HALLSVILLE — Mary Gooding has lived in Hallsville all her life. Seemingly oblivious to her surroundings, she glided gingerly toward the town’s busiest intersection — at Highway 24 and Route B — with the aid of her wheeled walker, intent on braving the homebound rush-hour traffic.
As she was about to cross, however, the 84-year-old got some welcome help from a white-bearded gentleman 25 years her junior. They crossed the road together safely, albeit at Mary’s own comfortable pace.
That gentleman was Robert Hipple, the newly hired Hallsville city administrator.
“That’s one of the issues with a town like Hallsville,” he said after seeing Gooding continue the walk home from her daughter’s house. “... It is growing fast, and we have to accommodate the growth, yet accommodate the older lifetimers.”
Hipple said Hallsville is arguably the fastest growing community in Boone County, in terms of the percentage of annual growth from 2005 to 2006. Dubbed by locals as “the small city with the big heart,” Hallsville has tripled in geographic size in the past 15 years and is home to 1,200 people, according to the Hallsville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hipple attributed the rapid growth to the town’s reliable water supply and waste management capacity, as well as its highway accessibility. Hallsville receives its water from Public Water District No. 4, he said, adding that the town’s wastewater treatment facility can handle an additional 2,000 homes. And while he likes the town’s strategic location on two significant highways, he hopes the roads can be widened to accommodate increasing traffic.
The challenge these days, Hipple said, is “managing the quality of growth.”
“We want to grow, but we want to have a quality to the growth so the taxpayers don’t have to come in later and subsidize work such as fixing the streets and sidewalks, as they’ve done enough of that already,” he said. The town can accomplish that, he said, by ensuring that new subdivisions install high-quality infrastructure at the outset.
Hipple, 59, is originally from Lebanon, Mo. Before he began his work in Hallsville on Aug. 27, he was a natural resources manager in Toledo, Iowa. The Internet-savvy Vietnam War veteran landed his new job through an application that he made after noticing an online ad. Hipple’s predecessor, Pete Herring, who was also the town’s police chief, had resigned because of health reasons.
Jim Bunton, a member of the Hallsville Board of Aldermen, described Hipple’s performance in his first three weeks as “excellent.”
“We were looking for someone with the right qualifications who would help the city council and the people of Hallsville grow in the right way,” Bunton said. “We needed someone that had not only budget help, but also knowledge in zoning, grant writing and infrastructure. Hipple possesses all of those skills.”
Bunton said that the transition to Hipple’s leadership has been very smooth and that the board is very pleased with its decision to hire him. Bunton cited his ability to work well with city staff and his leadership philosophy as key characteristics.
“We have already seen many positive contributions that he has made,” Bunton said.
Hipple is married to Melinda Hipple, an accomplished artist and belly-dancing instructor. They have a 21-year-old son, Aaron Hipple, who is a critically acclaimed recording artist.
Hipple’s leisurely activities include taekwondo, hunting, fishing and photography. And he still holds close to his service in Vietnam.
Asked about his wartime experience, Hipple spoke of a particular scene on Jan. 18, 1971, when he rescued a fellow Marine who had been shot three times.
“At the time, everyone thought he was dead, and that night was the last I saw of him,” said Hipple, who received a Purple Heart.
But 18 years later, in 1989, Hipple received a letter in which the Marine, Lance Cpl. Paul A. Hernandez, thanked him for saving his life. Hernandez said in his letter that he had been paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the incident, adding that he was later told by other members of his unit that Hipple was instrumental in seeing “that I made it out that night.”
“I sincerely hope that I have not opened up any old wounds for you because, please believe me when I say that my sole intention is to say ‘Thank you,’” Hernandez said in his handwritten letter to Hipple. Hernandez died of melanoma in 1998.
Hipple reminisced about what the letter meant to him.
“Having been in Vietnam and returned home, and having the people reject us made us feel bad,” he said. “And to receive letter like that made a really big difference. In a way, it validated my service to the country.”