WICHITA, Kan. (WBJ) — Wichita oilman and real estate magnate Don Slawson, 80, who revolutionized the way the city was developed for decades, died Monday morning for complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Services have yet to be finalized.
From commercial real estate to oil and gas exploration Slawson was a familiar face in Wichita business.
Among his company’s most notable local developments are NewMarket Square, Shops at Tallgrass and Tallgrass Center.
Slawson founded Slawson Cos. as an independent oil and gas company in 1957 and was at one time the most active driller in the state of Kansas.
According to a statement from the company, it now employs 950 in five states.
But Slawson made an impact far beyond the business world.
“Don cared deeply about his community and worked hard to make Wichita a better place to live,” the company’s statement read.
That was made apparent by his many philanthropic contributions in the community.
But it wasn’t necessarily about what Slawson meant to Wichita.
“I would flip that around and ask what did Wichita mean to Don Slawson,” his son, Steve Slawson, told me Monday. “He loved this town. I don’t think you can separate the man and the town.”
In 2008, the Slawson family donated $2 million toward the construction of a new tiger exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo. The exhibit was named the Slawson Tiger Trek in honor of that donation.
He served for 20 years as a member of the Kansas Health Foundation’s Investment Committee, was the founding chairman of the Wichita/Sedgwick County Partnership for Growth and founding chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Committee.
He also served on the Wichita Airport Advisory Board and the board of directors of Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission among numerous other organizations.
A graduate of East High School and the University of Kansas, Slawson remained involved with higher education throughout his life.
He served eight years on the Kansas Board of Regents, spending 1987 to 1993 as its chairman. During that time he helped spearhead the Margin of Excellence Program which prompted then Gov. Mike Hayden and the Kansas Legislature to increase funding for higher education at a time when cutbacks were the norm.
Slawson was also a past president of KU’s Alumni Association and its athletic board.
He was also a WBJ Newsmaker in 2008.
But none of what he did was ever for headlines, Steve Slawson said. What he loved were the results.
“He wanted to remain somewhat behind the scenes,” Slawson said. “He was a tangible guy. He loved to go out and see (a development or a new oil well). He loved being able to see it. For him that was enough.”
And though he may have tried to stay behind the scenes, it’s clear Slawson was an influential business leader in the community.
He was admired, respected and revered, say those who know him.
Nestor Weigand, CEO of J.P. Weigand & Sons Inc., says Slawson was straightforward and a man of his word.
“He was just a quality guy,” Weigand says. “He left an indelible mark on the community.”
Slawson is survived by his wife of 59 years, Judy; sons, Steve, Craig and Todd and five grandchildren.
The family asks that memorials, in lieu of flowers, be donated to either the Sedgwick County Zoo or the Alzheimers Research Foundation.
Josh Heck contributed to this story.