Rolfe takes historic road to lead Wichita business community

Lily Wu shows the historic road that guided John Rolfe into a leader in Wichita's business community.
Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 7:41 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The path to an influential leadership role in Wichita’s business community didn’t come easily nor suddenly for John Rolfe. He became the first African American to be named President and CEO of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce after years of work and perseverance.

Long before being named in September for the chamber’s leading role, Rolfe served the organization 20 years ago as vice president of economic development

“My approach to everything is, apply the hard work and preparation for it, and then when the opportunity presents itself, hopefully you’ll be the chosen one,” Rolfe said.

Those who served on the selection committee that picked Rolfe to lead the chamber said he rose to the top.

“When they chose him to be the CEO, obviously, they didn’t choose him because of his race. They chose him because he was the best candidate for the job,” said Junetta Everett, immediate past board chair of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce. “There was that one time, a Black person couldn’t even be a member of the chamber of commerce, and now you have a Black, African American person at the helm, being the president and CEO. Very proud.”

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Posted by Lily Wu on Monday, February 14, 2022

Rolfe’s resume spans from banking to commerce and hospitality with moves to Topeka, San Jose and Houston along the way. The road led the Wichita State University business school alum back home to Wichita.

“My passion has always been about business. That is the key to success for everyone is following their dreams, their interests and passion, Rolfe said.

Every move he’s made in his career has been strategic and thoughtful.

“There’s a significant amount of those who have contributed to me personally and professionally,” he said. “My parents, who, though they’re not living anymore, have truly been the rock of my life and really where it all started was at home.”

Rolfe is the youngest of five children. Those we’ve known him since childhood are not surprised that he’s grown up to be a leader.

“Mr. Rolfe was one who had great integrity. He believed in his faith and he was obviously able to instill that into his children, and John was one of the recipients of that,” family friend Gerald Norwood said of Rolfe growing up. “John was active in the youth choir and active in Sunday school and a number of different things that our church would be making available to him.”

Rolfe is married to KWCH anchor and reporter Felicia Rolfe.

“Family’s always been number one to me and I credit my wife, Felicia, for really being that sounding board and really the rock of the family,” Rolfe said.

Like his family, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce has grown over the years from 100 members in 1917 to now more than 1,400.

Rolfe said his goals include, “creating that strong economy and focusing on the talent here, retention and growth here in the community.”

“Because I think those are two key components as we want to grow the number of businesses that are here and help them be successful,” he said.

It’s a path Rolfe hopes will lead to continued success for his city.

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