Historical Honors Award Recipient

Alva Lease Duckwall

Entreprenueur, Business Builder, and Civic Leader
Photo of Recipient

Alva Lease Duckwall was born on a farm in Ohio in 1877 and moved to Kansas with his family in 1898, where they settled in the town of Greenleaf. Lease, as he was called, opened a shop where he sold and repaired sewing machines and bicycles. In 1901, Duckwall sold his shop in Greenleaf for $413, borrowed an equal amount, and bought a Racket Store in Abilene. The store sold most of the small items needed in a home.  After a bit of time, Duckwall was joined by his brother, Wilbur, and they called the store "Duckwall Bros. RACKET STORE - A little of Everything." In those early years, Lease Duckwall would hire a horse and buggy on Sunday afternoons, and, with a big bucket of red paint and a brush, drive around the countryside asking the farmers if he could paint a sign on their barns or gates. He usually got their consent and painted - "There are others, but none link Duckwall Brothers." Later, he advertised in all the county papers - "Meet your friends in Duckwall's." And, everyone did, for the farmers all came to town on Saturday night. The Duckwalls knew them and were glad to see them. The store was always open on Saturday nights and Christmas Eve until the last person left.

A second store was opened in Salina, in 1906, which Wilbur managed. More partnership stores were opened. Number 3 was opened at Manhattan, with Leslie Wagaman as manager. Later, two other brothers joined in partnership stores. Medrith managed a store that opened in Clay Center in 1910. Eldon worked in the Abilene store when Lease needed to spread his time among the other stores, the office, and the wholesale business that had been started to serve the stores. The Concordia store opened in 1911, followed by Junction City, and by Great Bend in 1914. A.L. Duckwall, as he was then known, was a partner in each of the seven stores.

In 1915, a corporation was formed, which became "The A. L. Duckwall Stores Company." A.L. was President and General Manager. The warehouse and distribution business was incorporated as The Western Merchandise Company in 1918, with A. L. Duckwall as President and General Manager. Two qualities attributed to Duckwall in news accounts of the time were "square shooting" and his ability to get the most out of men without driving them.

A. L. Duckwall married Retta White in 1904. Their family included two daughters, Doris and Donna, and one son, Junior. He belonged to the Lutheran Church, the Commercial Club, the Country Club, Rotary, Knights Templars, Shrine and the Democratic Party. He was a director of The Farmers National Bank, the Dickinson County Building & Loan, and the Abilene Realty Company, among others.

At the time of his death, a heart attack at age 59, in 1937, Mr. Duckwall had built the stores company to a chain of over 40 popular price variety stores throughout Kansas and Colorado.

With this foundation, in 1999, there are now 96 "Duckwall's Hometown Variety Stores" in 11 states operating under the Duckwall-Alco Stores, Inc. umbrella, still based in Abilene, KS.


Awards Ceremony
Kansas Business Hall of Fame

February 8, 2000

Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Annual Banquet

Governor Graves presenting award plaque to Aileen Duckwall for Alva Lease Duckwall

Governor Graves presenting award plaque to Philip Anschutz

The Emporia Gazette story on the Awards Ceremony

Two pictures accompanying the Gazette story

Governor Graves presenting award plaque to Aileen Duckwall for  Alva Lease Duckwall

Photo - Mrs. Duckwall and Gov. Graves

Governor Graves presenting award plaque to  Philip Anschutz

Photo - Anschutz and Graves

The Emporia  Gazette story on the Awards Ceremony

From the Weekend Business section of The Emporia Gazette, Weekend Edition, February 19 and 20, 2000, Page 1 - Story and photos by Jeff Burkhead: reproduced on this web site with permission.

Confirmed in fame

TOPEKA - A billionaire businessman and the founder of a chain of five-and-dime stores are the newest inductees into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame.

Philip Anschutz, referred to as "the billionaire next door" by Fortune Magazine, and the late Alva Lease Duckwall, founder of what is now Duckwall-Alco Stores, Inc., were inducted during the annual Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry banquet Feb. 8 at the Expocentre. About 1,000 people attended the event.

The hall of fame, housed at Emporia State University's School of Business, usually recognizes one contemporary business leader and one historical leader each year.

Anschutz, a Russell native who now lives in Denver, made his fortune in oil, railroads, telecommunications and sports, among other ventures. Anschutz Corp.  has ownership interests in professional soccer teams, the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL and the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA.

He started out as a wildcatter in the oil business. "You've got to take action," Anschutz said. "If you don't take action, you'll always be a spectator in life."

Duckwall built his business from a single store in 1901 in Greenleaf. Today, there are now nearly 100 Duckwall-Alco stores in 11 states, with headquarters in Abilene.

Duckwall , who borrowed $413 to open that first store, knew the value of hard work. "If A.L. were here, he would say it still takes 20 nickels to make a dollar or 10 dimes, because his business was founded on the five-and-dime," said his daughter-in-law, Aileen Duckwall, who accepted the award.

There have been twenty-nine inductees into the hall of fame, which opened in 1989.

Two pictures accompanying the Gazette story

Photo - Mrs. Duckwall conversing

Aileen Duckwall, left, daughter-in-law of hall of fame historical inductee Alva Lease Duckwall, visits with Royal Sandborn, former chief financial office of Duckwall Stores. At right is Lease Duckwall, granson of the honoree.

Photo - Haines, Anschutz, Hashmi

Philip Anschutz, center, whose roots are in Kansas, was inducted into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame, housed at Emporia State University's School of Business. He's shown with his business partner Jordan Haines, left, and Sajjad Hashmi, dean of the business school.

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