Civil servant Baxter bade farewell
Rob Keehn said Larry Baxter found what he was looking for when he moved to De Soto.
The 53-year-old Baxter died last Thursday from complications of a stomach ailment that had him in Olathe Medical Center since mid-May.
"We met shortly after he moved here," Keehn said. "He liked the small town. He wanted that for himself and his family. He loved De Soto, and he wanted to help it grow."
Baxter found many ways to work toward that goal, Keehn said. He worked as the city of De Soto's chief building inspector, served as a captain with the De Soto Fire Department and as an emergency medical technician with the same department, and was active in the De Soto VFW Post No. 6654.
"Larry got me involved with the VFW," Keehn said. "His devotion to everything he did was incredible.
"His affection toward the town was 150 percent. It was constant."
Keehn recalled talking with Baxter before the April 2004 bond referendum on the new pool.
"I told him my vote was 'no,'" Keehn said. "Larry felt the same way, except that the city couldn't grow unless it had things that would attract new residents. Here I was a homebuilder going to vote no for something that would help my business. 'You can't have your cake and eat it, too,' is what Larry said."
Firefighters and emergency service personnel from 15 area departments came to De Soto to say goodbye to Larry Baxter.
De Soto Fire Chief Kevin Ritter said the attendance of so many neighboring departments was a show of respect of a man who "meant the world to this department."
"He responded or participated in 90 percent of the things we do," the chief said. "He gave his all.
"His leadership, personality, charisma and fatherhood to the younger staff -- we'll miss him dearly."
Baxter joined the fire department 12 years ago when he started working for the city. At the time, volunteer service as an emergency responder or firefighter was required, Ritter said.
Baxter didn't resent the coerced service and embraced his duties with enthusiasm, the chief said.
"He turned out to be one of the best firefighters this department has ever seen," Ritter said.
On the day of Baxter's death, De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson opened a City Council meeting with a minute of silence, after calling Baxter a dedicated civil servant, fireman and EMT.
De Soto City Clerk Lana McPherson said Baxter and Doug Smith were the first city employees to greet her when she started as city clerk. Ironically, her seventh-year anniversary on the job was the day of Baxter's death.
On her first day, Baxter and Smith called her the "chick in charge" and gave her small gifts, McPherson said. Baxter's was a vintage yardstick that is still in her office, which she was to use anytime the city building inspector got out of line.
Baxter brought that sense of humor to City Hall and a willingness to help anyone, McPherson said. He regularly did little chores for her and others that made a big difference.
"He told me, 'I'm here to make your job easier,' and he lived it for seven years," she said. "He enjoyed and loved the people of the community."
Keehn attended last Thursday's meeting to request the new swimming pool being built behind City Hall be named the Larry Baxter Aquatic Center. Council members took the request under advisement, agreeing some memorial to Baxter was appropriate.
Councilmen Ted Morse and Tim Maniez suggested naming the new fire station on the city's capital improvement list for Baxter would be fitting.
An account in Baxter's name was started last week to help with medical expenses at the De Soto State Bank.
Baxter was in OMC's critical care center for more than three weeks prior to his death.