Gerald “Jerry” Lee Karr, 83, passed away at the Holiday Resort in Emporia, Kansas, on Dec. 8, 2019 after several hospitalizations related to cancer. Jerry was born on Oct. 15, 1936 in Emporia, Kansas, the oldest of eight children born to Orren and Kathleen (Keller) Karr.
Jerry grew up on a farm north of Emporia and graduated from Americus High School. He attended the College of Emporia and later received his Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics (1959) from Kansas State College where he was a member of FarmHouse Fraternity. He married Sharon Kay (Studer) Karr on October 18, 1959 in Manhattan, Kansas.
After their marriage, Jerry and Sharon moved to Belleville, Illinois, where he managed the livestock operations for Eckhert’s Orchard Farms. The couple later relocated to Carbondale, Illinois where both began graduate school at Southern Illinois University. Jerry obtained his Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics (1962) and Ph.D. degree in Economics (1966). He also served in the US Army Reserve from 1959 to 1965.
In 1964, Jerry’s family moved to Warrensburg, Missouri where he served as an assistant professor of economics at Central Missouri State College. From 1967 to 1972, Jerry held a faculty position with the University of Illinois-Urbana. As part of a USAID grant through the University of Illinois, Jerry served for three years as the department head of agricultural economics and extension at Njala University College located in Sierra Leone, West Africa. In 1972, he relocated his family to Wilmington, Ohio, where he served as the head of the department of agriculture and manager of the school farms at Wilmington College.
In 1976, Jerry left academia and returned to his agricultural roots in Kansas. He and Sharon purchased a family farm near Emporia – not far from his parents’ homestead. Jerry began a farrow to finish hog operation and expanded his crop holdings into Kenoma Farms with his son, Kevin. He remained actively involved in the farm and enjoyed working in the fields with his grandchildren.
From 1981-1998, Jerry served as state senator for the Kansas 17th Senate District and represented his constituents in Lyon, Chase, Marion, Morris, Geary, Wabaunsee and Osage counties. He served as the Senate minority leader from 1991-1996 and was the ranking minority member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Jerry successfully advocated for the passage of several bills, including the 1981 farm corporation bill, the 1986 economic development bill, and the 1992 public school finance law.
Upon his retirement from the Kansas Senate, Jerry was formally recognized by his colleagues as “an effective, pragmatic politician, leading his party and working with Republican majorities to craft legislation to spur the economy and to help working families.” During his legislative career, Jerry most enjoyed meeting his constituents at local community events throughout his senate district. In 2004, Jerry was appointed as co-chair of the Kansas Wind and Prairie Task Force which identified areas of the Tallgrass Prairie appropriate for preservation and wind energy development.
Jerry was an active member of many civic and nonprofit organizations, to include the Emporia Chamber of Commerce, Salvation Army of Emporia, YMCA Camp Wood, Emporia Kiwanis Club, Lyon County Democrats, Kansas Farmers Union, Kansas Pork Association, Lyon County Livestock Association, and Kansas State University Alumni Association. Jerry also served as a board member for nonprofit organizations and volunteered countless hours for local charities and community events. He was a long-time member of the Americus United Methodist Church.
He is survived by his son Kevin Karr (Sandy) of Emporia, daughter Kelly Getty (Chris) of Abilene, Kansas, brothers Robert Karr (Elaine) of Emporia, Kansas, Mickey Karr (Karen) of Americus, Kansas, Marion Karr (Rosemarie) of Wiesbaden, Germany, and Dennis Karr (Cathy) of Indianapolis, Indiana, sisters Erma Jean Riley (Bill) of Manhattan, Kansas, Colleen McKinney (Alan) of Independence, Missouri, sister-in-law Susan (Curry) Karr of Gardner, Kansas, grandchildren Olin (Michaela), Krisanne, Randal, Alisha, Kailey, Paige, and Joe Karr of Emporia and Kaylin and Justin Getty of Abilene, Kansas and great-granddaughter Cassidy Karr of Emporia.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Sharon Karr, his parents Orren and Kathleen Karr and brother, Steven Karr.
Funeral services will be held at 2:00 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 at the First United Methodist Church, Emporia. Interment will follow at the Rosean Cemetery, north of Emporia. Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 at the First United Methodist Church, Emporia.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Salvation Army of Emporia, YMCA Camp Wood, Emporia Kiwanis Club or Americus United Methodist Church. Contributions may be sent to Roberts-Blue-Barnett Funeral Home, PO Box 175, Emporia, Kansas 66801.