My Free State Story

This is not the polished, focus-grouped biography of a typical candidate. It is deliberately long, and I appreciate all of you that reach the end. I feel strongly about this – in order for you to know who I am, you need to understand where I came from.

In the late 1850s my great-great Grandfather Henry Diehl left Germany and arrived in the United States. He made his way to St. Louis and joined the growing German community in that area. Like many of his new immigrant community, he was a strong abolitionist and joined Fremont’s Hussars, a division of the Missouri Cavalry fighting for the Union in the Civil War. When his service was up in 1864 he headed west to Kansas and drove a freight wagon between Fort Riley and Fort Larned until he eventually settled down on the Ellsworth/ Saline County line.

The youngest child in that photo is Garfield, my Grandfather. Garfield would end up being one of 11 children. In 1939 he married Lucille Diehl, who was from the northeast part of the county and was teaching school in a one room schoolhouse located where Kanopolis Lake is now. He was a Bohemian Catholic from the western part of the county, she was a German Lutheran from the eastern portion. At the time, neither church in Ellsworth would baptize their children so Garfield and Lucille took their children to the only church that would, the Presbyterian Church. I consider that element of this story as Providence.

In the late 19th Century my mother’s Italian family arrived in Kansas and settled in Osage County working the coal mines. The Bertottis and Marinos in the Society photo were all family. (Photo of Italian Society from Osage County.) As the coal industry in Osage County slowed down, most of the family moved to Wichita and found work in the railyards. My maternal Grandfather, Don Ray, opened a grocery store on the corner of 19th and Waco called Sawhill and Ray’s and operated it until the mid-1950s when he felt the call to go in to the ministry. Don took his wife and five (soon to be six) children from their comfortable middle-class life in Wichita and went to college in Sterling, Kansas. He would go on to attend Seminary and eventually accept the call of ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Ellsworth, Kansas. Grandpa Ray would remain preaching at First Presbyterian in Ellsworth until he retired in 1992.

My mother, who dreamed of returning to life in the city, would meet and marry the kind, optimistic hog farmer in her father’s church in Ellsworth. My parents settled down outside Ellsworth and raised four children. My mother was one of six children and my father was one of six children as well. We have family across all parts of the State. I grew up surrounded by family. Family informed nearly every element of my life.

Like my mother, Grandfather, three siblings, and ten of my cousins, I would eventually attend Sterling College, a small liberal arts college. When I graduated, I returned home to the farm and ran for the Kansas House of Representatives. The district included all of Ellsworth County, rural Saline County, parts of south Salina, and Solomon in Dickinson County. The district had a party affiliation that was 2 to 1 Republican/Democrat and I was a 22- year-old Democrat taking on an incumbent Republican. People joked that my legislative district was 20 percent Democratic but 80 percent Svaty. I won that first race and went on to be re-elected three times.

In 2006, I became engaged to Kimberly Gencur, who was born and raised in Lenexa, Kansas. We were married at Village Presbyterian Church in May 2007, and Kimberly began teaching me the values and importance of the urban parts of the state. Kimberly’s family has been in and around Kansas City since the 1840s, and has been in Johnson County for three generations. Her mother, Marilyn House Gencur, taught for decades in the Shawnee Mission school district and just retired from teaching at Shawnee Mission West. Both Kimberly and her mother were able to break many of the perceptions I held about the difference between rural schools and the Johnson County school systems and many of the other rural/urban differences.

I resigned my seat in the Kansas Legislature in 2009 when appointed to be the Kansas Secretary of Agriculture under Governor Mark Parkinson. Following my time in the Parkinson Administration, I became Senior Adviser to the Regional Administrator in EPA Region 7, based in Kansas City, Kansas. From there I would become Vice President of the Land Institute based in Salina, Kansas. After nearly a decade of experience working in Washington D.C. and with several private sector companies, in 2007, Kimberly, a third generation entrepenuer, formed her own company, Gencur Svaty Public Affairs – proving that the first rule for success in marketing is to combine two Czech names that no one can pronounce and make that the name of your company. In 2010, Kimberly and I formed Free State Farms after leasing our first piece of farmground and then purchasing some farmground. Our main farm is only a few miles from the farm on which I grew up, and we have grass that is only a half-mile from the original Svaty homeplace. Ellsworth County is a tough place to farm – not far enough west for good soil and not far enough east for dependable rain – but in my humble and wildly biased opinion you won’t find a more spectacular place to grow up. Kimberly and I have continued to grow our farming operation and I left The Land Institute in 2015 to focus on our fully diversified operation that includes wheat, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, and a cow/calf operation.

My family is big on oral tradition – we tell our children stories about the previous generations. For our family, most of our stories begin when the family arrived in Kansas. We were farmers, coal miners, pie makers, teachers, machinists, and my Grandpa Svaty may have run a little liquor up out of Oklahoma in the 1930s because farming was so bad he didn’t even put in a wheat crop in 1936.

I love Kansas, and my family loves Kansas and continues to grow here. Kimberly and I have three children, Jackson, Mariner, and Evelyn and have another baby on the way. We want our children to feel the same promise of Kansas as we did growing up. That promise includes equal opportunity, strong public schools, and an atmosphere that is innovative, open, and entrepreneurial. We have no intention of going anywhere, and so we have committed ourselves to rebuilding the stable and prosperous state that we know and love. Candidates for office will often go short on the biography and long on the policy issues, but I believe Kansans prefer the opposite. If you know who I am, you will understand the direction I want to take the state, and why I want to be your next Governor. Ad Astra Per Aspera.