Heather Lansdowne, who works for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, is a lifelong Manhattanite and longtime volunteer in the community. Lansdowne said she gets her attitude towards service from her parents Bill and Erma Riley, the former owners of The Pathfinder.

A lifelong Little Apple resident didn’t fall far from her family tree as she embraces the spirit of community service in her own life.

Heather Lansdowne said her parents “set the bar very high” for her as a volunteer and community member.

“My dad was the director of the state 4-H Foundation for awhile,” Lansdowne said. “I literally grew up living at Rock Springs 4-H Camp (near Junction City) for a time.”

Lansdowne, 51, said she helped her parents Bill and Erma Riley run The Pathfinder outdoor store in downtown Manhattan while attending Kansas State University in the early 1990s, and again later in life when she had her two children, Emma and Max. The Rileys opened the store in 1975 and after 40 years of ownership sold it in 2015.

“When they sold (the store) that gave me the opportunity to kind of recreate my career,” Lansdowne said. “It was one of those times in life where you say, ‘Okay, what do I do now?’”

A 1993 K-State graduate, Lansdowne has degrees in English literature and French, as well as student government experience. She said “without even trying,” that combination worked well for her current role as director of communications for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, a position she’s had for six years.

“I get to be a mini-expert on all kinds of subjects,” Lansdowne said. “It was important to me to work in a job where I felt I was making a difference.”

Bill Riley said he’s “pretty lucky” that “all three of our kids seem to have a really strong bent” toward helping others.

“Heather’s so talented,” Bill said, “and we’re biased, sure. But she’s high-energy and has lots of interests.”

One of those interests lies in education. Lansdowne additionally serves as the director of the Manhattan-Ogden School District Foundation. A board member for the past decade, Lansdowne said she agreed to take over when the group’s founder, Jim Morrison, said he would “take a step back” last year. Morrison served in some capacity on the foundation since establishing it in 1989.

“That makes me the first president that isn’t a founder,” Lansdowne said. “It’s a great organization. We try to look at ways we can help enrich the school district and provide opportunities for teachers and students in ways the district maybe can’t.”

The USD 383 Foundation is a nonprofit intended to receive and administer monetary gifts to the district. The board meets on the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at Robinson Education Center, and Lansdowne said it’s a “completely volunteer-driven” organization with no paid staff. She said she’s “blessed to have the time and talents” to contribute.

“My husband (who is also named Bill) and I are both from Manhattan, we were born here and grew up here,” Lansdowne said. “It’s important for us to give back to the community organizations we have appreciated and benefited from over the years.”

Lansdowne, who took on the leadership role during the pandemic, said her worst day “isn’t as challenging as it’s been for teachers” over the past two years.

“I’m glad I have an opportunity to do a little bit on this end to support them,” Lansdowne said.

Erma Riley said Heather “just enjoys the heck out of her community.”

“She’s never talked about living anywhere else,” Erma said.

Bill Riley, 81, still serves on several agency boards, in addition to competing in the National Senior Games, or “Senior Olympics.” He said it’s “extremely rewarding” to see his children carry on the legacy of volunteerism.

“I don’t think we ever told our kids they ought to be doing that,” Bill said. “I just think we’ve tried to live that way.”

Lansdowne said her parents, who have been married more than 50 years, are some of her biggest influences.

“If I can be an adult who’s as thoughtful and committed and disciplined as my parents are, I’d be a lucky person,” Lansdowne said. “I’m still striving for that. I hope to emulate them at least a little bit.”

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