Even 15 years after he retired from the city of Independence, having served as director of the Water Department, Randy Vest some days put in just as many hours worth of volunteer service around the city.
Whether it be helping with the Japanese Sister City Commission or at United Methodist Church, guiding numerous tours at the National Frontier Trails Museum and Chicago & Alton Depot or serving on an appointed citizens committee – not to mention time with family and friends – he was active nearly to the end.
Vest died last week less than two weeks shy of his 78th birthday, having been diagnosed just a couple months ago with advanced stage cancer. Even in December he had been guiding tours at the Trails Museum, and earlier this year he stepped down from the city’s Public Utilities Advisory Board, to which he was appointed in 2009.
“The very first thing I think of is his dedication to this community,” Council Member Karen DeLuccie said, noting not only his PUAB service but also with the Jackson County Ethics Commission.
“His leadership through friendship and kindness not only endeared him to us, but was a model,” said Jeannae Segura Brown, a member of the Sister City Commission.
Vest is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kathy, their two sons and three grandchildren, two sisters and the Vests' two foreign exchange students they hosted years ago.
A graduate of Northeast High School, Vest work as a ditch digger and messenger for the Missouri Water Company. After graduating from University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science & Technology), he started as a project engineer with Missouri Water in 1967 – before the city purchased it – and eventually rose to become director before he retired in 2003.
“We liked to say how he went from ditch digger to director,” Kathy Vest said. “He's always been proud of employees that worked for the Water Department.”
Dan Montgomery, who was promoted to succeed Vest and continues leading that department today, remembers Vest as a “great leader and role model.”
“He was always very particular, not only about the water but the wells and protection of the wells,” Montgomery said.
Randy and Kathy had hosted exchange students from Turkey and Australia and later expanded that interest by becoming involved in the Sister City Commission. They hosted guests from Japan, made four trips there together and in general helped the organization become and remain stable.
“(They) were absolutely instrumental,” Segura Brown said. “They had the foresight to realize we had to have a financial structure to keep it going. It was sponsored by the mayor's office, but mayors change.
“He's always so friendly and made a big impression to our Japanese friends.”
Segura Brown said citizens from Higashimurayama recently sent Vest a string of 1,000 origami cranes, a Japanese tradition for best wishes of happiness and good luck, and the Sister City group plans to plant a tree in his honor in the garden adjacent to City Hall.
Leah Palmer of the Trails Museum said they have a similar plan to honor Vest there.
The museum hosts 5,000 to 6,000 students per year in class field trips, and Vest often led them around the museum.
“Between him and his wife, they've been involved almost from the beginning. She was president of the Friends of the Museum board,” Palmer said. “Randy would do hundreds of hours here.
“He had this great ability to keep the kids' attention and was incredibly intelligent. He would come in for special events, even portray a character – anything that needed to be done.”
“He really loved history, so that was a draw for him,” Kathy said. “He loved doing tours for the schoolchildren; he had a cowboy hat he wore for that. “It was his love of trains and history, and he wanted to continue serving the community.”
Vest’s obituary appeared in Tuesday’s edition of The Examiner.