Greensburg’s anonymous giver

Volz, 65, who lost so much in the Greensburg tornado, including his wife, died this month

Norman Volz kept a sign on his counter in the office of his Greensburg, Kansas, oil business.

“Bad planning on your part does not constitute an automatic emergency on my part,” it read.

The salt-and-pepper-haired man came across as a gruff, no-nonsense businessman. He didn’t mince words. A private person, he kept his emotions to himself and hated attention.

That was the man Volz wanted his customers to see.

Yet, those who knew him said he was a generous giver. He worked behind the scenes to rebuild his hometown when a tornado destroyed it. And he did so without wanting recognition or a thank you.

“Norm had a heart of gold,” said Kiowa County farmer Ki Gamble. “He would help anybody. He would give the shirt off his back and didn’t expect anything return out of it. For a man to lose all he lost in the tornado and still have that gift, it’s second to none.”

On May 4, 2007, Volz lost his home and his friend and employee of 18 years, Larry Hoskins; he would eventually bury his father-in-law, Max McColm, who sustained injuries in the storm.

He also lost the love of his life, his wife, Beverly. Brokenhearted, he never adjusted to life without her, Gamble said.

Volz died at his home April 2 at the age of 65. Those who looked beyond the crusty outer shell knew him as a philanthropic man with a soft heart.

“Many people don’t realize that,” said Barrett Smith, a community college agriculture instructor who farms in the region. “He had this rough exterior, but behind the white hair and glasses, the old man I knew was this guy who loved K-State, loved guns and loved rural life. He gave so much to the community. He was the pillar of it.”

Volz grew up in Greensburg where his dad operated the local John Deere dealership and had an oil company. After graduating from Greensburg High School in 1971, Volz joined his father in Volz Oil Co. Volz operated the Greensburg location and his brother, Duane, was based in Kinsley.

He married Beverly in 1973 and she worked alongside him, doing the books and paperwork while Volz delivered fuel, said his longtime friend, Charlie Jungemann.

The Volzs never had children but shared a love of cats.

“They would save every stray cat they could,” Gamble said.

Pat Janssen, who farms in Kiowa and Edwards counties, said if neighbors pitched in to help an ailing farmer harvest his crops, Volz would show up at the field with his fuel truck.

“He led by example, there is no question about that,” Janssen said. “I know for me personally, he helped me out over the years as a young guy just starting farming.”

Dennis McKinney, another local farmer, recalled how a farmer helping a neighbor plant wheat found a credit on his fuel bill for his expenses. That happened a few times, he said.

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“If farmers were helping a neighbor, Norm would always find a way to help out and very few people ever knew about it,” McKinney said.

“The scripture says, “The left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing,” he added. “When giving, that was Norm.”

Volz’s life changed when the E-F5 tornado swept through town, Jungemann said.

Volz and Beverly lived on Main Street in a home without a basement. Beverly’s father was recovering from a surgery and was staying with the couple.

As they huddled in a hallway in the house waiting out the storm, a piece of guardrail from a bridge blew in, hitting Beverly, 52, Jungemann said.

It cut her legs. She died the next day. Her father, age 77, died a few months later.

“When Norm lost his wife, he became more secluded,” Jungemann said. “She was the love of his life. When she died, he wanted to be by himself. It would take a toll on anybody.”

Volz struggled to go on without Beverly, but his benevolence continued through his grief.

Through Kiowa County United, he helped rebuild Greensburg’s Main Street. He gave to the Twilight Theatre.

Gamble said at one point during the theatre’s campaign, he had to go back to Volz and ask for more money.

Volz didn’t bat an eye about it, he said.

“‘Beverly and I never had any kids,’” Gamble said he told him. “‘If this money I give keeps the doors open and keeps one kid from going to a movie in Dodge City and falling asleep and getting in a car wreck, then it was worth it.’”

A room for cats in Pratt Area Humane Society’s building was dedicated to Beverly. Also, when a local 4-Her was left off the sale bill for the Kiowa County Fair, Volz stepped in, said Smith, who also was the county’s former Extension agent.

“He wrote a check into the fair for that kid for that premium,” Smith said. “He was very proud of the kids.”

Longtime friend Jungemann said Volz loved golf and helped rebuild the town’s course.

“There wouldn’t be a golf course if he hadn’t taken over,” Jungemann said.

“He was very generous. He was a very nice person,” he added. “He’s been a good friend for the past 40 years.”

Local resident Danny Toner said after Volz’s hired man died, he offered to help him on weekends. Toner’s father and grandfather both purchased fuel from Volz and his father.

It turned into a full-time job.

Toner said he knew a kind but private man who took care of his employees.

“Most of his charity work you will never know about and hear about,” he said. “He was just a giver. He didn’t want the publicity—none at all.”

It goes back to the sign on his desk, said Smith. He might have grumbled a bit, but even on a 110-degree Sunday afternoon, if a local irrigator ran out of fuel for his center-pivot, Norm would have been there.

Amy Bickel can be reached at 620-860-9433 or [email protected].