Toast To Olde Tymes – Harold D. Rice
Harold D. Rice learned about community service at an early age. The son of Atha C. Dewees Rice and O. Lee Rice grew up at 4735 Virginia Avenue, in a neighborhood filled with children. In 1935, Harold and his sister, Mary Lee, and a group of their friends, including members of the Haake and Polsky families, put on a show at their house. The proceeds from the event were donated to the Salvation Army, for its camp fund. Decades later, Harold founded the City of Fountains Foundation, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Harold wed Margaret Josephine McDermott, who was known as Peggy, in March 1943. The two were graduates of Paseo High School and the Junior College of Kansas City (better known as Kansas City Junior College or just Junior College, it was the predecessor of the Metropolitan Community College). They became the parents of two children.
Harold studied at the Kansas City Art Institute prior to joining Hallmark Cards, where his career spanned more than four decades. He began work as a retouch artist. When Harold retired in 1985, he was a group vice president and a member of the board of directors. In 1987 our scribe stated, “Hallmark’s new technical and innovation building was named Rice Innovation Center in recognition of his contributions to the development of the firm’s scientific, engineering and creative capabilities.” During the early years of their marriage, Peggy, who had attended the University of Kansas City (now the University of Missouri–Kansas City), was employed by Business Men’s Assurance Company. She was an enthusiastic volunteer for many organizations, including the Kansas City Zoo, where she was a docent, and the Johnson County Young Matrons Club, of which she was a longtime member.
Peggy and Harold had the idea for the foundation while visiting the site of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy, on a trip to Europe circa the early 1970s. It was very much a joint effort. As Peggy’s obituary stated, “[s]he had the original concept for the City of Fountains Foundation.” On their return, they sought out like-minded people among their friends and colleagues, as well as local civic leaders.
According to the City of Fountains Foundation website, in addition to Harold, “the other charter board members were John W. Lottes, president of the Kansas City Art Institute; Jeannette Lee, head of Hallmark’s art department and a Hallmark board member; Robert J. Wharton, head of the trust department at First National Bank; and Eugene C. Hall, an attorney in private practice who had served as Hallmark’s in-house counsel from 1958 to 1970.” Eugene hosted the first board meeting. It was held at his office in the Bryant Building on June 27, 1973. Eugene now serves on the advisory board.
The term “City of Fountains” wasn’t new, but the Foundation popularized it. As Harold said in a 1987 interview, “I recall in our early meetings discussing whether citizens would pick up on the City of Fountains slogan and relate to it to magnify our efforts. And that has happened.” During the early 1990s, Patrice Eilts Jobe, then president of the Kansas City Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), designed the official seal for Kansas City, Missouri. It featured the words “City of Fountains” at the top and its symbol was a heart-shaped, fountain-like cascade of fuchsia and blue. The seal was approved by the City Council in 1992 and remained in use for many years.
The original goals of the Foundation, as stated on the Kansas City Parks & Recreation website, were “raising funds to construct new fountains, manage trust funds to cover maintenance costs, and increase awareness of the importance of Kansas City’s fountains.” The City Council endorsed the Foundation’s plans in the mid-1970s, although some Council members questioned the costs – and wondered aloud about the water bills. Now, the Foundation works in partnership with Kansas City Parks & Recreation. Our Town’s fountains benefit, as do all who visit them.
George Kessler, the landscape architect and urban planner, designed Kansas City’s first fountain in 1898. It no longer exists. However, the Women’s Leadership Fountain, which dates from 1899 and is located at Ninth Street and The Paseo, is also one of his creations. It is the oldest working fountain in the city. As Jocelyn Ball-Edson, a Foundation board member, explained, “Kansas City grew up during the City Beautiful movement, prioritizing beauty and an appreciation for history. But as cities age and expand and budgets shrink, there are many competing demands, so it’s not always easy for beauty and history to get the support they deserve.” The creation of the City of Fountains Foundation helped address those needs.
For his efforts, Harold was honored with the Harold D. Rice Fountain, which is located at The Paseo and East 72nd Street.
Peggy died in 2000, and Harold in 2014.
The Foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a variety of ways. Guided tours will be held one Saturday per month now through September. A new book, The City Of Fountains: Kansas City’s Legacy Of Beauty And Motion, features photos by Roy Inman, who was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in 2010. Irma Starr, the renowned ceramicist, has created both a commemorative plate and an ornament. Another new release is a coloring book filled with sketches of fountains by local artists. The Foundation is partnering with the Kansas City Royals, and, through September, one fountain per month will be blue. For those wishing to toast the anniversary, KC Bier offers a special brew, Fountain City Wheat, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Foundation.
Superstitions exist about the Trevi Fountain. Supposedly, tossing a coin into it means that you’ll return to Rome. Throw two coins, and you’ll return and fall in love. Three coins? All that, plus marriage. Did Peggy and Harold toss coins into the Trevi Fountain? We imagine they did. Decades later, that fortuitous visit has led to vast amounts of coins (and dollars!) committed to Our Town’s fountains. Peggy and Harold’s vision for Our Town lives on in the activities of the City of Fountains Foundation.
Featured in the April 29, 2023 issue of The Independent.
By Heather N. Paxton
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