Alumna Connects Past, Present and Future at Historic Kansas City Cemetery

Tina Lasater discovered UMKC history at Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery
Tree with red leaves

While starting work at Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery one morning a few years ago, Tina Lasater (B.L.A. ’03) made a discovery.

Behind a desk, she spied a thick sheaf of parchment papers stuffed into a leather binder. Her find turned out to be a collection of designs and plans created by the cemetery’s architect more than 125 years earlier.

“I was so intrigued,” said Lasater, a client counselor at the cemetery. “When I showed it to my manager, she took me to an area where even more documents were stored.”

Since finding this treasure, Lasater has delved into the cemetery history and the UMKC stories associated with it. Just three miles from the Volker Campus, Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery at 69th Street and Troost Avenue, shares more than a geographical proximity with the university. Many founders and benefactors who established the university and forged its future have their final resting place at the cemetery, established in 1888.

Its 160 acres of rolling hills include unique monuments, grave markers and tributes to those buried and interred there. In addition to being a resting place for those who contributed so much to UMKC and beyond, the cemetery is also a tribute to the present. More than a hundred species of trees from around the world line its winding roads and beautify its graceful landscape.

George Kessler, who served as the landscape architect when the cemetery was created, is recognized for designing the city’s renowned boulevards and parks. Sid Hare, who served as the first superintendent of the cemetery, oversaw the original plantings. Hare challenged the idea of how burial grounds should look and saw the potential for them to be not just a resting place for those who have passed, but a botanical garden for the living.

“When I first saw Forest Hill about 15 years ago, I thought it was so beautiful," Lasater said. "As a UMKC graduate, I love the history of our school and alumni here."

Following are some of those who have made extraordinary contributions to the past, present and future of UMKC.

L.P. Cookingham

From 1940-1959, Cookingham was city manager of Kansas City, Missouri. In 1979, UMKC conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters and later named the L.P. Cookingham Institute of Urban Affairs at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management after him.

Oliver Hayes “O. H.” Dean

A lawyer and judge, Dean was also a founder of the Kansas City School of Law in 1895. He served as the school’s vice president from 1895-1902 and president for the next 25 years. He added the post-graduate program and oversaw construction of the law school in 1926, to which he donated his personal law library.

Tatiana Dokoudovska

A world-renowned ballerina, Dokoudovska joined the Conservatory of Music in 1954 as head of the ballet department, a position she held until her retirement in 1989. She initiated UMKC’s bachelor’s degree in dance at a time when few such programs were available in the United States. A choreographer and artistic director, she founded the Kansas City Civic Ballet, which later became the Kansas City Ballet.

An outgrowth of the Conservatory of Music’s recital program, she developed the Ballet from its humble beginnings to a nationally recognized company.

Uriah Spray “U.S.” Epperson

Banker, industrialist and philanthropist, Epperson hired eccentric French architect Horace LaPierre to design a monumental mansion at 52nd and Cherry streets for himself and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Weaver Epperson. Construction on the house began in 1919 and was completed in 1923 at a cost of nearly $500,000. The four-story Tudor-Gothic structure contained 54 rooms, including six bathrooms, elevators, a swimming pool, billiard room, barbershop and a custom organ. After the death of Mary Epperson, the home was donated to what is now UMKC.

Since that time, the house has been rumored to be haunted by Harriet Barse, an organ instructor at the Conservatory who lived with the Eppersons. Reports of the haunting include the appearance of Barse’s ghost and organ music coming from the mansion’s basement.

Lena Haag

Born in 1864, Haag left home in 1879 to attend the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Pennsylvania. An exceptional pianist, her interest in art and music developed at the school. After graduation, she returned to Kansas City and continued her studies in art. In 1936, she made an anonymous donation of $225,000 to the university. This donation, kept anonymous until her death in 1951, provided funding for the construction of Haag Hall, endowment and student loan funds and the fine arts program.

Herbert F. and Linda Hall 

Herbert and Linda Hall lived in a 1913 mansion at 51st and Cherry streets. Upon her death in 1938, Linda Hall established an endowment for a free, specialized library. Her husband left additional millions of dollars for the library, which he instructed be named for his wife. In 1946, the Linda Hall Library opened in the couple’s mansion. In 1964, the library relocated to a new structure next to the Hall’s home. Independently funded and operated, Linda Hall Library provides resources to researchers around the world.

Charles Francis Horner

In response to area demand for musical education, Horner founded the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in 1914, which he headed until 1934, eight years after it became the Kansas City Conservatory of Music.

Ernest Newcomb

Founder of the University of Kansas City, Newcomb wrote the school's charter, hired faculty, outlined the courses and opened the university. While establishing the school, Newcomb collaborated with businessman and philanthropist, William Volker, who donated the land for the campus. Newcomb left the school in 1938 but was publicly acknowledged as the father of the university in 1977.

Elmer F. Pierson

Founder of Vendo, a vending machine manufacturer, Pierson donated $250,000 for Pierson Auditorium and established the John B. Gage Lecture and Fellowship Fund.

Kenneth Aldred and Helen E. Foresman Spencer

Kenneth Spencer was a third-generation coal mine owner and one of the original founders of MRIGlobal. Generous philanthropists, he and his wife, Helen Spencer, provided the financial gift for the Spencer Theatre, the original home of the Missouri Repertory Theatre.

Edward F. Swinney

A Kansas City School Board member and president of the American Bankers Association and the First National Bank of Kansas City, Swinney established the Edward F. Swinney Trust, and the Swinney Recreation Center bears his name.

William Volker

Businessman and philanthropist, Volker’s generosity left an enduring impact across UMKC and the Kansas City community. He donated 40 acres and a house to launch the University of Kansas City (now UMKC) and contributed more than $2.5 million for its campus and structures. The Volker Campus is named after him. Known as “Mr. Anonymous of Bell Street,” Volker also quietly provided assistance for those in need across the city, along with millions of dollars in gifts to philanthropic organizations and projects.

Hazel Browne Williams

The first African American full-time professor at UMKC, Williams became an associate professor at the School of Education in 1958 and was a full professor in secondary education in 1960. She retired in 1976, after serving on the faculty for 18 years, and was granted emeritus status — the first Back person to receive this honor from UMKC.

Published: Oct 31, 2023

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