Lawrence Business Hall of Fame announces 4 new members

photo by: Submitted

Tom Dobski, Martha Gage (representing her late husband Ralph Gage Jr.), Gary Sollars and Wint Winter Jr. are pictured on Nov. 3, 2022, as part of an event announcing their induction in the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame.

It is a piece of business advice you don’t hear in every how-to-become rich book: Be willing to enjoy what you are doing.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Tom Dobski, an owner of Lawrence’s McDonald’s franchise, ranks it as a key to business success. After all, he literally sells happy in a box (you know, the one with a cheeseburger, fries and an all-important toy.)

Soon, he’ll be selling those boxes and dispensing his advice on the business benefits of joy as a hall of famer. Dobski is one of four business leaders announced Thursday as future members of the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame.

“I really do believe a lot of it is patience, fortitude and a willingness to enjoy what you are doing,” Dobski said of his business success. “If you put those three together, you really can go anywhere in life.”

Dobski will be joined in the 2023 Lawrence Business Hall of Fame class by retired insurance executive Gary Sollars, longtime Lawrence banker and lawyer Wint Winter Jr., and the late Ralph Gage Jr., a former general manager and media executive of the Journal-World and The World Company.

The Business Hall of Fame, in its 13th year, is run by the Lawrence nonprofit Junior Achievement, which provides business education classes to kindergarten through eighth grade students across Lawrence. The Hall of Fame itself is located in the lower level of the Lawrence Public Library, where photos and biographies of previous inductees are displayed.

Here’s a look at the four latest inductees, who will formally be installed into the Hall of Fame at a ceremony in May.

• Dobski owns 12 McDonald’s restaurants in northeast Kansas with his wife and business partner, Marilyn Dobski, who also is a Lawrence Business Hall of Fame member. They both have been inducted in the Kansas Restaurant Hall of Fame, and recently led a national effort to raise more than $280,000 to fund a Polish Ronald McDonald House that is serving Ukrainian refugees.

In addition to his advice on the benefits of joy, he urges students and other aspiring business leaders to be open to new opportunities. Dobski, his father and his two older brothers all were in the grocery store business in Chicago before a downturn in that industry in the late 1970s caused all of them to explore the emerging idea of fast food and McDonald’s.

• Gage spent more than 45 years as a journalist and ultimately a business executive with the Journal-World, and its then-parent company, The World Company. Gage served as chief operating officer and director of special projects, among other positions, where he oversaw the company’s newspaper, broadband and software businesses in multiple states. Gage died in January, and his widow told the crowd Thursday that he would highlight the importance of truth in business and life’s work.

“He loved the truth,” Martha Gage said. “In this age where we all struggle to know what is true, he spent his life trying to ensure the Lawrence Journal-World was a purveyor of truth, even though sometimes it made us angry.”

• Sollars is the former president and CEO of Lawrence-based Charlton-Manley Insurance, which grew to become one of the largest independent insurance agencies in Kansas during his tenure. Sollars also has been a longtime leader of Baldwin City-based Baker University, serving 20 years as a member of the private university’s board of trustees. Sollars credited a lot of his business success to good associations and a good attitude.

“It won’t all be downhill,” he said. “There will be some uphill parts, but be optimistic and surround yourself with good people.”

• Winter has been a partner in the Lawrence law firm Stevens & Brand since the late 1970s, and led his family’s banking enterprise, Peoples Inc., growing it to a nearly $1 billion bank with 40 branches in 11 states by the time it was sold in 2018. Winter who also is a former state senator and current member of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the banking business taught him important business priorities.

“It is really important to first think about what the customer needs, and just first think about how the business can make a profit,” Winter said. “The profit will follow if you first take care of your customers.”

Junior Achievement plans to host a tribute dinner on May 3 at the Burge Union at the University of Kansas to induct the members into the Hall of Fame. The dinner also is one of the primary fundraisers for Junior Achievement, which uses money raised from the event to buy teaching supplies for its business courses that are taught in the Lawrence school district and elsewhere.

Junior Achievement director Debbie Harman said the organization is growing again after suffering setbacks during the coronavirus pandemic when school routines and volunteers both were impacted by COVID. During the last school year, the nonprofit provided lessons about money, entrepreneurship, economics and other such topics to about 4,500 students in 220 classrooms, primarily in Lawrence. Prior to the pandemic, those numbers were closer to about 6,000 students in 250 classrooms.

The organization used about 100 community volunteers to teach the classes with the aid of instructional materials provided by Junior Achievement and approved by the school districts. Prior to the pandemic, volunteer numbers were closer to the 175 mark, Harman said.

“We are starting to build it back up,” Harman said.


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