Biography of Wendell Lady, former Speaker of the Kansas House of Represenatives
Interviewed by Edward Flentje
A version of an oral history interview was posted on KansasMemory.org, the website of the Kansas Historical Society prior to the KPHP Board's decision not to publish the interview. Instead of publishing the interview, the obituary from McGilley State LIne Chapel is posted here.
Department of Transportation (KDOT); Development of legislative leaders; Governmental reorganization; Highway Commission; Kansas Constitution; Leadership style; Legislative leadership; Legislature, interactions with governor; Political campaigns; School finance; Severance tax; State Budget; State sales tax on utilities
Wendell Lady, former Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives graduated from Kansas State University in 1952 with a degree in Architectural Engineering. He was first elected to the Kansas House of Representatives from Overland Park in 1968 and reelected to six additional terms, serving from 1969 through 1982. He was Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee in 1975-1976, Minority Leader of the House in the 1977-1978 sessions, and Speaker of the House for two terms, 1979-1982. Lady lost the Republican primary gubernatorial nomination race in 1982. Mr. Lady, from Overland Park, worked for Black & Veatch as a consulting engineer and project manager during his career. Prior to election to the House of Representatives, he served one term on the Overland Park City Council. In a 2017 unpublished oral history interview, Lady recalled identifying early in his tenure that the important decisions were made in the Ways and Means Committee which he chaired prior to becoming Speaker of the House. Lady mentioned the group of young legislators who he mentored and who became his committee chairs when he was speaker. He also put in some historic context the long-term debate over school funding. Lady had good relationships with Governors and with legislators and leadership across the aisle. Despite being from the State's largest suburban county, Lady established close ties with representatives from very rural districts.
Wendell Eugene Lady (91) died on Thursday, September 22. He was born on a farm outside of Abilene Kansas in 1930 to Luther and Mildred Lady. He was preceded in death by his 5 siblings. Wendell is survived by his wife of 71 years, Mary Jean, his 3 children, Jan Bean (Jim), Jill Allen, Dave Lady, his 7 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren.
After graduating from Abilene High School, he attended Emporia State Teachers College where he met Mary Jean. They married in 1951 and moved to Manhattan, Kansas where he completed an engineering degree at Kansas State University. Wendell was employed at Black & Veatch, Engineers – Architects as a project manager from 1953 – 1994.
Wendell’s list of accomplishments is extensive. In addition to raising his family, he was active in politics beginning as an Overland Park city councilman and culminating with a run for governor in the 1982 Kansas primary. While Councilman, Wendell served in several leadership roles including Chairman of the first Parks and Recreation Committee. In this capacity he was instrumental in the development of the Overland Park Golf Course which has since been renamed in his honor as well as former Mayor Ben Sykes, the Sykes/Lady Golf Course.
Wendell spent 14 years in the Kansas House of Representatives serving as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Minority Leader, as well as Speaker of the House for 4 years. After his years as an elected official, Wendell was appointed to the Kansas Board of Regents from 1983 – 1985, including one year as Chairman.
Wendell and Mary Jean were charter members of Church of the Resurrection. Not only did this change their lives but Wendell had a profound impact on the development of the church serving as Chairman of the Building Committee as well as founding and moderating an adult Sunday school class. He also thoroughly enjoyed singing in the choir. In his own words, Wendell wrote “Watching this church grow into one of the largest United Methodist churches in the country has been the most exciting, challenging and rewarding experience of my life.”
As well as direct service to the church, Wendell gave many hours to additional ministries including Kingswood Retirement Home and Hope Faith Ministries.
As he often commented, family was so important to Wendell and he is greatly missed. Rather than flowers, the family requests that donations be made to either Ascend Hospice (783 NE Anderson Lane Lee’s Summit MO 64064) or Church of the Resurrection (www.cor.org/memorial).
A Celebration of Life service will be held Saturday, November 12, with a 10:00 visitation followed by an 11:00 service at the Wesley Chapel at Church of the Resurrection.
December 12, 1930
September 22, 2022
State Representative, State of Kansas 1969-1982
Chair, House Ways and Means 1975-1976
Minority Leader, Kansas House of Representatives 1977-1978
Speaker, Kansas House of Representatives 1979-1982
Statehouse, Topeka, KS