Chris Goebel, owner and president of Star Lumber, has a vacation home in Colorado Springs, Colo., about 460 miles west of the company's headquarters in Wichita, Kan. He makes the drive with his family several times a year and typically passes en route through the small, southwestern Kansas city of Greensburg.
"When you go through those small towns every year, you get used to seeing them," he says. "It's a place you remember. For that town not to be there anymore is just tragic. We had just been there the week before." As a result, the Goebel family donated funds and materials to assist the tornado victims as quickly as possible.
That's just one instance of the generosity demonstrated day after day, year after year by the Goebel family and Star Lumber. To say that Star has touched many lives in Wichita and its neighboring communities is a vast understatement. Over the past five years, Star has invested about $2 million into the community and charities while assisting dozens of programs in Wichita and the surrounding market. Additionally, Star employees and the Goebel family have given more than 10,000 hours worth of volunteer work over the years.
"I didn't start it. I was just trained that way," says Goebel, 49, who took over Star in 1989. His grandfather Earl, who founded the company in 1939, began the tradition of returning Star Lumber's bounty back to the community, and Goebel's father William continued the practice.
Star's charitable roots stem from the Christian tradition of tithing, or voluntarily giving one-tenth of a sum to an organization. "You need to help communities grow," Goebel explains. "By helping them grow, you can make your business prosper. Fundamentally, the better you can make the community in which you work, eventually it's going to come around and help you."
In Goebel We Trust
Goebel says the company established the trust to "become more formalized" with its contributions to the community. A nine-member independent board reviews applications for trust grants and then decides which to accept. Organizations can apply for grants via a page on Star's Web site.
"The good charities don't always ask you on a level basis," Goebel says. "Some years they double up what they ask for, and our income is not always even, either." He estimates that the trust funds about 25% of what is actually asked for or is worthy.
Recent major recipients of Star's gifts include the American Red Cross; Newman University; the Wichita Boys and Girls Club, which opened a new 42,000-square-foot facility July 9, complete with a gym, stage, classrooms and a dining area; and Wichita State University, where the trust funds an annual scholarship. Star contributes scholarships to all four universities and colleges in the markets that it serves.
"They are great corporate citizens throughout our community," said Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the Wichita State University Foundation. Star also sponsors an annual economic outlook conference held at the university's business school. And Star donated materials, such as drywall and cabinets, to help remodel the boathouse for the school's rowing team.
Star's overall mission statement includes, "We will share our success and help others, while supporting selected worthwhile communitywide programs." But donations and grants are not relegated to local entities, either. Star also volunteers its time to a number of business-related regional and national entities, including the Wichita Area Home Builders Association, Mid-America Lumbermen's Association (of which Goebel is a past president), and the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association.
Leticia Nielsen, president of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Wichita and a member of the same parish as the Goebels, says respect for the family runs deep. "I always tell people that we may not have as much money in life as they, but I want my kids to have the same work ethic as the Goebel family," she says.
Goebel has been active raising funds for Bishop Carroll, his alma mater, and the family recently committed more than $1 million over the next five years to the school's capital project. The funds will be used for a new gymnasium and activities complex.
"This gift from the foundation, and family, and all of their employees is a testament that they want to accomplish this goal and to be a partner. We are blessed to have them in our community," Nielsen says.
"Our diocese does a really good job with its schools–they expanded the congregation," Goebel says.
Employees Pitch In
Star's donations exceed monetary gifts as well–the dealer has a tradition of employee voluntarism in the community. In 2003, Star funded and built its own Habitat for Humanity home, using 100% employee labor. With more than 450 employees, today Star is one of Wichita's largest employers. The dealer has grown to four divisions: Star Lumber & Supply, Star Flooring & Decorating, Perfection Structural Components and its newest venture, Star Home Concepts. It ranks 64th on the ProSales 100 list with 2006 sales totaling $126 million.
In 2005, Star was a major contributor to the Wichita edition of ABC's television show "Extreme Home Makeover," including more than 1,000 hours of volunteer support. Annually, the company sponsors its own "Million Dollar Hole in One" golf event during the Wichita River Festival.
Members of the Goebel Family and Star's leadership team are charitable with their time, too, serving on several local civic and charitable boards, including the Urban League, Habitat for Humanity, the Wichita Community Foundation, the chamber of commerce, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and area college boards.
This year, Star has again agreed to take part in the United Way's Pacesetter program, joining nine other regional companies in a fundraising campaign that began in July. Star also will participate in the United Way's actual fundraising campaign through the fall. This year, Goebel has promised an "extra special" campaign that will heighten the awareness of the United Way's cause and hopes to increase overall donations by 20%. The Pacesetter program gives United Way a sense of how well its campaign might proceed when it begins in September.
For the Girl Scouts, Star donated 159-acres of family owned land southwest of Wichita for summer camp programs. Camp Starwoods hosts a nature center, art barn, sports pavilion, lodging, and a lake used for canoeing and swimming. The Girl Scouts also receive an endowment for the camp's upkeep.
"It's just a beautiful property that is close enough to town, but not too close. The girls can feel like they are in the country and enjoy the night sky," says Sharon Bastian, interim CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Golden Plains.
Given how generous Star Lumber has been to the community it serves, some community members hope they can return the favor some day. "Hopefully, we can benefit them and provide them with future employees and good citizens," Nielsen says. "I hope my kids learn by being in the same community as that family."
"I learned very young that it's the right thing to do and what's expected," Goebel says of his contributions. "After you give that kind of money for years and years, it's certainly not a pain. It's a joy."