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Committee advances plan for McKown statue
Project will now be reviewed by city personnel before any action
new slt mlee McKown
Bill McKown

 He may have been confined to a wheelchair most of his life, but that didn’t keep Bill McKown from standing tall in his native Great Bend, local attorney Bob Felt told the City Council Monday night.

Because of this, Felt and several local residents presented a petition pushing for the erecting a life-sized bronze statue of McKown, in his wheelchair, in Jack Kilby Square. “We firmly believe that a memorial to Bill will be an inspiration to the people of our community for many years to come,” Felt said

However, before this can happen, some groundwork must be laid first. To that end, the council Monday approved a motion allowing the supporters to submit an application, design and location justification for the project in writing.

Next, the city staff would consider the plans and it would be studied by the Public Works Committee. The committee would make its recommendation to the council for final action.

“Bill was an extraordinary person and his life is worthy of celebration,” Feldt said. “But he retained his giving heart and brilliant mind, spending his life using both to help others and improve our community.

“Some may ask: ‘Why Bill and not others?’ We understand the question,” he said. “Many people have faced adversity and led productive and rewarding lives. But Bill was exceptional in that he lived his life in the service of others. During his 38 years in a wheelchair, he called upon his remarkable resolve to help numerous individuals and charitable entities.”

The group intends to hire Great Bend artist Chet Cale as designer and sculptor. The cost for the statue, concrete base and pavement will be approximately $200,000.

However, Feldt said the were not asking for city money. The Bill McKown Memorial Committee is seeking private contributions.

The memorial will comply with city policy guidelines regarding monument placement. However, supporters requested an exception to guidelines since the statue will exceed four feet in height. Furthermore, the memorial will fit into the aesthetic appearance and theme of Jack Kilby Square. 

The initial plans include the statue placed facing Main Street, benches and six-and-a-half-foot arch-shaped wall behind the work, Cale, adding said the idea is to make it interactive. “We want to invite people sit with him.”

This is important, Cale said. “He changed our community.”

“This is groundbreaking,” Feldt said. This would likely be the first statue of a quadriplegic and should gain national recognition.

However, Councilwoman Allene Owen said she’s heard residents say while they like the idea, they are not fond of the Kilby Square location. Councilman Brock McPherson has heard similar comments.

“Bill’s contributions spanned our local community and the nation,” Feldt said.

McKown served as Troop 155 scout master in Great Bend, helped in improving the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and was the Kansas delegate to the President’s Commission for the Handicapped. He was a member of Great Bend Kiwanis Club, Great Bend Jaycees, Barton County Arts Council, Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Chamber of Commerce, Cheyenne Bottoms, Relay for Life, Panther Booster Club, Cougar Booster Club and many others. 

He created endowments to benefit many of the organizations he was involved with, such as the Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Barton County Arts Council, Great Bend Kiwanis Club, Barton Community College Foundation, Camp Kanza and Camp Aldrich. “His commitment was unique and it continues to this day,” Feldt said. 

He was active in business and in the oil industry.

McKown died March 19, 2014, after living life as a quadriplegic. He suffered spine and neck injuries in a traffic accident on Aug. 11, 1975, near Fresno, Calif., at age 19.