In June 1942, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Seaman 2nd Class. He was assigned to the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Hale Field, Missoula, Montana, the present location of Sentinel High School, and passed his solo flight in a Piper Cub. Bob trained in various aircraft, including a Stearman Bi-Plane. He graduated from primary flight training in August 1943 at Corpus Christy, Texas, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, following operational training with Squadrons VMSB343 and 344 at Jacksonville, Florida, Cherry Point and Greenville, North Carolina, Newport Arizona, El Toro and San Diego, California. During his assignment at Greenville, he married his high school sweetheart, Helen Watson, who traveled across the country by train for the wedding. Bob shipped out overseas and was assigned to Squadron VMTB131 on Pelilu Island in the Palaus, flying anti-submarine patrol. Following take-off for one mission, Bob’s torpedo bomber lost all engine power and crashed into a large swamp. Fortunately, the load of four 500 pound depth-bombs failed to detonate on impact. The island was still partially held by Japanese forces, and Bob and his two-man crew spent some anxious time in a life raft before being rescued by American troops. Bob also served on Ie Shima and Okinawa, where he was stationed at war’s end. Following the Japanese surrender, he ferried officer personnel and materials from Awasi Field, Okinawa, to the Naval Air Station at Yokosuka, Japan.
Bob arrived home just in time for Christmas, 1945. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve after the war, attaining the rank of Major. He commanded the Armed Forces Facility at Clark Park, Butte, Montana, retiring in 1956.
Bob attended Carroll College, then accepted employment with Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company. He was assigned around the state, arriving in Thompson Falls in 1957 as manager. At that time, the change was being made to “dial” phones. Bob transferred back to Helena in 1965 and retired in 1968, embarking on a new career in commercial and residential construction. He returned to Thompson Falls in early 1973 and entered into partnership with the late Bud Sorenson as C & S Construction. Their initial project was the rebuilding of the downtown following the fire of December 1972. Bob retired from construction and operated Falls Realty for several years.
Bob touched hundreds of lives of young men with his passion and commitment to sports. At every stop in his career, he was untiring in his efforts to establish, fund-raise and coach Little League Baseball. He was an avid outdoorsman, elk hunter, fly fisherman, swing band drummer, artist and sign painter. He scored a hole-in-one at his second home, River’s Bend Golf Course, and mastered the craft of making and customizing golf clubs. He was a member of the Montana Officials’ Association, officiating at basketball and football games on the high school and college levels. He was active in the Thompson Falls Lions Club and the Cursillo movement in the Catholic Church.
Bob was preceded in death by both parents, his sister, Janet Keuhner of Bellingham, Washington, and his dear wife Helen. Bob is survived by his children: Michael (“Micky”, Billings); Pat (Spokane, Wash.); Susan (Missoula); Steve (Thompson Falls); Dan (Melbourne, Fla.); and Kathy (Thompson Falls), his half-brothers, John Clark (Des Moines, Iowa) and Mark Clark (Tucson, Ariz.). When their dad died, Bob and Helen welcomed Mark into the family as a son. Following the untimely death of his wife in 1968, Bob remarried. Three children from that marriage survive: Joseph (Seattle, Wash.); Philip (Skagway, AK); and Teresa (Missoula), as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Bob is also survived by his special companion and sweetheart, Betty Sahinen. Bob and his “gal” Betty shared 22 wonderful years together in the home they both loved. Services will be held at St. Williams Catholic Church in Thompson Falls 11a.m. Friday, Sept. 12. Immediate family will attend interment at Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont., where Bob will rest next to his lovely Helen.
Bob succumbed to complications from prostate cancer, but faced each day with the determination to relish every moment. He showed his children the true value of a man with his courage, dignity and exceptional humor. The family wishes to express their heartfelt gratitude for the wonderful care and love provided by Clark Fork Valley Hospice. Bob’s memory would be well-served by donations to Hospice or to the Thompson Falls High School Golf Team.