Dwayne Peaslee, a longtime local union leader and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board member, has been a fixture in the local business community for many years— and his name is about to become a permanent fixture on a new adult technical education and training center.
Chamber officials announced this week that the new education center they plan to build at 31st and Haskell will be named in Peaslee's honor.
“I've felt for a long time that this is the kind of training that the community needed for jobs,” Peaslee said.
Greg Williams, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber, said plans for the adult training center are still fluid. But he said the Chamber, along with a consortium of area financial institutions, community colleges and technical schools, and possibly the Lawrence school district, are committed to making it happen.
He said it would be fitting to name the school after Peaslee.
“Dwayne is a gentleman who has, over his lifetime, had a tremendous impact on business, on Lawrence's economy, on individuals,” said Greg Williams, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber. “You talk to anybody who knows Dwayne and has worked with Dwayne over the years, the guy walks on the Kansas River.”
Filling a longstanding need
Although detailed plans for the new education center still are fluid, Williams said the goal is to focus on customized, heavy-industrial training that will fit the needs of both new and existing local businesses, as well as local employees. “They're frankly not being met in this community,” Williams said.
Peaslee himself said he has always thought it strange that Lawrence — a community known for its higher education institutions — has never had a mid-level institution where young adults can go for industrial or career training.
“It has always struck me as strange, but at the same time, maybe we never had the right people pushing for it,” Peaslee said.
Williams said local business leaders long have recognized the need for such a training center in Lawrence. But momentum for it really began to build after the Lawrence school district passed a $92.5 million bond issue in April that included money to build a career and technical education center for high school students.
While the school district originally planned to remodel space in a facility it already owns, known as the Holcom Center, talks between the Chamber and the school district now are focusing on putting both facilities together at an existing industrial site currently owned by Hiper Industries at 31st and Haskell.
“The school district obviously would be doing vocational training for high school kids, which is a very, very important component in any community,” Williams said. “And that project, the two would complement one another.”
Larry McElwain, a Chamber board member and funeral director at Warren-McElwain Mortuary, said it is fitting that such a training center be named after Peaslee, a labor leader who has spent most of his adult life working closely with business owners on economic development projects to bring new jobs and industries to Lawrence.
“He has been a leader in uniting the business community and union members to support job creation,” McElwain said. “I think that's extraordinary. I don't think that occurs everywhere, where unions and the Chamber are working hand in hand.”
McElwain noted that Peaslee is the only business manager of a local union ever to hold a seat on the Lawrence Chamber's board of directors.
Peaslee, who is battling cancer, also has been active in local politics, McElwain said, by recruiting and encouraging candidates for city, county, school district and legislative offices who were “pro-job growth and (who) supported needed infrastructure.
Peaslee served several years under governors from both parties on the Kansas Apprenticeship Council, the state Building Advisory Commission, the Kansas Workforce Investment Board, the Governor's 21st Century Task Force and the Governor's Commission on Health and Safety. He also served on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
In 2011, he was inducted into the United States Apprenticeship Association Hall of Fame. The following year, he was named the Lawrence Chamber's Citizen of the Year.