By Larry Whiteley
From time to time in life, you meet people with hearts as big as the outdoors they love. It is hard for those who know these two unforgettable people, Bob and Barb Kipfer, to think of one without thinking of the other. They are husband and wife, but they are more than that. They are friends, they are a team, they are life partners in a life well-lived.
The first chapter in their book of life begins at Kansas University Medical Center. Bob was a medical student in his first year of patient care in the hospital wards. Barb had just arrived as a newly graduated nurse on her first job. During his daily classwork around the hospital, Bob took particular notice of Barb. One-day, Bob saw her going into a room where nurses went to dump bedpans. He followed her in, closed the door, and asked her out on a date. He thought he might get dumped-on too, but she said yes. They were married on September 4, 1965, and another chapter in their life had begun.
Two years later, Bob received his draft notice, then served with the infantry in Viet Nam as a battalion field surgeon. That meant he traveled into battle with the troops and worked in field hospitals in the battle zone. Barb continued nursing back in Kansas and caring for their newborn son, Mark, hoping Bob would make it back home. I am sure there were times when Bob wondered the same thing. Like most Viet Nam veterans, he doesn’t talk much about that time in his life. Needless to say, he did make it home to his family after his tour of duty ended. They settled down to somewhat normal life during four years of his residency at the Mayo clinic. Their family also grew with the birth of their daughter, Amy. Life was busy, life was good.
In 1973 Bob and Barb and the kids moved to Springfield, MO to start a new chapter in their lives. Bob practiced Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine at a local hospital. Barb began to teach at a school of nursing. They bought a home and moved into an urban neighborhood where they still live today. Their lives were busy, but they managed to find time to go fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing on weekends. They played tennis. They traveled. They made lots of friends at work, in their neighborhood, and through social activities. One of those friends owned land with a cabin in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri, where Bob and Barb visited often, and they soon started looking for land of their own. That search led them to land with a clear-flowing creek running through a beautiful valley with forested hills and lots of wildlife. They fell in love with this special place, and another chapter was to be written.
Bob and Barb continued to work at their medical jobs during the week and stayed at their home in town. Unless they were traveling to places all over the world, visiting their kids and grandkids in other states, or going to social events, they were at their valley cabin on weekends.
Ten years after buying the property, Bob decided it was time for another chapter to be written. He had been working in medical administration, in addition to his medical practice, but having more fun on their property, he retired. He gave up tennis for a chainsaw and a tractor down in the valley. Barb waited two more years before retiring just to make sure Bob was house broke.
Retirement started another chapter to their story. During their time spent in the valley, they started working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to clear trees to bring back glades that were once there. They also worked with the department to plant trees for bank stabilization to protect the stream and their land. They even planted over 2,000 tree seedlings themselves for the same purpose. This all sparked their interest in conservation and fed their desire to conserve and protect this special place.
Their transformation from medical professionals to dedicated conservationists and conservation educators is an amazing chapter in their book of life. It’s about how their love for conservation grew and changed not just their lives but changed and touched the lives of so many others—more than they will ever know.
They became involved with the Springfield Plateau of Missouri Master Naturalists. Bob writes an informative blog for the group, Barb represents them on the Grow Native board. She leads educational tours of their urban yard in Springfield, where she has planted over 100 native plant species. She even made a video tour of what has been accomplished so far to be used for virtual education. Barb spends a lot of her time in the valley trying to rid their land of any kinds of invasive species or plants not native to the area. They have restored warm-season native grass fields and work at endangered species protection. They collect native butterflies, raise moths, volunteer at special events at the Butterfly House, and host mothing events at their property. A somewhat unique event.
They implemented a forest stewardship plan for their property, and it is now a certified Tree Farm. They were named State Tree Farmers of the Year in 2015 for all their work with timber stand improvements and even hosted a Missouri Tree Farm Conference.
Their land in the valley has grown to 400 acres and includes another cabin with their land additions. The valley and the house are used by college students for stream ecology studies. The Audubon Society has access to bird counts and education. They have hosted Missouri Department of Conservation tours, a black bear study, Boy Scout activities, wildlife studies of plant and animal species, wild mushrooms studies, and field trips for groups studying plant and wildlife identification. Their land is open to other conservation-minded groups for retreats and ecology field trips, woodland management, and stream education.
They were named the 2017 Conservationists of the Year by the Conservation Federation of Missouri. I would bet if you asked them what they have enjoyed doing most of all the things they have done, it would be their work with the public schools’ WOLF program. They teach fifth-graders in weekly classroom sessions and host kids in their valley for educational classes several times a year. Bob and Barb have profoundly impacted conservation in the lives of all the kids and people they have taught. The kids love them and will never forget Bob and Barb. This world could use more people like the Kipfer’s. Their impact on conservation has been immense.
One of these days, I hope in the far distant future, Bob and Barb will no longer be able to manage their land. When that time comes, they have donated it to Missouri State University under a protected agreement to sustain the valley’s natural ecology and use it to educate students who will be our future conservationists and conservation educators.
When Bob and Barb are gone, their ashes will be added to the old cemetery in the valley they loved. Their passion for conservation will continue through these students, the Wolf School kids, and all the other lives impacted by these two people. It will not be the final chapter of their book of life, though. Their story will go on through all the lives they have touched. Those people will pass on their passion for conservation. The Bob and Barb story will continue.
That makes this a never-ending story.