WICHITA — The new Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has a Wichita connection dating to the 1800s, but even co-president Kemper Isely wasn’t fully aware of it until the Colorado chain started preparing to open here.
The store opens the day before Thanksgiving in the former Borders Books space at 1715 N. Rock Road.
Isely’s parents, Philip and Margaret Isely, started the chain as a regional grocery in 1955. Philip Isely is a Montezuma, Kan., native. Kemper Isely knew that, but he didn’t realize his great uncle William Henry Isely’s importance to Wichita State University.
At the April 1973 dedication of Isely Lane at WSU, then-president Clark Ahlberg praised Isely and Nathan Morrison, who was president of Fairmount Institute, which became Fairmount College – the forerunner of WSU.
“Were it not for Dean Isely and for his colleague, President Morrison, who came in the following year, we might not now be enjoying this beautiful campus with its enduring and encompassing educational advantages and facilities,” Ahlberg said, according to a transcript of his speech.
The transcript says Isely began his career at Fairmount in 1894 as a history and political science teacher. He became principal within a month.
“The story is told that immediately following his arrival in Wichita with his wife and youngster, Merrill, he heard that Fairmount Institute … was to be closed,” Ahlberg said. “With Merrill in his arms, he pleaded with the trustees to preserve Fairmount.”
Ahlberg said Isely was “the stabilizing force and the academic leader at the college.”
The transcript says Isely once wrote, “The college is not going to stop more than the moon is.”
This history is news to Kemper Isely.
“I was kind of surprised by it, actually,” he says.
Isely says his father was estranged from that side of his family for a while.
“Just recently our dad started talking about that side of the family again,” he says. “Now that he’s old, he’s started thinking about them again.”
Much as Isely is surprised by his family’s Wichita roots, his father is similarly surprised Natural Grocers will be opening here.
“He thought it was really interesting that we were coming back to the state he was born in,” Isely says. “He said, ‘Wow, that’s kind of amazing, actually.’ He’s kind of astonished we’ve come full circle back.”