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Kansas City Arts, Philanthropic Communities Mourn Death Of Stephen Metzler

Kathy Disney

Members of Kansas City's arts, LGBT and non-profit organizations are in deep mourning over the death of Stephen Metzler, widely described as "a pillar of the community" who suffered a stroke and died Tuesday at St. Luke's Hospital. He was 66. 

Metzler was the longtime president and chief financial officer of Kansas City-based Metzler Bros. Insurance, a property and casualty insurance company started by his father and uncle in 1946. The company was bought by Arthur J. Gallaher & Co. in 2013, but Metzler remained with the firm.

A leader in arts and cultural organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area, Metzler served on the board of trustees at the Kansas City Art Institute and in 2012 he was elected chair. He was a founding board member of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey and former chair of the board of Kansas City Young Audiences. He also served on the boards of the Heartland Men's Chorus, the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Employment Network, the AIDS Council of Greater Kansas City and the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City, where he was president from 1992 to 2003.

Metzler received numerous awards and accolades, including the AIDS Service Foundation's Marion Creamer Ribbon of Hope award, the John and Marion Award for Volunteer Community Service, and the inaugural Virtuoso Award from the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City.

"He made a lasting impression on the arts landscape in Kansas City," said Tyrone Aiken, executive director of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. "I am at a loss, I’m devastated."

Aiken noted Metzler's role in 1984 as the first co-chair for Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey's Gala, a benefit to funds arts programming that would ultimately reach tens of thousands of children.

"It was at a pivotal time for Kansas City," Aiken said. "We were really trying to bring the minority and majority communities together, 31 years ago. Steve championed the arts, championed diversity and really supported lots of nonprofits in their endeavors, including working with children."

"Steve Metzler loved the Kansas City Art Institute, and the KCAI community loved him back," wrote Tony Jones, the Art Institute's interim president. "Since joining the KCAI board of trustees in May 2008, he has given unstintingly of his time and talents, never more so than in the last several months. He served as interim president of the college when the college’s previous president retired in August and continued in that role until I stepped in as interim president in December. In fact, when people have asked me why I came to KCAI, my response has been, 'Because Steve Metzler called and asked me.' Hardly a day has gone by, since I joined the college, when Steve hasn’t been physically on our campus. He was a thoughtful, kindly presence among us, and he is quite simply irreplaceable."

In an email late Tuesday, Heartland Men's Chorus Executive Director Rick Fisher called Metzler "a champion in the gay community."

"Steve, along with his partner Brian Williams, have been long-time supporters of the Chorus," Fisher wrote. "Steve and Brian were honorary chairs of the very first Dinner of Note, held on the stage of the Folly Theater in 1996. Always gracious hosts, they opened their Hyde Park home for the Chorus Garden Party, and their annual holiday gathering always specified that guests should make donations to the Chorus or to the AIDS Service Foundation."

Blaine Proctor, CEO of Save Inc., said there were very few charitable organizations in town that Metzler didn't touch.

"Kansas City's loss is heaven's gain," Proctor said. "He was one of those angels on earth."

Metzler is survived by his partner of more than two decades, Brian Williams, five siblings, 14 nieces and nephews, and countless friends. 

The rosary will be prayed at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 11 East 40th Street, Kansas City, Mo., on Friday at 5:30 p.m. with visitation until 9 p.m. Funeral services will take place on Saturday at 10 a.m., also at St. Paul's, and internment at Calvary Cemetery. 

A public celebration of Metzler's life will take place on April 11 at the Folly Theater, 300 West 12th Street, Kansas City, Mo.  

Instead of flowers, the family recommends memorial contributions to the Metzler Family Scholarship Fund at Rockhurst High School, or to "one of the many charities that Steve supported."

Editor's note: Updated March 27

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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