After long wait, four leaders join Lawrence Business Hall of Fame
photo by: Junior Achievement of Kansas
I once thought I was being inducted into a hall of fame. Come to find out, it was just a closet with a door that locked behind you. A quartet of Lawrence business leaders have no such worry. They indeed are the newest inductees in the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame.
The Lawrence branch of the nonprofit Junior Achievement of Kansas oversees Lawrence’s Business Hall of Fame and hosts an annual gala to celebrate the newest members. That induction ceremony was on Thursday.
This class, however, could be excused for feeling like it is more of a Maze of Fame rather than a Hall of Fame. There has been no straight path for this year’s class. Due to the pandemic, the induction ceremony has been delayed multiple times. This class was announced all the way back in May of 2020. Given that, it seems like it is worth taking another look at the four inductees, including several members who are still very active in big business deals in Lawrence.
• Dana Anderson is a KU alumnus who has returned to Lawrence after having a successful career in the shopping mall development industry. He was a founder of Macerich, which now is a New York Stock Exchange-traded company that has nearly 50 shopping centers across the country. A fun fact: Its first one was the White Lakes Mall in Topeka.
Another fun fact: Anderson was in the housing business before he was in the shopping mall business. After serving in the Air Force in the 1950s, he joined a partner in developing homes near the then-Air Force base in Topeka. Soon after, the Air Force moved many of its operations out of Topeka, resulting in a glut of housing near the base, leading to near bankruptcy. OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as such a “fun” fact, but Anderson still credits it as a great learning experience that produced a “very painful lesson about undercapitalization and over-aggression.” From there he went on to shopping malls.
Today, he may be best known in Lawrence for his donations to KU, which include funding for more than 150 projects. The Anderson Family Strength and Conditioning Center and the Anderson Family Football Complex are a couple of the more visible ones that include his name.
But one of Anderson’s more recent investments in Lawrence has been outside of KU. He’s part of the group, led by fellow Hall of Fame inductee Doug Compton, that has purchased the business that runs the city-owned Lawrence Municipal Airport. That’s led to a new hangar development and other improvements at the airport. Given the people involved in the group — Anderson, Compton and LHS and KU billionaire alumnus David Booth — the airport is probably an area to keep an eye on.
• Compton is one of the more prominent developers in Lawrence. But his development businesses, which include First Management and First Construction, are now doing business across the country. As I reported a few months ago when I wrote about the company’s new headquarters building in North Lawrence, Compton said 95% of the company’s business is now being done outside of Douglas County. He’s building apartments and commercial developments in markets that are seeing greater growth than Lawrence currently. His companies currently have properties in about a dozen states.
But Compton continues to have projects in Lawrence. In addition to his ownership interest in the airport company, he continues to own a large number of properties in downtown Lawrence. His company also is the one building a new apartment complex on the site of Oldfather Studios on Ninth Street. Compton also is in the banking business, as the principal organizer of First Financial Bancshares. It operates Great American Bank in Lawrence, De Soto and Kansas City. But here’s a fun fact you maybe didn’t know: Compton is one of the larger farmers in Douglas County. His company actively farms about 1,700 acres in the area, and it owns other vacant parcels that may be prime for development in the future.
Here’s a more fun fact, though, about a business you may not know Compton is involved in: Cannabis. Compton said he and a few investors “have ventures as a landlord/developer for the cannabis industry in Pueblo, Colo.,” where marijuana is legal. If it ever becomes legal in Kansas, it will be interesting to watch whether one of Lawrence’s largest developers is primed to take advantage of that.
Compton is a KU alumnus, moving from his hometown of Wellington in the late 1970s to attend KU. He’s been active in the KU alumni scene, but since 2015 has been a board of trustees member for a different university — Texas Wesleyan University, a private school of about 2,600 students in Fort Worth.
• Roger Johnson has a saying that he often has used in Lawrence: “No matter where you go in Lawrence, RD Johnson Excavating was there before you.” That’s probably pretty accurate. For about three decades, Johnson’s excavating company was the largest in the city, doing a majority of all the infrastructure construction — think streets, sewer lines, water lines and other such projects — in new neighborhoods in Lawrence.
The company, though, started much smaller. Johnson, who is a Lawrence native, got his start in Topeka, where he attended Washburn University. While a college student, he bought rental property, and committed to do all the work needed on those rentals. That involved buying some excavating equipment. That’s how RD Johnson Excavating got its start with one backhoe and one employee. When Johnson sold the company in 2016, it had 120 employees.
Johnson has remained very active in the Lawrence business scene since that 2016 sale. It has given him more time to spend on his true passion, which he labels “real life Monopoly.” His new company Alcove Development owns property throughout the county and develops much of it piece by piece. Alcove converted the old Montana Mike’s steakhouse building into an eye doctor’s office, converted the old Eagles Lodge into a pediatric doctor’s office, has built a new single-family neighborhood near 23rd and O’Connell, and currently is building a unique home/office development at the corner of Franklin Road and 23rd Street in eastern Lawrence. As I’ve reported, the development will have units that consist of 1,000 square feet of shop or office space on the ground floor and 1,000 square feet of living space on the second floor. It is one of the more serious efforts yet to create a new type of work/live space in Lawrence.
Johnson also has become one of the larger developers in Eudora. He’s developed an assisted living facility there and currently is building new residential lots in the area just south of Kansas Highway 10 in Eudora.
• Cindy Yulich is a longtime bank executive in Lawrence. Since 1991 she’s been with Emprise Bank, coming to Lawrence to help the bank open its first location in the city. She currently serves as community bank president for Emprise’s Lawrence market. In total, she’s been in the banking business for about 40 years, working both in Lawrence and Kansas City.
Yulich, though, may be as well known for her work in the public service and volunteer sectors. She served on the Lawrence school board from 2004 to 2008, and earlier this year completed a long tenure as member of the LMH Health board of trustees, where she served as the chair for the health care organization. She’s also been a longtime board member for the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County, which is the group that often works behind the scenes to attract and facilitate new industrial developments in the county.
She’s also a founding board member of the Peaslee Technical Training Center, which is the eastern Lawrence school that provides classes for people wanting to enter the construction trades or several other types of tech-oriented careers. Yulich also has won several prominent awards in the community — the Lawrence Public Schools Outstanding Citizen Award, the Wally Galluzzi Chamber Volunteer of the Year Award, and the Athena Award, which annually recognizes a top businesswoman in Douglas County.