Karen Dobbs has always had a heart for helping people.
At a young age, she realized that others confided in her. She tried to assist them in any way she could.
"I was just a kid when I realized that I was a person whose friends told me things," she said. "I tried to help solve problems."
Her interest eventually led her to a career in social work, working for several decades to help others.
These days, after raising four children, completing an extensive career in social work and serving as a stronghold for her husband's demanding career, Dobbs is excited to help McDonald County folks in another supporting role.
She heads up the McDonald County Historical Society, overseeing an all-volunteer operation that is equal to any large business endeavor.
From helping with fourth-grade students touring the historical museum to completing budgets and looking toward the future with long-term projects, Dobbs enjoys lending a hand.
"The best aspect of being involved with the Historical Society is the people," she said.
"The members, the board, and especially the people of McDonald County!"
An "eye-opening" career
Dobbs grew up in Neosho and, at age 14, began dating "a McDonald County boy." This year, she and her husband, Bill, celebrated 45 years of marriage.
The key, she says, is genuine friendship. "We were friends before we decided to get married."
Life was busy in the early days of their marriage. They had four children and each worked hard in their careers. Both earned a degree from Missouri State University in Springfield. Karen had a bachelor's degree in nutrition but found a job in social work. She dove into her career with the McDonald County Family Service Division, handling child abuse and neglect cases.
"I learned a lot," she said. "It was a real eye-opener."
Dobbs describes her upbringing as an "ideal childhood" with two parents present and three siblings. Seeing first-hand differences in standards and treatment quickly resonated for her.
Her husband, who served as a juvenile officer, also saw challenging situations. Confidentiality restrictions didn't allow the couple to share details. The two, however, could support each other through the challenges.
"We could share the pain," she said.
In time, her husband wanted to be able to help people more. He went back to college to earn his law degree. For two and a half years, he was gone through the week, only coming home on the weekends.
With a good support system, Karen raised four children during that time and also worked.
"We had family nearby who were supportive. I am blessed to have such a great family," she said.
Her career spanned from 1980 to 2013, with three gaps in between to pursue something else. When the children were all little, she took on a different job to balance family and work.
"I would just go as hard as I could," she said, knowing that when she fell into bed at night, she had accomplished a great deal.
The career in social work made an impact on Dobbs. She tried to positively impact difficult situations.
"There were kids who wouldn't be able to go home," she said. "It was joyful to find them a home that met their needs, a permanent home."
She remained hopeful because she knew she was making a difference.
Big break-throughs weren't as frequent as one would hope, but Dobbs focused on making small differences.
"I truly never thought about leaving it because I felt very passionate about it and saw the need."
Her career's lows prompted her to love on her own kids. She and her husband were active in their church, serving as youth leaders for 11 years. The two did a great deal of mission work.
"I felt that was a good balance," she said.
A few years ago, friend Jane Lant invited Dobbs to a McDonald County Historical Society meeting. They asked her to help.
"The next thing I knew, I was on a committee. Even though I was inexperienced, if I was willing to do it, they were willing to have me help. It was all hands on deck."
The group was in the critical stages of finishing and opening the Historical Society Museum, located in the old courthouse on the Pineville Square.
Dobbs has high praise for the society board, which has run operations professionally.
Dobbs has been a member of the board for almost four years, serving her first year as president. The budget for 2019 caps at $42,250, with 248 current members. Volunteers logged more than 2,000 work hours this year, helping in a variety of ways, including serving as guides for 310 fourth-grade students who toured the museum.
The volunteer base oversees launching two-year exhibits such as the Military Exhibit, creating a new calendar each year to sell, and cataloging new items that are donated, just to name a few tasks.
Dobbs easily handles the business of the organization, hoping by working together, the board and volunteers can accurately and professionally preserve the history of McDonald County.
Her career successes taught her the value of assisting others. She's learned to bridge gaps and find critical solutions.
She knew she was one of the fortunate ones.
"I had empathy for the moms," she said. "I was lucky to have a good family. I would see these situations and think, there but for the grace of God, go I."Community on 12/06/2018
Print Headline: Kind-Hearted Retired Social Worker Leads Historical Society