Felker Remembered for Dedication to Community

Those who knew and worked with Harry "Butch" Felker remember his big heart and his tireless cheerleading for his community.

"I would call him Mr. Topeka," says retiring United Way CEO Nancy Perry.

The former Topeka mayor lost his long battle against cancer early Thursday morning. Felker died around 2 am at Topeka's Midland Hospice.

Current Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten says he spoke with Felker on the phone just a couple weeks ago.

"He had a lot of energy and he was optimistic, so the news (of his death) came as a surprise to me," Bunten said.

Felker had a long history of public service in Topeka. He was elected Park Commissioner in 1975, under the old city commission form of government. That job was abolished in 1985, with the change to the mayor-council government. In 1989, he was elected to the first of two terms as mayor. He chose not to seek a third term in 1997 for health reasons. He put those behind him to win the office again in 2001.

But that return would end amid scandal. In 2003, he resigned in the middle of ouster proceedings accusing him of illegally getting campaign money thru the Topeka Convention and Visitors Bureau.

However, that end to his time in public office isn't how many people are remembering him.

"He cared about everybody," Perry said. "He cared about children, he cared about older people. He just had a caring heart."

Shawnee County Commissioner Ted Ensley worked with Felker since Felker was Park Commissioner and Ensley held a similar post with the county.

"Butch's first love was the community," Ensley said. "He will be missed."

For his efforts with the parks, the city named Felker Park in Butch Felker's honor.

"You don't get a park if you're not there a long time and don't do a good job," Bunten said, "and he did (do a good job)."

Friends say Felker's optimism saw him through his resignation. Rather than shy away, Felker remained involved, directing the Heartland Park Foundation and volunteering for the United Way.

Perry says he remained dedicated to the city he loved until the end.

"He really did try to get involved and make things better," Perry said. "I hope that is what people will remember."

Felker is survived by his wife, Bette, and three children. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced Friday.