Toast To Olde Tymes – Faune Leask
What can you tell about someone just by seeing their picture? In October 1939, in a feature titled, “Names in the News in the World of Kansas City Business Women,” our scribe wrote, “Faune Leask, whose investment activities have kept her well to the front in financial circles for a number of years, is probably first among women dealers to establish her own office. In partnership with Mr. E. M. Knox, she opened her investment business in 1932 with offices in the Victor Building. When Mr. Knox became interested in the weaving crafts of old Santa Fe and established the firm of Santa Fe Handwoven Fabrics, Mrs. Leask accepted the sales management of the firm and assists also in the designing. Her investment business receives always her own personal attention.” Readers of that era might have noticed a crisp, dramatic look to her features and described her as eye-catching. What stands out about the photo more than 80 years later is how modern it appears, as though it could have been from any time between the 1920s and the 1980s.
Faune was the daughter of Minnie and Frank Tarter of Wichita, Kansas. Her education was limited; she left school after the eighth grade. In 1916, Faune wed Robert G. Leask, who worked in the business office of the Wichita Beacon newspaper. Robert, then 23, had lived in Massachusetts and Maine prior to coming to Kansas. Their marriage license lists her name as May F. Tarter and her age as 19. In the wedding announcement, the Beacon noted, “She is a charming young woman and a popular member of the younger set of the South End. Formerly a stenographer with Karl Kilby, Mrs. Leask is now with D. E. Dunne in The Beacon Building.” Faune and Robert welcomed a baby boy on the Fourth of July in 1918. By the mid-1920s, the Leasks had moved to Kansas City, and her parents to a farm in Liberty, Missouri.
In the same year that saw her become a bride, Faune apparently met the man who would be most important to her career. In the will he drafted in 1945, Edward Marvin Knox (better known as E.M. Knox) stated, “Mrs. Leask has been associated with me in business since 1916, and has helped me more than any other person to make what I have.” An ad for The Brown-Crummer Company in the January 1, 1926 issue of the Kansas City Star shows E.M. Knox as the manager of the local branch of the investment company, and Faune T. Leask as one of three additional employees. Unusually for a married woman of her era, she generally was known in business as “Mrs. Faune Leask,” rather than as “Mrs. Robert Leask.”
E.M. Knox was a bachelor. Late in life, he had two residences: the Kansas City Club, and La Fonda, the hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He died at the age of 68 in February 1946. According to his obituary in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
“Knox came to Santa Fe in 1934, became interested in the hand-loom fabrics and remained. Burro Weavers is now one of the oldest and one of the largest businesses in a field that has grown rapidly in Santa Fe since then. Knox had only two or three looms at the beginning on lower Water Street.
“He came here from Kansas City, Mo., where he was a partner with Mrs. Faune Leask in E. M. Knox & Co., an investment company. At the time of his death he still retained his interest in this company although, since coming here, he had spent nearly all of his time in Santa Fe.”
On his death, Faune inherited a one-third interest in the two businesses, with the rest going to his two siblings. Already the owner of half of the E.M. Knox Company, she inherited his share of the firm.
E.M.’s death was the second of four significant losses Faune would experience in a period of little more than a decade. Both of her parents died, her mother in April 1940, and her father in July 1947. At some point in the 1940s, Faune and Robert stopped living together, although they remained married. Robert’s employment history had been more peripatetic than Faune’s. According to census records, in 1930, he was a plumbing fixtures salesman, and by 1940 he had migrated to something involving soda fountains. After their separation, Robert moved to California, where he lived for several years, and Faune stayed in Kansas City. He owned the Tackle Box, a fishing supply store in Morro Bay. His obituary in the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune in August 1950 was headlined “Robert Leask Dies Suddenly.”
By December 1952, when she was interviewed for a newspaper article, Faune was living in New York and managing a gift shop in Rockefeller Center. The store, one of seven in the nation, was a “nonprofit co-operative enterprise” by a “guild of hand workers.” It specialized in items made in the South, including jewelry, clothing, and housewares, among them lamps that were designed by Faune herself.
It might have seemed as though Faune, in her mid-fifties, was set to enjoy life on her own. That was not to be. In December 1955, she pled guilty to what was widely reported to be “one of the biggest financial fraud cases in Kansas City history.” It was “alleged that as a stock broker she defrauded clients of $336,626 from 1946 through 1952.” The charges against her included “embezzlement, using the mails to defraud and evasion of income tax of more than $300,000.” According to her lawyers, she had no money left – most of it had paid for medical expenses for her husband and parents. Faune was sentenced to two years in prison, plus three years on probation and a $10,000 fine. The judge took into account her legal team’s claim that she had a heart condition. Perhaps he shouldn’t have – Faune dropped out of the news after that, but she lived until March 1972, when she died in Florida.
Look again at the photo. What can you tell about Faune just by seeing her face? As some of her clients learned, very little – and certainly nothing about her character.
Featured in the September 17, 2022 issue of The Independent.
Photo credit: Strauss-Peyton
By Heather N. Paxton
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