Local entrepreneur, political figure and philanthropist Luva Vaughan passed away peacefully May 29 at Park Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Independence, the city that has been his home since 1955.
Vaughan, better known as “Lu” to his friends, is well-known for his theater management career, which began with the July 1964 opening of the I-70 Drive-In and eventually spanned 70 theaters in Missouri, Kansas, Ohio and Colorado. This same business sense lead him to manage several fast-food restaurants, and he even shared his expertise on the national scale, as a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business.
State Rep. Ira Anders, who knew Vaughan through shared involvement in local Democratic politics, was one of the many who appreciated Vaughan’s innovative, entrepreneurial spirit.
“He was visionary. He could think about things in the future,” Anders said, referencing Vaughan’s foresight that cable television would succeed when he formed the first cable company in Jackson County.
Beyond his own success, both coworkers and family commended Vaughan for his generosity, involvement in politics and care for others. Vaughan was elected to two terms on the Democratic National Committee and supported local organizations like Hope House and the Bingham Waggoner Historical Society. It was through his political work that Vaughan met former state senator Jack Gant.
Above all, Gant remembers Vaughan as humble.
“One time he was receiving an award and he said, ‘I don’t know if I deserve this,’” Gant, a retired judge, said, recalling the moment as one of his favorite memories. “He was a gentleman, he had a great sense of humor and he loved Independence.”
Jennifer Distefano, Vaughan’s stepdaughter, said she and Vaughan shared so many memories, she “[didn’t] even know where to start.”
Vaughan shared 18 years of marriage with former State Rep. Carole Roper Park, Distefano’s mother.
“He gave to his family, he gave to his friends and he gave to his community,” Distefano said. “I’m thankful to have been a part of his life.”