Vernon M. Wiley

VERNON M. WILEY. It does not require a long memory to make a mental comparison between the present Rorabaugh-Wiley Dry Goods Company, located in its magnificent building, the most conspicuous business structure of Hutchinson, and the 25-foot storeroom which the same parties occupied at the beginning of their mercantile career in this city sixteen years ago. "From small acorns great oaks grow," is an old saying that finds one of its choicest applications in this successful business.

The secretary and treasurer of the Rorabaugh-Wiley Dry Goods Company, Mr. Wiley, is surprisingly young for a man of his position and achievements. He was born forty years ago, August 27, 1877, in Monroe County, Ohio. His home has been in Kansas for the past twenty-five years. He is of Scotch ancestry, and his forebears were early settlers in Eastern Pennsylvania, where his grandfather, John Wiley, was born. John Wiley when a young man moved to Eastern Ohio and as a pioneer farmer cleared up a tract of land in what was then a wilderness. He died in Monroe County, Ohio, about 1881. William J. Wiley, father of the Hutchinson merchant, was born in Monroe County, Ohio, November 29, 1838. He was reared and married in his native county and took up farming and stock raising. In 1892, on coming to Emporia, Kansas, he engaged in the real estate and loan business, but is now practically retired, looking after only his private interests. In politics he is independent, is a member of the Presbyterian Church, and while living in Ohio served as a church elder. William J. Wiley married Sarah Meek, who was born in Monroe County, Ohio, September 3, 1849. Their children are: Myrta L., wife of H. H. Van Fleet, principal of schools at Aspen, Colorado; Vernon M.; W. Harold, treasurer of the William Gushard Dry Goods Company at Decatur, Illinois; H. C., a real estate operator who died at Garden City, Kansas, in 1911; Grace, wife of H. H. Nutting, a physician and surgeon at Emporia; and Geneva, wife of J. E. Sawyer, living at Emporia, and representative of the Southwest Motor Company of Kansas City, Missouri.

Vernon M. Wiley received his early education in Monroe County, Ohio, and attended the college of Emporia through the sophomore year until 1896. Then at the age of nineteen, he went to work in a dry goods store at Emporia, and by employment with different firms there thoroughly mastered all the details of the business. He was there from 1896 to 1901. In the meantime he had become associated with Mr. A. O. Rorabaugh and in January, 1901, these business men arrived at Hutchinson and established the Rorabaugh-Wiley Dry Goods Company, Incorporated. Mr. Rorabaugh is president; F. H. Cost is vice president; and Mr. Wiley is secretary and treasurer. Their original stock of goods represented a very modest investment and was barely sufficient to make a reasonable display in their 25-foot storeroom in Hutchinson. Enterprise in unlimited quantities lay behind the business and its growth was rapid and on a solid foundation. In 1904 the partners bought the business of the P. Martin Dry Goods Company, combining the two stores, and each year has witnessed an increased volume of trade and expansion. About 1911 they financed a company to buy the present site and to build the Rorabaugh-Wiley Building. This was the Rorabaugh-Wiley Building Company. The building, which was completed in 1913, is the most imposing and the largest business structure of the city, is built of re-enforced concrete and steel, eight stories high, thoroughly fireproof and representing an investment of $400,000. The dry goods company leases the first four floors, while the other four floors are rented for business offices, and practically every one of the ninety-five separate suites is occupied. A space fifty by seventy-five feet on the eighth floor is the headquarters of the Hutchinson Commercial Club, while the Hutchinson Board of Trade also has quarters on the top floor, with a complete equipment of wires for receiving the market reports. The building is equipped with five elevators and all the modern improvements. When the Rorabaugh-Wiley Building was in course of construction many predicted that it was an unwise investment, much too large for the business capacity of the city to absorb, but that prediction has proved futile and today the building represents the acumen, foresight and enterprise that mean much to any community in the way of permanent upbuilding and progress.

The business of the Rorabaugh-Wiley Dry Goods Company is one of the most extensive in Kansas. A hundred fifty people are employed in the store and the trade is drawn from all over Southwestern Kansas and also from Oklahoma and Texas.

Mr. Wiley is vice president of the Hutchinson Y. M. C. A., and is a director and promoter of several business companies. He is regarded everywhere as one of the live wires in Hutchinson's business and civic affairs. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church, a republican, is a director of the Commercial Club, member of the Rotary Club and Country Club, and is affiliated with Reno Lodge No. 140, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Reno Chapter No. 34, Royal Arch Masons, Wichita Consistory No. 2, Scottish Rite, and Hutchinson Lodge No. 453, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Mr. Wiley owns an attractive home at 612 Avenue A, East. In June, 1903, at Council Grove, Kansas, he married Miss Mary Lena Crowley, daughter of A. S. and S. P. (Thomas) Crowley, originally from Clay County, Missouri. Her mother is now living at St. Joseph, Missouri, and her father, deceased, was for many years a dry goods merchant at Council Grove, Kansas. Mr. and Mrs. Wiley have two children: Philip, born July 19, 1905, and William Edward, born November 29, 1910.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, 1918, transcribed by Tamara Cunningham, student from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, March 13, 2000.

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