William Carl Akers, Jr., – “Duke” – was a devoted husband, a loving father, and a friend whose loyalty was without measure.
William Carl Akers, Jr., – “Duke” – was a devoted husband, a loving father, and a friend whose loyalty was without measure. Duke will always be remembered with a huge heart full of love, laughter, and generosity beyond expectations. He was quick-witted and fun to be with. His mind was sharp and unending with plans and creative solutions for nearly any problem or challenge brought to him. Duke lit-up a room with his booming voice, his intriguing stories, and his infectious laughter - often generated through self-deprecating tales of woe, 99% full of truth! All the more humorous to him - and to others! Duke was a “bigger than life” kind-of guy and attracted many friends, and family, who often shook their heads in both amazement and raucous amusement at Duke’s candid humanity! His joy of life will surely be missed. Having been “through some rough times” in the past, and true to his generous nature, Duke aligned himself early on with the plight of those less fortunate. He listened with his heart, he studied problems, he invested himself in the development of solutions. “Stretching the envelope” in creative problem-solving was not only not-uncommon for Duke, it was almost his mandate! His leadership helped to improve living conditions for countless tens of thousands of Kansas City’s most vulnerable families. Back before the development and the common practice of “automatic deposit”, upon learning that low-income elderly were at greater risk for victimization of theft on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th days of each month as they were attempting to wait for and board a city bus to get to the bank to cash their meager social security checks. Duke corralled the investment of a priest and a politician, at the time, to develop an elderly transportation system of vans for door-to-door pickup and delivery of the seniors to / from their homes and grocery stores, nutrition centers, doctor’s offices, and other essential needs. That system became the initial nonprofit transportation corporation known as Metropolitan Kansas City Dial-A-Ride, Inc., and it was 1974 or 1976. Securing vans, funding, drivers, insurance, maintenance, fuel, and replenishing resources for all of that became uniquely independent challenges in and of themselves. But, Duke saw the need, rolled-up his sleeves, took it on, and fought the good fight! Upon learning that nearly all of the neighborhood children in poverty attending the after-school program were reading and writing at well below grade-level, and holding-fast to his treasured belief in the promise of education for the poor, Duke paired-up with Alan DuBois, and the two made regular trips to Jefferson City, “stalking” the Capitol Building hallways to capture the attention of any, and all, Missouri legislators … to share the plight of ineffective educational opportunities for low-income children and families in Kansas City, the largest metropolitan city in the state. The Missouri Charter School Law passed in 1998 and Duke opened the first Charter School in Missouri, the Della Lamb Elementary Charter School - with an initial 10-year charter, one of only two in the state. Duke’s foundational development of the school supported the recent acquisition of a 10-year charter Renewal, one of only two in the state. The excellent reputation that the school has appreciated was initially established by the leadership of Duke Akers. Descriptors of Duke include Dreamer, Boisterous, Infectious Laugh, Story-Teller, Colorful, Loyal, Faithful, Big-Hearted, A Man’s Man, Gentle-Heart, Type-A Personality, Workaholic, Impulsive, Aggressive, Fighter - especially in “right” vs. wrong” - and in support of the underdog, Solution-Developer, Creative-Thinker, “Outside the Box” / “Pushing the Envelope”, Cutting-Edge, Adventuresome Spirit, Complicated, K.U. vs. M.U., Lover of justice, and all things good, Family man extraordinaire. Duke was born in South Coffeyville, KS, October 6, 1937, to his mother, Virginia Littrell Akers, and to his father, William Carl Akers, Sr., nicknamed “Buster or Bunky”. Duke was named for his father, William Carl Akers, Jr., but nicknamed “Duke” by an uncle or close family friend who teasingly referenced “the Duke of Earl”, we think. Duke’s dad had originally finished junior college on a football scholarship and later became a Business Agent for the Boilermakers Union. The family lived, during Duke’s early years, in Independence, Kansas, and in other locations, as boilermaker jobs opened-up in various other Midwestern areas. Much to his mother’s chagrin, Duke often told others in her presence, that he “was born on top of a pool-table in some ole road-house down in South Coffeyville, KS” … (South Coffeyville’s reputation, at the time, being one of “the other side of the tracks.”) Duke was baptized as a baby in the Presbyterian Church, and according to his mother (who often lamented the results of Duke’s “adventuresome spirit”), she frequently re-told the baptism story and completed it with this final summation of his behavior every time …“when Dukie was baptized … even then he tried to wipe it off! I should-have realized then - that this boy was gonna be a handful!” The family moved to Kansas City, MO, and Duke attended Frances Willard Elementary in Kansas City, MO, where he met Lou Gay … and later others of the “Ole Paseo Grads Gang”. Duke’s childhood was filled with stories of his constant “pushing-the-envelope” behavior … and his father’s “strict approach to parenting” … and, of course, the predictable results! He often said “I was 12-years-old before I knew my name was anything but “Hey, Bowuh, I better not ever catch-you doin’ this, Bowuh! …” And, then, as Duke’s father would proceed to quote the very behavior that he did Not want Duke to display … an internal light-bulb must have flashed-on in Duke’s head … and off he went, almost immediately, to perform the very task that his father had forbade him to do! Incident after incident, story after story, both father and son’s character-lines were almost as repetitive as a neon light flashing on and off … with results equally as predictable! Each incident ended with Duke’s father reinforcing physically, emotionally, verbally, and in all other ways, an attempt at “teaching the child to obey the parent”. Duke was so bright - it’s hard to conceive of how or why he “just didn’t get this cause and effect relationship!” the 1st or 2nd or 108th- time around! Duke’s high-school years were filled with stories of “The Paseo Gang” … John Hanna, Larry Webb, Pat O’Connor, Don Miller, Lou Gay, Baylor Edwards, Bob Ganote … and Other Characters equally as “adventuresome” as Duke Akers! (Pity the poor Paseo faculty!) Later reports reveal lots of alcohol and antics, not much abstinence! Amazingly, with the Grace of God, Duke Graduated from Paseo High School in Kansas City in 1955. After graduating from Paseo, Duke enrolled in the Marine Corp Reserves (thinking that “it was only the Reserves” … what was the harm?) On May 30,1955, by one incredible Hand-of-God bureaucratic-governmental change of plans, Duke “just missed”, by 24-hours! being transferred to Korea … instead being sent to San Diego for boot camp … stories of Marine Corp Sergeants and San Diego, later Camp Le June, 29-Palms, and more … remnants of the earlier father/son instructional relationship - equally as “roller-coaster-eventful”. In 1959, Duke was released from the U.S. Marines, on an early medical release, after 44-months of active duty, he was afflicted with appendicitis and released in California on an honorable discharge. He tells stories of “having earned his Private First-Class honors 4-different times in his 44-month service career … because he had lost the Private-First-Class status, insignia ripped from his uniform each time, on 3-different-prior occasions for …” Guess What?! Varieties of Antics again! Returning back to Kansas City in 1959 and throughout the 1960’s, Duke worked with both the Boiler-maker’s Union, initially, but also found fulfilling work as a Boy’s Youth Worker on the east-side of KC with the Whatsoever Community Center at 12th and Ewing in Kansas City, MO. Money was so tight, that later Duke worked part-time with the Jackson County Juvenile Court, fulltime with the Whatsoever Center, and simultaneously went to school part-time with K.U. classes in Social Work and Sociology. He used to say “it took me 12-years to get my Bachelor’s Degree … and I’m not talkin’ about screwin’ around during that time! Those were hard times!” During the late 1960’s and into 1973, Duke was promoted to the position of Executive Director at the Whatsoever Community Center. During his tenure, the organization grew to serve greater numbers of area families much more extensively. In 1973, Duke was employed as the Executive Director of Della Lamb Community Services, formerly, Della C. Lamb Neighborhood House, Inc. During Duke’s leadership, the Della Lamb agency grew at the following rate from his employment in June, 1973 to his Retirement in December, 2001:
June 1973 Initial Employment
15 Staff Members
Serving 84 Individuals daily
December 2001 Retirement
160 Staff Members
Serving 1,515 Individuals daily
In 1976, in response to low-income elderly transportation needs within the inner-city, Duke garnered the support of a Catholic priest, and a local politician, and led the development of a separate non-profit transportation company, Metropolitan Kansas City Dial-A-Ride, Inc., in which the medical and nutritional transportation needs of inner-city seniors were addressed. Duke served as the volunteer, unpaid, Executive Director of the organization. In 1986, looking toward future retirement, Duke and his wife, Judy, initiated Condo-Development in Holiday Island, Arkansas, located on Table Rock Lake, just south of the Missouri-Arkansas state-line. Responding to condominium management crises at the time, Duke and Judy developed Riverchase Resort, a luxury lodging resort development in Holiday Island, Arkansas, while both worked fulltime as Executive Director, and Associate Director, respectively, for Della Lamb Community Services. Throughout the 1990’s, Duke continued to grow the Della Lamb organization and devote time and effort to nonprofit transportation services development and management with several different nonprofit corporations, including Metro KC Dial-A-Ride, Inc., and City Wide Transportation and others. In 1998, Duke partnered with Alan DuBois, then executive director of Genesis School, and together they were relentless at lobbying Missouri legislators to effect passage of the innovative Missouri Charter School Law. From there, Duke, and Judy, went to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg (at the time, CMSU Central Missouri State University), to seek sponsorship of the pending charter school development - to share the plight of low-income Kansas City families - to reinforce the critical potential impact of education in the life of a child in poverty - and the potential left untouched absent of the impact of education. UCM leadership responded to a serious Kansas City community and Missouri state need with the immediate sponsorship of 9-10 Kansas City Charter Schools - and granted Della Lamb a 10-year-Charter. In June, 1999, Duke’s leadership resulted in the First Opening of a Charter School in Missouri - the Della Lamb Elementary Charter School. In December 2001, having served the Della Lamb agency and constituency for 28-years, Duke retired to play golf, expand model-train layouts, have breakfast daily “with the G&E Café Gang”, and volunteer each morning with City Wide Transportation.
Having fought the good fight against severe diabetes, reduced heart complication functioning to 50%, and reduced kidney functioning to 19%, Duke met Our Lord on the late afternoon of Thursday, April 21, 2011, enroute to the Lake of the Ozarks for a 4-day Easter Weekend with the family. Duke was a family man extraordinaire.
He is survived by his wife, Judy McGonigle Akers; Two sons and daughters-in-law, William M. Akers and his wife Mandy Akers, Scott P. Hand and his wife Kristy Hand; Two daughters, Judith Anne Akers, and Melinda Akers McNerney and husband Matthew McNerney. Grandchildren and great grandchildren included: Michael Akers, Crystal Akers, Victoria Akers, Traci Akers, Laura Hand, Patrick Hand, and Cameron Akers. Duke would say that he was blessed to have “collected” multiple “adopted” sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters.
A visitation will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 29, 2011, at the Carson-Speaks Chapel, 1501 W. Lexington, Independence, MO.
Services at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 30, 2011, at the Carson-Speaks Chapel. A committal service will follow at Mt. Moriah Terrace Park.
Online condolences and memories may be left at www.speakschapel.com.
Arrangements: Carson-Speaks Chapel, (816)252-7900.