Robert L. Rankin
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Robert L. Rankin

Professor Robert L. Rankin passed away on February 24, 2014 at the age of 75. For many years he had endured both prostate cancer and kidney dialysis. His final days were peacefully spent in St. Luke's Hospice Care in Kansas City, MO.

Robert was born January 17, 1939 in Bellefonte, PA, the son of Harvey and Helen Rankin. Most all of his childhood was spent in Tifton, GA, where he pioneered the Tifton chapter of the Ground Observer Corps in the mid 1950's. He was also active in the Boy Scouts and became an active amateur radio operator. Robert had continued his interest in ham radio until his death, most recently serving as a tornado storm spotter for Leavenworth County Emergency Preparedness.

He graduated from Tifton High School in 1956, then attended Emory University where he majored in Romance Languages and obtained his B.A. in 1960. He earned an M.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1972) from the University of Chicago in Linguistics.

He married Carolyn Ann Leverance on September 11, 1965 in Chicago, IL. The following year Robert applied for and obtained a Fulbright Fellowship for study in Romania. He and his wife spent two years in Romania (mid 1966 to mid 1968) where Robert researched Romanian dialects, examining regional linguistic differences such as pronunciation and grammar. His Master's thesis was finished in 1968 on his return to the U.S.

In 1969, Robert came to the University of Kansas Linguistics department as an Acting Assistant Professor of Linguistics. In 1972, upon completion of his doctoral dissertation, he obtained his Ph.D. and became an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at KU. As the years passed he rose from assistant, to associate and finally to professor in 1986. In the meantime his research interest had turned to Native American languages due to encouragement he received from fellow linguists at KU. It all started when he taught a field methods course during the summer of 1972 in which the grammar of a language unknown to the students was deciphered. Two Haskell students (speakers of Choctaw) were recruited and Robert became fascinated with the language. That was the start of his American Indian language work. He worked with Quapaw in early 1973, and soon after, when there were no more speakers left, he moved on to the Kansa language. There were four fluent speakers of Kansa when Robert started his research in 1973 and 1974. He continued to work with the Kansa language even after his retirement from KU in 2005. His latest contribution was as contributing editor for the Annotated Dictionary of Kaw (Kanza), published in 2012 by the Kanza Language Project of the Kaw Nation, Kaw City, OK.

Robert is survived by his wife, Carolyn, of Tonganoxie, KS, and his younger brother Jim of Concord, CA. The family suggests memorials in his name to the American Indian College Fund at 8333 Greenwood Blvd. Denver, CO 80221; or online:

A Memorial Gathering will be held at the University of Kansas Union on Tuesday, March 11 from 1:00 to 3:00 PM in the English room (6th floor).

Please sign this guestbook at

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Lawrence Journal-World from Mar. 1 to Mar. 5, 2014.
Memories & Condolences
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9 entries
March 8, 2014
Uncle Bob that what it was to me. I away love visiting my aunt and him in KS where every they live. From being young kid to my teens in that country house loved that shone house. I was always asking him about that Indians stuff as a young lad "tell me more please ". I hope I give him as much joy he give me as kid. One of favorite uncle I had. I was always proud of him . Great memories all the time. We will miss you.
March 7, 2014
The KU Linguistics Department is saddened by the loss of Professor Rankin, a long-time contributor and authority in Siouan and other Native American languages. Bob remained a valuable colleague until well after his retirement in 2005. Our heartfelt condolences.
Allard Jongman
March 6, 2014
Leavenworth County Office of Emergency Management was deeply saddened by the news of Bob's passing. Our heartfelt condolences to you and your family.
March 4, 2014
Thank you for all that you have done for the people, (Kansa/Konza/Kaw)
Curtis C. Kekahbah
March 4, 2014
Bob and I were first cousins he being the older son of Helen Engel Rankin, my father Louis Engel's older sister. I remember well my visits to Tifton GA with my parents and my two brothers in the early 1950s and Bob's fascination with ham radios. Bob was the oldest of five cousins, all boys, and he led the way with sterling academic accomplishments and a successful and, with the work he did with Native Americans, pioneering career in linguistics. I always admired Bob, and, not having taught myself, occasionally envied him. Only in the last year have I given some thought to teaching, and ironically in Bob's boyhood home state of Georgia. If I manage this, it will be in no small part because of Bob's example. I send my deep condolences, Carolyn and Jim, and hope you are bearing up.
Tom Engel
Thomas Engel
March 2, 2014
Carolyn: Sue and I were very surprised and saddened to read of Bob's death. Although we knew of his illnesses we didn't realize how serious they were. Bob certainly had an interesting career and research interests. We didn't know you had lived in Romania for two years. That must have been an experience to remember. Please accept our deepest condolences.
Dick and Sue
March 1, 2014
Dr. Rankin was a friend of my brother, Curtis Kekahbah. Through the years Curtis would tell me of the contribution of Dr. Rankin to Curtis' understanding and speaking of the Konza language. Curtis referred to this contribution as being the foundation of the tribe's present Konza language revitalization program. It goes without saying that Dr. Rankin's zeal and appreciation has been transferred to the Konza in their revitalization efforts.
Rollin Kekahbah
March 1, 2014
Carolyn, I am sorry for your loss
Barbara Retke
March 1, 2014
I have always admired Prof. Rankin--from when I was a student in linguistics to my return to teaching at KU. He was extremely knowledgeable and kind, never hesitating to share his grasp of difficult concepts with students. I admired his knowledge of languages and his steady contributions to indigenous languages. May he rest in peace. My sincere condolences to Caroline and my apologies for not being able to attend the Memorial Gathering.
Anita Herzfeld
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