celebrate Paul’s birthday (and sometimes half-birthday; below, on his 91.5 birthday). Standing behind Paul, starting at the left: Dale Schulte, David Welte, Jim Polsinelli, Fuzzy White, Hal Goss, Mike White, Lonnie Shalton and Jim Bowers.
Stan Bushman (93): Once I got into my commercial real estate practice at Polsinelli, I often heard the name Stan Bushman. He and his investment partner Charley Helzberg have been at the crossroads of real estate development in the KC area for decades. My partner Irv Blond has represented them on many of their deals.
When Irv and I have lunch with Stan, it’s always a treat. We love his stories on the history of real estate development in the city. He knows all the players going back to the days of the J.C. Nichols Company, Kroh Brothers, Frank Morgan, Jimmy and Allen Block, etc. Stan can also give a master class on the history of the civic, political and philanthropic connections in our community.
Below, Irv and I with Stan at lunch to celebrate Stan’s 93rd birthday. In addition to his usual Ted Talk on Kansas City, Stan updated us on his latest real estate deal. Yes, the 93-year-old is still doing deals. And to repeat what I wrote about Stan when he turned 92, he’s a mensch of the first order (Hot Stove #153).
Bert Bates (95): For years, Irv Blond, Jack Kilroy and I have had lunch with Bert Bates around the date of his birthday and half-birthday (his 90th was reported in Hot Stove #14). Bert likes to say that his birthdate of April 14 is not too good in history – Lincoln was shot, the Titanic went down and he was born. He’s done just fine – still has an office at the Lathrop firm.
Below from October on Bert’s 95.5 birthday. Bert’s the one with coat and tie. Then Jack, Lonnie and Irv. Just like I reported on his 90th, we listened with pleasure as Bert the raconteur held court with great stories on Missouri lawyers, politics and history. Fun new fact we learned: Bates City, Missouri, is named for Bert’s great-grandfather.
In 1952, Bert campaigned for his father George Bates who was running for Missouri state treasurer. Also running statewide that year was Stuart Symington, making his first bid for the U.S. Senate. Symington’s sons Tim and Jim were campaigning for him. Bert and the Symington sons often covered small events while the fathers were at the big functions. This took them all over the state, sometimes car-pooling. Lifetime friendships were formed. Both candidates won. This is a good segue to my next nonagenarian…
Jim Symington (94): Jim is a Renaissance man. Four-term Congressman (1969 -1977). LBJ Chief of Protocol (Jim wrote an excellent book on this, The Stately Game). RFK aide. Whiffenpoof singer at Yale. New York lounge singer (while in law school), songwriter and guitar player. Humorist. Poet. Storyteller. Author of many books, most recently publishing (at age 88) Heard and Overheard: Words Wise (and Otherwise) with Politicians, Statesmen, and Real People (2015). As Christopher Buckley wrote in the introduction to the book, “When God made Jimmy Symington, he didn’t do anything else that day.”
Jim’s family history in politics goes back to Revolutionary times, but I’ll just take it from the Civil War. Jim’s maternal great-grandfather was John Hay, private secretary to Abraham Lincoln. Hay’s daughter married James Wadsworth, and their daughter married Stuart Symington, Jim’s father. Wadsworth served in Congress as both a Senator and Representative. Wadsworth’s father served in Congress for 20 years. Stuart was a four-term Senator and Jim served in the House eight years. There was a Wadsworth or a Symington in Congress for 74 of the 96 years from 1881 to 1977.
Below, Jim and his wife Sylvia campaigning on the streets of St. Louis in 1968.
Rita and I campaigned for Jim in 1976 when he ran to succeed his father in the Senate. Although he was not successful, he went on to many other worthy endeavors (earning Buckley’s praise as a “premier citizen”). Over the years, Rita and I have shared many entertaining dinners with Jim and Sylvia, both in DC and KC. It is not unusual for Jim to share some new witty limericks or even break out in song at dinner. When I spoke with Jim and Sylvia on Jim’s 94th birthday, Sylvia bragged that Jim’s singing voice was still in good tune. Sylvia also gave me a Hot Stove tip. She said I should look up the 1962 All-Star game and see Stuart Symington with President Jack Kennedy.
So I did. The President threw out the first pitch in that All-Star game played at the new D.C. Stadium (renamed RFK Stadium in 1969). Below, JFK and Senator Symington speak with Stan Musial at the game. Others present in the box with the President were VP Lyndon Johnson, Speaker of the House John McCormack, Senator Hubert Humphrey and Commissioner Ford Frick. Check out this video of JFK’s first pitch and Musial’s hit in the game. JFK to Musial: “A couple of years ago, they told me I was too young to be President and you were too old to be playing baseball. But we fooled them.”
The day after the All-Star game, Senator Symington assigned a young staff aide, John Zentay, to escort Musial and his wife and daughter around the city. As recounted in George Vecsey’s 2011 biography of Musial, Zentay was with the Musial family for a few hours and had the use of Symington’s Oldsmobile convertible to see the sights – Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, etc. They visited the FBI and met with Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Musial had campaigned for Jack Kennedy in 1960, and so the President happily welcomed the Musial family to a 15-minute visit in the Oval Office (photo below). That night, the Musials had dinner with Jim and Sylvia Symington. Fun facts: George Vecsey is a Hot Stove subscriber (via our mutual friend Bill Wakefield). John Zentay is also a Hot Stove subscriber (added to the list by his high school friend Sylvia Symington). John and Sylvia will turn 90 in 2022.
In 1967, the A’s played their last season in Kansas City. MLB was considering expansion, but Kansas City was looking at a few years with no team. Enter Senator Stuart Symington. MLB quickly reconsidered its timetable, no doubt worried that Congress might remove MLB’s anti-trust exemption. After only one year without major league baseball, KC became the home of the Royals. To recognize the importance of Symington’s contribution, he was selected to throw out the first pitch for the Royals inaugural season in 1969. Below, with Ewing and Muriel Kauffman looking on (and Mayor Ilus Davis behind them wearing a hat), Symington delivered his southpaw pitch.
Small world story: In 1955, Jim Symington was a 27-year-old assistant city counselor in St. Louis. The city was considering an ordinance to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, but was concerned it was beyond the power of the city to pass such a law. Symington issued an opinion that predicted that the Missouri Supreme Court would uphold the ordinance. While litigation was pending in 1957, Symington was contacted by the Kansas City Commission on Human Relations which was considering a similar ordinance. At the request of an attorney working with the KC Commission – Howard Sachs – Symington shared his work product on the legal issues. In a letter to Symington, Sachs said the assistance provided by Symington “goes far beyond the ordinary professional courtesies. I should not be surprised if…your thoughtful analysis should prove to be decisive…”. End result: The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the power of St. Louis and Kansas City to enforce such ordinances.
Jack Schramm (90 next month): Rita and I met Jack Schramm in 1972 when he was running for Missouri lieutenant governor. Rita’s first job out of college was running the KC office for Jack’s campaign. Jack won the Democratic primary, but lost the general. The good news is that we gained a dear friend of now almost 50 years. Jack’s government service and international government consulting for 25 countries are among the subjects of his book, Passionate Purpose: A Global Governance Journey (2017).
Below, Rita and I with Jack in DC in 2019 at a dinner hosted by our mutual friend John Ashford.
To return to where this post started, here are Charlie Wheeler and Jack at a Schramm campaign event in 1972.
Octogenarian Shoutout: A lot of people I know turned 80 this year. Many on the Hot Stove mailing list. Folks who graduated with me in 1959 at Van Horn. Di, Shirley, Phil, Janet, Lynn, Brian, Jim K, Lyda, Chet, Sandy, Bill, Jim G, Ken, Tom, Bob, Don, etc. Other 1959 graduates: Wake (Pem-Day), Jay (Northeast) and JoEllen (Southwest). My Sigma Nu pledge class at engineering school (Rolla): Larry, David, Charlie, Ken, Darrell, Jerry, etc. (Mox was the kid among us, only 79 this year). Law school was not as readily obvious because many of us did not get there straight out of four years of college. But I know Flee turned 80 this year. And my student bar association political mentor, second-year student Wayne T. But not the precocious Polsinelli (a mere 78 this year).
Remember fellow octogenarians – 80 is the new 60!
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Septuagenarian Edition: Rita turned 72 on December 19. Many septuagenarian years to go. We celebrated at Prime Social Rooftop, a new lounge on the top floor of 46 Penn Centre on the Plaza. It’s a one block walk from our condo. The lounge looks great, and the small plate offerings are enough to add up to dinner. The affiliated full-service restaurant, Ocean Prime, will open in February.
Above, with our wine, a good visual to introduce “our song” plus some others by the wonderful Jim Croce. Click on the song titles to listen.
“Time In a Bottle” – Our song.
“I’ve Got a Name” – And it’s Rita Leifhelm. As most of you know, Rita kept her maiden name when we married 40 years ago.
“Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” – When Garth Brooks received the Gershwin Award, his performance included songs by storytellers/songwriters who had influenced him. Jim Croce was one of them, and this is the song Brooks sang to showcase Croce’s storytelling lyrics.
“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” – Jim Spain, one of our favorite Missouri politicos from the Bootheel, came to KC in 1976 to campaign for the Democratic ticket. There were three candidates named Jim – Jim Kirkpatrick for Secretary of State, Jim Spainhower for state treasurer and Jim Baker for attorney general. Spain cleverly turned some Jim Croce lyrics into a campaign slogan for the three candidates.
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’s spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim
Kirkpatrick and Spainhower won. Baker lost a close race to John Ashcroft.
“Big Bad Leroy Brown” – Don’t mess around with this guy either.
In the last Hot Stove, I ran a photo of the Plaza lights as viewed south and east from our condo. The photo below looks east, but a little north, toward the American Century twin towers. In between is a building site for two new hotels, and the construction crane is decorated in green lights – a nice complement to the Plaza lights. In the middle of the right half of the photo, the “Steeple of Light” projects into the sky from the Community Christian Church.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!