Jesus carried Karen Bircher Murphy home the evening of Oct. 18, 2023, after an intense, but brief illness. She was born Nov. 13, 1952, to Donald and Wadona (Heitschmidt) Bircher in Ellsworth, Kan. Four years later her sister, Sherry, joined the family. Extended family was very important to Karen during her growing up years and continued to this day. There were lots of big family gatherings, small ones, reunions and even having cousins from California coming to live and work summers on the farm. She and Terry had just returned from a great weekend in Texas with all the kids.
Karen attended Ellsworth schools, Sterling College and Kansas State University. She was the Osborne County Extension Agent in 1975 when she met Terry Murphy. They married Aug. 25, 1979, and continued living in Osborne until 1984 when Terry accepted a management job with MoorMans in Oklahoma. They located in Fairview, Okla. Karen worked for Wheat Heart Nutrition as an area manager and then at several local business — usually after being asked. She was always willing to fill in if needed. Her biggest enterprise was partnering with Terry in the livestock feed business for 43 years. She was bookkeeper, sales person, delivery driver and even forklift operator, but most of all, an encourager.
Karen was active in many extension-related activities during her time at Fairview. She was a member of an extension homemakers group for years, helping with fair food stands, exhibits and district, state and national organizational meetings. She and Terry attended four national meeting. She really enjoyed the youth programs and served as a judge for many 4-H and school contests.
Karen was asked by her church deacons to take pipe organ lessons while she was in high school and was the church organist during that time. She also played at Osborne and at Fairview Mennonite Brethren Church in Fairview when they learned she played. Church was always important to Karen. She served on the FMBC dining hall committee from the 1980s until last October and was also in charge of the Wednesday evening meal program for years. She taught 3s and 4s, junior high and Awana, and enjoyed the women’s bible studies when she could.
It was through taking neighborhood kids to church activities that brought “family” to the Murphy house. In August 1998, Karen received a call to house three children for “a few days.” Although unprepared, she said yes and Ricky (freshman), Erick (5th grade) and Rylee (3-1/2) moved in. She and Terry were to travel with Don and Wadona to celebrate their 50th anniversary, but Wadona was adamant that taking care of those children was the most important thing.
With that began a chapter for Karen and Terry that continues today. School schedules, counseling sessions, two to three times laundry and meals, homwork help and Terry needing help on a moment’s notice. Looking back, she often said it was God’s grace, church friends and community friends that got us through. We did trips — academics, sports, band, cheer and speech/drama, family. Karen helped with food stands, rehearsals, event preparations — she was busy. And eventually they had all finished college and were married with children.
Karen loved to get together with all of them, sandwiching in with trips to check on her parents and helping Terry. The COVID pandemic and a cancer diagnosis interfered with many plans, but did not stop her. She spent many hours texting, listening and encouraging. Oct. 15, 16 and 17 made a great final memory, as everyone gathered in Texas for a weekend of fellowship, great food and an afternoon enjoying the flowers and pumpkin displays at the Dallas Arboretum.
Karen was preceded in death by her parents and sister Sherry. She is survived by husband Terry; “very special kids” Ricky and Stacey Rankin, Erick and Julie Rankin and Rylee and Alex Christensen; “special grandkids” Hallie, Remi, Bryson and Watson; nephews Luke and Shay Viles and Tim and Cheri Viles and daughters Ollie and Bowie; brother-in-law Bob and Susan Viles; and many cousins and friends who will miss her greatly.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, at 2 p.m. at the Fairview Mennonite Brethren Church, Fairview, Okla. A sharing time will follow. Karen believed in memorials, not flowers, at funerals, so please make memorials for her to FMBC Youth Camp Scholarships or Fairview Hospital Foundation c/o Pierce Funeral Home.