Turning another page
Sunday morning, the Rev. Bob Kasper hung up his robe at Tonganoxie's First Congregational Church for the last time.
As daylight poured through a tall stained-glass window next to the pulpit, Kasper had minutes before preached his final sermon, using no notes as he faced the congregation he has known for 22 years.
The Rev. Bob Palmer, interim pastor, said he had asked Kasper if he would like to give the sermon. Palmer noted Kasper's longtime dedication to the church.
"I wanted to thank him for his contribution to the church and his mentoring for me," Palmer said. "Because I draw on the experience of those who have led the way."
When Bob Kasper and his wife, Shirley, move from Tonganoxie to Lawrence next week, their absence will be felt.
For 22 years the Kaspers have dedicated their lives to volunteerism. From the Thrift Shop and Food Pantry to the Breast Cancer Support Group, the Tonganoxie Historical Society, to 4-H, the churches, schools and throughout the community, the Kaspers will be missed.
The Kaspers moved to Tonganoxie in July 1979. Bob was new to Tonganoxie. Shirley was not.
The daughter of lifelong Tonganoxie residents Hans and Lela (Walters) Freienmuth, Shirley had grown up on a farm north of Tonganoxie and attended the now-closed Friendship Valley School.
When the Kaspers returned to Tonganoxie in 1979 for her parents' 60th wedding anniversary, Bob Kasper, a pastor, preached the Sunday sermon at the Congregational Church, which had no resident pastor. Afterward, church members encouraged the Kaspers to move to Tonganoxie so Bob could take his place in the pulpit on a permanent basis.
Eight years later, in 1987, Kasper retired from the Tonganoxie church and the couple moved out of the church parsonage. But even in retirement the Kaspers retained their involvement in the community.
Their ready smiles show frequently as the Kaspers talk about their life. To Bob Kasper, his life has been good, and, he says the reason is simple he has used Jesus as his role model.
And, Kasper said, he never had a desire to live in a large city and pastor a large church congregation where he might not have had the opportunity to personally know all of his church members.
"Unless you take it down amongst the people, it doesn't do any good," Kasper said.
His desire to know his parishioners fit with his desire to live a simple life.
"We haven't desired to get rich," Kasper said.
But Shirley added that there are various ways to be "rich," speaking of their volunteer work.
"Our lives have been very rich and full because of it," she said.
Bob, 83, and Shirley, 76, have been married for 52 years. They have two children: Kathleen Poole, 49, lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., and Joseph Hans Kasper, 47, lives in Denver.
Bob grew up in the small town of McCall, Idaho (population 700), surrounded by vistas of clear lakes and vast mountains. At 22, eight months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was drafted. He served five years during World War II working on an island in the South Pacific as a mechanic in a tank battalion.
Parishes of promise
His first parish was in Dunning, Neb., in a 1,200-square-mile county where cattle outnumbered people.
In his typically positive way of speaking, Kasper termed the church in Dunning "a parish of promise."
"It was little and it had the possibility of being fairly strong, but nobody had stayed long enough to help them develop," Kasper said.
The church members offered to pay Kasper's way through seminary school if he would agree to stay for three years.
Although he was on the GI Bill and didn't need help with seminary school, the Kaspers agreed to stay. Their stay lasted six years.
Their last stop before moving to Tonganoxie took them to Buena Vista, Colo., another challenge.
"Buena Vista had just had a church fight and had dropped from 150 members to 50," Kasper said. "We stayed there 14 years and we never had a church fight in all that time. The church built up and stabilized."
Kasper smiles as he speaks, a smile that through the years he has readily shared with Tonganoxie residents.
"Personally, I always like to look at people when I'm walking down the street," Kasper said. "I look in the windows of stores and wave, or I run into people and say hi."
The weight of hunger
One of the greatest Tonganoxie legacies the Kaspers will leave behind is the Good Shepherd Thrift Shop and Food Pantry. With others in the community, they started the thrift shop 15 years ago where the Farm Bureau office is now. Then a resident on Sixth Street offered the use of a garage. So, for a year and a half, the thrift shop operated out of two locations at the same time.
Then, the former Tonganoxie Christian Church, which had housed most recently a daycare, came up for sale.
The thrift shop board members voted to pay $28,000 for the building. Business in their new home grew quickly and the profits from the donated items helped give the charitable organization a good start.
"It was a 10-year loan and we paid it off in three years," Kasper said.
Through sales and donations, the thrift shop, which is still operated entirely by volunteers, each year gives thousands of dollars to area residents. In 2000, the thrift shop donated $14,325 in cash payments for assistance with utilities and $12,000 for payments to landlords. In addition, the thrift shop donated to those in need about $20,000 worth of food and $15,000 worth of clothing.
It is the food that the thrift shop provides, Kasper said, that is so important. Throughout his adult life, he said, he has been concerned about hunger. The couple have been involved in Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy group that supports legislation to help the hungry. For about 10 years, the Kaspers led the hunger task force in the Kansas Oklahoma area of the United Church of Christ.
For close to 20 years, Bob Kasper taught woodworking to the Happy Helpers 4-H members. Four years ago, Shirley Kasper started a breast cancer support group which she has continued to facilitate. For several years, Bob Kasper has tutored math students at Tonganoxie Junior High School.
The energy it takes to volunteer always beats the alternative of sitting at home, he said.
"I like to watch TV," Kasper said. "But after a few days of pigging out, it gets old."
Time to move on
Despite their high level of involvement in Tonganoxie activities, the Kaspers say they are ready to make a clean break.
"I guess we've always kind of made a practice that when we move, we move," Bob Kasper said. "That's in the sense that we don't spend our time running back and reminiscing about how good it was we look and think what can we do with this place, and I think we'll probably do the same thing in Lawrence."
The Kaspers will live in a duplex at Presbyterian Manor at 15th and Kasold. This is where Shirley's mother lived for 10 years and where for eight years Shirley directed the center's food program.
Both said they appreciated the opportunities they've met in Tonganoxie.
"I would like to thank the community for trusting us enough to let us do the things we've done in the line of leadership and helping and sharing," Bob Kasper said.
Shirley said she's confident the town will survive without their efforts.
"I suppose we will leave holes," she said. "But we'd leave holes if we stayed. You know you just can't keep up forever doing the things we've done."