Agent of Change

Kay Barnes to join Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

Many people have had a positive impact on Kansas City, but few have changed the city’s landscape so dramatically and in such a short time as Kay Barnes.

In recognition of her lifetime achievements and contributions, Barnes is one of seven exceptional women from the Metropolitan Kansas City area included in the inaugural class of honorees to be recognized in the new Starr Women’s Hall of Fame. Stories of other inductees can be found online.

Barnes has always been a person of impact. From her earliest days as a classroom teacher and later at Cross-lines Community Outreach, she was drawn to public service. But she knew deep down that she could be more effective in a position where she could transform ideas into action.

From the seventies through the nineties, Barnes added to her résumé with advanced degrees, volunteering and civic roles. She served as a management consultant and was elected to the City Council and the Jackson County Legislature. After election to her first term as Kansas City Mayor in 1999 – the first woman to hold that position – she began in earnest to revitalize the city.

Instead of modest changes, Barnes convinced the City Council and other administrators to go big. After all, you really only get one chance every few decades to fundamentally change the course of a city’s future.

Before long, the face of the long-sedentary Downtown began to change. Barnes and other leaders won voter approval for funds for capital improvements and better city services. Public and private partnerships in the billions with the Cordish Company, H & R Block, Sprint, AEG and others resulted in the Sprint Center, the Power and Light District and Block’s new corporate headquarters being built.

Following behind this development were businesses that converted empty buildings into luxury lofts, put in full-line grocery stores, and opened movie theatres and restaurants. Growth spread in all directions – the Crossroads and Midtown got a share of new investment and an influx of customers.

Named an All-American City and one of America’s most livable communities, Kansas City became a rising star.

Throughout her life, as a teacher, board member or political figure, Barnes encountered women with great potential who sometimes held back, almost waiting for permission to take action. She believed in thinking creatively and acting assertively, behaviors she followed faithfully and inspired in others.

“I don’t think enough women realize that they are an important part of the fabric of our community,” she said. “They have a contribution to make both in their work and volunteer activities. I encourage any woman who believes in community service to consider pursuing an elected office. It is an ideal setting to be able to impact a variety of issues and make a contribution.” Heeding her own good advice, she appointed qualified women to the Kansas City Port Authority, the Parks and Recreation Board, and other major posts within her administration.

Her second term as mayor came to an end in 2007 – term limits prevented her from running again. Barnes returned to teaching, as Distinguished Professor for Public Leadership and Founding Director of the Center for Leadership at Park University.

In or out of public life, Barnes has left an indelible mark on Kansas City. It is not just the skyline that changed, but the hearts and minds of the women she spurred on to reach their potential. Kansas City is now, and will forever be, Kay Barnes’ town.

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