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Henry Ettenson, who died at Leavenworth October 19, 1909, though of foreign birth deserved and exemplified every characteristic associated with the title of a true American citizen. His was a career remarkable for obstacles overcome, for successes attained and for influences that helped make a community better and greater.
He was born at Wilkowishken, Russia, June 30, 1850, one of a family of five children. He received the foundation of a practical education in his native country, and like most Jewish boys was well grounded in those two essential cardinal virtues of success–thrift and industry. To avoid the compulsory military duty that was required of Russian citizens two of his brothers had emigrated to America. Probably it was because of this he too left home at the age of sixteen and came to this country for the purpose of making it his future home.
He landed in New York City practically penniless. His first efforts to make a living, to use his own language, were as a “wholesale and retail lumber merchant.” He humorously applied that pretentious description to what was in fact the work of peddling matches. Four years later he arrived in Kansas. He had heard that splendid opportunities existed in this state for making money. Though he possessed the knowledge of the glazier’s trade he found no opening in this line and again he became a peddler. In that capacity he traveled all about the country. Selling goods from house to house and by personal interview he thus acquired a knowledge of the English language and also a keen insight into the different phases of American character.
Henry Ettenson was no ordinary individual. He had fixed ideas of business, the foundation of which was honesty. Because of his birthright he at first received scant courtesy at times. But he possessed an unusual capacity for inspiring confidence and making friends. This was a great asset in his future career. In two years he had a small store at Leavenworth. Perhaps there never lived in Kansas a man so gifted with a keen business foresight as Mr. Ettenson. He looked ahead. He foresaw possibilities and had the rare faculty of correctly weighing probabilities. With the passing of time he prospered to an unusual degree. The original store burned, but on its ashes he founded the present magnificent four-story and basement brick structure and established a general line of dry goods. This property is now the Ettenson-Winnig Company, in which three of his sons are largely interested.
The activities of Mr. Ettenson were not confined to mercantile pursuits alone. He was one of the first to foresee the future possibilities of Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He made extensive investments in property there. He bought the old Elms Hotel and surrounding grounds. This hotel was destroyed by fire before being insured, but that calamity did not in the least daunt him in carrying out his plans. In this as always Mr. Ettenson seemed to be a man who could thrive on difficulties. At Excelsior Springs he erected a bottling works, and in the end his investments and management made him a fortune.
Thirty years or more ago, long before the idea had received any practical application, Mr. Ettenson realized the possibilities in a chain of stores. He did not develop his own business according to that plan, but instead he followed the principle of establishing stores and soon divorcing them from a centralized management. He would turn such stores over to deserving young men, after first stocking the store, and then would allow the owner to repay him for his outlay.
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In many other ways Mr. Ettenson was a valued and valuable resident of Leavenworth. Although of foreign birth he was in every essential a loyal American citizen. He took a pride in his citizenship, and was always ready to support what was for the good of the community. While in no sense a politician he stood for only what was the best in politics. In 1901 there was general dissatisfaction over the management of the waterworks system at Leavenworth. That the city might benefit and because his business judgment told him it was a good investment, Mr. Ettenson published and offered to buy the plant and assets for $400,000, and to pay the city a bonus of $150,000 for a twenty years’ franchise to furnish the city water. With this offer he published the facsimile of a certified check for $25,000 as an evidence of good faith. The offer was not accepted, but it brought about what he expected, and thereafter the city had better water service. He was also a participant in several municipal reform movements. He promoted an independent electric lighting company that had for its purpose the reduction of the existing high rates. He advocated municipal ownership of public utilities, and was one of the men responsible for placing Leavenworth under the commission form of government. He was not only a man distinguished for his broad views, but for his courage in voicing them. He left an impress for lasting good in his community. While a strict business man he had a tender, sympathetic heart. Unknown to the world he was a benefactor of the poor and unfortunate, and presented the picture of an ideal citizen.
Mr. Ettenson was married in 1875 to Rebecca Winnig. Seven children were born to them: Lillian, Mrs. I. B. Lipson; Harriet, Mrs. A. J. Pflaum; Charles; Seth; Benjamin; Moe; and Samuel H.