Shawnee civic leader, funeral director Gene Amos dies
A longtime pillar of the Shawnee community and patriarch of the family that for more than 50 years has helped grieving Shawnee families by providing funeral arrangements has died.
Gene Amos, 78, died at 12:55 a.m. Friday at Kansas City Hospice House.
He was deeply involved in civic life in Shawnee, his home since 1945, serving in various leadership positions with the Shawnee Mission USD 512 Board of Education, the Chamber of Commerce, Optimist and Rotary clubs. He also served three terms in the Kansas House of Representatives.
Eugene Paul Amos was born Aug. 20, 1930, in Liberal, Kan., the son of Edward Paul and Hazel Crane Amos.
He moved with his family to Independence, Kan., when he was 4 years old, and to Kansas City when he was 12.
The family moved to Shawnee on Oct. 1, 1945, and worked through the winter to build a funeral home at 301 Main St., which would become 10901 Johnson Drive. when the street names were changed in 1949. The site at the time held a small gasoline station and a grocery store, both vacant. The E. Paul Amos Funeral Home held its open house on May 25-26, 1946. The construction joined the two buildings together, with a three-room apartment for the family located at the rear of what had been the grocery store. They lived there for seven years until they moved into a home south of the funeral home.
He was 15 when they moved to Shawnee, a sophomore at Shawnee Mission Rural High School. During high school he washed cars and worked around the funeral home, often helping with the ambulance service the firm ran from 1945 to 1957. After graduating from high school in 1948, he attended the former Kansas City Junior College, from which he graduated in 1950. Later he graduated from the Kansas City College of Mortuary Science in Kansas City, Kan.
Amos joined the U.S. Navy Reserve at age 17, and was called to active duty in 1951 during the Korean War. He served during the war at the Mare Island Naval Hospital in Vallejo, Calif.
On March 8, 1953, he married Margaret Zoll at the Wallula Christian Church, a mile east of her home in Leavenworth County.
When the Amoses arrived, Shawnee was a small community of fewer than 800 people. (The 1950 Census would show Shawnee’s population as 845, up from 597 in 1940.) The business grew as the town grew, and the Amoses often served as sparkplugs for community projects.
“We’ve seen so much happen in this town that it just makes you feel proud to be a part of it,” he said in an interview in November 2008.
The family was involved in the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce from its beginning. Paul Amos helped to start the chamber in 1946, and served as its first president and again in 1949. Gene Amos served as president in 1963 and his son, Gregg Amos, took the top post, by now known as chairman, in 1990. The chamber honored Gene Amos with its Citizen of the Year award in 1974.
Gene Amos was a charter member of Shawnee’s first civic club, the Optimists, in 1953, and served three years as its secretary, and later as president. He later served as lieutenant governor and then governor for the district, which included western Missouri and all of Kansas and Nebraska.
In 1948 the family had a contractor remodel an old theater in De Soto and opened the Amos Mortuary. Gene operated the De Soto funeral home until it closed in 1953.
While in De Soto he began his lifelong association with Rotary. He joined the De Soto Rotary Club in 1952, transferring later to the Shawnee Mission club, and finally to Lenexa. He was president of the Lenexa club in 1980, and later served as governor of the Rotary district that includes northeast Kansas. Other highlights of his Rotary involvement included leading a study team on a tour of Sweden in 1994 and serving as a representative to the Rotary International Legislative Council in New Delhi, India, in 1999.
Amos served on the Shawnee Elementary School Board from 1960 to 1966. Then, after unification, he served on the first Shawnee Mission Unified School District board from 1969 to 1975. This was another of the several roles to be shared by members of the family: Gregg Amos also served on the Shawnee Mission board, from 2001 to 2007.
He was president of the Kansas Funeral Directors Association in 1972, and a member of the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts from 1972 to 1979.
His service on the school board and the state board whetted his appetite for politics, as he served three terms, from 1987 to 1993, in the Kansas House of Representatives. He served on the education, public health, elections and agriculture committees.
He joined Shawnee’s Peter Smith American Legion Post in 1953 and served as a member of the post’s honor guard, which conducts military observances for deceased veterans.
He published three books. “Ancestry from A to Z” traced the genealogy of the Amos and Zoll families back to before the American Revolution. “Kansas Funeral Profession … Through the Years” recounted the history of Kansas funeral homes. Finally, on “Tales of the Minister and the Undertaker,” published in 2007, he shared authorship with his longtime friend the late Rev. Forrest Haggard, former pastor of Overland Park Christian Church.
He was a member of the Overland Park Christian Church and later the Merriam Christian Church. He served both churches as a deacon and as an elder and also chaired the churches’ boards.
He served as the first chairman of the Shawnee Downtown Partnership, a cooperative effort of the city and downtown merchants.
He also served on the boards of the Lakeview Village Continuing Care Community in Lenexa and of Ridgeview Village in Olathe.
He had an abiding interest in history, and was often called to speak on the history of Shawnee and Johnson County.
The Amoses were instrumental in the founding of Old Shawnee Town. After failing to raise enough money to save the historic Dick Williams house in 1959, when expansion threatened the old 1843 territorial Jail in 1966, Paul Amos and several other businessmen got 125 businesses and individuals to donate $100 apiece to save the structure. It was dismantled, then rebuilt on city land east of the city swimming pool.
That became the nucleus of Old Shawnee Town. The next year, Paul and Gene Amos, along with employees of the funeral home, dismantled an old barn on the Widmer farm near the present location of Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. The lumber was used to build the Undertaker’s Parlor and Cabinet Shop.
Through the years, the theme for the Amos family has been and continues to be one of service.
“Dad told the family that you have a debt to your community,” he said in an interview in November.
Services for Gene Amos will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Amos Family Chapel of Shawnee. Burial will be in Shawnee Mission Memory Gardens.
Friends may call from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at the chapel, 10901 Johnson Drive, Shawnee.
Survivors include his wife, Margaret, of the home; a son, Gregg, Shawnee; two daughters, Joni Pflumm, Lenexa, and Amy Ruo, Shawnee; and a sister, Paula R. Amos Upton, Topeka. There are six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Online condolences can be made at amosfamily.com.