Robert Harder

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  • "Dottie, I send my sympathy to you and your family. Bob..."
    - Anne Smith Spiess
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Robert C. Harder Robert C. Harder, Th.D., died April 12, 2014 after a lifetime of steadfast service to his family, his state, community and church. He was 84. Harder was born June 4, 1929 in Horton, Kansas, to the Reverend and Mrs. Clarence Pop Harder. Growing up as the son of a United Methodist minister, Harder called several northeast Kansas communities home. He graduated from Troy High School in 1947. He earned an undergraduate degree in 1951 from Baker University and maintained close ties to the school throughout his life. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1983 and was presented with its Distinguished Public Service Award in 1994. In 1954, Harder earned a Master of Theology from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, which also later recognized him as alumnus of the year. He earned his final graduate degree, a doctorate of theology, in 1958 from Boston University. The years in Boston were formative ones for Bob and his wife, Dorothy Lou Welty, whom he married in 1953. Dottie, as she is known to family and friends, survives at the couple s Topeka home. After graduating and spending several months traveling in Europe, the Harders returned to Kansas in 1958 when Bob accepted an appointment as pastor of the East Topeka United Methodist Church. A few years later in 1961, Harder won a seat in the Kansas Legislature, beginning what would prove to be a historic career in state government. He left elective office in 1967 to work for Governor Robert Docking, the first of five Kansas governors he served. After helping to create the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Harder headed the agency until 1987, earning him the distinction of the longest-serving cabinet secretary in state history. He later served as secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Harder left state government in the early 1990s but he never really retired. He taught at Washburn University and the University of Kansas and served as a consultant to the Menninger Foundation and as the legislative liaison for the United Methodist Church. He also served as president of the Topeka League of Women Voters and worked as a volunteer lobbyist for the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas. For many years, he delighted in working with and reading to students at two Topeka elementary schools. He also served on the Board of Trustees for the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library. Harder was a constant presence in the Topeka community. He and Dottie attended virtually every important community event. He organized the couple s large circle of friends into groups that met regularly over breakfast, lunch or coffee to discuss the issues of the day. Even his dedication to staying fit was an inspiration to friends and acquaintances. Weather permitting, Harder regularly started his day by strapping a canoe to the roof of his Volkswagen Beetle and heading to Lake Shawnee for some early morning exercise. In addition to Dottie, Harder is survived by two grown children; Anne Harder Marley, Shawnee, married to Dennis G. Marley and James David Harder, Boston. He talked frequently to friends about his children and was proud that each pursued careers that allowed them to serve persons in need. He was also proud of his two grandchildren; Eric Harder Marley, Olathe, who like Bob was a Baker graduate, and Claire Marley, a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. During the last several months of his life, Harder sent regular emails to family and friends recounting important events. The subject line of each dispatch featured the following admonition, which he specifically requested conclude this remembrance of his life. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! Robert s wishes were to be cremated and a memorial service will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at First United Methodist Church in Topeka. The family will receive friends following the service in the Celebration Room. A private family inurnment will take place at Mount Hope Cemetery in Topeka. Penwell-Gabel Mid-Town Chapel is assisting the family with the arrangements. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to Baker University, P.O. Box 65, Baldwin City, KS. 66006; First United Methodist Church, 600 SW Topeka Blvd., Topeka, KS. 66603; or to the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 SW 10th Ave., Topeka, KS. 66604. To leave a special online message for the family, please visit Robert C. Harder

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Penwell-Gabel Cremations, Funerals & Receptions
1321 SW 10th Ave
Topeka, KS 66604
(785) 354-8558
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Published in Topeka Capital-Journal from Apr. 14 to Apr. 15, 2014