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Elizabeth Kinch (far right) is shown on a bench at Garrett Park commemorating the spark behind the Derby Community Foundation, of which she was a founding member. Shown with her are (left to right) Becky Loosen, Tuxley Kirkhart and Pat Spatz. 

As far as public servants go, Derby’s Elizabeth Kinch fit the description to a T.

“She did so many things. She was just a public servant in terms of being on the [city] council, in the Legislature, a member of the community foundation, a member of the education foundation, a member here at the DRC – just very involved in the community and very involved in politics,” said Frank Seitz, former superintendent of the Derby Recreation Commission.

Though Kinch recently passed, given her body of work, it’s safe to say her memory will live on in many ways throughout the Derby community.

Locally, Kinch served on both the USD 260 Board of Education and Derby City Council before representing Derby at the state level as a member of the Kansas Legislature from 1982 to 1992. Kinch shared that passion for political service with her husband, Lee, former Sedgwick County and Kansas Democratic Party Chair. She then went on to become a founding member of both the Derby Community Foundation and Derby Education Foundation, while also serving on the DRC board from 2003 to 2011.

Making an impact

In the eyes of Seitz, even though she served on the DRC board for two terms, her biggest impact came when she was in the state legislature. With the statutes governing recreation commissions “a mess” due to special interests, Kinch helped organize an interim legislative session in the summer of 1986 to study those.

“As a group, we started saying this is how we can pull this all together, and she lead that charge for us to where we finally got the statutes recodified and everybody was on the same page,” Seitz said. “We were able to get some things as recreation commissions that in the past we hadn’t had before.”

Most of the changes made, Seitz pointed out, are still in place to this day.

Similarly, Director of IT Rob McDonald pointed to an example of Kinch getting on board with efforts to replace the DRC’s old slide-in sign with an LED sign as an example of her impact – with her progressive thinking helping secure the right tools to tackle a project intended to help the community.

Setting an example

Whatever role she was serving, Kinch was fully committed to working in the best interests of the community – whether with the DRC or elsewhere.

“It was all-encompassing that she wanted to make an impact and she wanted to make a difference,” McDonald said. “I love that she owned that job. I love that she was really a role model for a lot of the other board members as well as females in leadership. I think it was just a good thing.”

Derby Community Foundation Executive Director Theresa Hearn first saw that commitment when Kinch was serving in the Legislature. Hearn was working as the public information officer for USD 260 and heard the reports that Kinch, a former teacher in the Rose Hill schools, presented to the Derby BOE. Hearn also saw her efforts to help with the 1991 bond issue that helped build the current high school.

Kinch recruited Hearn to her current position with the DRC back in 2004 – driving Hearn’s involvement and showing her what public service could be.

“It came very easily to Elizabeth to ask people to support initiatives because of her passion for them, because of her generous spirit, and I think some of that rubbed off on me,” Hearn said. “Today, through her example, I’ve found that if you really care about what it is that you’re asking to be funded it’s not difficult at all to ask for those dollars.”

Friend of the community

Both Hearn and Kinch’s longtime friend Becky Loosen noted that Kinch’s most significant impact on the Derby community may have been the most visually noticeable – being an impetus for the city’s hike and bike path and the trees that line it. Hearn pointed out that Kinch was also a driving force behind making Derby a Tree City USA, which it remains to this day.

Kinch made friends quickly and, as Loosen attested, she was someone whose loyalty ran deep – whether that was on an individual level or on a larger scale for the community she called home.

“The one word that I think describes Elizabeth is that she was generous. She was generous with her time, she was generous with her financial assets, she was generous with her love, and that included her family, her friends and certainly the community of Derby,” Loosen said. “I would like for her to be remembered for her generous spirit, her love of the community and being a role model for what it means to give back to the community.”

Raised to have a focus on serving the community, the Winfield native’s efforts did not go unnoticed in Derby. For those who knew Kinch and worked with her, it’s clear the model she set forth will not soon be forgotten.

“She was just a big humanitarian activist overall and I’m proud to have known her,” McDonald said. “I think for as integral as she was in our community there’s definitely something that we need to do to remember her by because of her activism in so many different areas.”

“It was in her nature to want to make the community in which she was a part better than she found it, and her driving passion for public education ensuring that the next generations have what they need to be successful so that the community can thrive,” Hearn said. “I think she would want to be remembered for being one of Derby’s biggest advocates and making our community what it is today – a place where collaboration proliferates.”

Kelly Breckunitch is the managing editor for the Derby Informer. Contact him at kelly@derbyinformer.com for questions and news tips. 

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Managing Editor

Kelly Breckunitch is the managing editor for the Derby Informer. Contact him at kelly@derbyinformer.com for questions and news tips.