When Bob Feldt started to realize just how much he missed his old friend, Bill McKown, he wondered if others might be feeling the same way. He discovered they were.
As a result, the recently formed Bill McKown Memorial Committee is launching a fundraising campaign to build a monument to one of the best friends Great Bend has ever had, Feldt said.
McKown passed away March 19, 2014, after living a more-than-full life as a quadriplegic. He suffered spine and neck injuries in a traffic accident on Aug. 11, 1975, near Fresno, Ca. He was only 19.
“Bill represented all the good in the human spirit,” Feldt said. “We often celebrate this spirit in real life and even in the movies. We rise up and cheer for those who overcome adversity. It is time to rise up for Bill and remember his countless contributions to his community.”
The first step is seeking approval from the Great Bend City Council to erect a life-size likeness of McKown in his wheelchair. The committee’s first choice is the southwest side of Jack Kilby Square.
“It really needs to be on city property in this community that Bill devoted his life to,” Feldt commented. “Other possibilities are the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo or Veterans Park. But we really hope the memorial can be downtown where more people might be able to enjoy it.”
While McKown’s accomplishments are many, Feldt offered just a brief outline. He was Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 155; held many positions at the prestigious National Boy Scout Philmont Ranch in New Mexico; and received numerous scouting awards.
McKown served as the Kansas delegate to the President’s Commission for the Handicapped. He also devoted his time and talents to the Kiwanis Club, Great Bend Jaycees, Barton County Arts Council, Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Cheyenne Bottoms, Relay for Life, Panther Booster Club and Cougar Booster Club.
“Bill was an incredible human being,” Feldt said. “His spirit was unconquerable. We all make excuses for not achieving our potential and for not overcoming the bad cards we may have been dealt.
“Bill wouldn’t allow the bad hand he was dealt to defeat him. And his was about as bad as it could be. Yet somehow, through his faith, family and community, he rose above it. Any one of the things he did would be worthy of recognition. We can look upon him with awe.”
Feldt’s fellow committee members are Paul Snapp, Don Halbower, the Rev. Bill Johnson, Leroy Weathers, Todd Armatys, Carl Anderson and David McKown, Bill’s brother.
Each member knew McKown in a special way, Feldt said, noting he met his friend through scouting and a shared passion for the arts.
“Bill was always interested in everyone and everything,” Feldt commented. “He didn’t want to be held back. He didn’t think about his limitations, which made others comfortable to be around him.
“We became close friends,” Feldt continued. “I took him on outings in his specialized van. I went to his house and he came to mine. I will forever miss those visits.”
The committee is seeking private donations for the monument, and will determine if there are possibilities for public money and grants.
Donations may be sent to: Bill McKown Memorial Fund, Great Bend Foundation, P.O. Box 365, Great Bend, Ks. 67530.