Ready to serve

Kent Becker enjoys some remaining free time on the family farm west of Durham before he officially begins his new job as the District 1 commissioner for Marion County March 27. He is the third generation to live at the family location. Becker said his grandfather built the barn in the background around 1917.Kent Becker of rural Durham says he’s ready to become Marion County’s newest commissioner when he fills the District 1 seat March 27.

“I don’t have any set agenda,” Becker said. “I want to be a good listener and serve constituents the way they deserve to be served.”

Becker succeeds Lori Lalouette, whose resignation became effective March 20. Becker was chosen to fill the vacancy when he received the most votes at a Republic precinct convention Feb. 16 in Hillsboro.

“I like being involved,” Becker said in an interview at his home west of Durham. “The last general election, I did have several people ask me to consider running. It just seemed like there wasn’t a lot of interest.

“I kept thinking this isn’t right,” he said. “There should be more interest in that. But I was so busy then, I thought maybe the next time (the seat opened) I’d consider it.”

When Lalouette resigned, Becker said many of those same people asked him to allow his name to be submitted for consideration.

“I knew I was retiring, so this is a chance to go ahead and fulfill that thought—whether I got it or not.”

Becker was elected with a majority of nine votes among the 17 ballots submitted.

Third-generation resident

Becker and wife Ginger, a schoolteacher in Marion, live on the Becker family farm.

“My grandad actually purchased this farm right after the Depression,” Kent said. His father, Dorman, bought the farm when it became available.

“After my parents passed, I purchased the farm,” he said, adding with a smile, “I rent my land out. It wouldn’t be a very good investment to buy farm equipment right now.

The Beckers like living at the homestead.

I like to hunt and fish, and my kids like to hunt and fish,” he said. “We probably won’t be able to live here forever, but at least for right now we enjoy it.”

Early path

Becker was a member of one of the last classes to graduate from Durham High School back in 1970.

“I’ve been around this area except for about eight years for college and working six years at Boeing in Wichita,” he said. “My oldest son was just starting school and we were wanting to get him out of Wichita.”

In 1978, the Beckers moved back to the family farm and Becker joined the family banking operation in Durham.

“I’ve been born and raised here, and worked in banking pretty much since ’78,” he said. “Also, I’ve been involved in some insurance and real estate—a little bit of everything, but banking was the emphasis.

“We sold the bank in 1988, which became Central National Bank,” he added. “I worked for them until ’98, then moved to Tampa State Bank and worked there until I retired. I have 39 years in banking itself.”

Public service resume

Throughout his time with the bank, Becker was involved in a variety of public service roles, including two terms on the USD 410 school board when Robert C. Brown was superintendent.

“I learned a lot from that man,” Becker said. “He was good with individuals, plus it was back in a time when we had funding, and we built buildings, we made improvements. We did a lot of that while I was on (the board).

Becker also served a term on the county’s planning and zoning commission and was involved in a variety of committees.

“I was involved with church-related things and banking-related things,” he said. “I served on the governing council for Kansas Bankers Association for a year. I got to spend a little time in Topeka doing that.”

When they family lived in Durham, Becker served on the local city council, and has been a member of board of Rural Fire District No. 1 for the past six years.

Family connections

The Beckers’ sons have families of their own by now.

“My oldest son, Tony, lives in Monument, Colo.,” he said. “He is married and has two daughters. My youngest son, Todd, lives out at Eastshore (at Marion Reservoir) and has two sons. He works maintenance at Parkside.”

Wife Ginger is in her 26th year of teaching. She started her teaching career with the Centre school district as a teacher at the Lost Springs school.

She’s been teaching at USD 408 in Marion since then, which requires a 24-mile daily commute.

Noting the issues

To prepare for his new role, Becker has been observing county commission meetings since his precinct victory. He has become familiar with the major issues the county faces.

“We’ve got to get some businesses and keep our young people in this county,” he said, referring to the work of the volunteer economic development committee.

“I see some really good resource people there, so I have optimism about this board,” he added. “We’ve done some things before that I haven’t been as optimistic about. But with the people I see on there now, they will seek opportunities.”

Becker cited infrastructure as another challenging issue.

“Ag is still the No. 1 business in this county,” he said. “We have some road situations. I feel we need to keep the good, and the stuff that is really bad we have to try to find a way to at least keep it safe for travel.

“With the equipment farmers are using nowadays, none of our roads were built with that in mind.”

Another pressing concern is emergency medical service.

“The ambulance situation is critical,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to pay EMTs to keep them. We’ve got too many EMTs who are working in Newton or Abilene or Wichita.”

Lack of funding is the unifying factor for most issues facing the county, but Becker doesn’t see tax increases as the solution.

“I’m not in favor of increasing taxes at all,” he said. “Some of the sales tax issues are coming up. We may have to extend them or continue them.

“Especially for our property owners, the tax bill goes up every year, it seems like,” he added. “It’s getting harder and harder for young people to buy a home.”

Becker knows finding solutions will be challenging, but he said he’s ready to go to work.

“I want a strong commission that is open to the public and tries to maximize what we can do, when we can do it,” he said. “I’m excited to get started.”

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