Thursday, September 08, 2011


My Pastor, Mike Stubbs, has often said that he learned early in life that when one is seeking answers to life’s mysterious questions and the answers tried seem to fail, it would be a good idea to try the obvious answer you’ve been avoiding all along.
I think Mike’s formula is very true when it comes to inspiration.
A couple of times a month Nancy and I spend our weekend in Kansas City. As we approach the I-35/Broadway exit we always comment on the progress being made on the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It’s almost completed and when it is it will be a Kansas City gem.  As it is, it’s a sight to behold¸ with its not quite complete roof gleaming in the sun. It’s being built along the lines of the Sydney Opera House.
As I’ve looked on it lately I’ve begun to wonder how it all got started. Not long ago the building site was an empty lot on the edge of the Freight House District. Well, the answer is obvious. It was inspiration. Given that, how did inspiration become reality? The answer is every bit as obvious. It’s perspiration. It’s hard work.
The project was as ambitious as any I’ve ever seen in Kansas City. The total cost, when completed, will be over $400 million. That’s a big number and you’d think that it would derail things. But the cost wasn’t an inhibiting factor at all. In fact, as of October, 2010, $370 million of the needed funding had been secured. How much of that funding was taxpayer money? None.  The Ewing Kauffman Foundation has contributed over $30 million. The Hall family chipped in $23 million; the Jean Brandmeyer Family Foundation gave $12 million, the Helzbergs contributed $10 million.
Putting this all together was hard work. It was a marriage of inspiration and perspiration. I’m sure the board of directors had to do a lot of legwork and negotiating to get the funding. The men and women who manned the scaffolds have done yeoman work. It shows.
It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people work together.
I’ve had some people tell me that there isn’t enough private energy or capital to undertake big projects here in Emporia. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. My brother-in-law, James, has been telling me how proud he is about being part of the ground breaking for Hetlinger Development’s $2 million expansion. James is rightly proud of his small part in what is happening. So should everyone at Hetlinger Development, from the board of directors, to staff, to financial contributors, to the workers who will in the end seal the dream with brick and mortar. The completed project will allow Hetlinger to expand their client base by 25%!
What started this project in motion? It’s obvious. It was inspiration.
The question of how to convert inspiration was answered in the same way supporters of the Kauffman Center answered the questions inspiration raised for them. The hard work began. Grants were solicited and received. The Mabee Foundation gave $400,000. Smaller contributions came through the “Everyday Heroes Campaign.” The board of directors, to a person, contributed. Staff contributed as well. And, so it went. Well, now ground has been broken. The dream will become a reality.
As with the Kauffman Center, no taxpayer money will be needed for the Hetlinger expansion. Not a dime! Why? It’s obvious. Once the seeds of inspiration were sown things flowed in the right direction. The dream was so viable that people wanted to contribute to make it a reality.
There are some great lessons in this. First, when the dream has real value its supporters rarely take the path of least resistance. They don’t go to the city council or the city commission with their hats in their hands. They go out and find the dreamers and doers. They connect wallets, purses, hammers, saws, hands, feet, and hearts to the dream. That’s how it happens.
Secondly, people gravitate to hard work. They dislike things that flow along the path of least resistance.
Third, they reward hard work.
Fourth, they’ll get behind a good project.
One of the things that makes me weary about things in Emporia is that far too many projects here run along the path of least resistance. It makes me question their inspiration. It makes me wonder if the visions proponents have decided that a mill levy increase or the public trough is the way to get the maximum benefit from the minimum effort. It’s “Let the taxpayers fund it.”
If the proponents of these projects believe their dreams are so worthy I think it’s time for them start doing the hard work needed to turn inspiration into reality. If they don’t know how, I recommend they call Hetlinger or the Kauffman Foundation.