About Skip Yowell
From a small-town in Kansas, Skip Yowell’s journey to Seattle led him to the top of the outdoor industry and around the world. Skip help build one of the most recognized brand names, JanSport, sponsoring climbing expeditions, supporting industry outdoor programs and recreating in places like Bhutan, Kenya, Mt. Everest and other far flung places.
As noted by Ed Viesturs, the first American to climb all 14 8,000 meter peaks, author of “No Shortcuts to the Top,” “(Skip) stayed true to himself, maintained friendships, traveled the world and most importantly, preserved his passion for his job. ... We can all learn something from Skip.”
Source: The official Skip Yowell website, www.skipyowell.com.
The globe-trotting founder of JanSport and Great Bend High School graduate Skip Murray Yowell, 69, died Wednesday. Services are pending with Schmitt Funeral home in WaKeeney.
Skip Yowell, a resident of St. Peter, Kan., was a 1964 GBHS grad. In 1967 he co-founded JanSport with his cousin, Murray Pletz, and Murray’s wife, Jan. He also had a passion for mountain climbing. He later wrote about his life and the company in the 2007 book, “The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains.”
“It’s very sad,” said Jan Peters, Great Bend Chamber of Commerce president and long-time friend of Yowell. “He was amazing. He changed the world.”
Peters said Yowell always maintained his connection to Great Bend, including speaking at a chamber annual banquet. “There is not a better spokesperson we could have for all that is good about Great Bend. “He was just a giant of a man.”
Yowell promoted the outdoors and outdoor activities, including area attractions. “He put Cheyenne Bottoms on the map.”
Yowell was involved with JanSport’s many product innovations, including the first dome tent, the waist suspension flexible frame pack, travel packs and panel-load packs.
He was in the inaugural class of the Great Bend High School Hall of Fame, in 2008. The GBHS Hall of Fame website notes the following accomplishments:
• 1971, with famed mountaineer Lou Whittaker, started the annual Mount Rainier Climb
• 1979, became a charter board member of The Outdoor Industry Association, an organization committed to getting youth active in human-powered sports.
• 1984 participated in the American China-Everest Expedition.
• 1994, received the Outdoor Industry Excellence Award.
In 2010, JanSport released a documentary film about his life called “The Skip Yowell Story.”
“Skip was truly one of a kind,” said Barton County Commissioner Jennifer Schartz. “Even though he successfully climbed the corporate ladder, he remained a hippie at heart in the best sense of the word. He was kind, unassuming and never, ever forgot where he came from.”
Schartz commented on Yowell’s continued involvement in this community.
“He delighted students at Park Elementary School where he attended as a kid and was thrilled by what has been done at Cheyenne Bottoms with the Kansas Wetlands Center,” she said. “Although he had received many awards during his life, being named to the Great Bend High School Hall of Fame for career achievement seemed to hold special meaning. He was always willing to give himself in whatever capacity was needed.
“The last time I saw him was still fighting a good fight against lung cancer. Unfortunately, that mountain proved to be too much. I’m sure he appreciates the change of perspective now that he’s on the other side.”
In 2013 he accepted a position on the board of directors of the Ellinwood-based nonprofit organization Star of Hope.
Additional reporting by Susan Thacker.