Lives well lived

Written by Sara Garrison

Steve Hatchett

Kind, gentle and generous are just a few words used to describe local businessman, Steve Hatchett, who passed away on October 1 at age 70.

Steve was born in Lamar, Colo. on April 7, 1948. He then moved with his family to Wichita at age 15 after his father passed away.

“When our family moved to Wichita, Steve and my mother found jobs and they pooled their paychecks to meet expenses,” explains Judy Edlund, Steve’s sister. “At that time Steve also found a golf course. He joined the Southeast High School golf team and the rest is history — golf history.”

After high school, Steve received a scholarship to play golf for Wichita State University. After graduation, Steve was hired as golf pro at Crestview Country Club where he was later promoted to club manager. At Crestview, Steve met Dick and Vic Scholfield who hired him to be the sales manager at Scholfield Pontiac.

Steve later became managing partner of Scholfield Auto Group, leading the company to become one of the most successful dealerships in the Midwest before his retirement in September 2016.

“My dad was a great role model,” explains Scott Hatchett, Steve’s son. “He believed in working hard for your successes, staying humble and always being kind to others. He didn’t know a stranger.”

Family was an integral part of Steve’s life. He and his wife of 32 years, Janet, had four children Scott, Clint, Matthew and Stacey along with seven grandchildren. Steve was affectionately known as “Bapa” to his family — a nickname that began after his beloved grandchildren were born.

“Dad was the center of the family. He was always the source of smiles and hugs,” explains Stacey Benjamin, Steve’s daughter. “He was also a great resource for advice. He helped you work through a problem without telling you what to do.”

Sydney Benjamin, Steve’s granddaughter said after her grandfather’s passing, “You were the person I always looked up to for advice. To a granddaughter, you were simply a hero.”

In addition to his love of golf, Steve was a true patriot who loved his country.

“Dad had a deep love for America,” says Stacey. “He loved studying U.S. history, the Civil war and World War II. He had the utmost respect for the veterans and had American flags on everything, including flags over his TV, on his staircase and on his front door. Dad also always wore clothes with the American flag on them.”

Steve’s passion for helping others was evident through his involvement with the Wichita Children’s Home and First Tee.

“My father came from very little and he always believed in giving back,” says Scott.

“Steve was an amazing person who you could always depend on,” says Jenny Hatchett, Steve’s daughter-in-law. “We miss him so much.”

Keith Lesher

Humble veteran, father and businessman, Keith Lesher, passed away on Jan. 5, 2018 at age 88.

Keith was born Jan. 2, 1930 in Hays, Kan. He graduated from Wichita State University with a degree in Business Administration. He later received his Masters in banking and finance from the University of Wisconsin. After college, Keith joined the Air Force, where he served as an intelligence officer.

“During the Korean War in 1953, Keith participated in Operation Big Switch where the military switched Korean and American prisoners of war,” explains Brenda Lesher, Keith’s wife. “He then had the job of interrogating American prisoners after they were rescued to see if there were any more prisoners still in Korea.”

After the war, Keith returned to Wichita. He started working as a banker and later became president of East Side National Bank. During this time he met longtime friend, Bob Dool, who was president of Central Bank and Trust at the time.

“Keith was truly selfless. He thought more about others than himself and he helped so many people overcome hardships in their lives and get back on their feet,” says Dool. “He was a great listener, and all of his qualities that made him an outstanding man and such a dear friend.”

In Jan. 1977, Keith met his wife of 40 years, Brenda. The couple was married on New Year’s Eve that same year. “I believe God put me in Keith’s path and I am so thankful and blessed that he did,” explains Brenda.

When they were married, Brenda and Keith each had two children. Keith had Stephanie and David. Brenda had teenage daughters, Kim and Mindy.

Keith was a successful entrepreneur. In mid 1977, he moved his family to Kearney, Neb. where he owned and operated a chain of seven Valentino’s Italian restaurants in Nebraska and Colorado. “In 1987, Keith received the Employer of the Year award from the Nebraska Governor for his work employing individuals with disabilities,” says Brenda.

In 1991, Keith and Brenda returned to Wichita. Keith became a financial planner, founding Lesher Investments, LLC, where he worked until his retirement in 2002.

At this time Keith joined the Friends of McConnell, and in 2004 he was awarded the Golden Eagle Award for his involvement and civic duties with McConnell Air Force Base.

“Golden Eagle status is bestowed on a select few who truly give from their hearts. Keith was one of those select few,” says Cathy McClain, retired Commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base. “He made the airmen at McConnell AFB his priority — supporting them with his friendship and encouragement.”

Keith understood that he could play a role in making airmen and their families feel as though our community was their home, even though their assignments here may last for only a few short years. Keith and his wife, Brenda, were ever present at so many Air Force events. During these, one could see the breadth of the one-on-one friendships he had cultivated. Keith's smile and the twinkle in his eyes reflected what was in his heart.

Keith’s kind nature and willingness to help others was a major part of his life.

“Dad was always willing to help someone reach their dreams and their goals,” explains Kim Denny, Keith’s daughter. “At one point he took a homeless guy under his wing and helped get him sober and back on his feet. This was a real success story as the man was homeless for 25 years.”

“Keith died rich in friendships, morals, memories and values,” says Brenda. “He died rich with love. Love from family, friends and God.”

“He wasn’t just our stepfather, he was our dad,” Mindy Tullis explains, “He was such a good person who was gone too early. He would always try to do what is right and admirable. When you talked to him, you felt like you were the most important person in the world.”

Mervyn Criser

A proud Wichitan and family man, known for his strong work ethic, fun-loving humor and generosity, Mervyn Criser passed away Dec. 24, 2017 at age 83. He was raised in west Wichita and, following graduation from North High in 1953, became a proud member of the U.S. Army serving two years in Germany.

After returning home in 1955, he married his wife of 62 years, Marcia. The couple met as teenagers while dragging Douglas one evening. “It was love at first sight,” says Marcia Criser. Mervyn and Marcia went on to have two children, Kent and Kay. They were also blessed with daughter-in-law Linda, granddaughter Kasey and grandson Kenton.

Mervyn joined the Wichita Fire Department in 1956, serving 20 years. He loved the history of the department and became a founding member of The Kansas Firefighters Museum and Archives of the Wichita Fire Department.

“Merv loved Wichita and all it stands for — a solid, down-to-earth community with longtime friends,” says Marcia.

Mervyn Criser was a generous person with a fun-loving outlook on life. “Merv believed that hardships make a person stronger and he was known for making a to-do list every day, never wasting time,” says Marcia. “Merv was so ornery and was so much fun. He always made me laugh. His days were never wasted. He lived an incredible life.”

Leslie Rudd

Successful entrepreneur and Wichita native Leslie Rudd passed away on May 3. Rudd owned or invested in multiple businesses locally and nationally including Standard Beverage, Dean & Deluca, Godfather's Pizza, Lone Star Steakhouse, as well as the Rudd Oakville Estate winery, and Press Restaurant located in Napa Valley, Calif.

“Leslie was an entrepreneur who was involved in so many successful companies,” explains Gary Oborny, CEO, Chairman of Occidental Management Inc. “Leslie touched so many businesses, including Standard Beverage in Wichita, and he was seen as one of the main innovators in Napa with his wineries and Press restaurant.”

Oborny describes Rudd as a very humble, curious and thought-provoking individual who wanted to learn and explore new things. “Although Leslie spent a lot of time in Napa with his operations there, he always had a place in his heart for Wichita,” Oborny says.

Rudd was a philanthropist, positively impacting the lives of others personally, through his companies and the Rudd Foundation he formed in 1988.

In Wichita, Rudd was involved in supporting the e2e Accelerator — Wichita’s business accelerator focused on helping and mentoring entrepreneurs in Wichita and the Midwest. He also sponsored many local events and activities that impacted the Wichita community including the Midwest Wine Fest, a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Health Foundation.

“Leslie always stepped up to support endeavors to help Wichita, and he affected our community for the better,” explains Oborny. “He believed that entrepreneurship was the lifeblood of America. Through entrepreneurship, people can start a business and grow that business to make a great life for themselves.”

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