Alan Hoskins, Supervisor of Public Information
Monday, October 15, 2012
Teacher, banker. community leader, philanthropist to be inducted November 3
There are few bigger supporters of Kansas State University than George Breidenthal.
The boat house used by the K-State rowing team bears his name and he regularly travels with the women’s basketball team.
But his first experience with K-State was not what might be considered ideal. “I was a member of the rowing team and between athletics and other things, I did not do a lot academically,” admits Breidenthal.
“After one year, I came back home and went to Donnelly College and the nuns there got me on the right path. Although I’m not Catholic, all my courses were taught by priests and nuns and in those days nuns were scary. I had a lot to learn and they gave me the opportunity and got me on the right path.”
A path that would lead to Breidenthal’s induction into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame at Kansas City Kansas Community College Saturday, Nov. 3. A fund-raiser for the KCKCC Endowment Association, the dinner and induction ceremonies are open to the public and reservations may be made at 913-288-7166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
After earning an AA from Donnelly, Breidenthal continued his education at what was then Kansas State Teachers College at Emporia where he majored in history and earned a teaching degree in secondary education. “I learned a lot about teaching. I did my student teaching in a trailer at Emporia High School and probably learned as much from the students as they learned from me.”
Graduating in 1972, Breidenthal stuck around two more years, taking classes in sociology and getting an insight into the business world by working a job that included shifts at a Quick Mart convenience store, dance club and a Ramada Inn.
“I came back to KCK in 1974. There were no full-time teaching jobs in my area so I subbed in the district for two years, teaching in every high school, every middle school and one elementary school in the district. It was really a good teaching education and they even paid me which made it even better.”
Offered a full-time teaching position at old Sumner High School, Breidenthal reluctantly turned it down. “They wanted me to teach three classes and coach three sports, one of which was wrestling which I knew nothing about. I said I’d teach the classes but as a first-year teacher, I thought I needed to devote my time to teaching and the coaching would be too much.”
Instead, he joined six generations of family banking, a management training program with Security Bank at 7th and Minnesota. Working summers at Victory State Bank while going to Washington High School, Breidenthal would spend a year working in every department of the bank – credit, loans, customer service. “We even went to western Kansas to look at cows for agricultural loans,” he says. “It was probably as good an education in business as you could get. I asked our loan officer how he knew which cows we were making the loan and he said, ‘You have to trust the farmer,’ which was good advice.
“If you have a good relationship with people, you can get a lot accomplished. It’s all up to trust and faith, you have to be up front and honest. That’s what kids want from teachers. I probably learned more about teaching from business than anything. Once a teacher, always a teacher.”
After a year in training, Breidenthal moved steadily upward, working in marketing and customer service, running a branch bank and serving as vice-president until Security was sold in the early ‘80’s.”
“Then my cousin, Jay Breidenthal, Joe Jenkins and Pete Smith and I decided to take out a loan and buy Kaw Valley bank at 7th and Central and Turner Bank at 55th and Kansas Avenue. At that time, I became president of Turner Bank and then we merged the two banks and I was chairman of the board at Kaw Valley.
“It was an exciting time. We had a staff of less than 50 and we went to them and told them what we needed to make to pay off the debt and anything above that we’d split with the staff. So it gave them reason to go out and get new customers. Also, we were able to keep continuity of the staff because people like to see the same people. We could have lost everything but we were able to pay off the loan in advance and then sold the banks in the early ‘90’s.”
Breidenthal will tell you he hasn’t done anything since – nothing that is except throw himself into educational and community organizations and activities. He’s served on the USD 500 School Board since 1983, been a member of the Donnelly Board of Trustees since 1991 and the Foundation Board at Emporia State for years and continues to be appointed to the KCK Landmarks Commission every year. “I was the first Methodist to be president of the Donnelly board. When my term was up, I thought I was done but they said I knew all the history and they wanted to keep me one more year. That was 10 years ago.”
When he’s not going to board meetings or taking part in some community activity, he’s probably at a sporting event. In fact, for a couple of years he owned a women’s professional basketball team that brought such WNBA stars as Nancy Liebermann and Anna DeForge to KCK. “I was father-figure to 13 women and found that some athletes are pretty high maintenance, others low maintenance.”
One of the first to buy T-Bones baseball season tickets, he’s a season ticket holder for women’s basketball at K-State and regularly travels with the team including NCAA tournament play and one trip to the Czech Republic. “I’ve really gotten to enjoy the sport; it’s a whole different game. The women play below the rim.”
He just recently returned from London from where he saw the Summer Olympics for the 10th time – a span of 36 years – plus one Winter Olympics. “This year was good because an athlete from K-State finished second in the high jump. I’ve seen the best, Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene, but Usain Bolt is the best I’ve ever seen.”
A world traveler, he’s visited 65 countries and will be adding Israel and Jordan. “I try to see one country for every year of my life,” says Breidenthal, 64. He’s also the father of two children, McKenzie, who will be graduating from KU in December; and Benjamin, a student at KCKCC.
What Breidenthal does not talk a lot about is his philanthropy made possible by a family foundation established more than 50 years ago. “Education is the most important thing we can give and if you have the opportunity to give, you should do it,” he says. “My grandfather set up the foundation before 1960 and we try to promote educational and community activities.
“When I first earned a salary and started paying taxes, my dad (Gray) told me the only tax he didn’t mind paying was a school tax because someone before him had paid school taxes that made it possible for him to get an education. “One of the functions of our boards is to try to raise money for scholarships. We keep seeing more and more needs to help. At Emporia, if students keep their grades up, they keep their scholarships which keeps the pressure on us to raise money.”
Born in old Bethany Hospital, Breidenthal attended McKinley and Mark Twain elementary, was a year behind Wyandotte basketball legend Lucius Allen at Northwest Junior High and then graduated from Washington where he played football. “Every Friday night, we were at Wyandotte watching basketball. I don’t think I ever saw them lose,” he says. “People ask why I stay here but it’s my home, my community. I’m not going anywhere. It’s where you know people and they know you.”
Longtime friend Pat Gaunce in nominating Breidenthal for the Hall of Fame says it best: “It is not unusual to see George walking the College campus or motoring along local streets on his moped, ponytail flying in the breeze, heading off to one of his numerous volunteer commitments. While probably not the public image expected from a professional who is a dedicated, passionate educator, astute and successful businessman and committed philanthropist who has remained a resident in his home community of Wyandotte County, he continues to pursue a goal of seeing every child is given access to a quality education and a chance pursue education on a higher level.”