After the death of James (Jim) Muckenthaler on Saturday August 14, at the age of 84, friends remembered him as a naturally calm, yet efficient and direct man, with a genuine passion for helping to make from Emporia the best possible.
Muckenthaler’s funeral was held Friday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Muckenthaler had come to Emporia from St. Marys in 1956 to attend Kansas State Teachers College (now Emporia State University). During college, he had gone on a blind date with a local girl, Theresa Ann Evans.
The meeting apparently went well. Emporia gained another citizen when the couple married on October 11, 1961 and moved here to raise their family and run their own business.
Muckenthaler had started his career working for Theresa’s father, Wallace Evans, at Emporia Wholesale Coffee Company.
The young couple purchased the catering equipment portion of the business from Wallace Evans in 1971, and although the two businesses remained sister companies, the Muckenthalers moved into a new location in the 300 block of Commercial Street.
Muckenthaler quickly became a strong supporter of his new community. He became a member of several local organizations, including the Regional Development Association, and served as Emporia City Commissioner for four years. Economic development was one of his main concerns. He was also active in Sacred Heart Church and School and worked on several major projects to benefit everyone.
Almost from the start
Former city commissioner and longtime mayor Ray Toso had known Muckenthaler almost since the St. Marys transplant arrived in Emporia. Both worked at Emporia Wholesale. Toso, in his youth, had started working summers at Emporia Wholesale. Later, as a student, Toso worked as a relief salesperson for Muckenthaler’s institutional fixtures after Emporia Wholesale became two separate, but related companies.
It seemed that Toso had known the Evans family all his life.
“My dad worked for Wally on the farm in Elmdale,” Toso said. “And of course Jim and I played softball together for many years.”
Muckenthaler played shortstop and Toso played second base.
“We were kind of a double-edged duo,” Toso said. They had started playing in the early 1970s as part of the Knights of Columbus, then played under other sponsorships.
Toso recalled that 52 years ago, he, Muckenthaler, and former city commissioner, mayor and pitcher Jim Pickert, were among teammates playing for the city championship against the Lariat Lounge. They had played eight games that Sunday, with temperatures up to 103 degrees, and had come through the losers group to reach the final.
“I said, ‘If we win this game, I’m going to have to postpone my wedding,'” Toso recalled. The wedding date coincided with a state tournament the Emporia winner would compete in Topeka.
Fortunately for Toso, the team lost 8-7. But the core team stayed together for 25 years.
Toso described Muckenthaler as a kind man, fun to be around, and a good family man.
“He did a lot of work,” added Toso; “Basically I went to church, then to work, then I went home, then I went to the city commission. My heart goes out to Theresa and her family.
Working with and for the city
Former city manager Steve Commons, now of Edmund, Okla., had returned to the Emporia area in 1979, near the end of Muckenthaler’s term.
“I remember him most for his work in economic development, being part of that,” Commons said.
Commons also dealt with him as a businessman, as the city occasionally purchased institutional equipment from Muckenthaler.
“He was just a good guy to deal with,” Commons said. “He gave of his time and it was always a pleasure to work with him.”
Mark McAnarney, who retired last year as city manager, was of a similar view.
McAnarney had come to Emporia in the mid-1980s, too late to work with Muckenthaler as city commissioner, but their lives were intertwined in their church and in the city at large.
He recalled seeing Muckenthaler and his sons scrambling to set up exhibits and demonstrations the day before the EVCO and Muckenthaler Institutional Equipment trade shows that each year drew crowds of industry professionals to the WL White auditorium here.
“Jim always had time to talk about the day’s events and ask how my family was doing,” McAnarney said. “He was always engaging, witty and knowledgeable about the issues.”
“He was very dedicated to always doing things the right way.”
McAnarney also enjoyed the discussions he and former city manager Virgil Basgall had about the “good old days,” when Muckenthaler served on the commission. Typical of any governing body, this commission faced difficult problems.
“I was deeply struck by Virgil’s respect and admiration for Jim Muckenthaler,” McAnarney said. “They were true friends who both served the community and their church community all their lives.
Muckenthaler was proud of his family and extended family, and had served in virtually every available office at Sacred Heart Church, McAnarney said.
“I admired his dedication to the church and to his family. Jim was one of those people you could always count on to do the right thing.
Ed Rathke, who retired in 2015 as a building and grounds facilities supervisor for more than 30 years, agreed.
“His care of the auditorium went beyond the games,” Rathke said. “Jim was always so open with help and advice…He was a resource I could turn to without costing me and the city money.”
Muckenthaler freely advised on the quality and longevity of the equipment needed. Sometimes the best solution wasn’t affordable, Rathke said, but Muckenthaler suggested an alternative that might serve the purpose.
Rathke appreciated the company owner’s distinguished approach to sister companies’ use of the auditorium for their trade shows.
“It was never ‘We’re going to do this’, it was ‘Can we do this? Rathke recalled. “It was great working with him on the show.”
EVCO and Muckenthaler products and merchandise filled the auditorium with equipment and prepared foods to enjoy, “from roasts and treats to sausage gravy and breakfast cookies. It was just amazing,” Rathke said.
No word like “retirement”
Current City Commissioner Danny Giefer was surprised to learn of Muckenthaler’s death. He and a few friends who walk together most of the time had last seen the older man just a few weeks ago as they passed the Muckenthaler house, which was along one of their routes usual walks.
“He was always gardening or whatever,” Giefer said. “He was giving us a hard time.”
The light exchanges were something Giefer enjoyed.
He had known Muckenthaler a few years ago from an apartment building he owned. At least two restaurants operated there, and for a time the lease contract provided that Giefer would supply and maintain the equipment. Although Muckenthaler passed the business on to his son John, the eldest could not stay away from the business entirely.
Muckenthaler Inc. operated a store in Topeka as well as the main office in Emporia.
“He was setting up kitchens everywhere,” Giefer said. “He was always helping to do something.”
When the work at the Giefer estate was finished and it was time to chat, the men’s conversations inevitably turned to town business.
“He cared about the city of Emporia for sure. He was still committed to it,” Giefer explained.
A favorite topic was sales tax. At the time, the Internet was diverting customers from local purchases to shopping at national and international outlets. Without a comprehensive federal sales tax collection policy, Muckenthaler had said, former customers could save significant dollars buying from out-of-state vendors. Muckenthaler thought the sales tax created an unfair playing field.
“It was tough to compete,” Giefer said. …I took what Jim told me everywhere I went,” including a meeting of the National League of Cities in Washington, DC, where the main topic was sales tax inequity.
In the summer of 2018, a Supreme Court ruling allowed states to require online sellers to collect sales taxes on behalf of their states. A problem that had been simmering in Muckenthaler’s mind had finally given way to the demands of brick-and-mortar business owners.
“I will miss Jim. It’s part of Emporia,” Giefer said. “I think when he breathed his last he could feel good that he had made a difference at Emporia.”
An unsuccessful corporate internship turned into a long-term friendship for Jim Kessler and Muckenthaler.
Kessler and his wife Cathy had just gotten married when family friend, former Emporia mayor, city commissioner and real estate agent Jim Pickert “knew a guy” who might be looking for an intern to help him out. his company.
“It was Jim Muckenthaler,” Kessler said. ” It did not work. (He) said, ‘I don’t think I need anybody.’ But that kind of started a friendship there; I got to know him.
Kessler accepted an internship at Sacred Heart Cemetery, but later it was Muckenthaler he looked up to as a role model when Kessler took over ownership of Modern Air.
“He was a guy who kind of modeled what a good business should be,” Kessler said. “Very conservative, but a very good businessman. I think that’s my first memory of him, that he was a very good businessman and a good Christian.
The Kesslers got to know Muckenthaler and his wife Theresa through their membership in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where they worked together on several committees.
“He wasn’t judging anyone, but he always made sure we did the right thing, both from a church standpoint and a business standpoint,” Kessler said. “I think I learned from him that you have to make sure you follow your morals, your ideals and do the right thing.
“He let you have your own thoughts and things, but I don’t think he was judgmental.”
Muckenthaler maintained a strong interest in economic development even after his retirement.
“He was pretty quiet about it,” Kessler said, “but I think he was always thinking about what it would take to make Emporia a better place. I think he was thinking about the future.
Both Jims — Muckenthaler and Pickert — were cut from the same mold, Kessler said.
“They were great ambassadors for the city of Emporia, and they were great business people, and just great people,” Kessler explained. “And we don’t have that many these days.”
“They are, in my opinion, the heroes of this generation.”