Barbara Kaufman’s memory box holds a 1966 front page newspaper clipping headlined “From ADC to Phi Beta Kappa. Mother’s An Honor Student.” The Minneapolis Tribune article marvels how a single mom receiving ADC, or Aid to Dependent Children, had become a top student at the University of Minnesota.
The author didn’t have a clue that this mother, namely Kaufman, would proceed to devote a career to helping disadvantaged Minnesotans, especially women and children. She went on to hold top positions at a dozen nonprofits and social service agencies including the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Minnesota chapter.
Kaufman, 85, died April 20.
“Barbara rose from a single mother on public assistance … to run private and public agencies as well as become a state and national leader in social work and social work licensing,” said Alan Ingram, former executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the NASW. “She was indeed a remarkable woman.”
Kaufman was born to Bruce and Donna Wallis in Conneaut, Ohio. The family moved to Malden, Mass., where she grew up and later attended the New England Conservatory of Music. She left college and married a Methodist minister, moving to Ada, Minn., and having four children. When the couple divorced a decade later, Kaufman headed to the Twin Cities with her young children, bleak finances and a fervor to get an education.
It was a period that shaped her life, said Kaufman’s daughter Donna Tingley, and inspired her to build a nonprofit in the 1990s called Genesis II For Families, specifically to help disadvantaged women find employment. It provided one of her most meaningful jobs, Tingley said.
“Single parents, abused women and children who found themselves trapped in those situations — that’s why she created it,” said Tingley.
Tony Bibus, a veteran social worker and former social work professor at Augsburg University, said he first came to know of Kaufman in the 1980s when he was working in child protection for Dakota County.
“She was the person [at the Department of Human Services] that you could call for answers,” he said.
Years later, when Bibus served as a board member of the state chapter of the NASW, he was impressed with Kaufman’s tireless work around social work licensing standards.
“I saw firsthand how she related to us,” said Bibus. “We found her leadership inspiring.”
Kaufman’s resume crossed the Twin Cities landscape. She was director of the Department of Human Service’s licensing division in the 1970s and an assistant mental health commissioner there starting in 1989, said Tingley. She served as executive director at what is now called the Arc Minnesota in the early 1990s. She worked a year as an instructor in the school of social work at the University of Minnesota.
“She got to know social services from every angle,” said Bibus.
Along the way, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Minnesota NASW and a Bush Foundation leadership fellowship.
Tingley remembers her mother as a voracious reader who was full of energy. Even after retirement, she served on at least a dozen boards of directors, said Tingley. “It was like, ‘Mom, slow down!’ ” Tingley joked.
Kaufman was married for 34 years to Samuel “Bing” A. Kaufman, who died in 2003. She is survived by daughter Tingley, stepson Terry Kaufman and nephew William Wallis III. A memorial service has been held.