TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Robert C. Harder, a former Kansas legislator who helped create the agency that became the state Department for Children and Families, has died from a brain tumor, his family said. He was 84.
According to an obituary supplied by the family, Harder died Saturday at his home at Brewster Place. His memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at First United Methodist Church in Topeka.
Harder served in the Cabinets of five governors from both political parties and his 18 continuous years as head of the Kansas’ largest social services agency made him the longest-serving state Cabinet secretary. After leaving state government, he was the legislative liaison for the United Methodist Church and as a volunteer lobbyist for a statewide nonprofit council advocating for the disabled.
Former Gov. John Carlin called Harder “a very special human being,” The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1l3VNV5 ). Carlin, a Democrat, was governor from 1979 to 1987, and Harder served as his secretary of social and rehabilitation services.
“Bob Harder was as good as public servant, public administrator as I’ve ever known for sure,” Carlin said. “Bob was a joy to be around, but he was usually pretty serious business most of the time.”
Harder was born June 4, 1929, in Horton, the son of a Methodist minister. Harder himself earned two advanced theology degrees and became a pastor at a Methodist church in east Topeka in 1958. Starting in 1961, he served six years in the Kansas House as a Democrat.
In 1967, he left the Legislature for then-Democratic Gov. Robert Docking’s administration and helped set up the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
He served as the state’s first SRS secretary, starting in 1969, and kept the job until 1987. He returned to the position briefly after Democratic Gov. Joan Finney took office in 1991 and later became her secretary of health and environment. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback reorganized social services and health care agencies in 2012, creating the Department for Children and Families.