By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Fannun Kanan, a Palestinian native who immigrated to Joplin and became respected for his business acumen and benevolence, died at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday at Freeman Hospital West after an illness. He was 84.
Kanan was president of Roadside Investments Inc. and Canaan Land Development Co. He also was vice president of the former Martin Oil Co.
“Fannun Kanan was a longtime presence in Joplin’s business community,” said Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. “As an individual and with his partner, Dr. Richard Joseph, he created a number of developments that brought new business opportunities and new employment to this area. Perhaps most notable is their willingness to work with our economic development team to create a location for AT&T to bring a 600-person customer contact center here a few years ago.”
The AT&T Call Center is located in the Silver Creek Galleria at Range Line Road and Interstate 44, which was developed by Kanan and Joseph.
Kanan grew up in Bethlehem, where he worked as a tour guide and as the manager of an orphanage. In the 1950s, he met the late Thurman Kelley, former pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, who invited him to come to Joplin and helped him get established.
When he first came to Joplin, he worked for what was Big Brothers, a residential care ranch for children who need behavioral health treatment. The site on West 20th Street is now Ozark Center’s Turnaround Ranch, part of Freeman Health System.
Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman, said the experience caused Kanan to be devoted all of his life to the children at the ranch. He served on the Ozark Center board of directors for many years, she said.
“Throughout his years of tenure, he was a true champion for the Turnaround Ranch and the children there,” she said. “He provided scholarships for some of them, and he would go out and visit the kids and do little magic shows for them.”
Kanan entered the hospitality business after he worked at Turnaround Ranch, managing the former Hollywood Inn and the Bob Cummings Motor Hotel, which were located on Range Line Road.
He parlayed the money he made there and the experience he gained into a business ownership that made him a prominent economic force in Joplin.
“He really didn’t have money (when he came to the U.S.), but he made wise investments,” said the Rev. Phillip McClendon, who succeeded Kelley at Calvary Baptist. “Part of it was his business mind, and part of it was his culture. He came here to work, and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.”
As he accumulated wealth from his investments, he shared his resources both here and in Bethlehem.
“He had been through so much in Bethlehem,” McClendon said. “He saw how people lived (there), and he wanted to change that in his life and he wanted to change that for them, and that’s why he sent so much money back to the Palestinian people.”
He also was active in trying to bring economic development projects to Joplin. He and Joseph maintained a long-standing offer to give land in the Silver Creek Galleria to the city to build a convention center, but it has never been developed.
Kanan served on the board of directors at Commerce Bank of Joplin from 1989 until 2008.
“There is so much to say about Fannun’s contributions to this community,” said Clive Veri, bank president. “A lot of people don’t realize that in addition to being a very intelligent businessman, he was a quiet, benevolent man.”
He was a devout Muslim.
“When it was prayer time, no matter what was going on, he stopped and had his prayer time,” McClendon said.
Kanan and his family made a touching visit to Bethlehem five decades after he had immigrated here. McClendon went on the trip to the Holy Land.
“It was amazing because we went into Bethlehem and even after 50 years, the people knew him,” McClendon said. “We gathered in the municipal offices of Bethlehem, and the people gathered around him and were asking him questions. They had a really great reunion. After a question, they’d get up and hug each other. They were so thrilled to see him.”
Kanan also had a fondness for fast cars, McClendon said.
“He always had a Jaguar or a Mercedes, and he would get in it and drive so fast,” McClendon said. He recalled that he once said something about how fast Kanan was driving. He said Kanan quipped, “‘That comes from my culture of being on a camel and trying to cross the desert. It’s like we’re on the desert.’ I said, ‘No Fannun, this is not the desert. This is I-44.’”