Kirby Thomas Rapstein, passed away on November 18, 2021 at the age of 90, in Bay City, Texas. He was born to Thomas J. Rapstein and Hilda Marie Price Rapstein in the same city on December 31, 1930. He was raised in West Columbia and spent almost his entire life in Brazoria County.
As a youth, Kirby lived near Bell Creek. He said he was almost always in the woods, and that his father was quite a hunter and fisherman and so Kirby’s own journey as a naturalist began. Throughout his youth Kirby gardened with his father and hunted to add to the dinner table.
Kirby graduated from Columbia High School with the class of 1948. In high school, he was chosen for the American Legion Texas Boys State, served 4 years on the student council and as class president his senior year. He was active in Boy Scouts as a Scout. He played the clarinet in the school band and held part time jobs including delivering the Houston Press, cleaning cars at Wright Chevrolet, working at the Capitol theater and as assistant janitor at the school.
Following high school, Kirby attended college in Kingsville, Texas at what was then Texas A&I College, where he majored in chemistry and minored in physics and math earning his Bachelor of Science in 1952. He worked odd jobs on campus and during the summer he worked in the Merchant Marines.
After graduating Texas A&I, he volunteered for the U.S. Army, took basic training at Fort Hood, and participated in the Korean War. He saw action on the front line, as a tank commander in the 245th Medium Tank Battalion of the 45th Infantry Division. He attained the rank of Sargeant by the time of his honorable discharge in 1954. Kirby was part of the cease fire and final days of the Korean War. A couple weeks after the cease fire held, he was allowed to attend radio operator training on the 38th parallel. He served his last few months in Korea as the 245th Tank Battalion radio operator. Amateur HAM radio became a lifelong hobby for Kirby including building his own radios and towers. He was a licensed HAM radio operator for the rest of his life.
He accepted a job in Freeport, Texas, with Dow Chemical where he filled many roles as both a research chemist and team project manager. Notably, he is the co-author of several Dow patents. Kirby became an avid nature spokesman and advocate for Dow after participating in the black skimmer colony protection program on Dow property.
Several years after his marriage to Lou Edith Riggs Rapstein, in 1956, Kirby and Lou built their homestead in Wild Peach and raised their three children there. Kirby’s great gardens gave the family fresh vegetables and fruits almost year round. As an adult, while attending Scout meetings with his son, Kirby took on leadership roles with the Boy Scouts of America serving as assistant scout master, scout master, and director of numerous winter and summer camps at Camp Karankawa Boy Scout Camp in Sweeny. Kirby’s most proud moment came when his son, Kirby Jr., achieved Eagle Scout status.
Kirby volunteered his time to his church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of West Columbia, numerous veterans’ associations, the Public Library System and Habitat for Humanity.
He also served as a delgate to the state primary and volunteered his time to county polling places.
In his retirement, Kirby volunteered countless hours to various local nature organizations including the Master Naturalists Cradle of Texas and the Brazoria County Master Gardeners, where he quickly rose to serve as president of each.
Kirby was very proud to be part of the team, helping to build many nature boardwalks and facilities in and around the Columbia Bottomlands including Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, Brazos Bend State Park, Hudson Woods, Dow Woods, and Gulf Coast Bird Observatory Lake Jackson. He was a facilitator of Project Wild and Project Learning Tree, leading many nature tours for schoolchildren and adults of all ages.
In 1982, Kirby was awarded the Silver Beaver Award for his leadership contributions to scouting. In 2020, he was honored by the BSA as a “Golden Eagle”.