Richard H. Knipp came to Columbia around 1938 as a carpenter with nothing but a car, a shovel, a shirt on his back and a lot of determination.
With no formal education and through hard work and frugality, he became the owner of a major construction company that has left its indelible mark on Columbia.
Mr. Knipp died from a heart attack Wednesday, April 21, 2004, at Boone Hospital Center. He was 89.
Harold Knipp said his brother first came to Columbia after reading a news article that said Columbia was headed toward a building boom. He got a job at the MU carpentry shop. Though he originally planned to move on to Springfield, the opportunities in Columbia persuaded him to stay.
Mr. Knipp founded Knipp Construction Co. in 1945 and was the owner and developer of many commercial projects in Columbia. He built the Columbia Chamber of Commerce building, the original Columbia Public Library and several churches. He also built and renovated most of the schools in the Columbia School District until the 1990s.
By looking at Mr. Knipp, you would never know he was a wealthy man, said friends. He wore the same shoes for 30 years and would drive his cars until they fell apart.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” said Steve Shufelberger, general manager of Knipp Construction since 1982.
His oddness and kindness were other traits that friends remember most. “They broke the mold when they made this man,” Shufelberger said.
“He was certainly unique,” said Monsignor Michael Flanagan of Our Lady of Lourdes, the church Mr. Knipp attended.
Though he gave work a lot of effort, Mr. Knipp was also active in many community and professional groups, including the Lions and Elks clubs, the Woodhaven Board of Directors, the Kansas City Teamsters Board, the Builders Association and the Association of General Contractors. He was also a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus.
“Columbia was very much a part of his life,” Flanagan said. “He liked it because he could bloom here.”
Mr. Knipp represented the First Ward on the Columbia City Council from 1963 to 1973 and from 1979 to 1981, making him the longest serving councilman in Columbia history. He then served on the Planning and Zoning Commission until 1989.
One of Knipp’s proudest moments on the council was helping to establish Columbia Regional Airport, according to reports in the Missourian archives.
“He had a vision for Columbia,” Shufelberger said, adding that Mr. Knipp helped write Columbia’s city charter. “Columbia has far exceeded what he believed it would be.”
A quiet man, Mr. Knipp chose his words carefully.
“When he spoke, he always spoke in knowledgeable sound bites,” said Steve Willey, who served with Mr. Knipp on the planning commission. “Everything he seemed to say was good and solid and thoughtful and based on his long knowledge of Columbia.”
Mr. Knipp was known among friends as being extremely frugal. He even saved napkins from McDonald’s, Shufelberger said. Even so, he was no Scrooge. His generosity was also notable.
Mr. Knipp donated the painting of the Pony Express rider that hangs behind the dais in the city council chambers. He also donated the chambers’ ceiling.
Upon his death, Mr. Knipp left $100,000 to the city of Columbia in honor of City Manager Ray Beck.
“It was a big surprise to me,” Beck said, commending Mr. Knipp’s service to the city. “He never allowed his private ownership to interfere with the best interests of the city. He just had a real interest in the good of Columbia.”
Though Mr. Knipp never had children of his own, he always liked to help them in whatever way he could. He sponsored a number of Little League Baseball teams. Most notably, he built and gave to the Great Rivers Council of the Boys Scouts of America the building on Fay Street that still serves as its headquarters.
Jim Reed, a friend and former treasurer for the Boy Scouts, said the building was estimated to cost around $500,000.
“He loved children, and he wanted to help young folks,” Reed said. “It’s just the greatest thing in the world.”
Willey remembered an example a few years ago of Mr. Knipp’s generosity. He said Mr. Knipp renovated a house that a woman had started renting from him around 1949. All the years she lived there, her rent never increased from $75 per month.
Mr. Knipp was just the kind of a man that felt “fair is fair and honest is honest,” Willey said. He would never do anything that would hurt someone else, he said.
Reed, who described Mr. Knipp as a mentor, met him in the early 1950s. One of his fondest memories of the friendship that lasted more than 60 years came during the advent of color television. Mr. Knipp had placed a couch and color TV in the backroom of the office building they shared, and he invited Reed to use it at will. So Reed and his children each Sunday would gather at 6 p.m. to chomp popcorn and watch the “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Mr. Knipp would usually join them, he said.
“He was just a grand old fella,” Reed said.
Mr. Knipp was born Nov. 14, 1914, in Tipton, Mo.to Carl H. Knipp and Rosa E. Hartman Knipp. He attended St. Andrew’s Catholic School in Tipton, Bueker School District in Moniteau County and Fortuna High School in Fortuna.
Survivors include a longtime companion, Norma Cunningham of Columbia; two brothers, Harold S. Knipp and Raymond A. Knipp, both of Tipton; and a sister, Clarine M. Dolson of Kansas City.
Services, officiated by Monsignor Flanagan, will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 903 Bernadette Drive. Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. today at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W., with a prayer service at 7:30 p.m. Entombment will be at Memorial Park Mausoleum.
Memorials may be sent to the Boone County Historical Society, 3801 Ponderosa Drive, Columbia, Mo., 65201, or St. Andrews Catholic School, P.O. Box L, Tipton, Mo., 65081.