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In This Issue

       

George Ablah enriched Wichita State through the arts, library support and more

courtesy photo of George Ablah
George Ablah

James Rhatigan knew George Ablah when the Wichita developer was at the height of his business success and when he was at his lowest, trying to rebuild after financial losses.

“Either way, he was exactly the same guy,” said Rhatigan, former consultant for the WSU Foundation. “He always asked how you were doing. He was a man who made many millions of dollars over his life, but he was never pretentious.”

Ablah, regarded as a brilliant real estate developer who helped shape Wichita’s growth and who guided business deals across the country, died Oct. 27. He was 85.

He and his wife, Virginia, gave generously to Wichita State University through the years. The couple donated important pieces of art to the university, including Francisco Zuniga’s “Three Women Walking” and Fernando Botero’s “Man With Cane and Woman With Umbrella.” They are now part of the WSU Foundation’s outdoor sculpture collection.

Life members of the WSU Alumni Association and past recipients of the Alumni Achievement Award, the Ablahs established the Louise Findlay Music Award scholarship in 1983 and donated a Steinway grand concert piano — both in honor of Virginia’s mother — to provide support for School of Music students at WSU. They also contributed to women’s studies and the Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization.

The Ablah name at Wichita State is most famously known for Ablah Library, which was built in 1962 through contributions made by the family. George Ablah led the family’s effort to build the Colorado-Derby building in downtown Wichita. After the building was donated to Wichita State, lease income helped pay off the bonds used to construct the new library. Proceeds from the sale of the Colorado-Derby building in 1990 were used to establish the Frank and Harvey Ablah Family’s Fund, which continues to generate funds for the library today. Frank Ablah was George’s father; Harvey was his uncle.

“George, as well as Virginia, have always had a place in their hearts for Wichita State,” said Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the WSU Foundation. “The prominent sculptures they donated, which grace our campus so beautifully, are an enduring reminder of their support in so many arenas.”

Ablah’s career in real estate took off during the 1960s and ’70s, as he bought, renovated and sold commercial properties in Houston, Minneapolis, Dallas, Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago, among other cities. He developed many of the buildings and shopping centers along Rock Road north of 21st, including Comotara Tower at 29th Street North and Rock Road, as well as Willowbend golf course and residential community, with partner Johnny Stevens. His development of northeast Wichita ignited huge growth in the area and helped lead to the K-96 bypass.

In 1998, George and Virginia were named to the Wichita Business Hall of Fame, which was created by Wichita Junior Achievement, as a result of the important role they played in the development of North Rock Road.

George Ablah was born March 24, 1929, in Wichita, the son of Lebanese immigrants Frank and Nellie Ablah. He served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He is survived by his wife, five children, 19 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.