Lives well lived

Celebrating the lives and honoring the legacy of beloved community members

Written by Julie Schillings

The legacies of Freddy Simon, Sally Attwater and Pastor Mike O’Donnell will live on in the memories and hearts of all who have been touched by their leadership, heroism, faith and selflessness. They had lives well-lived.

Freddy Simon

The Wichita community lost a hero and an icon with the peaceful passing of Frederick “Freddy” Simon, co-founder and namesake of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. Freddy was 95 years old.

Freddy’s son, Randy Simon, said, “He lived such a great life,” a World War II veteran, a respected member of the business community and friend to all who crossed his path, “I don’t think he’s ever had an enemy since the war was over.”

The youngest of nine children, Freddy grew up in a small German Catholic farm community near Colwich, Kansas. Strength of character, work ethic and faith were instilled in Freddy as a young boy living in the rural Midwest during the Great Depression and the Kansas dust bowl. These qualities served him throughout his lifetime, as a proud member of the Army’s 1st Calvary Division, and as a businessman and devoted husband and father.

Joining the Army six days after graduating high school, Freddy earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during World War II as well as a Bronze Star for valor. After being honorably discharged from duty, he entered college at Wichita University. He was married to Norma Jean in 1947, and together they had six children. After 71 years of marriage, his life-long partner, Norma Jean, passed in 2018.

An avid hunter and sportsman, Freddy’s greatest joy was his family. Randy recounted his father’s gentle way of teaching life’s lessons by setting an example and sharing opportunities. “We were ‘invited’ to pitch in at the family farm or work in the warehouse,” Randy explained, “it was never a requirement. It was an opportunity.” Lessons in hard work, honest work and enterprise were foundations of the Simon family.

Freddy spent 55 years with a wine and liquor wholesale company, rising to the position of president before retiring at the age of 80. He was a legend in his industry, and his reputation for always doing what he said he would do with the highest character and greatest class served him very well in a highly competitive field. In 2002, Freddy joined with two of his sons, Bill and Randy, and partner Scott Redler, to create Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, the company that bears his name.

The Freddy’s restaurant concept not only shares his name, but also incorporates his family values and patriotic service to his country as key ingredients in the company’s culture. Freddy Simon’s philosophies are valuable life lessons:

• Love, obey and thank your parents and teachers.

• Smile, even though times get tough occasionally. It is a proven fact that smiling adds at least seven years to your life.

• Work hard and study hard.

• From the beginning, demonstrate solid work ethics in your profession.

• Always tell the truth.

• Be prompt; people do not like to wait.

• Always be patriotic, and do all you can to keep our country free. You live in the greatest country in the world.

• Vote at every election — after you have checked out the candidates and issues.

• Return all telephone calls, especially the negative ones — you can turn them into positives. It has worked for me many times.

• Take a few classes in public speaking — regardless of your profession, you are always trying to sell something.

• Exercise and keep in shape so you can enjoy Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers at least twice a week!

Freddy Simon will always be remembered for his engaging smile and his "Freddy hugs.” He was kind to everyone he met and always took the time to share stories. He was a proud veteran and made nearly 100 presentations to schools, nursing homes and other organizations.

“He was the most humble celebrity that I have ever run into,” Randy said, unlike many of those who are looked upon as celebrities in today's culture. These qualities further endeared him as a man who enjoyed life, was well-loved and will be dearly missed.

Sally Attwater

A beloved member of the Wichita community, Sally Attwater was a woman who lived her life by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Born in Peabody, Kansas, Sally attended Kansas State University where she studied to be a dietician. In 1958 she was married to Paul Attwater and later earned her master's degree in education at Wichita State University. She was a professor of nutrition at the St. Mary School of the Plains nursing school and later worked with the Wichita Dialysis Center. Helping patients and guiding students was a passion as well as profession.

Love thy neighbor. “Mom was authentic,” shared daughter Susan Taylor, “she made everyone feel important and always had a positive outlook.” Sally loved people and was always interested in others. She whole-heartedly welcomed visitors and loved to entertain family and friends. Sally cultivated life-long friendships. But her greatest gift was her ability to make everyone feel special.

The gift of positivity. “Through her strong faith and strong will, Mom taught me more than anybody how to deal with adversity,” Susan said. Battling lung disease known as COPD for several years, Sally’s lungs had to work harder for each breath. She embraced career changes with grace and excitement as she seized new opportunities. The tragic loss of Sally and Paul's eldest daughter during her teens would break many families, yet Sally’s strength of faith and consummate love taught her family to never take anything, or anyone, for granted.

The great encourager and advocate. “Mom didn’t live in her past, she lived in her future,” said son, Paul Attwater, “She knew you couldn’t rest on your accomplishments; what you were going to do was much more important than what you had done. Mom called her own shots. She did not second guess herself, once she made a decision — she was all in and she owned that decision. All of which contributed to her decisions during her last weeks of life.”

As her path to heaven became inevitable, Sally unselfishly began preparing her own way. She called her own shots, and uncertainty and fear were replaced by joy, comfort and even happiness. Sally was at peace and ready to join her daughter Sarah in heaven.

Paul concluded, “Mom taught us how to live a life. She has taught us how to leave a life with grace and dignity in comfort and peace.”

The Impossible Hug

I want to share a story and special moment that I hope will provide for families seeking comfort and connection during this time of Covid. We had one last opportunity to visit my mother at Wesley hospital. We were restricted to two people at a time and could only view Mom through glass and speak via phone. Our time together was precious, but separated from the ability to touch or hold Mom’s hand. My sister Susan Attwater Taylor is a person who is filled with love and desperately needed one more impossible hug. She came up with her plan of genius. She showed up at the hospital with a pair of stuffed bears. We could all take the bears and give them a hug and hold them in our arms. We were able to pass the bears to Mom for her to hold in her arms, to give her the impossible hug. She would not be alone as she transitioned in care and left our world. Now, Susan and I will each get our bear back with our mother’s impossible hug to comfort us when we miss her or need her close. We are huggers. I know that other families might need a Sally Bear in order to give and receive an impossible hug. So if you are separated from those you love due to Covid or any reason, consider sharing a bear. — Paul Attwater

Pastor Mike O’Donnell

For those fortunate to have known Pastor Mike O’Donnell, they remember him as quick-witted, always seeking ways to restore broken families, and dedicated to his family and serving God.

Mike attended Grace Baptist Church with his grandma as a young boy, became the youth pastor at Grace Baptist in 1982, and faithfully served as senior pastor for the remainder of his life. In fact, it was at this local church where he met the love of his life, wife Peggy Walker. The couple married in 1977 and had three children, Stephanie, Michael and Tyler.

Committed to helping the under-served members of the community, Pastor Mike was involved in many ministries including: Awana, parenting classes, after-school programs, prison programs and many others. Most recently, he was helping restore families through a court-sanctioned parenting program.

“Mike was fiercely dedicated to reconnecting broken families,” said his wife Peggy O’Donnell. “He had a servant’s heart. He loved Jesus, he loved his family, and he loved to help others.”

Willing to minister to everyone, Mike helped countless people during his 40 years of ministry and fulfilled a unique calling to serve those who were struggling with incarceration, poverty, addiction and mental illness.

Affectionately known as Pastor Mike when calling into local sports talk radio programs, he was well known for his wit and acute insight. A life-long Kansas City Chiefs fan, Mike died of natural causes while in Miami where he had travelled with his family to watch his team play in the Super Bowl. The day preceding Mike’s passing, the family celebrated together, posing for a picture with the Lombardi Trophy. A treasured memory and the last photograph of Mike.

“The Lord was ready for him to come home,” explained Peggy, “I miss him every day, but through his life so many others have come to know the Lord. That is his legacy.”

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