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Famous Topekans

Karl Menninger
Karl Menninger

Karl Augustus Menninger, M.D. (1893-1990) Dr. Karl and his brother, Dr. William Claire Menninger, co-founded The Menninger Clinic with their father, Dr. C. F. Menninger, and became leaders in the treatment and prevention of mental illness. Dr. Karl is author of The Human Mind, Man Against Himself, and Love Against Hate.

Aaron Douglas
Aaron Douglas

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979), an American painter and illustrator, was born in Topeka on April 27, 1899. A leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, Douglas has been called the father of African American art. His striking illustrations, murals and paintings of the life and history of people of color depict an emerging black American individuality in a powerfully personal way. Douglas linked black Americans with their African past and proudly showed black contributions to society decades before the dawn of the civil rights movement. His work made a lasting impression on future generations of black artists. He died in 1979 in Nashville, TN. One of his murals has been duplicated in the Aaron Douglas Park at SW 12th and Washburn Avenue in Topeka.

Ronald Evans
Ronald Evans

In 1972, Ronald Evans (1933-1990) became the first Topekan in space as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 17. A 1952 graduate of Highland Park High School, Evans went on to the University of Kansas and United States Navy, where he became a fighter pilot who served in Vietnam. In 1966, he was one of 19 astronauts selected by NASA, and he would go on to serve with the support crews for the Apollo 7 and Apollo 11 missions before heading into space for the first and only time with Apollo 17.

Arthur Capper
Arthur Capper

Arthur Capper (1856-1951) Noted editor and politician, Capper was publisher of the Daily Capital and other Kansas papers and magazines including Capper's Weekly, Capper's Farmer and the Kansas Kansan. Capper was governor of Kansas, 1915-1919, and U.S. Senator, 1919-1949.

Actress Annette Bening was born in Topeka in 1958 before moving to Wichita, then to San Diego. She has been nominated for an Academy Award four times for her roles in The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia and The Kids are All Right.

Georgia Neese Clark Gray
Georgia Neese Clark Gray

Georgia Neese Clark Gray (1898-1995), a Topeka banker and businesswoman, was the first female appointed U.S. Treasurer. She served in that position from 1949-1953. Today, her name adorns the Washburn University theater.

Kansas Supreme Court Justice Kay McFarland is the first female to serve on the state's high court. McFarland was appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court in September 1977 by Governor Robert Bennett and became chief justice in 1995.

Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks

Topeka has a rich literary history, laying claim to several prominent authors and poets. Poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), a Pulitzer Prize-winner for her 1950 book Annie Allen, was born in Topeka to a former schoolteacher and the son of a runaway slave who fought in the Civil War. Her family moved to Chicago when she was young, where she would go on to publish poems and take her place among America's great literary treasures. Topeka is the boyhood home of Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe novels. Nero Wolfe's investigator Archie Goodwin is named after a Topeka policeman from the 1920s who found young Rex Stout's stolen crank-up record player. Harriet Lerner, a psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic, published several books on psychological issues—including the New York Times bestseller, The Dance of Anger, which has been translated into more than 35 languages—as well as two children's books. Her son, Ben Lerner, is a poet who was a finalist in 2006 for the National Book Award. Award-winning poet Kevin Young grew up in several places, including several years in Topeka before heading to college.

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins (left) performing with Miles Davis

Jazz legend Coleman Hawkins graduated from Topeka High School while also studying harmony and composition at Washburn University. He played piano and cello when he was young, but took up the saxophone at age nine, with which he would gain notoriety, playing at venues around eastern Kansas by the time he was 14. Topeka was home to the first all-female mariachi band, Mariachi Estrella, when seven women from the Our Lady of Guadalupe came together in the 1970s to form a group. The band was to play at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City when the skywalk collapsed, killing hundreds of people, including four of the band members. The group is commemorated in a statue outside the Topeka Performing Arts Center. Kliph Scurlock, the son of one of the band's members, is now the drummer for The Flaming Lips. The rock group Kansas was formed by friends in Topeka before skyrocketing to international success with songs such as "Carry on My Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind." Former band member and founder Kerry Livgren continues to live in Topeka and frequently performs around the area.

Harry E. Gavitt (1875-1954) The spirit behind one of the most exciting and popular games ever invented, Gavitt's Stock Exchange was the successful Topekan entrepreneur, inventor and marketing genius, Harry E. Gavitt. During his lifetime, Harry E. Gavitt ran a number of business ventures out of Topeka, Kansas. From the Gavitt's System Regulator, "…for kidney, liver, stomach and blood troubles," to his automatic envelope stuffing machine, "…capable of handling 15,000 envelopes per hour," Harry's ideas and attitude exemplified the true American spirit.

Charles Sheldon
Charles Sheldon

Charles Monroe Sheldon (1857-1946) A Congregational minister, Sheldon authored the book In His Steps and edited the Topeka Capital for one week in 1890 as a distinctively Christian daily paper.

Cyrus Holliday
Cyrus Holliday

Cyrus K. Holliday (1826-1900) One of the founders of Topeka, he was responsible for Topeka becoming the capital of the Kansas territory. He secured a charter for the Atchison & Topeka Railroad Co. (later the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, now Burlington Northern Santa Fe) which was organized in 1860. Prominent in the Republican Party, he was the first Mayor of Topeka (1857), and president of Merchants National Bank (now a Firstar bank) and Excelsior Coke and Gas Co.

In 1978, Kansas elected its first female U.S. Senator, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, daughter of former Kansas governor and 1936 presidential nominee Alf Landon. She became the first female from any state to be elected in her own right to a full term in the U.S. Senate.

Joan Finney
Joan Finney

Joan Finney (1925–2001), served as the 42nd Governor of Kansas from 1991 to 1995. In addition to being the State of Kansas's first female governor, she was Kansas' oldest governor, taking office at age 65, Kansas' first Roman Catholic Governor, and also one of the few pro-life Democratic Governors of her time.

Dean Smith
Dean Smith (right) with Michael Jordan

Before he went on to become the legendary coach for the University of North Carolina, Dean Smith was a four-year letterwinner at Topeka High School, including being named to the All-State team his senior year, while also playing quarterback on the football team and catcher on the baseball team. Topeka native Bob Benoit was a professional bowler who won four PBA titles and was the first bowler to bowl a perfect game on a televised title match in 1988. Trey Lewis played football for Washburn Rural High School before becoming an All-American defensive lineman at Washburn University and going on to an NFL career when he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Professional golfer Gary Woodland was born in Topeka and graduated from Shawnee Heights High School, then went to the University of Kansas on a golf scholarship. In 2011, he won his first PGA Tour title by one stroke in the Transitions Championship. Mark Turgeon, head coach for the Texas A&M men's basketball team, was born and raised in Topeka. He is a graduate of Hayden High School, where he helped the team to two consecutive 4A State Championships in 1982 and 1983.

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