Freedom's Frontier Honors Henry Fortunato

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area News Release 


Jim Ogle, Executive Director
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Julie McPike, Managing Director
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Sonia Smith, Communications and Marketing Manager
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Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area honors Henry Fortunato

Henry Fortunato, one of the region's most innovative and creative leaders in telling the great stories of our area, died Monday. He was 62 years old.

"Henry Fortunato brought creativity, collaboration, and commitment to everything he did," said Judge Duane Benton, U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, and Freedom's Frontier board chair. "That creativity paired unlikely combinations such as healthy walks with local history. Collaboration blossomed through the remarkable number of groups he brought together to the same table. His commitment to quality showed in the high standards he kept for both himself and all of us." 

Fortunato was a member of the Freedom's Frontier Board of Trustees, a position he had held since 2014. Many in Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area, knew Fortunato for his work on the board of trustees and on a trails project that was supported by Freedom's Frontier Interpretive Grants.

Immediate Past Chair of the Board Jody Ladd Craig said, "The legacy Henry leaves in the Kansas City region and across the state of Kansas is immense. His work to develop trails and their accompanying history provides a permanent memorial to his vision. His devotion to the mission of Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area has resulted in broader recognition and increased financial support for the organization."

Fortunato was well known for his award-winning career as the public affairs director at the Kansas City Public Library. "His dedication to bringing outstanding programs to the community through his work at the Kansas City Library leaves a lasting mark on local residents," said Craig.

Many knew Fortunato for his 500-mile walk across the state of Kansas in 2014. It soon led to his development of the "Hikes Through History" projects in Douglas and Johnson counties in Kansas and Jackson county in Missouri.
The first of the two Hike Through History projects was series of interpretive panels about Lawrence, Kansas, history along the Burroughs Creek Trail. Henry presented programs at the library, and asked those in attendance to "envision the 1.7 mile paved path and linear park running from 11th Street to 23rd Street as a venue where people can exercise their minds and their bodies at the same time," said Brad Allen, the Library's executive director, in an article on the library's website.

The interpretive panels Henry created tied together William Quantrill and Langston Hughes, the Oregon Trail and World War II, the artistry of William S. Burroughs and the agricultural history of Douglas County, and other nearly forgotten pieces of Lawrence history.

Henry then began work on interpretive panels for A Hike Through History along the Indian Creek Trail in Overland Park, Kansas. These panels feature photographs, stories, and maps and provide insight into the historical significance of street names like Roe, and Metcalf, and the correct pronunciation of Pflumm (it's flume).

Before the unveiling of some of the panels on the 10.1 mile trail last June, Henry said, "The Indian Creek Trail in Overland Park is about to be transformed from a walk through Anywhere, USA into a hike through history.

Focusing on the history of specific streets - how they got their names, what they looked like before suburbanization, what took place along their routes - offers an ideal spine on which to hang a host of historical vignettes in an accessible format. When completed, this collection of exhibit panels will foster a sense of place and a deeper understanding of how Overland Park and Johnson County came to be what they are today."

Attorney Grant Glenn, Vice-chair of the board, said, "I have such admiration for his grit and determination. The trails he created are a wonderful legacy. He has been a bright light for us all."

The Hike Through History on the Indian Creek Trail panels can be accessed at Roe Park, 10400 Roe Avenue, Overland Park, Kansas. As visitors walk the trail, Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area hopes that they will stop to read the panels and remember Henry Fortunato, who described himself as an "accidental Kansan," and immerse themselves as fully in our local history as Henry did.

A visitation is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. on Friday, February 9 at the InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton St. in Overland Park, Kansas. A memorial mass is scheduled for Saturday, February 17 in Stirling, New Jersey.
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Reactions from other members of the board of trustees:

"An exceptional man." Kelvin Crow, Command Historian, Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth

"The world has lost a good man." Kent Glasscock, President, Kansas State University's Institute for Commercialization

"Like few others, he knew and experienced our mid-America history and culture, by walking it and talking with its people in their homeplaces." Craig Patterson, Principal, CP & Associates

"He leaves a remarkable legacy." Jan English, Principal Chief, The Wyandot Nation of Kansas

"What a blessing Henry's life and legacy is for so many of us! I had the good fortune of working with Henry on multiple projects over the last several years and have always both enjoyed and learned from those experiences. He was a genius in elevating the marketing and overall scope of the Kansas City Public Library. Henry's intellect, rich base of interest, and love of life can role model for all of us the value of each day!" Kay Barnes, Former Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri

Heritage Area Fast Facts

Mission: Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area (FFNHA) is dedicated to building awareness of the struggles for freedom in western Missouri and eastern Kansas. These diverse, interwoven, and nationally important stories grew from a unique physical and cultural landscape. FFNHA inspires respect for multiple perspectives and empowers residents to preserve and share these stories. We achieve our goals through interpretation, preservation, conservation, and education for all residents and visitors.

Kansas Counties: Allen · Anderson · Atchison · Bourbon · Chautauqua · Cherokee · Clay · Coffey · Crawford· Douglas · Franklin · Geary · Jackson · Jefferson · Johnson · Labette · Leavenworth · Linn · Miami · Montgomery · Neosho · Osage · Pottawatomie · Riley · Shawnee · Wabaunsee · Wilson · Woodson · Wyandotte

Missouri Counties: Barton · Bates · Buchanan · Cass · Clay · Jackson · Johnson · Lafayette · Platte · Ray · St. Clair · Vernon

Established: October 12, 2006

Web site: www.freedomsfrontier.org

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