When Karla Rupiper sat down with Papillion Mayor David Black and City Administrator Dan Hoins in 2010, she was asked if she would assist in the recruiting process to find the city’s first full-time city attorney.
Turns out that Rupiper recruited herself.
After eight years as Papillion’s city attorney, Rupiper retired earlier this month.
“I got to know Dan because our sons were friends and one day, he called me in to meet with Mayor Black and himself and see if I knew of anyone who might be interested in the city attorney position,” Rupiper said. “At the end of the first meeting, Dan asked if I would consider the position. Then I was talking to Mayor Black a few days later and he asked me if I had given it any more thought.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d become a city attorney. But I was ready to get back to doing legal work and when they offered me the job, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Rupiper integrated herself into the community when she moved to Papillion after marrying her husband, Bob O’Neal, in 1994. She believes her community involvement, which included work on the Civil Service Commission as well as working with the Papillion-La Vista Schools Foundation and the Midlands Community Foundation, played a role in her being appointed as city attorney.
“They knew me from my community involvement and knew that when I took on a task, I would get it done,” she said. “The community knew myself and Bob and I think there was a trust factor.”
Becoming city attorney was yet another path in her law career, which began at a solo practice after her graduation from Creighton University.
From there, she had several different stints working as a judicial law clerk, including time working for Donald Ross, a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Her career, and life, took a turn in 1991 when her first husband, Arden Rupiper, died suddenly.
“My kids were 9 and 6 at the time and they were my priority,” Rupiper said. “I had a friend who was teaching a law class at College of St. Mary and she asked me if I’d be interested in teaching to paralegals and potential law students. It allowed me to be very flexible and be there for my family.”
She then met O’Neal, a longtime Papillion resident who continues to serve as a juvenile court judge in Sarpy County, and the two were married in 1994.
“Bob was on the school board and was one of the charter members of the Papillion Community Foundation,” Rupiper said. “One of the first things he did after I moved to Papillion was get me involved in the community. When I became city attorney, I asked them if they wanted me to cut back on my volunteer time and they said absolutely not. They were very supportive in allowing me to continuing doing all of those things.”
After an eight-year run with College of St. Mary, Rupiper was ready for a new challenge and found it by going to work for a law firm that her first husband had helped start in the late 1980s.
“They needed help with administrative work and they were very flexible in allowing me to get my kids where they needed to be,” Rupiper said.
Her path has been met with many obstacles, both professionally and personally, but Rupiper has embraced each challenge.
“I’m glad I’ve taken the path I have,” she said. “People ask me how I’ve managed to maneuver through all of these challenges and I tell them a lot of it is faith. How you deal with what life hands you is what defines you. You learn that the joy will come back into your life.”
She’s very thankful that meeting nine years ago led her to a city that has become home to her in many ways.
“When I took this job, I had no idea the changes the city would be seeing and the growth that would take place,” she said. “One of the great pleasures I had was seeing a city council that was so cohesive and had great respect for each other. We have great leadership in Papillion and a top notch staff.”
A new challenge awaits Rupiper with retirement. While she still plans to continue her involvement with the Midlands Community Foundation and the PLV Schools Foundation, she’ll also have a little more time for herself, traveling with her husband, and her three grandchildren.
“I am so lucky to have both of my children living in Papillion and as a grandma, I can fill in whenever they need me,” she said.
“I’m healthy and I’m blessed in so many ways and I want to enjoy all of those things now.