Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
Thursday, November 21 2013 11:00
Roshann Parris has worked with the best and most powerful people in this country, including two presidents. Now she is working with the best and the brightest in Kansas City as chair of the KC Chamber, a role she officially began Nov. 1. On Nov. 26 she will be honored, along with outgoing Chamber Chair Russ Welsh, at the KC Chamber’s 126th Annual Dinner.
Parris has been an active member of the Chamber for many years, and as a founding member of Congregation Beth Torah, noted that this is her Bat Mitzvah year — or 13th — as a Chamber board member. Each Chamber chair serves first in each of the other officer capacities, becoming chair in their fourth year as an officer and staying on as an officer for the fifth and last year as past chair.
The reason for her longtime involvement?
“The KC Chamber is a grand connector,” Parris said. “It has and continues to create opportunities for partnerships that would not exist but for the Chamber. It also leverages those partnerships into results that net out real benefits to our community.”
In her many years as a Chamber civic leader, Parris said she has had the privilege of working with some “extraordinary people” who have served as Chamber board chair. These CEOs have tackled tough problems, and she hopes to do so as well. Describing herself as someone who by nature loves to juggle complicated and interesting balls, she said she tends to gravitate “to the most complicated opportunities.”
One of those opportunities is finding ways for the Kansas City region to be the best place to work, to live, to educate kids and to create healthy, productive environments for those who live in all parts of the community, “not only for those who live in comfortable places.”
“If Greater Kansas City is a great place to live, that boomerangs back to businesses who endeavor to attract the very best employees not only from our region but from all over the country. We have a lot of businesses, particularly in the high-tech arena, that have to create a compelling environment for millennials and highly-skilled technical talent, life sciences talent and entrepreneurial talent to come to Kansas City. Part of the Chamber’s job is to ensure that we can nurture the most dynamic environment for employers and employees to thrive within,” Parris said.
Parris is at least the third Jewish person — Henry Bloch and E. Bertram Berkley are two others — who has served at the helm of the Chamber. She is the fourth woman in Chamber history to do so.
Until a few years ago each Chamber chair chose his or her personal Chamber goal for that year. With the implementation of the Chamber’s Big 5 goals in 2011, the chair now helps guide the progress toward the completion of each of those goals, which, Parris said, “were all chosen to make Kansas City one of the greatest cities in America, creating jobs and collectively improving our lives in the process.”
“I have the privilege of taking the community’s agenda going forward, instead of taking something that is near and dear only to me, as Chamber chairs did in the pre-Big 5 old days,” she reiterated.
But one item she also has the opportunity to deal with this coming year — and it happens not to be one of the Big 5 goals — is trying to end the business border war between businesses and creating new, net job growth in the region. Parris said just last week the Chamber hosted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon at a meeting where he announced he was working with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and is committed to ending that border war.
“Something like that creates an important opportunity for us to do what we can in both state legislatures and with both governors to help facilitate an outcome that would encourage net job growth in a significant way,” said Parris, who has worked on this project for many years through the Chamber.
“It’s a happy challenge to have the chance to recapture the energy and interest by both governors in helping this happen,” she continued.
Beside this being a big year for her at the Chamber, Parris’ business, Parris Communications, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. She described the business as a public relations, strategic communications, crisis communications and public affairs firm staffed “with a bunch of incredibly energized, terrific people.”
Over the years, the firm has developed a reputation for corporate communications campaigns and crisis management efforts for clients nationwide, ranging from Fortune 50 companies to thriving small businesses. With a vigorous focus on strategic communications partnerships and strong client relationships, the firm’s signature level of personal service has earned it a unique niche in the marketplace and many awards.
“We were just named the No. 1 small business place to work for the fourth time by the Business Journal, which is great. Parris Communications was also named Small Business Philanthropist of the Year several years back, and was recently honored by the Kansas City Public Relations Society with the coveted 2013 ‘Best in Show’ award.”
Parris began her career in Washington, D.C., in 1978 as a researcher on U.S. Middle East policy for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, while traveling nationwide as national chairperson of the New York-based United Jewish Appeal Student Advisory Board. Even after she moved to Kansas City and then started Parris communications, Parris has continued working in the public sector, leading international White House presidential advance teams around the world for both President and Mrs. Obama, as well as for former President and Secretary Clinton.
The work she does for the White House, by the way, is all pro bono. She said, simply, that it is an honor and a privilege to serve her country.
With her business, her pro bono work and serving as Chamber chair, it’s lucky that Parris doesn’t need much sleep. On the day we met, she turned out the light at 2:17 a.m. and had her first meeting of the day less than five hours later.
“When I was 6 months old, my mother took me to the pediatrician and she said ‘something is wrong with this child, she never sleeps.’ Honestly, I could never have done what I did in 20 years with the Clintons and now five years with President and Mrs. Obama on all corners of the planet if I needed a lot of sleep, so I’m really, really lucky in that regard,” she said.
She actually enjoys working in the late-night hours.
“It is a standing joke among many that they receive emails from me at odd hours. That’s when I get think time, that’s when things get quiet. I can just think and subscribe to my intense desire to make sure that every interaction and every effort is the most intentioned and most thoughtful that it can be. My goal is to make the person on the other end feel like they are the only place I am at that moment,” she added.
That desire to make people feel special is one of the reasons she works so hard and is so incredibly dedicated.
“Now can you achieve that all the time?” she asked rhetorically. “My goal is that everybody feels like I listened and responded or helped them get to the place they needed to get to in the most dedicated way.”
She knows the volunteer job as Chamber chair will be time consuming. It’s something that her predecessor Russ Welsh, chairman of the Polsinelli law firm, has warned her about.
“We all juggle balls. We all make time for the things that are important. On any given day I always say I’m going to drop a ball or two, and hopefully it’s never my family or my clients and — it’s never, ever our two golden retrievers,” quipped Parris, whose blended family includes five children and four grandchildren.
Some information in this story was originally published in the November edition of GROW KC Business, a publication of the KC Chamber.
Last Updated on Thursday, November 21 2013 12:26
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
Thursday, November 21 2013 11:00
Rick Kaplan was a 10-year-old boy living in a St. Louis suburb in 1960 when his mother took him to John F. Kennedy for President Headquarters in University City, Mo. His undying admiration for the politician began that day as did his collection of Kennedy memorabilia, a collection that is now considered one of the largest if not ---the---- largest collection in the country and possibly even the world. As the country begins to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination Nov. 22, 1963, Kaplan has opened his home to reporters and members of the Johnson County Democratic Party to get a closer look at the massive collection.
“Campaign headquarters were a little different then than they are now. At least in 1960 everything was free,” Kaplan said. “You can imagine what it was like for a boy walking into that headquarters where they had boxes of buttons and window decals and bumper stickers and posters and you could take all you wanted.”
The Jewish chiropractor hasn’t added up how much his collection — which consists of everything from buttons to pencils to posters to bobble heads to Halloween masks to games and much more — is worth. Suffice it to say thousands of dollars. He also doesn’t know exactly how big it is. He does know it’s too large to display it in its entirety in the finished basement of his Overland Park home, noting he has boxes of Kennedy mementos and souvenirs packed away in closets.
During that first visit to the campaign headquarters in 1960, Kaplan became enthralled with the enthusiasm of the Kennedy volunteers. He didn’t live that far from it, so “I actually would ride my bike down to it and get more stuff.”
He said his parents were probably Democrats, and his memories of the campaign that year are that everyone was pro-Kennedy.
“I was probably in fifth grade at the time and I remember people wearing Kennedy buttons to school. The election was after Halloween and I remember people wearing gobs of Kennedy buttons on their costumes. There was a lot of enthusiasm about JFK, as I perceived it as a 10-year-old.”
“He seemed real to me, unlike Nixon.”
When he was a young boy, and before he saw pictures of JFK, Kaplan said he thought all presidents looked like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He also thought the three presidents before Kennedy — Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower — looked grandfatherly. Kaplan thinks Kennedy’s young looks and actions — he was only 43 years old when he was elected — is what made him such a fan.
“I saw him playing at Hyannis Port with the Kennedy clan. … Seeing the president play football was exciting to me. Plus as a boy the other thing that sold me was that they made such a big deal about PT-109 … What boy didn’t like war figures and Army boats.”
Following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Kaplan said a whole new wave of memorial items were produced.
“There were simple things like pencils or sharpeners or the Life and Time and Look magazines … bust figures memorializing Kennedy saying 1917 to 1963 and things with the ‘Ask not’ quote on them … I collected all those things,” Kaplan said.
A visit to a 1964 traveling exhibit of JFK items also fueled Kaplan’s love of all things Kennedy.
“They were cool things like the coconut that he carved the note on (Kennedy carved a message for help after PT-109 was sunk by a Japanese destroyer), a draft of his ‘Ask not’ speech and a letter he wrote to his father while he was at Choate asking for a raise in his allowance.”
“I was mesmerized. I thought it was really cool to see these actual documents in his handwriting. In the back of my mind I thought I’d love to have a JFK museum.”
By this time Kaplan was in high school. Since his idol was dead, collecting the Kennedy things no longer appealed to him as much as doing other things. But as he grew older the thrill of the collection returned and in the late ’70s Kaplan started collecting Kennedy memorabilia again. That’s when he learned about the Kennedy Political Items Collection (KPIC) club.
“The guy that’s the head of it is a nice Jewish boy named Harvey Goldberg from Clark, N.J. I called him and I found out there was also an actual group called the APICC, which was the American Political Items Collectors Club”
As these were the days before computers, Kaplan learned about Kennedy items, including items being sold and auctioned, through these club newsletters. He doesn’t purchase much anymore but he still relies on these newsletters today as he does not own a cell phone or personally use a computer. Sometimes he enlists the help of his wife, Liz, to help with online purchases.
Most of Kaplan’s memorabilia consists of items from Kennedy’s run for president though his presidency and the assassination. However he does have some items from JFK’s congressional and senate runs.
What do visitor’s like the most?
“I have a lot of the original pieces from Dallas in 1963,” he said. “There is the invitation to the Dallas Trade Mart, the luncheon he was going to at 1 o’clock that day. … I have two shelves related to the assassination.”
When he guides a visitor through the tour, he has little stories about all the memorabilia, such as the pen used to sign the nuclear test ban treaty and the autograph he has from when Kennedy visited what is now Shawnee Mission North High School on Sept. 15, 1958.
During Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, Kaplan noticed that Obama was often being compared to Kennedy. As he saw items like that, he started collecting them, too. Now he has a corner set aside for Kennedy-Obama memorabilia.
He loves every bit of his collection, especially if it displays well.
“I love every little item,” he said. “I like knick-knacky things. I like the spoons. I like the pencils. I like the handkerchiefs and the plastic pocket protectors.
“I would say the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the wedding invitation, the assassination stuff, the 1960s debate poster is a favorite, the autograph from Shawnee Mission North is one of my favorites … I’m as excited when I get a new button or a new pencil or a new poster or new bumper sticker. I love 3D items …”
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
Thursday, November 21 2013 11:00
Less than two weeks after 16-year-old Blake Ephraim suffered a stroke, she is on the road to recovery at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb.
Blake, a junior at Olathe South High School, is a junior varsity cheerleader and member of the KGDC competitive cheer team, was a 2012 Matzo Ball Queen candidate and coaches young FCCJC cheerleaders. A member of Congregation Beth Torah, she became a Bat Mitzvah and was confirmed there earlier this year. All those activities and more have been put on hold for now while she focuses on her recovery.
The daughter of Lisa and Jonathan Wilcox and Todd Ephraim of Oklahoma City, Blake is now adjusting to her new surroundings at the rehab center.
“Right now she is a little scared and frustrated, and in some pain,” said Wilcox, in a phone interview from Lincoln Monday. “These things are exasperated by the realization she can’t remember names and struggles to find the words she is looking for. The Madonna staff has regulated her pain medication over the weekend and Blake is now beginning to smile and laugh again.”
Blake’s journey as a teenage stroke victim started with what seemed like a normal, everyday illness on or about Nov. 1. Both the school nurse and the pediatrician checked her out and neither was concerned. But as she suddenly presented with an excruciating headache, it didn’t take long before she was whisked away by ambulance to the University of Kansas Hospital after doctors in Olathe suspected a brain bleed. By Nov. 3, doctors had concluded Blake had suffered a stroke.
Surgery ensued, where a large part of Blake’s skull was removed to relieve the pressure on her brain and she was hooked-up to a ventilator to help her breathe. But because she is a strong, young athlete, just five days after the surgery Blake was taken off the ventilator and the work began to regain her speech and mobility.
Because of the craniotomy, Blake now wears a helmet when she’s out of bed to protect her skull.
“That part of her skull is currently resting in a freezer at KU Med Center. Hopefully once all the swelling completely goes down, she will have the surgery to put it back on. We hope that will happen sometime in mid-December,” Wilcox said.
On the CaringBridge page set up to keep all of Blake’s “fans” informed, Wilcox reported on the first time Blake was able to once again call her Mom.
“In all honesty, that Mom was sweeter than the first time she said it to me,” Wilcox said.
Before she left KU Med, Blake was able to walk and talk, although her left side is clearly stronger than her right. She has some memory lapses and is now undergoing speech, physical and occupational therapy. Counseling is also available at the rehab center.
“It’s about the whole person. It’s not just about getting the abilities back but bringing her back to the whole person,” Wilcox explained.
At this point Wilcox said the doctors don’t want to commit to a prognosis, but all are thrilled with Blake’s progress.
“She is so far ahead of where anybody expected her to be, I believe she will have a full recovery. Even her right side is so much better today than it was five days ago,” Wilcox said.
“It’s just a matter of time for her to build up her strength.”
Wilcox also doesn’t know definitively how long Blake will be at the rehab center, but she expects it will be three to five weeks. She firmly believes Blake’s physical strength prior to the stroke is what is helping her progress so quickly now.
“Our kids have got to stay physically active and participate in life. She is where she is today because of what she’s done in cheer. The strength it takes to be a base and lift the girls for stunting, has helped her immensely … I just firmly believe that’s why she’s so far ahead of the game,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said she anticipates Blake will actually get to go back to school in late January, shortly after the second semester begins.
“Staff at the rehab center will contact the school and begin to help Blake catch up on her studies so when she returns to Olathe South, she will return to a normal school schedule.”
A lot of love and support have helped the Ephraim-Wilcox family — including siblings Alex and Chloe Ephraim — through the past few weeks as well.
“The number of people who have shared that prayer chains have been started or that Blake has been added to their prayer list is awesome. Blake’s co-captain at OSHS shared that God gives his greatest battles to his strongest soldiers. I am moved to tears with the overwhelming love coming at us.”
Beth Torah has constructed a site so that a prayer for Blake and the Ephraim-Wilcox family can be said every hour. Sign up at http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0C4DAEA72BABF94-wearethe.
Social media has been a huge help keeping everyone informed about Blake’s progress.
“Blake is so viral with her story and kids have really reached out to her. It’s just been amazing. I’ve had to join Twitter and because of Blake I have some 360-plus followers, which is simply laughable,” Wilcox said.
“As a mom the gift I have been given through all this is I have been able to see my daughter through other people’s eyes. It’s just overwhelming to see how she inspires and motivates her friends and her family. In this situation, this is the good of social media.”
Social media such as Facebook may also help connect Wilcox to the Jewish community in Lincoln. Through Kansas City and Beth Torah connections, Rabbi Craig Lewis has reached out as have several other members of the Lincoln Jewish community.
Fortunately Wilcox, who is taking a leave of absence from her job as student services director for the School of Professional and Graduate Studies at Baker University, has an uncle in Lincoln. She’ll be able to stay there once Blake improves and gets acclimated to her new surroundings.
Wilcox is an active volunteer in the Beth Torah community and has worked on a variety of projects including fundraisers. She said it has been awkward being on the receiving end of such activities, but she is grateful for everything everyone is doing for Blake and the family.
That includes fundraisers. Earlier this week José Peppers in Olathe, where Blake has a part-time job, donated a percentage of its sales to the fund to help pay for Blake’s medical expenses. The OSHS cheerleaders are selling #Team Blake headbands and wristbands. BE Strong is emblazoned on a T-shirt designed by Blake’s KGDC coach and Jewish friends are selling wristbands with the same slogan.
All funds raised are being deposited in an account at Community America Bank. Donations to the account can be made in person or by mail.
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
Thursday, November 21 2013 11:00
Since 2009 the local Chabad rabbis have organized a Chanukah celebration with the Kansas governor. Up until now, that event was by invitation only. This year the event is being expanded and will be held at the Kansas Capitol and the Jewish communities of Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita are all invited. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to attend.
The event, known as Grand Communitywide Chanukah Celebration at the Kansas State Capitol, will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the last night of Chanukah, Wednesday, Dec. 4. The event is free but reservations are appreciated so that enough supplies will be on hand. Reservations can be made by emailing
or by calling Chabad of KC at 913-649-4852.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who is organizing the event on behalf of Chabad of KC and Chabad at KU, which serves the capitol region, is thrilled the event is expanding this year. He said it began in 2009 as a small gathering of rabbis and community leaders and was held in the governor’s ceremonial office.
“For the past two years the event was held at the governor’s official residence, the Cedar Crest Mansion in Topeka. In recent years there have been anywhere from 50 to 60 people in attendance, including elected officials, clergy, community leaders and representatives of various Jewish communities from across the state,” Rabbi Tiechtel explained.
Since the event is open to the public for the first time this year, he is hesitant to predict how many will attend.
“This is the first time Chanukah will be celebrated at the Kansas Capitol, and we hope that many people will join us on this special occasion,” Rabbi Tiechtel said.
As has been the custom, this Chanukah celebration will include greetings from the governor, a message from the rabbi, the kindling of the menorah, live music “and a delicious Chanukah buffet of latkes, sufganiyot, gelt and more.”
Music will be provided by KU freshman and HBHA graduate Avery Parkhurst, who will play the violin, and a keyboardist. This year there will also be hands-on activities for children.
There will be a “Menorah Parade” of cars and busses heading both from Overland Park and Lawrence to Topeka for this event. The Menorah Parade will leave from Chabad of KC, 6201 Indian Creek Drive, at 4 p.m. A “Menorah Bus” will leave from KU Chabad at 4:45 p.m.
Rabbi Tiechtel is looking forward to the “amazing display of Jewish pride as hundreds of Jewish Kansans join together to celebrate our heritage and reaffirm the universal lessons which the menorah represents.”
“This event will be a great opportunity for Jewish unity here in Kansas. We are expecting representatives of all Jewish communities across the state, from Johnson County to Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, Wichita and beyond. What a great way to celebrate the festival of Chanukah, which is all about increasing the light in the world around us!”