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Schwaller remembered for vision of Hays' future

7/16/2013

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Henry Schwaller II, a civic leader and innovative businessman whose vision set the stage for commercial and residential development in Hays, died Saturday at Hays Medical Center. He was 94.

"He was tenacious," said his grandson, Henry Schwaller IV, Hays city commissioner and vice mayor. "He was a true entrepreneur.

"He did not take 'no' for an answer. He would find different ways to make things happen."

Sandy Jacobs, executive vice president of Sunflower Bank and board member of the Downtown Hays Development Corp., said she gained perspective on the connection between business and community from Henry Schwaller II during her days working for him in banking in the early 1980s.

"I think the biggest thing that was so important about Henry was his ability to vision," she said. "It helped me find my own way.

"I really believe that I've been working as hard as I have in downtown Hays because of Henry. Because he told me what was important in my community. He showed me the value of never backing down from what you believe are your passions."

She recalled the now-legendary "Henry's Folly," of the 1960s, when Schwaller was determined to see Vine Street built with four lanes.

Other residents said the town never would be large enough to support a four-lane road.

"He just knew the way things should be," Jacobs said.

Beyond his business acumen, Jacobs said, was a compassion for others. She recalled his charitable work in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where Henry and his wife, Juliette, had a winter home.

"They (Henry and Juliette) felt the same way about how things should be and doing the right thing ... and taking care of humanity," Jacobs said.

Eagle Communications owner Bob Schmidt said his memories of Schwaller trace back to the days when Schmidt sold Schwaller radio advertising. Schmidt was managing KAYS radio station while Schwaller was running Schwaller Lumber.

"I remember I sold him a program called slogans to remember," Schmidt said. "And if someone could tell us what the slogan was, they'd win some kind of prize from him. He was an inventive sort of man."

Schwaller's business legacy stretches further than most Hays businessmen can remember.

"I would consider the families of the Schwallers and the Staabs to have been friends for over 50 years, since Henry hired my father in the late '50s, early '60s," said Glenn Staab, Hays real estate agent.

Staab's dad, Roger Staab, worked as a bookkeeper for Schwaller Lumber and in 1973 opened his own lumber company.

One of his earliest memories of Schwaller, Staab said, was Schwaller's determination to see I-70 exits located near Hays. Schwaller was appointed to the Kansas Highway Commission in 1968 and saw promise in the Vine Street location.

"I remember the prevailing thoughts of travelers at the time was, who's going to turn off I-70 and drive all the way into town," Staab said. "Henry was one of the people that saw the future.

"He was definitely ahead of his time in that thought."

Beyond all his other business ventures, Henry Schwaller IV said his grandfather most likely will be long associated with Schwaller Lumber Co., the business started by Henry Schwaller Sr. and his father, Clemens Schwaller in 1892.

Henry Schwaller II, after graduating from the University of Kansas in 1941, built the Schwaller Lumber Co. location at 900 Main and expanded the business from a lumber, concrete and coal operation to a complete building center.

In addition, Schwaller owned the first wholesale liquor distributor in Ellis County after the end of prohibition in 1948, and started housing developments after the floods of 1951 and 1955 that eventually led to development of the Centennial Shopping Center.

"That's the thing he was most proud of, buying that 175 acres from the Winters family in 1959," Henry Schwaller IV said. "And he bought that land along Vine Street from approximately 22nd to 27th, and that was his biggest accomplishment.

"He was also proud of being involved in the state, because he was not only on the highway commission from '68 to '72, he was also secretary of administration for Robert Docking. He had a chance to run the entire state. ... He loved it. It was the biggest and most exciting challenge he ever had."

Henry and Juliette Schwaller had two sons, Henry (Hank) and John (Fritz). The Schwallers were married 70 years before Juliette's death in 2012 and are survived by son John and his wife, Anne; and four grandchildren, Henry IV, Jennifer, Robert and William.