Between Kathy Vest and her late husband Randy, there aren't many aspects of life in Independence to which they haven't contributed.

Kathy taught at Bryant Elementary for 17 years, was an adjunct college instructor and directed children's ministries at Christ United Methodist Church for 15 years. Randy rose through the ranks of Missouri Water starting in 1967 – before the city bought it – and became director before he retired in 2003.

He served on the Public Utilities Advisory Board for about 10 years until he stepped down early this year due to his health, and earlier had served on the Ethics Commission, and she is treasurer of the Puppetry Arts Institute Board of Directors. Together, they were heavily involved with National Frontier Trails Museum and the Japanese Sister City Commission.

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir nominated Randy (posthumously) and Kathy Vest as Truman Heartland Community Foundation Citizens of the Year for Independence. The Toast of Our Towns Gala honoring citizens of the year is Sept. 28 at Crown Center.

Kathy said that while, ideally, Randy would be there to receive the honor, she's no less grateful herself. They were married 55 years before Randy died Feb. 28, two weeks shy of his 78th birthday and a couple months after he was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer.

“Randy and I were fortunate and live and work and serve in this great city,” Kathy said. “It was a great place to bring up our sons, and we enjoyed hosting our foreign guests, sometimes for an extra year, and a lot of our friends are volunteers in other places. There's all kinds of people serving all over.

“Randy was always proud of his employees at the Water Department, I enjoyed teaching at Bryant Elementary School, and we're thankful to be in this great community.”

Vest started with Missouri Water Company as a ditch digger and messenger – “We liked to say how he went from ditch digger to director,” Kathy said – then became a project engineer after graduating from college.

“A great leader and role model,” said Water Department director Dan Montgomery, who succeeded Vest in 2003.

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.

“Absolutely instrumental,” said Jeannae Segura Brown, a member of the Sister City Commission, which is now 41 years strong. “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 was always so friendly and made a big impression to our Japanese friends,” she said shortly after Randy died. “His leadership through friendship and kindness not only endeared him to us, but was a model.”

Through 2018, Randy led thousands of school children each year on class field trips at the Trails Museum, and he also guided tours of the Chicago & Alton Depot.

“Between him and his wife, they've been involved almost from the beginning,” Leah Palmer, director of programming at the museum, said shortly after Randy died. “She was president of the Friends of the Museum board. 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.”