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COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Reifs devote lives to improving Hoisington community, beyond
Duane and Deb Reif
Duane and Deb Reif

HOISINGTON - For Duane and Deb Reif, the community of Hoisington has always been in their blood, and their lives have always been devoted to making that community a better place.

Deb said that the mission to help others is what they’ve always strived to live by. “I think that’s why we’re here is to help each other. When God said love one another, accept one another, He didn’t say ‘except,’ it means (love) everybody.”

Duane grew up on a farm northeast of Hoisington between Beaver and Susank, and Deb grew up in Hoisington. The couple met while going to high school in Hoisington, and they graduated together in 1972. Deb jokes, though, that “we didn’t give each other the time of day in high school.”

Both attended school at then-Barton County Community College. They started dating a couple years later, she said, and they have now been married for 45 years. They have lived their entire married lives in the community.

After graduation, Duane’s first job was a decade working in an oilfield shop. Following that, he worked at the grain elevator in Hoisington for 32 years, managing it for several years, a job from which he recently retired.

Since 1994, Deb has been heavily involved with Kans for Kids, an organization founded by their children, Shane and Sarah, whose focus is taking the money from recycled aluminum cans to help children with cancer. For many years, the organization has been Deb’s passion, and has taken much of her time. “That was my passion, and that’s still where my heart is.”

The organization started with a can-collecting effort by their kids to aid their cousin - Deb’s nine-month-old niece - who had cancer. 

“When you’re that close and one-on-one with a child with cancer. That changes your perspective on everything,” Deb said.

The kids started by picking up cans themselves, then put out a request to their church. With in a week, the kids had collected about 1,000 pounds of cans, which were all initially piled in their driveway.

What was only going to be a one-year venture has become a life’s work. “Kans for Kids was definitely a God thing,” Deb said.

Over 28 years, the organization has now served upwards of 50 children, and has expanded from Hoisington to serve a five-county area in central Kansas.

The key to the continued success of the organization, though, has been the tireless support of the Hoisington community. A lot of small contributions from a lot of people have added up to make a big difference. 

Some of their greatest joys is building relationships with the kids and their families, and seeing the kids grow who they’ve helped through the organization. “They’re like our (own) kids and grandkids.”

Outside of Kans for Kids, though, Deb has still been involved in several local organizations, including the Hoisington Chamber of Commerce, the Hoisington Labor Day Committee and past president of the Hoisington Elementary Parents Association.

For 23 years, Duane has also served with the Hoisington Volunteer Fire Department, having served as a captain and president of the local Firefighter’s Relief Association, which administers the department’s insurance. He also served four years on the Hoisington Planning Committee, six years on the Hoisington Chamber of Commerce board, and currently serves on the Hoisington City Council. He has also filed for a seat in the first district of the Barton County Commission.

Community involvement for them is simply a way to give back to a community that’s given so much to them.

“We’ve certainly been blessed. (Hoisington) is a very giving community,” Duane said. 

Deb does not feel like being so involved in the community makes them remarkable. Instead, it is something they have always felt every citizen has a responsibility to do.

“We really encourage younger people to get involved in whatever their interests are, and make a difference in this world,” Deb said.

Both their children are now grown. Shane, now 35, lives in Chicago, and Sarah, 39, lives in Oberlin, Kan. They also now have two granddaughters. Though they’ve talked about living closer to their kids and grandkids, they do not see themselves ever living anywhere else.

“This is our home,” Duane said.

Now that she’s retired and has taken a step back, Deb’s passion for art and crafting has also been reignited. Several of her works adorn their living room. Likewise, Duane, who has always had a passion for woodworking, has made several pieces of furniture that now occupy their home.

True to their giving nature, however, he has also made several pieces which have been given away to non-profits for fundraisers.

Even now as they’ve both retired, though, volunteering, and building a better community is still, and always will be, in their blood.

“It’s so important that people step up and volunteer,” Deb said. “You’ve got to keep the wheels turning.”