Photo: Dan Videtich

Red Oak, Iowa

Population: 5,742

Mark Johnson (J.D. ’03)

Head of sales for Red Oak Greenhouse, a wholesale plant supplier

The family businessman

After attending the School of Law, Johnson stayed in Kansas City for several years practicing bankruptcy law. Eventually, he went back to rejoin the family business he’d worked in since elementary school.

An offer he couldn’t refuse: “My idea was to get out and get some real world experience, get a job and try to figure out what life is all about, and learn how to pay my own bills. Working for someone else, you don’t feel a sense of ownership. In a family business, there’s a lot on the line. I like that pressure.”

Taking a Sunday drive: Red Oak may be small, but Omaha, Neb., is just a 45-minute drive away, and Kansas City is just over two hours away. Mark and his wife, Leanne, take in occasional Kansas City Chiefs and Royals games every year.

Where the heart is: “The good thing about a small town is you get to know a lot of people in your neighborhood. Plus, we’re closer to our family. We work and spend time with the kids and go to Little League games.”

Beatrice, Nebraska

Population: 12,459

Karli Purscell (B.A. ’09)

Music therapist

The healer

As a teenager in Creighton, Neb., population 1,154, Purscell had an epiphany. While doing volunteer work, she discovered how powerful music is as a medium. She decided to use music to improve people’s lives.

This is the life: Purscell left Creighton for UMKC to pursue her goal to be a music therapist but was drawn back to small-town life. She found her dream job in Beatrice, Neb., and she now serves the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services as a board certified music therapist in the Beatrice State Development Center.

Best of both worlds: “I really enjoyed life in Kansas City. Even though I grew up in a small town, I enjoyed traveling to the city and experiencing that diversity. Getting to do that during school was cool.”

Home and away: “When I was in school I got a little homesick for a community where people are engaged in your life and you have more of an intergenerational experience. But I enjoyed studying music therapy at UMKC, so homesickness was rare.”

Filling a need: “Part of me wanted to serve populations that are underserved, and rural populations are underserved. There are only 5,000 music therapists in the country, and most music therapists work in urban centers.”

Making beautiful music: “We play music, sing, and the group members get to choose songs. That’s important because people with developmental disabilities need to develop choice-making abilities. Everything from choosing an instrument, a rhythm, a song—all of those are important aspects of daily life. We’re teaching them through music.”
—Pat McSparin

80 things we love about UMKC
Behind the ballot

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