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Nontraditional student developed lifelong love of writing at Baker

A versatile and talented communicator through her writing, editing, art, and photography, Melinda Hipple, ’16, has always wanted to be known as an author.

“It’s a moniker I’ve aspired to since I was very young,” she said. “For me, the most appealing aspect of storytelling is drawing the reader into someone else’s life in the hopes they will either connect and know that they are not alone or learn empathy for those who are outside of their own experiences.”

Hipple credits her late mother, Velma, for piquing her interest in books as a child growing up in Harrisonville, Missouri.

“My mother built an amazing library in our home when I was a child, and I became an avid reader,” Hipple said. “I began writing poetry and stories from the age of 10. Though my childhood was far from tragic, writing was both an escape from difficult times and a dream of something extraordinary. I got lost, first, in heroic stories about horses. Soon, I discovered Ray Bradbury, and sci-fi became a passion.”

Hipple’s love of writing continued to take form at Baker. A nontraditional student, Hipple transferred in 2012 to Baker 40 years removed from her last college course at Southwest Missouri State, divorced. and the mother of an adult son. She switched her major from art to creative writing after arriving on the Baldwin City campus.

The transition was difficult at first as she struggled with certain classes such as algebra and an international language.

“They both had me in tears the first year,” she recalled. “But most of the challenges I faced as an older student had to do with my own insecurities. Once I relaxed into the culture, I appreciated connecting with students half my age. My own attitude as a student was markedly different than my first experience 40 years earlier. This time, I wanted to be in the classroom, and I wanted to learn—not just complete a degree and move on.”

With a thirst for learning, especially writing, Hipple connected with Marti Mihalyi in the classroom. Mihalyi became more than her creative writing professor.

“She was a mentor and a friend,” said Hipple, who recently released an expanded edition of her poetry book, Obscure. “She helped me hone my work in so many ways. She taught me to trust the ideas in my work and to pare them down to their essence. The original manuscript was created for an independent study I did under Marti’s tutelage. I will always be grateful for her guidance.”

Before enrolling at Baker, Hipple became acquainted with Baker students as the night-shift worker at Kwik Shop in Baldwin City. While working, she was invited by members of Zeta Chi fraternity to be their house director, a position she held for six years.

Embracing the Baker experience, Hipple studied abroad at Harlaxton in 2014. The popular program held at a 19th century neo-Elizabethan manor in the English countryside has attracted more than 500 Baker students over the past 30 years. She earned an essay award presented by professors at Harlaxton for her academics and writing before becoming, during her senior year, the editor of Baker’s annual literary magazine, Watershed. She was also named the Outstanding Major in English in 2016.

“Harlaxton is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hipple said. “I tried to fully appreciate waking up in such beautiful surroundings every morning. I may have been the oldest full-time student to attend Harlaxton, but I tried to approach the semester in the same way as my younger classmates­, most the age of my son.

“The ability to travel and experience new cultures truly made the semester unique,” Hipple said. “Beyond all of the new experiences was the idea that people are people everywhere you go. There are many ways to ‘human,’ but most of us have more in common than we realize. I made lifelong friends there, and I got to meet an English writer I’d known online for 10 years.”

Science fiction has always been Hipple’s first love in fiction—both in reading and writing. Her published books include Raven (science fiction), Home Front (historical nonfiction), and Hotel Toledo (mystery novella).

Home Front has a special place in her heart. If not for finding her mother’s diaries and saved letters from the 1940s after she passed away at age 87 in 2013, Hipple never would have written it.

“Writing, for me, is not about staying motivated, but about focusing on one project at a time. I have so many ideas and inspirations running around in my head. Once upon a time, writing was more about finding the time to squeeze it in. Now that I’m retired, I’m trying to polish the many projects I began years ago and didn’t have an opportunity to complete. Two of those projects were children’s books, Ant Trails and Who Lives on the Moon? that I wrote with my son, Aaron, and illustrated 30 years ago and were finally published in 2021.”

Melinda Hipple

Hipple remains steadfast in continuing to write. Her current project is a sequel to Raven.

“I cannot imagine not writing,” she said. “There are four books planned in the series that represents my first love in literature. I’m also cowriting a book of poetry with a friend and fellow poet. Next to be released are the Hotel Toledo sequel called Behind the Mask and a young-adult book called Boxes. I might be scattered over multiple genres, but I could not imagine limiting myself to only one. For me writing is life.”

Remembering all the encouragement from professors, fellow students, family, friends, and the men of Zeta Chi, Hipple was overcome with emotion on commencement day in 2016 as her four-year journey as a Baker student came to an end.

“As I walked the stage at graduation, not only was I emotional for having finally completed my degree, but I was overwhelmed by the support I’d been given throughout my four years at Baker,” she said. “Unfortunately, my mother died before I graduated, but she had supported my return to school. Once upon a time, she had aspired to a college education, but it wasn’t in the cards for her. I knew she was proud of my effort.”

Written by Steve Rottinghaus, ’14 MSM

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