On Wednesday, a small corner of the over 100-acre Finnup Park was dedicated to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first steps of its transformation as a focal point for the Garden City community.

Several dozen people gathered at the Finney County Historical Museum for the season’s final Brown Bag lunchtime seminar about local history, this time noting the monumental anniversary of the day George Finnup donated the land to the City of Garden City to be set aside as a public park, as well as the lasting legacy of the Finnup family on the area today.

“George Finnup wanted to make the community a better place to live, just like his father did. They were very invested in Garden City and making it a good place for all, and so that’s where their philanthropy extended,” said Amy Heinemann, executive assistant at the Finnup Foundation.

Heinemann and Caverly Hart, executive director of the Finnup Foundation, caught guests up on the history of the Finnups, some of Garden City’s earliest residents who included three generations of local entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

The story starts with Frederick Finnup traveling to America from Germany in 1845, arriving in the country with his family but, surprisingly, without their belongings, Hart and Heinemann said. He went to school through fifth grade and eventually joined the Civil War as a Union soldier, an experience that would dominate the memoir he penned at age 48.

And then he came to Kansas, and he thought it was beautiful.

It was in the state where he met his wife, Wilhemina, and Garden City legend Buffalo Jones, who convinced Finnup to come support the budding town of Garden City. In 1879, Frederick, Wilhemina and their three children would come to town and purchase the first two deeds of land and build the town's first two buildings, which still stand today on Main Street.

Frederick’s oldest son, George, became a prominent businessman in his own right, as well as a “quietly generous” philanthropist to several people and entities in Garden City. He provided matching funds for local school libraries, the land for the Carnegie Library and bonds for local churches. When the town was on the verge of bankruptcy, George found a way to bail it out.

On May 8, 1919, he donated the land, formerly town lots, for Finnup Park, a gift to the city and memorial to his parents. In years to come, the day would become a well-renowned and, at one point, ever-growing local holiday. There was a parade with historical floats and covered wagons and oxen, and stores hosted historical displays — everything was a look back at the pioneer days that birthed Garden City. At least one year, the governor came to town to celebrate, Heinemann said.

Hart’s mother, Katherine, a longtime key member of the Finnup Foundation’s board, said her mother always told her children were let out of school for the citywide event.

The event has since faded from Garden City, but the family’s contributions did not end with George, Caverly Hart and Heinemann said. George and his wife, Alta, had two children, Isabel and another Frederick who became the founders of the Finnup Foundation, which to this day acts as a prominent philanthropic organization in Garden City.

Neither Isabel and the younger Frederick would marry or have children, but the impact of the foundation can be seen around town in land and building gifts to a Gray County YMCA campground, the Garden City Salvation Army, the current Finney County Public Library, a piano lab at Garden City Community College, the Finney County Historical Society and the Finnup Center for Conservation Education at Lee Richardson Zoo, Heinemann said.

Some locals knew the youngest Finnups, some are aware of their impact and some often mix them up with the Fultons, another early, prominent Garden City family, said Steve Quakenbush, executive director of the Finney County Historical Society. The extended family carrying on the name do not live in Garden City, but their presence is not intangible, he said.

The park alone is home to basketball courts, picnic shelters and playgrounds, as well as the Finney County Historical Museum, Lee Richardson Zoo and the Big Pool. The museum saw 28,000 visitors from 41 states in 2018, and the zoo 207,000 people from at least 37 states, plus Mexico and Germany.

What the Finnups made is still infused with life in Garden City.

“Garden City is, in my opinion, a unique and special place and part of that is due to the legacy of the Finnups … Quality of life was an important factor for all the generations of the Finnup family, and we’re still seeing that today,” Quakenbush said.


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.