Remembering Chief Justice Kay McFarland — Interview of Elaine Schwartz, April 25, 2023
Interviewed by Joan Wagnon
This short conversation with Elaine Schwartz, former legislator and Topeka city council person describes her friendship with Justice Kay McFarland and how Schwartz became trustee for McFarland's estate. The estate benefitted the Topeka Zoo and specifically, the Asian garden named for Justice McFarland. Justice Kay McFarland was the first woman appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court and the first Chief Justice. Her career and life story can be found at this link: https://my.lastinglegacyonline.com/story/kay-mcfarland/
Elaine L. Wells Schwartz was elected in 1986 to the Kansas Legislature from Carbondale. She served ten years. Schwartz has a degree in business administration from Baker University at Baldwin City and was a licensed long-term care administrator for 15 years before becoming a legislator. After choosing not to seek re-election to the House, she worked for the state for 10 years. Schwartz has also held a position as executive director of the Kansas Public Health Association for eight years. In 2012 she was appointed to the city council to fill an unexpired term and then ran for the position twice, serving until 2020.
JW: I’m Joan Wagnon, and I have with me Elaine Schwartz, who is the wife of Howard Schwartz whom we just interviewed. There was a unique relationship between Elaine and Chief Justice Kay McFarland. Since we can’t interview the justice, I thought I’d ask Elaine a little bit about how her relationship with the Chief Justice developed. How did you get acquainted?
ES: In 1995, Howard and I started dating. I had just finished my last term in the legislature. We had met through his brother. We started dating, and he said to me, “When you go to judges’ conferences with me, your #1 job is to entertain the Chief.” So I got to know her real well. I found out that we had a lot of things in common, whether it was sewing or gardening, animals, just everything. So we got along really well. We started having her over for holidays because she had no family. Overtime, we became very, very good friends.
Before she passed, she said she wanted me to be the trustee of her estate. I said, “Well, Chief, what do you want to do with your estate?” She didn’t really know. She said, “That’s what I have you and Howard for.” I said, “No, that’s a big decision.” I was on the [Topeka] City Council, and I told her that maybe she should look at the zoo and doing something there.
We showed her the master plan for the zoo. Since I was on the City Council, I knew there was an Asian garden in the middle of the zoo. We decided that she wanted to pay for that Asian garden. She didn’t want it in the middle of the zoo. She didn’t want any rug rats running through her garden. So we moved it to the outside of the zoo. We worked with the zoo. She worked with the zoo for about a year and a half before she died. So she was a big part of what that was going to be, and it was just great to get her involved with that.
JW: I think the whole community has benefited from that. I go to Rotary meetings on Thursdays in Kay’s Garden. It’s good there are no rug rats running through. They have the employees carefully moving the rocks around with these little sweepers to make sure that the designs are the way that they ought to be. But there’s an interesting story about how you managed to raise the money to put all that together. Being a City Councilwoman helped, didn’t it?
ES: Yes, it did. Since it was city property, we were able to only take a partial amount of her estate and pay off a municipal bond. So that really helped. When she passed, there was a certain amount. We went through like two million, and we still had the amount when she passed. So we still had the money to spend. But it’s always an effort. If you’ve been to our zoo, it is so awesome. The project they just finished, the Giraffe and Friends actually was more than the seven million dollars that it cost for the garden. I think that was like eleven million. So we’re still working on making something very beneficial in Topeka.
JW: I think her legacy to this community is cemented with the addition of that garden and the work that she did in the courts. I’ve just wanted to thank you for doing that. We’ve shared a lot of interesting things. We were in the legislature together.
ES: Yes, we were.
JW: We were both on the City Council, not at the same time. But, anyway, thank you for still working for the community, Elaine Schwartz.
May 26, 1951
State Representative, Kansas House of Representatives 1987-1994
Member, Topeka City Council 2012-2020
Kansas Judicial Center