Lester M. Dean Sr., 83, of Kansas City, MO, passed away peacefully on Oct. 30 at his home.
Dean, a business visionary and passionate family man, had an entrepreneurial spirit that led to the founding of more than 21 companies over his lifetime. Dean Operations, including Dean Realty and Dean Machinery Company, a successful Caterpillar dealership, are two of the most prominent companies he founded.
Dean was born in Wharton, MO. He graduated from Lebanon High School in 1939 and went to work in construction following graduation.
The attack on Pearl Harbor prompted Dean and some of his co-workers to sign on with the Seabees, the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion. Lester served in the Pacific, on the island of Guam in support of the ongoing campaign against Japan, and was honorably discharged in 1945.
Shortly after returning to the states, he and his brother Warren partnered to create their first enterprise, a war surplus business. They started out selling “door-to-door” to interested merchants and grew the business into a flourishing retail/wholesale company named Dean’s Army Surplus headquartered downtown on 9th Street in Kansas City, with facilities throughout the southern United States.
By 1948, the Dean Brothers were selling surplus trucks, jeeps, bulldozers and cranes. Some of the equipment was sold for scrap materials and some for reuse. About that time, Dean seized the opportunity to purchase the U.S.S. Oregon Battleship at an army auction, personally hired a tugboat and delivered it to be salvaged and recycled for steel products.
By 1955, Dean had moved in a different direction than his brother and focused his attention to creating new businesses, all centered in the Kansas City area. He purchased the local Caterpillar distributorship from Hobson Equipment Company making Dean the youngest Caterpillar dealer at that time.
By 1960, Dean Machinery Company and Midland Machinery Company merged to form Dean-Hanes Machinery. In 1968, the Midland interests were acquired and the company again became the Dean Machinery Company. That same year he married Marge Hammond.
Dean never lost his visionary approach to life and business through the years and continued to search for new opportunities. He acquired major real estate holdings along I-35 in the early 60’s and formed Dean Realty Company. Dean saw a unique opportunity when he discovered an old mine shaft and seemingly worthless limestone quarry beneath the 31st and Mercier Street property where the Dean Machinery Company is headquartered.
He convinced the financial community on the value of the unknown concept of bi-level development by utilizing surface and subsurface property. This was revolutionary at the time and propelled Dean Realty into underground real estate development.
Vision was the essence of Lester M. Dean Sr. His guiding principle in life was to look beyond the obvious and create a new vision of the future. Dean successfully applied this life philosophy over and over from buying and selling a battleship to buying and selling bulldozers. The indelible mark Dean left on the community will continue on for generations to come.
Beyond his many business activities, Dean gave back to the community by his active involvement with the Rotary, serving on the Research Hospital Advisory Board and the Board of Trader’s Bank, working on the Kansas City Crime Commission, the American Royal and as a Director and long-time member of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. He was an avid trap shooter and horseman.
Dean is survived by his wife Marge, three daughters, three sons, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
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