Public service isn’t a fit for the majority of people. It’s a demanding job that rarely offers the gratitude that it sorely deserves, but Barb Topliss is more than happy to fight for others anyway.
Topliss was raised on a family-owned cattle ranch in southeast Colorado, where, early on, she learned the benefit of hard work.
“I milked goats…my two brothers and I would have to bring the cattle in at night and we’d go out in the pasture during the day,” Topliss recalled fondly.
She learned the value of self-sufficiency as her family largely grew their own food and did what they could to rely on their available resources — something she values to this day.
As a young adult, Topliss went to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and majored in sociology and communication. After college, she went into a career in social work as a child protection case worker, and eventually as a supervisor, with the Department of Human Services in Lamar. She held that position for more than 13 years before moving to Cañon City in 1989 alongside her law enforcement husband, Ken.
“We moved here so that he (Ken) could join the Colorado Department of Corrections,” she said.
The move to Cañon City proved to be a lasting one and they, along with their young daughter, flourished in the community.
Topliss spent several years as a dedicated stay-at-home mother before returning to social work at Valley View Healthcare Center. She worked closely with numerous residents during the seven years she was there, and she fondly looks back on the experience.
“I loved working with the mentally ill as that’s what that facility catered to,” she said.
It wasn’t a solitary occasion for Topliss to sit for hours with World War II veterans as they recalled their days as fighter pilots or soldiers and they have become memories that she treasures.
“It was fun to be able to allow them to reminisce and remember their glory days,” she smiled. “They had great, great histories.”
In 1997, Topliss went to work for the District Attorney’s office as the Victim Witness Administrator — a position she held until November 2020.
“I did all of the victim advocacy programs and had four to five advocates throughout the district,” she said.
Victim advocates walk with the victims of predominantly violent crimes through the entirety of the legal process from the initial police filing of a case to the possible closure of that case. She and her workers regularly completed referrals, education on the judicial process, and explained how the prosecution process will work.
“It’s very intimidating and very scary,” she said. “We just stick with them.”
She returned to the DA’s office on Jan. 10, 2021, however, on the basis that her extensive knowledge could assist in training new staff. Her return, on a part-time workload, also includes the application and completion of grant writing, as well as financial and bookkeeping for the office.
Through the years, Topliss has served on numerous boards and worked closely with many organizations, including Kindreds Kids Child Advocacy Center, Rocky Mountain Behavioural Health, A Place Called Home, Child Protection team and Family Crisis Center.
Though she still takes an active role in the DA’s office, Topliss looks back at her many years there fondly.
“There was never boredom,” she said, laughing. “I worked with a lot of really great people, and I worked for some fabulous district attorneys … just being able to make a life a tiny bit easier for people that are traumatized was important. I’ve always been geared toward public service.”
She attributes some of that public philanthropy to her upbringing, where her parents were regular foster parents and her own family carried on the tradition when her daughter adopted her three sons.
She and her three grandsons — ages 9, 10 and 12 — spend regular time together, where she has the honor of looking after them in the morning several days a week.
Her husband recently retired and, although the couple has had to deal with some health issues, they try to get outside whenever they can to take walks in one of Fremont County’s many breathtaking areas.
Despite still working part-time, Topliss herself has numerous crafts that she pours both time and effort into such as silver smithing, crafting, sewing, refinishing furniture and reading.
“I’m busy most of the time,” she said about her semi-retirement.
She and her family currently look forward to a possible trip to Disneyland or Disneyworld (as her grandsons have never gone) and Topliss herself looks forward to every single day.
“I just like to do my thing every day,” she said, smiling.
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