The Barton Legacy
W. Frank Barton, chairman emeritus of Rent-A-Center, has made a significant impact on Wichita State University. He was a member of the WSU Endowment Association board of governors and was co-chairman of the University's $100 million capital campaign. In the fall of 1987, Governor Mike Hayden appointed him to the WSU Board of Trustees for a three-year term.
In May 1987, in the single largest gift ever made to a Kansas university, Barton and his wife, Patsy (Cain), gave $12 million to endow the University's College of Business Administration which was dedicated on May 4, 1988 in his name, the W. Frank Barton School of Business. At the time, WSU joined an elite group of only 15 schools out of 247 business schools accredited by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (known today as AACSB International - The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) to be endowed and named.
In gratitude, the University conferred upon Barton the Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa degree during the May 1987 commencement ceremonies.
The Bartons' gift was extraordinary in many ways. Patsy Barton is a WSU alumna, however, Frank Barton never attended Wichita State. In fact, Barton's dream of going to college ended with the Depression. To explain the motivation behind their gift, Barton said, "Wichita is Patsy's home and my home. It's been very, very good to us and to our family. We believe in supporting a community where you've been fortunate to be successful. A premier business college . . . has the potential of being a great, great asset not only to the City of Wichita, but to the state."
Frank Barton's successful business career began in Oklahoma. He was born in Prague, Oklahoma, and in 1940 began working as a salesman at the Montgomery Ward store in Shawnee. After working in the store chain for almost eight years in eight cities, Barton became a store manager. He moved to Wichita in 1949 as a regional sales manager for Western Auto's Wichita division. In 1952, Barton made a crucial decision; he started his own business, the Barton Distributing Company, which handled appliances, electronic equipment and consumer durables. The company eventually served more than 300 dealers in nearly 80 percent of Kansas and was recognized as one of the leading distributors in the nation for companies such as Gibson, Motorola and Coleman Heating and Air Conditioning.
In 1973, Barton and Tom Devlin began Rent-A-Center and in 1979, Baton sold his distributing company to devote his full attention to the new and prospering venture. Out of 200 small public companies, Rent-A-Center was ranked eleventh in return-on-equity by Forbes magazine in 1985. In the fall of 1987, Rent-A-Center was sold to Thorn EMI, a British firm, for an astounding $594 million.
Mr. Barton passed away on September 28, 2000. Patsy still resides in Wichita. They have three living children: Steve, of Las Vegas; Linda Wiens, of Enid, Oklahoma; Craig of Wichita. Mr. Barton was preceded in death by two of his five children, Shera and Clay. They have one granddaughter, Lisa Wiens.