In another life R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. might have gone by his first name Rufus…
Instead, he reduced that first name to a lowly initial, and called himself Crosby. Later Kemper was known by some as The Big C. It’s hard to say at this point, but maybe it was because Kemper’s peers teased him so viciously as a child he dropped the Rufus handle and decided to just rock with the R.
In the Latin, Rufus is said to have meant “red-headed,” and in ancient Rome it was apparently popular among both saints and sinners – two categories The Big C was well endowed with, especially the latter during his final years.
Too bad Kemper jettisoned his Rufus so hastily – again, perhap because many thought it a dog’s name and/or from childhood hazing – because it’s made something of a comeback.
When I was a kid the only Rufus I knew was wrestler Rufus R. Jones. That Rufus was famous for his head butts. And while Jones wasn’t a particularly dignified Rufus, who could deny Kemper too could butt heads with the best of them?
Today the name Rufus is “on the edge of cutting edge cool,” says the baby naming website nameberry.com.
And while I don’t recall anyone in Kill Bill calling out Jackson as a wuss, similarly I imagine anyone taking the liberty of calling the 6 foot 7 inch Kemper Rufus to his face did so at their peril.
Let’s move on.
Kemper’s Kansas City Star obit yesterday referred to him as a “towering personality, banker, philanthropist and self-described maverick.” A man who for 30 years (and quite frankly, beyond) grew the family banking biz – United Missouri Bank, now simply UMB, into a multi billion dollar, regional powerhouse.
Kemper’s contributions to Kansas City by my recollection were huge.
From effectively saving the Kansas City Symphony (Philarmonic) to helping preserving KC’s rich agricultural history via the establishment of Kemper Arena and propping up the old stockyards with concerts, a Republican Convention and what’s left of the American Royal.
Quite frankly, sans Kemper’s passion, combined with his civic and financial clout, the American Royal may well be on its last legs. Because outside of its annual barbecue contest and the last vestiges of its once big deal parade that was cancelled this past year, who really gives the American Royal much thought anymore?
And who in their right mind thinks it makes financial sense to plow an estimated $60 million into tearing down Kemper and building a new livestock showplace in the middle of what passes for nowhere these days?
That makes about as much sense as Kemper’s starting the Agriculture Future of America in 1996 to try and replace/topple the Kansas City born and bred Future Farmers of America when they bailed on Kansas City in 1998 after 70 years here.
Today there are well over a half million FFA members nationwide, whereas Kemper’s AFA boasted in 2010 as having fewer than 6,000 participants total in its first 14 years.
We soon may learn if Rufus bequeathed any resources and/or marching orders to his heirs to champion an effort to try and help save the American Royal and fund its new home. However, sans Kemper’s force-of-nature will and can do leadership, it’s hard to imagine that coming to pass. And woe to the taxpayers stuck having to keep it propped up in the decades to come.
I’ll offer up more memories and recollections of Kemper shortly. In the meantime note that Rufus went to war with the local newspaper several times over the years before finally cutting the Star off completely, and mostly limiting its coverage of him to the society pages.
At which point – other than socialites, folks who spotted him “speed walking” along Wornall Road near the Plaza or those who suffered his stern rebuke, such as staffers at his museum of contemporary art – Kemper became the ghost of T Rex Kansas City business leaders past.