Hearne: Banging a Gong for R. Crosby Kemper Jr. aka ‘The Big C’ aka Rufus

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Rufus Crosby Kemper, Jr.

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.

samuel-l-jackson-top-11-kill-billThere’s Canadian musician Rufus Wainwright, Samuel L. Jackson’s Rufus character in the movie Kill Bill, Rufus Humphrey in Gossip Girl, Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter, the list goes on.

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.


Rufus as a pup

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.

t-rex11I’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.

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12 Responses to Hearne: Banging a Gong for R. Crosby Kemper Jr. aka ‘The Big C’ aka Rufus

  1. harley says:

    guys was a true bankster….
    said>>>>”I don’t loan money to widows or orphans”

  2. the dude says:

    Own your name or change it, don’t be a pussy about it and shorten it or make it initials if you don’t like it.

    • Stomper says:

      Interesting thought but would you say that to his face?

      • the dude says:

        Sure, why not.

        • harley says:

          guy had more money in his couch pillows than you
          make in a year…
          daddy made him like all the rest of the family…
          I think one of them shines shoes or does
          labor intensive work…not a 1% er.

      • admin says:

        I would if he was still alive, Stomps

        I asked him about his fear of flying years ago and caught him pretty off guard. He kind of stuttered something about not being afraid, but stand by for my followup on that one.

        Yeah, he got mad at me about something else that I can’t quite recall and that was the last time he took my call. It wasn’t anything substantive, but I don’t think he took any grief whatsoever from anybody.

        At least not from anyone who he held financial sway over.

        To be honest, the Rufus thing just occurred to me for the first time when I sat down and reflected on what to write about him. Been so long that I’d even thought about his R that I had to check to make sure that was what it was.

        I wouldn’t have just called him out, like, “Hey Rufus!”

        But I do wish I’d asked him about it. Because it totally is a dog name to more people than it is a people name to people of current times.

        • Stomper says:

          Thanks HC, I would imagine that you do have lots of stories about him as would Dwight. Can’t say I knew him well but did roll a bit with his relatives down a generation from his. As was said about your father, Hearne, could also be said about Crosby Kemper.

          “Shit didn’t happen to Crosby Kemper. Crosby Kemper made shit happen.”

          • chuck says:

            Hey Stomper, a little off message, but I am perusing the Huff Post as promised.

            Apparently, they are photoshopping pictures of Hollywood Movie Stars. Some articles on the Kardashians, articles by Russel Simmons, Al Sharpton (He says “The days of wishful thinking and flowery rhetoric are gone.” No doubt Mr. Obama would agree.), Robert Kutner blames Republicans for teh failure of Obama Care, a black guy, Matt Walsh, says we don’t tip enough (Don’t lie, you went there.), James Hoffa (An excellent article.), and of course, my favorite, at the top of the page (almost), Barbara Streisand promoting Obama Care for the betterment of women’s health.

            Here is the first sentence.

            “My interest in health care policy was spurred by researching women’s health care issues and discovering more women than men die from heart disease. Heart research, however, was primarily conducted on men. I approached Cedars-Sinai Hospital and helped establish the Women’s Heart Center there. Under the guidance of Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, the staff is conducting groundbreaking research. ”

            One small problem, that hospital wants NOTHING to do with Obama Care.

            They won’t accept the lower payments.

            Still, it was a fun read.


          • Stomper says:

            Thanks Chuck, I appreciate the update and the fact that you are continuing to subject yourself to the pain of sources a bit to the left of your normal reading material. Yep, like MSN, CNN, and others, lots of fluff and material that I consider a waste of time and space but some may find it of interest. Actually, Huff Post Hill and Huff Post Politics focuses on politics completely as opposed to The Huffington Post itself.

            To get back to your point, don’t know if you read the 3 part story the Star ran last week about how hospital chains are buying up smaller hospitals as well as private practices. This has been occuring for the past few years and has been escalating recently. Pointed out that services previously done and billed by their personal doctor at his office are now being billed by the hospital at a noticeably higher cost. As I have mentioned 2-3 times at KCC on other posts, the cost of health-care in the US is twice what other developed nations pay as a % of GDP and based on the size of our GDP (about $16 trillion) that overcharging is in excess of $1 trillion. That money is going to drug companies, insurance companies, and …..wait for it…….yep, you guessed it, HOSPITALS !!! Hospitals are not happy about having to negotiate lower charges with Medicare, BCBS, and others. They can sit across the table from smaller ins. co.s, smaller networks, and individuals and bully their way to higher reimbursements but they know they can’t bully the feds when they bill the government. Hell no, they aren’t happy about Obamacare. Their gravy train is about to end. Hospitals banging heads with the feds. is quite a fight. Hospital lobby has tons of money but I’m betting on the feds in this fight.

            Anyway, don’t want to steal HC’s spotlight on Kemper. I’m sure we’ll continue this discussion elsewhere.

            Thanks again, Chuck !! 🙂

        • Stomper says:

          btw, HC, my point on asking the big guy about his name was in response to dude’s wording. ” Own your name or change it. Don’t be a pussy.” Calling R. Crosby Kemper a ” pussy” to his face would not be a wise career choice.

          Just sayin’

  3. Lee says:

    Never met the guy but just a thought. Without his saving the Symphony, it is doubtful that Julia Kaufman would have bankrolled the Performing Arts Center just for a few ballet and opera performances. Probably would have just renovated the Lyric Theater in some way.

  4. balbonis moleskine says:

    Man all those Kemper kids were fucked up and full of ‘gentleman’s C’s” back at pem-hill in the 90s

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