The Chamber’s 2018 Kansas Citian of the Year: Mayor Kay Barnes

Kansas City, Missouri’s first woman mayor, Kay Barnes, was honored with the KC Chamber’s Kansas Citian of the Year Award at the Chamber’s 131st Annual Dinner.

Though, when first elected, some were skeptical that a woman could handle economic development, Kay Barnes has been key to the billion-dollar-plus revitalization still underway in Downtown Kansas City.

During Barnes’ two terms in office (1999-2007), Downtown’s revival began with the opening of the new H&R Block World Headquarters, the Sprint Arena and the Power & Light District. Other achievements included the Kauffman Center Parking Garage, improvements in the Crossroads District, the conversion of dozens of buildings into lofts and apartments, with thousands of people moving Downtown. Many say she brought a new momentum to Kansas City which continues today.

“We were at a point in our city’s history when it was just trying to get by, just trying to survive, if you will, into its future,” Greg Graves, 2015 Kansas Citian of the Year says. “She struck a candle of joy, accomplishment and determination…and her determination to do projects in the city and getting the right things done speak for themselves and they will for many years.”

Irv Hockaday, 1987 Kansas Citian of the Year, agrees. “I think Kansas City was in a bit of a rut, it lacked momentum. When she became mayor, she gave us a sense of opportunity, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of pride. And those are significant attributes that we needed and she delivered.”

Her friend, Herb Cohn, adds, “What she did for Kansas City starting with downtown, but more than that, by making us feel good again about Kansas City, that is a character that she has which would be very hard for anybody else to accomplish the way she did.”

Barnes has also a strong advocate for minorities, members of the LBGTQ community, and women – she was one of the founders of the Central Exchange and the University of Missouri Women’s Resource Service Center.

“She was always inclusive and getting other people to share their thoughts, to share their ideas, and to be part of solving problems and making Kansas City better,” said Gwen Grant, President & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “She has left an indelible mark on Kansas City and she is worthy of this praise and of this honor.”

Born in St. Joseph to a father who was a basketball and football coach, Barnes says she learned Xs and Os before she learned the alphabet. She followed her mother into teaching, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of Kansas (which resulted in her lifelong ardor for all things KU) and a Master’s in Secondary Education and Public Administration from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

In the late 1960’s, Barnes worked for the Cross-Line Cooperative Council in the urban core, and helped form multicultural women’s speaking panels throughout the western United States. She founded her own small business, Kay Waldo, Inc., a human resources development firm, and emceed the Chamber’s first Small Business Celebration Lunch.

Barnes was also one of the first two women elected to the Jackson County Legislature, and served a term on the KCMO City Council representing the Fourth District.

She is now the Senior Director for University Engagement for Park University.

Mayor Kay Barnes Named KC Chamber's 2018 Kansas Citian of the Year