LEFT: Barbara and Gilbert Knipp, seated, are pictured with longtime friends Bishop Norbert Hermes and his sister, Lucilla Herman.
Couple reflects on 72 years of marriage
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
Nearly 75 years ago, Barbara Conner was engaged to a man who stood a towering six-foot-five.
She was, that is, until one evening, a man slight of build named Gilbert Knipp came with friends to stay with her family in Wichita.
“That changed everything,” Barbara said, smiling as she sat among other St. Joseph parishioners at the church’s centennial celebration (see Page 7) in Scott City June 19.
It didn’t take long for the farmer’s son from Scott City to work his charm on the cute Wichita beautician.
The Knipps have been married 72 years – which is hard to believe when talking with them; his child-like eagerness for laughter and her joy at being by his side almost seem to belie their ages of 97 and 95.
They were married in 1939 during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, just a few years prior to America’s entry into World War II.
“My friend had just bought a new Chevy, and we were out riding around,” Gilbert said. “I suggested we go to Wichita to attend a ‘machine show’.”
After the show, the friends pulled the new Chevy up to the Conner’s house in Wichita (who were related to the Winderlin family in Scott City), where Gilbert first set eyes on Barbara.
For their first date they attended a dance with a live band, friends of Barbara. The dance has never ended for the couple: They were married June 13, 1939 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, and with $5 in their pocket, moved back to the family farm in Scott City.
“As soon as we got home, we went grocery shopping (with the $5) and had money left over,” Barbara said with a laugh.
Together, the couple attended a little wooden church, the first St. Joseph’s. Unfortunately, a drought left them soon having to leave the farm and move to Wichita to find work. There, Gilbert sold Hoover vacuums before being hired by Sears to work in the appliance section.
“I was to sell their electrical appliances; one was a refrigerator,” Gilbert said. “At that time that was practically a new thing. What I did was I drove around Wichita, and wherever I saw one of the old ice boxes sitting out on the porch, I went up there and talked to that gal. I asked, How much do you pay for your ice? And she told me how much, and I said, Well, for $5, you can have the refrigerator delivered to you. I sold quite a few that way, driving around where the ice boxes were.
“I did a lot of crazy things,” he said with a mischievous grin. “I married her!”
After three years in Wichita, the couple hadn’t yet had any children, and Barbara received the devastating news that she was unable to bear children.
“Then we decided we would adopt one,” Barbara said. “We adopted a 10-month-old.”
“Then, nine months later she had one of her own, and they just kept coming,” Gilbert added, laughing.
The couple have six children – three boys and three girls – 14 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
During World War II, Gilbert worked at Stearman’s Aircraft Manufacturing as a production engineer (Stearman’s later became Boeing Aircraft), a job so important to the war effort that it kept him housed firmly in Wichita.
In 1959, the couple returned to Scott City where they continued to farm and where Gilbert became a top-rated bowler, touring in cities such as St. Louis, Ft. Worth and Oklahoma City. The couple also began work on a doll house, first bought as a kit while on vacation in Florida. Over the years they built on to the house and bought and made pieces of furniture and other items. Gilbert wired it for electricity and today it stands in the Scott City Museum.
And it was in Scott City where Gilbert’s father, Joe, and brother, Joe, Jr., decided to open the city’s first liquor store.
A friend suggested to Gilbert that he open the store, but he was too busy with farming duties.
“So, I went to Dad and my brother, and they said they’d apply for it but that I couldn’t be in on it -- you had to live in the city.
“So, they did and we had the first liquor store in Scott City. They paid it off in the first month.”
“Of course, the churches, some of them were against it, and they came to his father with a whole big petition of names,” Barbara said.
“Dad goes down the list, ‘Oh, good customer … another good customer,” Barbara added, laughing.
When asked their secret for a happy marriage in a time when there are so many divorces, Gilbert responded, “I’d ask them why they got married in the first place. Then I’d say, ‘Stay with it, boy!’”
“Be very polite to each other,” Barbara added. “That’s one thing we’ve always done.”