Richard Schiefelbusch, leader in speech pathology and disability research, dies at 102

photo by: Contributed File Photo/Mark and Susan Osborn

Retired KU professor Richard Schiefelbusch discusses his experiences as a B-24 navigator during World War II in this 2013 file photo.

Richard Schiefelbusch, one of the foremost authorities on speech language pathology and intellectual and developmental disabilities who spent over four decades as a professor and institute director at the University of Kansas, died last week at the age of 102.

Schiefelbusch, a Kansas native, served as a navigator aboard B-24 bombers in World War II before being captured for two years as a prisoner of war. After his rescue from a POW camp in 1945, he received a doctoral degree from Northwestern University and in 1949 came to KU to start the KU Speech and Hearing Clinic, according to his obituary.

In 1955, KU Chancellor Frank Murphy recruited Schiefelbusch to lead a new Bureau of Child Research at the university, a role that he would hold for nearly 40 years and expand into one of the world’s leading research centers on intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 1990 the institute was renamed for Schiefelbusch.

“Dick was a pioneer in his research field of speech, language and hearing whose contributions to KU will last long into the future,” KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a news release announcing Schiefelbush’s death. “He served as mentor to so many KU researchers, many of whom have contributed to the institute that bears his name. He demonstrated the powerful impact that our research can have on people’s lives. On behalf of our entire university community, I express my heartfelt condolences to Professor Schiefelbusch’s family, friends and to all who knew him at KU.”

John Colombo, the director of the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies and interim dean of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that Schiefelbusch was a transformative figure in the field of disability research and intervention.

“Dick was ahead of his time in creating a culture of dedication among the scientists and staff at the Bureau of Child Research,” Colombo said in KU’s news release. “This culture continues to this day at the Life Span Institute, and it charges us to conduct rigorous and high-quality research on intellectual disability, physical disability (and) developmental problems. This is research that truly matters to our state, our nation and the world.”

Today the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies includes 13 research centers and generated more than $36.6 million in research money in fiscal year 2020, KU said.

Schiefelbush’s ashes will be interred at 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, at Pioneer Cemetery on KU’s campus. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a celebration of life will be planned for July 2021 at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vermont St.

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