There’s no mystery behind this long-standing friendship
It turns out what Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright needed for a long friendship was the same thing required for a successful partnership as founders and owners of The Raven Bookstore in Downtown Lawrence – trust.
“We trusted each other, we had known each other for decades,” Pat Kehde said. “We each had a specialty that was very compatible. We each had our own lane. It worked so well. I never asked to see the books, and Mary Lou never said ‘you shouldn’t have ordered 20 copies of that.”
The story doesn’t begin with The Raven’s opening in 1987, however. It began when both Pat and Mary Lou attended Scripps College in Claremont, California between 1958 and 1962.
“We started dating roommates,” Pat said. “That’s how we got to know each other and we’ve been friends since.”
“I called her Pattie back in college,” Mary Lou said. “I was from Tucson, Arizona, and she was from Kansas City and we both ended up at Scripps College.”
From college, the duo went on with their lives in different parts of the country. Both ended up together again in Lawrence.
“It was accidental that we ended up in the same place,” Pat said. “She married someone who came to work at KU. I was married to someone getting a PhD in political science from KU. He got that offer and I thought that could be fun. The first person I called was Mary Lou.”
On Sundays, they’d take their children to play in the park while the two enjoyed conversation over tennis matches.
“That’s where we’d have our chats about what we wanted to do,” Mary Lou said.
The initial idea was to specialize in mystery books - something that was trending across the country at the time. They attended a conference and forged ahead with their idea - without limiting the store to mysteries.
“The only thing we added over the years was the children’s section,” Mary Lou said. “And that was at the request of our patrons who said they needed help finding books for their grandchildren.”
Pat wanted to establish a business in downtown Lawrence, after getting involved in a fight to stop the development of a large shopping mall that would’ve severely altered the area.
“There had been a big fight about the city wanting to close off Massachusetts Street. It would have run across the street and closed shops and the Post Office,” Pat said. “I was involved in that. I thought it was a desecration. It was defeated, and it focused a lot of attention and energy on downtown. We wanted to get in on that, so we rented a spot near the corner of 7th and Mass.”
In 1986, when the two women sought out $40,000 in loans to start the store, two banks turned them down - asking why their husbands weren’t involved in a venture that was viewed more as a hobby than a business.
“Mary Lou was president of the school board, but the banks all turned us down,” Pat said. “We both had full time jobs we had worked for 10-15 years. We said screw you, we’re going to figure this out. It was tough for women to start businesses then.”
For a decade, the bookstore grew and thrived. In 1996, a Borders bookstore eyed downtown Lawrence, which sparked what became known as the Borders War.
“Mary Lou kept the books. Borders opened on a Saturday in 1996, and she came in the next Monday and said we had the biggest day in our history,” Pat said.
Both Mary Lou and Pat said they loved the bookstore and all the richness it brought to their lives - though it never made them financially wealthy.
“You’ll never be rich,” Pat said. “You’ll have a job that is meaningful and rewarding. There are all sorts of ways to be rich.”
“It’s like our grandchild,” Mary Lou said of the store and watching subsequent owners carry on the rich tradition of The Raven. “We’re very proud of it. We want it to survive, and we think it’s an important part of downtown Lawrence. The new owners have carried on our traditions and expanded on them.”
The Raven was recently recognized as the Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly.
Pat and Mary Lou still get together on a nearly weekly basis. They both enjoy bird watching, and will take drives out to the country. And they are both grateful for a lifetime of friendship and memories that extend to today.
“When we got to 2008, Mary Lou had some health issues and wanted to not have the stress,” Pat said. “Someone told me that I could find a new partner and carry on, but I don’t think it would’ve ever been the same, and could’ve even been disastrous. It’s like being married - you just can’t replace that complimentary skill level and longstanding trust. It’s really great to know someone as long as we’ve known each other and still have a solid friendship and to have someone to lean on if you need to.”
“Pat was very helpful in helping me downsize and move into the manor,” Mary Lou said. “We still get together about once a week. She’ll take me out to the country, and make sure I get out to go shopping. I’m very spoiled and fortunate to have such a good friend for so long.”