Shawnee Mission Faces: Kevin Roepe, metal detectorist and treasure hunter

Since he got into metal detecting eight years ago, Kevin Roepe has collected hundreds of knick-knacks, trinkets, precious items and historical artifacts, plus maybe $500 worth of coins. He’s found silver coins, including an 1882 dime featuring the seated Lady Liberty, Civil War era buttons from Union Army uniforms and musket balls from the mid-1800s.

He’s done most of his metal detecting on family property near Concordia, Missouri, but also all over the Midwest, especially in the Shawnee Mission area. He sweeps yards for those who ask and finds long-lost items for them, such as wedding rings and other jewelry. Roepe also tries to track down owners of items that have identifiable information. He keeps many of his treasures in a family heirloom: his wife’s great-great-grandmother’s cracker box.

Roepe earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineer at the University of Missouri in Columbia and now works in environmental health and safety for Dairy Farmers of America in Kansas City, Kansas. He serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Besides metal detecting, he enjoys the outdoors — camping, hunting, fishing — as well as home renovations. He lives in Prairie Village with his wife, Lexi, and their two daughters and two German shorthaired pointer dogs.

I was in the Marine Corps, active duty, and stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California. We were fortunate enough to live on the beach, in base housing. Lexi’s the kind of person who can just lay on the beach and soak in the rays. I have to be doing something. I got bored of just going down to the beach and sitting there, so I thought I’d get a metal detector.

So I went and bought one off of Craigslist, just a fairly inexpensive detector at the time and did a lot of beach detecting.

We lived in California for another roughly three years, and I upgraded, purchased a new detector and still did primarily beach detecting. So really, all you’re finding there is jewelry and coins and change, nothing of historical context.

(Most of the time, his parking fees wouldn’t cover what he found metal detecting that day, his wife joked.)

So then, we moved back here. And obviously, with a lot more history as far as Civil War-era type history, I started kind of looking and detecting places that had more history to them.

In this area, most of the time, houses that have yards from 1950 and older is where you really start finding good stuff in the ground. Neighbors, friends, the occasional park — although you get a lot of junk at the park, like pop tabs and bottle caps and stuff like that. You find a lot of that in yards, too.

A lot of people think, when you ask people to metal detect their yards, people are like, “Oh, you’re going to tear up my yard!” But that’s not the case at all. You literally pop a plug, and you’ve got a pinpointer that’s going to get you right to where it’s at, you retrieve the object, clean it off, put the plug back and you can never even tell something was there. After the first rain, you’ll never know.

Well, for a horseshoe or something large, it can detect down two feet. But if it’s that big and it’s iron, I usually don’t bother because it’s usually a hunk of junk.

As far as coins go, there’s something about finding a silver coin. Because when it pops out of the ground, you can tell it’s silver right away, it still has a shine to it. It’ll tarnish a little bit, but you always know when you dig up a silver coin.

I don’t know, it’s just kind of, for me, again, it’s not about the value of any of the stuff I find. It’s the historical context. And you never know what you’re going to dig up. You find something, you have no idea what it is and then you do a little research to find the history behind it. It’s just pretty cool.

For instance, there was the first Civil War-era artifact I ever found. I found it on my cousin’s farm near Concordia. When I moved back to this area, I learned that my uncle — his name’s Tom Gieseke, he’s in Westwood — also has a passion for metal detecting. So we go out together a lot of times and we detect together. He’s been doing it for 40-some odd years. So anyway, we were detecting together out there, and I had a real iffy signal. I thought it might be trash but I decided to dig it anyway, and it was probably a good 10 inches down.

When I first found it, I thought it was junk, and it wasn’t until I cleaned it off and could make out the eagle and did a little research and found out: that was a button off of a Union infantry soldier’s uniform. That’s when I was really like, this is pretty cool to uncover something that had been literally in the ground for, at this point, about 150 years. Otherwise, it’d probably be lost. If I didn’t uncover it, it would have just disintegrated at some point and been lost forever.

It’s the thrill of the chase. I love finding something, when you first pull it out of the ground, you have no idea what it is because it’s still dirty, encrusted in dirt. Then you clean it off, get it home, do a little research and you find out it’s something from the early 1900s. I’m uncovering history.

I’ve got a token that I found that was super crusty. Once I got it home and cleaned it off, it was from the 1904 World’s Fair. It ties back to a real event, a real thing in history and it makes you wonder: who dropped it?