Dr. Lipira will hang up cleats after 34th year


Terri-Lynn Frasher

Vice President of academic affairs, Pat Lipira, in her office on Wednesday, Oct.8, in Hearnes Hall.

When she started out at Missouri Southern as a professor, softball and volleyball coach, Dr. Pat Lipira never would have imagined heading down the path she did. Now, after working, teaching and coaching at Southern for 34 years, Lipira has decided to hang up the cleats on an illustrious career that saw her serve as a coach, an instructor, a department head, a dean and, eventually, a vice president at the University.

After earning her undergraduate degree in math and physical education from fellow MIAA-school Northwestern Missouri State, Lipira received a job at North Kansas City-Liberty High School teaching math, but also ended up in the coaching ring despite never planning to.

“The PE teacher and I were hired at the same time and we flipped a coin to decide who the head volleyball coach would be and I became the head coach at Liberty High School,” said Lipira.

After two years at Liberty High, Lipira decided that she would rather test the waters as a college professor, so she went to Kansas State to complete her graduate work.

Little did she know that she would be coaching once again.

Upon completion of her time at Kansas State, Lipira interviewed for a job at Missouri Southern — despite only being to Joplin once before — and soon became the head volleyball and softball coach, the director of intramurals and an instructor— all at the age of 24.

“I loved the people I met,” said Lipira. “Sallie Beard was the athletic director at the time and we really hit it off.”

Thus began a career that saw Lipira serve as a coach and professor for 19 years (seven as volleyball coach and 19 as softball), that included winning the only women’s national championship trophy in Southern history. The National Championship came in 1992, when Lipira’s softball team brought home the gold. Lipira was also named the Division II National Coach of the Year that season.

There came a point after the 1987 volleyball season, however, when Lipira needed to pull back a little due to fatigue at the year round stress caused from coaching two sports and teaching. Lipira met with then university president Dr. Julio Leon and his suggestion was to continue coaching both sports and end her teaching career, something she was unwilling to do. After Lipira considered a few different jobs, Dr. Leon changed his stance and asked her to continue coaching one sport of her choice and remain a professor. She obliged.

In 2000, the department chair in Kinesiology was vacated, providing an exhausted Lipira with an opportunity to step away from coaching for good, free up time in her schedule for family and assume a leadership role.

“My dad was diagnosed with cancer, so it confirmed my decision,” said Lipira. ‘Every spring break that I coached softball we would go on a trip and play, and the first time that I wasn’t coaching softball I was with my dad, and I thought to myself, “this was the right time.”’

Then, in 2006, Lipira was diagnosed with the biggest obstacle of her career in the form of breast cancer. Throughout the chemotherapy she continued to perform her job at Southern, and on October 30, 2014, Lipira will be an eight-year cancer survivor.

“All of the other obstacles have just been the day to day challenges,” said Lipira.

Now serving in her third year as the vice president of academic affairs, Lipira is ready to close the final chapter on a career that took her to places she wouldn’t have guessed.

“It’s so funny because you don’t know that your career is going to take those kinds of turns, but they’ve all been at Missouri Southern,” she said. “In each position that I have been in, the focus has never changed . . . work together to achieve a common goal. I’ve always loved Missouri Southern and I never wanted to leave.”

For Lipira, it really was always the people that kept her at Southern.

“I genuinely care about all of the people I’ve worked with,” she said. “There is no question in my mind that Missouri Southern was always the place for me to be.”