Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Farewell Old Friend

Though we grew up one block away, and Bob was a little older than me, our lives intertwined from grade school through art school and after.  I lived in a hundred year old farmhouse, and he in a sparkling new tract house popular in the 50's.We attended the same neighborhood parochial school, where the Sisters of Mercy were not so merciful in reining in a single classroom with a typical population, as shown below, of 53.  

 Bob is in the bottom row, 5th from the right.

One of many favorite neighbohood hang-outs was "The Creek". Now it is boarded up and inaccessible; I can't imagine why children nowadays wouldn't want to play down there. Their parents might think it is dangerous, but back when we were kids, things were different.  After school and summertime, kids left 'to play' and the parents were not interested in monitoring our activities.

The Creek

"The Creek" is a storm sewer.  Just imagine these tunnels funneling 5 feet diameter of water after a big downpour.  We would follow these tunnels as far as we could, popping up out of manholes many blocks away in foreign territory.  Sometimes we would ride our bikes in the tunnel; just imagine doing DNA type loops.  The creek was a never-ending source of fun, exercise, and education. Bob designed a whole relay of 'vines' to swing on diagonally from side to side, just like Tarzan. Creek travel could traverse entire subdivisions in minutes!  

The Creek Tunnels

While I dug rich clay from the creek banks to to make pottery, the boys would come through crashing and splashing, engaged in their own adventures. One day, I noticed what seemed to be an underground clubhouse at the top of the creek bank.  There was a ventilation pipe (for a fireplace) and a plywood padlocked door.  I was curious and furious that I couldn't get in to see it!  (Boys and girls didn't play together in those days).  The engineering and courage to build it was pure Bob, helped by his friends.  Some time later the roof collapsed (fortunately no one was in it).  The 'roof' was plywood supported by columns, but the clay must have become too heavy and waterlogged.  Bob blamed 'the girls'  for destroying it,  but I told him later in college, I would never destroy something that I admired and respected so very much.  

Kenrick Seminary

The mode of transportation in the old days was walking or biking, no matter how far away. Kenrick Seminary and the nun's convent didn't seem too far away, tho' today it seems to take forever to drive there by car from where we lived. The grounds were havens of  extensive woods with a large pond.  There was even a cave where 'bums' hung out. During the summer was fishing and swimming; during the winter, was skating. Again, no adult supervision.

Kenrick Manor, formerly the grounds of Kenrick Seminary

Here is what happened to the woods at Kenrick and the convent. The once huge acreages are blanketed with crowded, nondescript housing.  What became of the utterly amazing 3 story treehouse with individual rooms and glass windows that Bob built? Who knows, but he never stopped doing what he started in his youth, creating fun, artful playgrounds.  As far as I know, he never had a 'real' job;  he just did what he loved.  Always.

It was as if he never grew up, so how could he die?  I had a dream about Bob a few nights after he died.  I said to him, "I thought you were dead!"  He said he was back.  I don't think he'll ever leave us, really.   


After the memorial service, and a party at City Museum, a large contingent of work colleagues, friends, and family gathered on the river across the road from Cementland, his latest project.  We were each given votive candles in cups to hold as 6 canoes farther up the river paddled to our station on a cement receiving bridge. His ashes were scattered in the river that he loved so much. Wood flutes played in the still quiet; the only other sound was water lapping at the river banks.

Many children have experienced his pied piper magic, and many future generations will, too.

Bill Christman built a wood sculpture which erupted into fireworks followed by an enormous bonfire. Dogs ran free and all seemed good in the world on a beautiful fall night.  All was good, except that Bob was gone.


  1. renee,

    this is such an incredible tribute to an incredible life. bob would be mighty pleased with this, no doubt. you were a good friend to him from the beginning and i will always be grateful that you introduced us.

    i am thinking bob is in the same place as john donoghue - in my mind i picture them - hanging out, making mischief, making art.

    may their souls rest in peace.


  2. Thanks, Amanda! Bob had a profound influence on so many people. I was concerned that there were a great number of artists and artisans under his umbrella. It was astonishing that Bob, an artistic visionary who never backed down from bullying bureaucracy, received more eulogies and accolades in the media, both local and national, than I have ever seen for almost anyone. Yes, we lost someone very special.

  3. Thanks for sharing you connection to a really special guy. I know him only through his work at the playground and CityMuseum. So creative & fun! Peace. arturo

  4. Thanks, Arturo! Ask my mother about the time when she asked Bob to rescue the fountain from in front of the Windsor Hotel when it was about to be demolished. He did!