World Traveler Makes Big Impact at Home: Don Kahan
Don Kahan spent much of his early life going places. The rest of his life has been spent helping others go places.
During his college years, Don took time off from Tulane to travel abroad, riding a BSA motorcycle around Europe and staying in youth hostels. He was overseas when the Korean War broke out in 1950 and got drafted shortly afterward.
After serving his country as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, Don went back to college and finished his degree at UCLA. Then he went to work for Feld Chevrolet in Kansas City, Kansas, where he learned the transportation business from the ground up.
"The dealer handed me a mop and said good luck," Don recalls with a chuckle. "I think that is the best thing anybody can do for kids if they're in the business is to start them out that way. It was a matter of snooping around, looking over everybody's shoulder and trying to learn as much as you can."
In addition to understanding automotive sales and service, Don's association with the Feld family also expanded his knowledge about philanthropy and eventually led him to serve on the boards of their various charitable trusts. Those trusts have generously supported Children's Mercy over the years, along with many other area charities.
After a few years, the travel bug bit him again and he spent a year-and-a-half traveling around the world. Among his favorite places was New Zealand because the people there were so friendly. He spent lambing season on a sheep farm with a guy he met in Tahiti, and when the adjoining estate came up for sale, they put a bid on it.
"We came within $1,500 American," said Don. "If we'd gotten it, I might still be there!"
What made the biggest impression on him, though, was visiting impoverished countries such as Burma and India.
"After you saw the poverty there and the terrible, terrible conditions," says Don, "you can never feel sorry for yourself again."
Don settled in Lee's Summit in 1965, taking over a dealership after the previous owner died. By helping others go places, he built Don Kahan Chevrolet into a successful and respected dealership over the next 45 years.
During General Motors' recent financial difficulties, Kahan and the company parted ways when GM did not renew thousands of dealer franchises nationwide. Now he's focusing on a new way to help people get where they want to go—electric cars and trucks. Don Kahan Motors at 505 NW Blue Parkway will be the first all-electric car dealership in the Kansas City area as soon as the inventory is delivered. A second store will be located at 79th & Metcalf in Overland Park.
This cutting edge business isn't the only way that Don is looking to the future. He has included Children's Mercy in his estate plans. You might say that he's helping sick kids get where they want to go, just in a different way.
"Children's Mercy has been a top rung charity forever," says Don. "The work they do is terrific. I think everyone should support Children's Mercy."
Whether it's volunteering for nonprofit and civic organizations, serving on foundation boards or his own personal giving, the logic behind his philanthropy is straightforward.
"You make your living from the community, so there's got to be give-back," says Don. "You receive. You give back. It's pretty simple."