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liberalfirstlongoriginal
Monday
August 26th, 2019

denoyer going away receptionJoe Denoyer talks to Liberal Chamber of Commerce Director Rozelle Webb and others at a reception for him Saturday at Baker Arts Center. In his nearly four decades in Liberal, Denoyer has served on many boards and helped with many organizations, including Baker Arts and the Chamber, as well as the Liberal Bee Jays and on the Liberal City Commission, where he served as mayor for several years, but his final term was riddled with controversy. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE and EARL WATT • Leader & Times

 

A familiar face and voice is leaving the community.

Joe Denoyer moved to Liberal in 1982 for job opportunities at the age of 21 due to a tight job market in his home state of Illinois. Denoyer said it was a brother, whose wife had lived in Liberal, who brought him to Southwest Kansas.

“He said, ‘There’s plenty of work in Liberal,’” he said. “I arrived here on Sunday morning, was at the guard shack at National Beef on Monday morning and was on the job Tuesday morning.”

Denoyer said he hit the ground running since arriving in the area, and since his time at what is now considered Liberal’s largest employer, he has spent much of his time working in radio, first at KSLS and most recently at 102.7 FM The Legend, part of three stations that make up Seward County Broadcasting.

Denoyer himself is rarely seen not wearing a ball cap, and he has worn several figurative hats serving on multiple boards in the community, including serving on the Kids Inc. board,  and the PACT (Parents and Children Together) board. He was also one of the co-founders of the Crossroads Therapeutic Riding Center, and served on that board. Most recently, Denoyer has served on the Liberal City Commission, with several of those years as mayor, and for nine years on the board for the Kansas League of Municipalities.

In 2015, he won the State Of Kansas’ Excellence in Local Government Award, and other boards he has served on include the Seward County Historical Society, Southern Pioneer Electric and the Baker Arts Center. Denoyer is a 2006 graduate of Leadership Liberal and a participant in Beaver, Okla.’s annual Cowchip Throwing Competition. In 2012, he was chosen for the Liberal Chamber of Commerce’s annual Men and Women of Distinction calendar.

Denoyer was also instrumental in securing a $400,000 grant for the Liberal Area Coalition for Families in 2006 and could be seen emceeing and serving as auctioneer for numerous events in the area, including the short-lived Liberal High School Booster Club Country Showdown.

All of these accomplishments are still not in Denoyer’s list of favorite memories from his time in Southwest Kansas, though.

“Working with the likes of Max Zimmerman, Phyllis Windle, Don Rash, folks with the OzFest committee, the very first big OzFest in 1989, those are some of my favorite memories,” he said. “When we had the 50th anniversary here, it was huge with seeing people come from New York. Participating in Pancake Day throughout the years. Just getting your feet on the ground and embracing what the community.”

Denoyer did say, however, seeing an organization he helped found grow to what it is now is also a big highlight for him.

“It’s been amazing seeing Crossroads go from my daughter being the only rider in a small round pen to now seeing a waiting list with an outdoor building,” he said.

Denoyer said Liberal is not defined by the scenery in town, but rather its people.

“Everyone from top to bottom makes it just a phenomenal place to live,” he said.

Denoyer’s public service did not come without controversy. 

While Denoyer was mayor in 2015, he approved the sale of the former softball fields at the corner of Seventh and Western to Walmart for the construction of a Neighborhood Market.

The property had a covenant that required the funds to be placed in the Airport Land Use Fund, but the commission opted to spend the $800,000 on building new fields near National Beef.

The fields were built on a flood plain and exceeded $2 million, and the Federal Aviation Administration insisted the City of Liberal deposit the $800,000 in the Airport Land Use Fund. The current city management and staff are still investing in correcting the drainage problems, and the new commission complied with the FAA’s demands, which restored the local airport to receive FAA grants.

While Denoyer opted not to run in 2017, during the period of the new commission being elected in November 2017 and taking office in January of 2018, Denoyer approved a new contract for then-City Manager Mark Hall that more than doubled his severance package and removed any termination period for the contract, making it permanent.

When the new commission fired Hall, he filed a lawsuit seeking the more than $400,000 promised to him by the contract approved by Denoyer, and Hall claimed in his court filing that it was Denoyer who prompted the new contract be produced.

Later, Denoyer also accused local residents Don and Nancy Parsons of bribing city commission candidates to fire Hall, and the two were subjected to an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The Parsons were found to have committed no wrongdoing.

Denoyer told KBI investigators that then-candidate Taylor Harden’s new haircut was evidence of bribery.

Harden, who is now Liberal’s vice mayor, responded by saying, “Almost every single person said I wouldn’t get elected with a ponytail. The reason I cut it was my wife had to do my hair because of the ponytail, and when I said it was a good idea to cut it, she was all for it. And that is why I got it cut.”

According to KBI Special Agent James Hawkins in his letter to Seward County Attorney Russell Hasenbank, “While it is evident that the new city commission did, indeed, terminate the former city manager and appoint an interim one who subsequently terminated the former police chief, there is no evidence that those actions were precipitated by alleged bribes, but rather a shift in political perspective.”

The store that was supposed to be part of economic development that started the controversy closed earlier this year.

Being involved with many boards, Denoyer said he encourages everyone to take part and help with events in the community.

“Get involved, plain and simple, just get involved,” he said. “Your life, your community is what you make of it, and the more you’re involved, the more you get out and experience, the better it’s going to be not only for the community, but for yourself as well. It helps you grow. It helps you grow as an individual and in the same token helps your community grow together also.”

Denoyer said he considers playing a part in making things happen more fun than actually watching events as a spectator.

“We love not only getting involved, but being a participant instead of just sitting on the sidelines and observing,” he said. “From the Chamber of Commerce events we’ve done for the last 10 years coming in costume to the duck races and 5Ks in different costume, it’s just been a lot of fun and just another level of commitment to your events, your organization and the community.”

As with many people his age, though, Denoyer and his wife are dealing with aging parents, and his mother-in-law is declining in health. Thus, the longtime Liberal resident is now moving to Northwest Kansas to be closer to his wife’s family just as they have been there for him the past decade.

Denoyer’s last day at The Legend was May 31, and his first day on his new job was the following Monday, June 3.

“I’ve not skipped a heartbeat,” he said. “I’ll be a dispatcher for the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office.”

Having spent the majority of his life in Southwest Kansas, Denoyer considers himself a part of the area.

“I basically have grown up here in Liberal even though I was not born and raised here,” he said. “I moved here as a 21-year-old kid and leaving as a 59-year-old man. Liberal’s been good to me. I’ve grown as an individual, grown as a person because of this community.”

Denoyer praised the community has called home and said anyone would fill welcome here.

“Liberal is a great community, and I would encourage anybody if you’re thinking about where to locate in Southwest Kansas, you can look at what Garden’s doing, you can look at what Dodge is doing, but you’ve got the personable people here in Liberal who will foster your dreams and your goals and help you achieve anything you want to accomplish,” he said. “It can be accomplished right here in Liberal.”

Denoyer said he is leaving the town he has called home for nearly four decades with many great memories.

“It’s amazing with the opportunities you have to work, the quality of life, opportunities to volunteer, opportunities to get involved in boards,” he said. “This place is really unique, and it’s just home.”

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