“I am a positive person. If someone wants to start a business, go get it done. I see the world in positives—I just don’t hear too well!”
– Dick Pratt
The next time you visit Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas, look closely at the items on display in the Wilt Chamberlain exhibit and you will see a letter addressed to Dick Pratt with a handwritten note from Phog Allen at the bottom.
While attending the University of Kansas, Dick would sit on a wooden stage in Hoch Auditorium and watch Phog Allen coach the basketball players. The sport was still in its infancy at the time, so the crowds were often small. When Phog Allen had the auditorium named after him, Dick sent him a note to congratulate him on the honor.
In return, Phog Allen wanted to thank Dick for his kind words, so he wrote Dick a letter with a handwritten note at the bottom that read, “Come back and see Mrs. Allen and I.” Touched that the coach would take the time to write a simple student, Dick kept the letter. He rolled it up and placed it in the bottom of a cardboard box, where it sat for 65 years. His family discovered the letter while helping Dick move and contacted the KU history department to see if they were interested in displaying it.
“On the way to KU, Dick had the letter rolled up in his hand and was swatting flies with it,” Dick’s daughterin-law, Jan Pratt recalled with a laugh. “Wouldn’t you know it, when we got to the auditorium, the lady who greeted us put on white gloves before handling the letter.”
Born and raised in Colby, Kansas, Dick grew up working in his father’s hardware store and knew he wanted to be a businessman. When he arrived at the University of Kansas his freshman year, planning to work toward a business degree, he saw a recruitment poster from the Navy ROTC that read “Sign up. See the World. Get your Degree.” He did just that. As a member of the inaugural class of the Navy ROTC at the University of Kansas, Dick attended classes during the school term and spent his summers on the west coast working as a midshipman aboard a Navy ship.
“I saw that sign and just went down there and signed up,” Dick said. “It was the smartest thing I ever did.”
Not only was his tuition paid for, but he was also able to see more of the world than most Midwestern boys ever dream of. After graduation, he served as an officer of the Navy for three years, stationed out of Camp Pendleton, California. He ended up serving on a ship that traveled around North Korea during the Korean War.
In 1952, after being discharged from the Navy, Dick married his longtime sweetheart, Nancy, and moved back to Kansas. His father had purchased a hardware store in Topeka and wanted Dick to run it for him. When they sold the hardware store in 1965, Dick pursued his entrepreneurial dream and purchased two Parkview drug stores—one located at 10th and Topeka Boulevard, and one at 835 Kansas—that he renamed Super D Drugs. He opened three more locations and operated the Super D Drug stores for the next 30 years.
“We had a fountain in the drug store,” Dick said. “That was always fun. At that time, drug stores all had fountains. That Super D across from the State office building was the last store in town to still have a fountain.”
No matter how busy he was running the daily operations of five sundry stores, Dick always felt compelled to serve his community. Over the years he was involved with numerous organizations including, the Capper Foundation, the Boy Scouts of America, the Lion’s Club, the YMCA and the State Civil Service Board. He served as Chairman of the State Chamber board, President of Downtown Topeka, and President of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.
His love for downtown Topeka was all encompassing. His involvement in the various organizations and associations affiliated with downtown was too numerous to count.
“He loved it so much he joined every organization that helped the kids, the community and the businesses downtown,” Dick’s son, Gary Pratt, said. “Dad was involved in anything that would help Topeka grow.”
Dick played his own role in helping downtown Topeka grow by renovating a building at 503 Kansas Avenue and leasing it to the state.
“I really believe that downtown is the thing that keeps your community going,” Dick said. “We are pretty lucky here to have the Capitol and state offices here. We need to have our downtown looking good for those visitors that come.”
“Dick’s unbridled enthusiasm and love for Topeka, coupled with his eternally upbeat and positive attitude, make him a true treasure for Topeka and a joy to know. He has touched the life of everyone around him.”
– Jack Brier, US Alliance Life
“Dick’s contribution to our community is invaluable. He brought a fantastic mix of business sense and creative energy to any discussion, project or event. Dick was a natural leader and was always willing to mentor. He had a tremendous desire to give back to the community and in my opinion was one of Topeka’s finest business and civic leaders.”
– Greg Schwerdt, Schwerdt Design Group