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Speas, Victor, 3748 Holmes Street

Among Kansas City's very well–to–do of recent decades, Victor Speas was surely one of the most enigmatic.

"Nobody in town knew this man very well," said Robert Wharton, head of the trust division of Boatmen´s First National Bank, which administers two trusts established by Speas. "He did business at the bank for maybe 60 years, and nobody every met him."

Martin Ericsson, who worked for a couple of decades at the Speas Vinegar Co., is one of the few people who got at all close to the man. Speas, he said, was "100 percent" dedicated to his firm, which produced apple juice, vinegar, pectin, and apple brandy.

At age 21, Victor took over the business with his mother, Effie, after his father, John, died. Although John Speas left behind a fairly modest company, Victor built the business up from one plant in Kansas City to 20 plants in 14 states.

Accustomed to calling the shots and having never had to be accountable to anyone, Speas, was domineering. He was a little man, about 5 foot 2 inches. He wore high–topped shoes that you hooked. And he had a male secretary always with him.

He reportedly worked seven days a week, and he almost never left town, except to visit his plants and barns, where they squashed apples. He went to work, and he went home. That was about it. Indeed, Speas apparently was very much a creature of habit. He dated the same woman for 30 years. And for years and years, at week's end he reportedly would head out for dinner at the former Putsch's 210, a snazzy dining establishment at the Plaza. Accompanying Speas on those Saturday night outings were his mother and his girlfriend. The rumor was that when the chauffeur pulled up, (Speas) would get in first, his mother second, and his girlfriend third.

Speas was devoted to his mother and lived with her in their home at 3728 Holmes St. until her death. Speas didn´t marry until he was 64, just a few years before his mother died.M

Speas´ mother had had cancer and was sick for the last few years of her life. The Speas foundations, with total assets of about $38 million, focus largely on medical research, a mission that probably was determined in part by the ailments of his mother. The foundations have helped finance research into cancer and heart disease. They also gave money to construct a building at the Midwest Research Institute for the breeding of rats for research.

Victor Speas by Susan Jezak Ford, Kansas City Public Library Local History