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From left, Ralph Slavens, Sam Hamra, Bill Birdon and Gene Herndon pose for a picture during a Springfield Jaycees plaque presentation in 1963 in St. Louis. Hamra, Slavens and Virdon remained close until Slavens’ death.
Photo provided by Sam Hamra
From left, Ralph Slavens, Sam Hamra, Bill Birdon and Gene Herndon pose for a picture during a Springfield Jaycees plaque presentation in 1963 in St. Louis. Hamra, Slavens and Virdon remained close until Slavens’ death.

A Silent Hero: Ralph Slavens remembered for behind-the-scenes work

The Missourian Award founder died Sept. 24

Posted online

Longtime real estate broker Ralph Slavens will be remembered by his friends and family as a great facilitator and organizer.

They say he was always finding ways to bring people together – whether for a commercial real estate deal, to positively impact the community or to celebrate others’ accomplishments.

Slavens, the founder of the Missourian Award, died Sept. 24, at Cox South Hospital surrounded by his loved ones. He was 87.

“He had a marvelous way of connecting with people and staying connected, because he just never forgot you,” said longtime friend and former Re/Max broker Connie Gourley. “He always wanted to be a facilitator and a helper; those were qualities that were just unbelievable about him.”

In addition to the Missourian Award, Slavens founded the Silent Hero Award, the North Springfield Betterment Association and the Baron’s Club, those close to him say. Slavens served as a member of the Junior Jaycees, the Springfield Jaycees and Abou Ben Adhem Shrine, according to an obituary provided by Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home Inc.

He also was active on several boards, such as the Airport Board, City Utilities, CoxHealth and for several banks. At the state level, Slavens served on the Missouri Real Estate Commission from November 1978 to October 1981, according to Carmen Cobb, licensure supervisor with the state Division of Professional Registration.

“He was No. 1 at everything he set his sights on,” said his son, Tony Slavens, who is retired from City Utilities. “Dad was an overachiever for life.”

Making deals
Ralph Slavens began his career as a commercial real estate broker in the late ’50s after getting his start selling sewing machines. After seeing a friend dressed in a nice suit brokering real estate, Slavens’ son said his father quickly dove into the industry and remained active until his death.

“That was his true love,” Tony Slavens said.

His business, Ralph Slavens Real Estate Co., was a one-man operation that mostly dealt with undeveloped commercial land and shopping centers, said Sam Hamra, founder of Hamra Enterprises and a longtime friend.

Gourley remembers Slavens as a great facilitator.

“People from various different walks of life used him when they knew something needed to be developed. Ralph had a very natural way to be a starter and get funding for things,” she said. “That was a very strong talent of his.”

Hamra said he’d get a call from Slavens every now and then about a property, and Hamra would find himself investing in something new, even when he wasn’t looking to add to his portfolio. Hamra also hired Slavens as his broker a few times in the ’60s and ’70s in commercial real estate purchases, including the acquisition of a farm and real estate condos the company no longer owns.

“He had a knack of bringing parties together with buying and selling properties,” Hamra said.

The two friends met in 1959 while they were members of the Springfield Jaycees. Hamra remembers visiting a bar after a club meeting.

“This guy walks in and says he wants a Budweiser and that ‘that guy down there will pay for it.’ He pointed across the bar to me,” Hamra said, noting a bottle of beer was about 50 cents at the time. “I’ve been buying his beer ever since then. We became fast friends after that.”

When he wasn’t brokering a deal, Slavens was lobbying locally and in Jefferson City, Hamra said. Real estate clients often would want help passing legislation or securing funding for a project, and Slavens would rally behind it, Hamra said, though he was unable to recall specific cases. He was active in Democratic politics, and unsuccessfully ran for Senate several times, most recently in the 1980s.

Slavens also had a very close relationship with John Q. Hammons, the late hotelier and entrepreneur. Slavens was Hammons’ broker, lobbyist and friend.

“John Q. confided in Ralph quite a bit,” Hamra said. “He was very close to John Q. Hammons. He looked at Ralph as an adopted son.”

Slavens had been a lobbyist for Hammons for 15 years before the hotelier’s death in 2013. He also served as the membership chairman at Hammons’ Highland Springs Country Club, according to the obituary.

After Hammons’ passing, Hamra said Slavens was influential in raising funds to erect the bronze Hammons statue at the corner of St. Louis Street and John Q. Hammons Parkway.

Recognizing others
According to Slavens’ friends and family, he was always putting the spotlight on others.

He and his wife Corrine, who preceded him in death, created the Missourian Award in 1994 to honor individuals who have made a lasting impact on the state.

This year’s class, including criminal defense attorney Dee Wampler and Integrity Home Care Inc. CEO Greg Horton, were inducted Sept. 14. Past award winners include Hammons, Walter Cronkite, Walt Disney and Harry Truman, according to the Missourian Award website. Slavens received his own recognition as a surprise in 2017.

Over 250 individuals have been awarded the Missourian Award, according to information provided by Brooke Bigham, board chairwoman of the Missourian Award.

Ralph Slavens also created the Silent Hero Award in 2004 to recognize those who make a difference in the community behind the scenes. The recognition is accompanied by signed resolutions from the state Senate and House of Representatives and a proclamation by the governor, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

One year, the North Springfield Betterment Association surprised Slavens with his own Silent Hero Award recognition.

“Ralph didn’t do these things for himself, personally, he did it to help the city of Springfield,” Hamra said. “He was well respected by business and community leaders. If he gave you his word, you could bank on it.”

Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.

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