JOPLIN, Mo. —
Chuck Surface survived the ferocious Joplin tornado by taking shelter in the basement of his Joplin home with his wife and granddaughter, but he succumbed Wednesday night to cancer.
Surface, 68, had a long battle with the illness but a much longer history of public service.
“He was most proud that he served the second longest running term” of any Missourian in the Legislature, said one of his close friends, state Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin. “He also was proud of being on the Missouri Southern State University Board of Regents because (the late) Sen. Dick Webster promised that to him years ago.”
Surface was elected to the Missouri House in 1984 and served 18 years until term limits forced him out in 2002. It was the second longest string of terms behind another former Southwest Missouri politician, Rep. Robert Ellis Young, of Carthage.
Richard and Surface had known each other since their days together at Joplin Junior College. Surface served in the Air Force from 1962 until 1966 and then returned to Joplin to go to Missouri Southern on the GI Bill, Richard said.
“He was one of the few graduates in 1969, along with Mike Storm, to be recruited to go to work for a Fortune 500 company, Ford Motor Co.,” Richard said. After a few years with Ford, he returned to Joplin, where he set up an insurance sales business.
Surface dived deep into community service then, volunteering with Special Olympics, coaching youth baseball and joining the Jaycees. He was elected to the Joplin City Council in April 1982 and served until November 1984, when he was elected to the Legislature.
There, he paid tribute to veterans by sponsoring legislation to provide them with property tax relief.
After his legislative service, he was elected presiding commissioner of Jasper County in 2003 and served until 2006. In 2007, he was named economic development director for Webb City.
“He wanted Webb City to become a part of the culture of Missouri,” said interim City Administrator Carl Francis. “He wanted to make sure Webb City was not left behind.
“He was out front working hard to promote our history, and promote our future too. He was always out there pushing Route 66, going to Jeff City to meet with people about what we have to offer.”
In 2011, Gov. Jay Nixon honored Webster’s pledge to Surface and named him to the MSSU Board of Governors.
“Missouri Southern was dear to Mr. Surface,” said Sherry Buchanan, board chairwoman, in a written statement released Thursday by the university. “We know that one of the things he wanted to do in his life was serve on the Missouri Southern Board of Governors. We are glad he was able to accomplish that goal.”
Surface received MSSU’s Outstanding Alumni Award in 1987.
Buchanan said Surface was always an eager advocate.
“When the legislation was enacted for personalized license plates in Missouri, Chuck quickly secured one of the very first numbers that mentioned MSSU,” she said. “He was very passionate for the university.”
Surface had a way of getting others on board with his cause, his colleagues said.
“He was very well-known for his knack at getting things done by always carrying a box of doughnuts to meetings,” Francis said.
Francis credited Surface with the creation of the Route 66 Center, home to the Webb City Chamber of Commerce. He called it Surface’s “baby.”
“We will continue with a lot of his projects,” Francis said. “His name will be around for many years to come.”
Surface, who formerly lived in Webb City, was an avid supporter of Webb City and Missouri Southern athletics, Richard said. “He was a good baseball player” when he was younger, he said. “He was an avid reader, a voracious reader. His biggest love was his family.”
Surface is survived by his wife and three children.
ARRANGEMENTS are being handled by Hedge-Lewis Funeral Home in Webb City.