Overland Park leaders are remembering Don Pipes, the longtime city manager who died last week.
Pipes was Overland Park’s first city manager and helped lead the suburb’s transformation from a small town to the second-largest city in Kansas. He died Friday afternoon at the age of 84.
Pipes’ long-term vision was responsible for the city’s astonishing growth, strong business community, economic security and low tax rates, city leaders said.
When Pipes arrived as the city manager in Overland Park in 1963, it was a small community that had incorporated as a city only three years earlier. The budget was barely a million dollars.
When he retired in 1999, the city had more than tripled in size and its budget was $150 million. His career as city manager has a small gap from 1973 to 1977, when he delved into the business world. He was the director of community and employee relations for the Chemagro Division of Mobay Chemical Corp. during those years.
Pipes’ ability to plan ahead and think outside the box was the reason Overland Park grew from a quaint little community into the second-largest city in Kansas, said Marvin Rainey, who was the second mayor of Overland Park.
Rainey, who sat in the mayoral office from 1963 to 1967, remembers Pipes’ drawing skepticism for his goal to grow the city.
“Don anticipated that one day the city would go all the way to 135th Street and when he would say that, city officials would scoff at him, thinking he was crazy,” Rainey said. “He knew way back then that annexation was going to be vital for Overland Park to succeed. And people thought that notion was ridiculous.”
During his tenure, Oak Park Mall and Metcalf South Shopping Center were built in the city, as well as Corporate Woods, the city’s prominent business complex.
While sales taxes helped the city flourish, Pipes worked behind the scenes to make sure tax rates for residents were kept low.
“Don had an excellent sense of managing public dollars and making important decisions that benefited the entire community,” said former Overland Park Mayor Ed Eilert. “Don was very frugal when it came to managing budgets and he was sensitive to taxpayers’ dollars, but if something needed to be done, he went after it. He was very passionate about turning Overland Park into a first-class city.”
Eilert added that he was always impressed by Pipes’ deep respect for the city’s elected governing body.
“He stayed in the background and let elected officials take credit for the positive things that happened in this city, but he took responsibility if something went wrong,” Eilert said.
Pipes “embodied and demanded a culture of professionalism,” said Deputy City Manager Kristy Stallings, who worked with Pipes for more than a decade.
“It inspired everyone around him to work hard with the same integrity,” Stallings said. “He only cared about making the community a better place, rather than taking credit for its success.”
His modesty and work ethic even inspired future city managers.
When John Nachbar became the assistant city manager of Overland Park in 1982, he was awed by Pipes’ attention to detail and quality of work.
When he eventually took over as city manager of Overland Park after Pipes’ retirement, the shoes were hard to fill. But he couldn’t have been more proud to follow in the footsteps of his mentor.
After all, he said, Pipes is one of the main reasons Overland Park is the success story it is today.
“Overland Park enjoys a tremendous amount of professionalism thanks to him,” said Nachbar, now the city manager of Culver City, Calif. “The city is indebted to him and will be for many years to come.”