Ruth I. Kolpin Rubison Part III: ‘She made Carthage a better place’

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Roth I. Kolpin-Rubison sits with Norma Scott and Rebecca Scott, with Ozarks Public Television, at the 2012 Carthage Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet in January 2012. John Hacker / The Carthage Press

Ruth I. Kolpin Rubison created and led successful businesses in the 1950s and 1960s, when women were not well represented in the nation’s boardrooms.

She also cared about her community and gave generously to make Carthage and the surrounding area better.

Ron Petersen Sr., Kolpin Rubison’s son, admired his mother’s drive and generosity.

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Petersen said his mother became a role model for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“My mother was always a trailblazer and she led by example,” Petersen said. “All of her children and my children and all my brother’s children, we all really looked up to her as a trailblazer and as a woman who was determined to do things, even though in the early part of her life, it was a man’s world and it could have held her back. But that didn’t stop her. If someone told her no, she said why not, and that would make them squirm. Why are you telling me no, why not, and you better have an answer.”

Petersen said his mother died on Saturday, April 27, 2019, surrounded by most of her family at the age of 96.

“My family, all five of our children, had come in for a special night for Louise and I as Rotarians in Tulsa,” Petersen said. “We were honored at a Rotary Club Foundation Annual Banquet, we were altogether there, and got word that she was going to pass on very soon, so as soon as that dinner was over, we headed here. All the kids were around her and everyone was together for her as she passed. She gave it the good fight, but she will be missed.”

Mark Elliff knew Kolpin Rubison in his role as President of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce, and he knew her as a life-long friend and mentor.

As the Chamber President, Elliff said Kolpin Rubison made a huge impact on her adopted hometown.

He pointed to her sponsorship of the ATHENA Award; an award handed out to an outstanding woman in Carthage every year at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet.

She won the award in 1992 and continued to sponsor it in the years since.

“She was very much involved with the ATHENA award, the award that basically promoted people who have helped women in the workplace and to advance them in their careers,” Elliff said. “Probably going back to the first ATHENA award, she has always been one of the sponsors of that, her or through her foundation because that meant a lot to her, having women be in positions of management, whether they owned their own businesses or even in corporations. She was a phenomenal businesswoman and I think she had the respect of everyone that knew her.”

As a friend and mentor, Elliff said his first job as a teenager was working for Kolpin Rubison at radio station KDMO AM-1490.

“I started working at the Radio Station in 1973 or 1974 when I was going to High School until I think 1977,” Elliff said. “At that time, she not only owned but also managed the radio station. Basically, she told you as an employee this is what she wanted, this is what she expected and as long as you did that, she was satisfied. She was the boss, it was her station, and she knew what she wanted, and I really, truly enjoyed my time there working at the radio station. There’s always a lot of fun stories you can tell, but it was a great opportunity for me, and I learned a lot from her.”

Her Hall of Carthage Heroes biography details other awards Kolpin Rubison won in her lifetime, including the Richard M. Webster Citizen of the Year Award from the Carthage Chamber of Commerce, the Community Service Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the first Pioneer Broadcasters Award from Missouri Southern State University in 1997.

She was also inducted into the National Television Pioneers Association in 1988.

To read that Hall of Carthage Heroes biography, people can go to the Fair Acres Family Y where the Hall is housed, or go to this link https://hallofcarthageheroes.wordpress.com/inductees/class-of-2015/ruth-Kolpin Rubison/

Jasper County Presiding Commissioner Tom Flanigan had many opportunities to work with Kolpin Rubison during his time on the Carthage City Council and as Missouri State Representative before he was elected to county office.

Flanigan said Kolpin Rubison had an impact that few people have had on Carthage in its 176-year history.

“She was energetic, a go-getter, a planner, and she was a good businesswoman,” Flanigan said. “When they had the dedication of the Peace Star here in Carthage in 1964, she gathered together four governors from the four surrounding states to come and sign a proclamation declaring that this Peace Star was a beacon and a guiding light to the surrounding area. That’s a big deal.

“She was philanthropic and that’s the key. She had an interest in her adopted hometown and she wanted to improve the situation for people in her adopted hometown and she did a good job of it. She had the drive to make something better, and she made Carthage a better place.”

Kolpin Rubison’s obituary, written by her family, details her accomplishments as a pioneer and business leader in radio and the then-infant television industry in rural western Kansas.

“Ruth was a pioneer in the Radio, Television and Cable Television industries,” the obituary says. “She began her broadcasting career in late 1949 with KWGB in Goodland, Kansas (now KLOE). She then joined KGAR (now KBUF) in Garden City, Kansas, and after several years became employed at KGNO, Dodge City, Kansas where she served eleven years as Advertising and Promotion Manager and later helped start a television station in Dodge City, Kansas in 1957.”

The family moved to Carthage in 1962 and bought KDMO AM 1490, expanding that into the FM band and then starting a cable television company. 

Petersen said one of his mother’s pet projects was the restoration and maintenance of the Carter Mansion, which had become the Radio House when she and her husband George Kolpin bought KDMO AM radio station in 1962.

Petersen said the red-brick house, built by John Carter, who later donated the land to the city that became Carter Park, was painted white at the time, and his mother determined she was going to strip that white paint off and restore the home.

Petersen said he warned his mother that previous owners may have had a reason to paint the brick, that the bricks may be of different colors.

“I told her a lot of new building and rebuilding after the Civil War and you might end up with a mis-colored brick or two and part of a wall might end up not being the same color,” Petersen said. “She said, nope, if you’re trying to worry me about taking the paint off, you’re not going to do it because I’m taking the paint off. She said, do you want to bet there’s all the same colored brick, and I said, no, I’m not a betting man in that regard, and she said, ok, I’ll show you. When it was done, it was gorgeous. And she was very proud of that old house.”

Petersen said his mother lovingly restored the home, even as she built a new residence for herself in the Carriage House.

“I asked her why did you do all that to the Carter Mansion when you weren’t going to live there,” Petersen said. “And she kind of indicated she did that because she could. She loved the house and wanted to restore it. I think the main part of it was, that was kind of her trophy. Some people collect thing, and that was kind of her trophy, she loved that old place.”

Elliff said he hadn’t spoken to Kolpin Rubison in a few weeks, but she would frequently call him to express concern about things happening in Carthage.

“She cared for this community a lot,” Elliff said. “Her passing is a great loss to our community, but her legacy will continue through what she set up in the Kolpin Foundation and other things in our community.”

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