Newt Richardson contributed more to the Cowley County community than many people realize. Not only did he and his younger brother, Leonard, build or remodel a large share of the structures in Winfield and this area, Newt was elected a city commissioner of Winfield, served as mayor, as a trustee of the First Presbyterian Church and on the board of the Winfield Country Club.
Irl Newton Richardson died Aug. 2, 2019, at the age of 94. He grew up on a farm near Kingman, one of eight children. Newt learned to work hard and he and Leonard lived by that work ethic all their lives.
“They never argued,” Newt’s daughter Susan Lowe said. “When they saw something that needed doing they went to work and got the job done.”
Newt and his brother started Richardson Brothers Construction Company in 1955, after both had served in the United States Army during the Korean War. Leonard had graduated from Southwestern College and married Eleanor King of Winfield. Newt married Doris Warner of Arlington.
The two brothers decided to make their headquarters in Winfield and a lucky thing for the town it was. They built or remodeled a long list of important buildings including Gott Manufacturing, the Winfield Country Club, the Arkansas City Traveler, Albertson’s Grocery (now a court house annex), the Sedan Hospital and the First United Methodist Churches in Winfield and Ark City. The full list is much longer.
All this work was self-consciously done with the future in mind. Richardson Brothers does work that is “necessary to the growth and development of our community,” they said in an ad in the Courier. “That which we build well today will serve us well tomorrow,” they said in another. This sense of civic responsibility led Newt to run for the city commission in 1978. Politics was not his forte. Newt was a little shy. “The hardest part of being a city commissioner will be speaking before groups and TV,” he told a candidate forum.
But he won with the largest number of votes and immediately became mayor. It was entertaining to see Newt Richardson with his lantern jaw and huge frame performing ceremonial duties for the city, but he smiled and did them well. City government regained its footing with Newt and Eddie Fisher on the commission. Newt retired after one term.
The brothers owned and looked after a number of buildings in downtown Winfield, filling holes in walls with their favored cinder blocks. One building was the Lagonda Apartments on East Ninth Avenue, a rare downtown living place at the time. They also tore down old buildings, including some elegant ones such as the Opera House and the Brettun Hotel, where they uncovered a secret hiding place for liquor that Police Chief Gus Froeming said he did not know about, according to Susan Lowe.
The Richardson Brothers had a close relationship with Southwestern College. They built Smith Hall, a dormitory, and gave the building at 129 W. 12th Avenue to the college for the new SC Learning Center for early childhood education. Richardson Brothers was the first recipient of Southwestern College’s Business Builder Award. Newt and Leonard also received a major award from Butler Buildings, for which they held the franchisee that sold the most buildings in Kansas.
The brothers retired in 1986 and sold their company to Terry Olds and Lee Evans. The company’s headquarters building on West Ninth is now owned by Thompson Construction & Roofing. The name Richardson Brothers goes on in Hutchinson in a company formed by Newt’s son, Stan, and a cousin. That business has since been sold to two of Stan’s sons who operate it today as Richardson Brothers.
Newt’s wife, Doris, helped start the Winfield Child Care Center, was active in the Cowley County Historical Society and volunteered at William Newton Hospital. She survives. Leoonard’s wife, Eleanor, worked as the company’s bookkeeper for years and then worked for the law firm of Herlocker, Roberts and Herlocker. She was active in the Winfield Community Theater.
In spite of their success in the construction business, the brothers had more than their share of bad luck. Leonard died after a tree limb dislodged by a truck fell on his head. As a boy Newt fell under a disc pulled by team of horses he was driving when the horses were spooked. As a young teenager he was buried in a collapsed well, and as a your man he was almost electrocuted when the power was accidently turned on to a line on which he was working in rural Oklahoma. The electricity went through his body into his boot spikes and blew a hole in his foot.
The hard work and vision of the future that characterize Newt Richardson and his brother, Leonard, are an important part of the foundation of the life in Winfield and Cowley County that we enjoy today. They understood that they were building their community for future generations. They did not just get by. They stretched themselves as if the future prosperity of their community depended on them.
In a real way it does.
Beth Wilke contributed to research for this column.