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Campus community mourns KU History Project creator

Thursday, February 15, 2018

LAWRENCE — The Hall Center for the Humanities mourns the recent loss of editor, librarian, public historian and humanities adventurer Henry Fortunato, who died Feb. 5 at his home in Overland Park. He was 62. 

Following a career in university relations, media and communications consulting in Washington, D.C., Fortunato pursued his master’s degree in history at the University of Kansas, where he created the KU History Project in collaboration with the Memorial Union. In 2006, he joined the staff of the Kansas City Public Library as director of public affairs. He was part of the team that conceived the Emmy Award-winning program "Meet the Past," which profiled Kansas City historical figures. During his tenure, the library earned the 2008 National Medal for Museum and Library Service as well as the 2014 American Library Association Award for Excellence in Programming.

Fortunato was the 2013-2014 Simons Public Humanities Fellow at the Hall Center, and he held residence as a Hall Center Visiting Scholar from 2014 to 2017. During his time at the center, he contributed to expanding applied humanities programming for graduate students and faculty. A continuing legacy of this work is the Hall Center's applied humanities "boot camp," a weeklong immersion experience designed to introduce graduate students to professional opportunities in nonacademic careers with nonprofit organizations, museums, cultural institutions and private foundations.

An avid walker, Fortunato was instrumental in getting interpretive panels installed along a 10-mile stretch of the Indian Creek Trail in Overland Park. He similarly produced historical panels for the Burroughs Creek Trail in East Lawrence, which are scheduled for unveiling this spring.  Most famously, he spent six weeks hiking nearly 500 miles across Kansas, equipped with little more than a change of clothes, water and a walking stick.

Fortunato is survived by his spouse, Eileen O'Hara; his children, Alexander, Peter and Victoria Fortunato; a sister, Lisa Fortunato, and an extended community of family and friends.  A memorial Mass is scheduled for noon Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Shrine of St. Joseph, Stirling, New Jersey. Memorial contributions can be made to the Kansas City Library-Missouri Valley Special Collections, 14 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64105; the InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton St., Overland Park, 66204; or Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area, P.O. Box 526, Lawrence, 66044.