On May 11, 2016, Virgil Arthur Lair, 88, Piqua and later Chanute, died peacefully with his loving and devoted wife Mary Alice Lair at his side, holding his hand.
Virgil was born Sept. 23, 1927, in Piqua, the son of Otto W. and Anna J. (Bux) Lair. He grew up on a small farm in Piqua, attending Piqua primary school and later graduating from Iola High School. As a young man Virgil, known by many as “Arnie” was an avid baseball player for the Piqua team.
He entered service in the United States Navy, serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II aboard the Navy destroyer USS Tolman, one of the first ships landing in Nagasaki after the bombing. Upon honorable discharge from the service, he entered Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (later becoming Kansas State University) under the GI Bill of Rights. He graduated from K-State in May 1950 with a degree in agronomy. He was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity.
Post graduation, he worked for Pfizer Veterinary in New York City. He then returned to Kansas and on Oct. 15, 1955, married Mary Alice (Smith) Lair at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Chanute. They made their home in Piqua, where Virgil began buying land for his farming operation. He often noted “the big bean crop of 1966” as a pivotal point in his farming career.
Virgil, known as a straight shooter both in hunting and business began his banking career in 1970 when he bought a bank in Stark. Likewise, his banking operation grew to encompass many communities in southeast Kansas, with its headquarters at Bank of Commerce, Chanute. All this from a man who, by his own admission, knew little in the beginning about the banking business, except that one could potentially make a good living at it while doing something worthwhile for the community.
An avid outdoorsman, Virgil’s passion for hunting and fishing was endless. He hunted every pheasant season opening day in South Dakota since 1955. He accomplished the “Grand Slam” of North American wild sheep, and had several record trophies, including a Canadian polar bear and a leopard from Zimbabwe, Africa.
Virgil served 16 years as a member of the Military Selective Service System 1958-1976. Instrumental in starting the Piqua Co-op, he also served many years on the Cooperative Marketing Association board in the 1960s and 70s. Memberships include the Kansas Bankers Association Federal Affairs Board, Charter member of Flint Oak, Knights of Columbus, American Legion, St. Martin Catholic Church in Piqua and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Chanute.
His family was the most important aspect of his life and he spent his time both working and leisure with them. For over 40 years, Virgil and Mary Alice have continued to travel with their four children to celebrate Christmas in Vail, Colo. Over the years, the family grew and prospered, growing from four children to 29 children, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on his most recent Christmas in Vail. He shared his passion and enthusiasm for life with his family through his many stories and lessons that he had learned along the way. He will be truly missed, but his words will remain with us.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Alice Lair, of the home; three sons and their spouses, Greg Lair (Judy), Piqua, Mark Lair (Karen), Chanute and Casey Lair (Julie), Neodesha; and one daughter, Jill Lair Aylward (Mike), Chanute; 14 grandchildren, Damian Lair, Courtney Gonzales (Cesar), Monica Lair, Kevan Lair, Kelli Corwin (Chris), Whitney Schairer (Trent), Conner Lair, Emily Lair, Kate Lair, Valon Jones (Alex), Garick Lair, Ali Aylward, Regan Aylward and Michael Aylward; and great-grandchildren Cesar Gonzales, Alexander Gonzales and Harper Jones.
He was preceded in death by two sisters, Bernice Lair and Margie Kramer, and by a brother Mike.
His body will lie in state from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday at Countryside Funeral Home Gibson Chapel, 16 N. Forest, Chanute. A Rosary will be recited at 7:30 p.m. Monday at St. Patrick Catholic Church. A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick Catholic Church, Chanute. Interment will be at St. Martin’s Catholic Cemetery in Piqua. The Chanute Honor Guard will be in charge of military honors. Online condolences may be left at www.countrysidefh.com. In lieu of flowers, memorials have been suggested to St. Patrick Catholic School, Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center Foundation or St. Martin’s Cemetery Fund and may be left with or mailed to the funeral home. Services have been entrusted to Countryside Funeral Home, 16 N. Forest, Chanute, KS 66720.