Life is unpredictable and complex. While some people add to our strife, others bring about a sense of consistency and simplicity.
For those who know Bob Alexander, affectionately called “Mr. A,” he’s referred to as a steady-Eddie, a behind-the-scenes kind of guy whom one can always count on.
Mr. A was born and raised on South Whidbey and is still here, 68 years later. He married his Whidbey-born Langley High School sweetheart, Connie.
He remarks, “My role models growing up were all people that provided me with consistency that I could learn from and depend on. First my mom and dad, who taught me by example to live a clean life, work hard, and the difference between right and wrong. The next example that stands out was Ivan Schultz my seventh and eighth-grade Langley teacher. He inspired me so much in how he taught and related with kids, that I wanted to become a teacher just like him. Soon after, I got to know teacher and Coach Jim Leierer whose unwavering faith, values and convictions taught me about what’s important in life.”
Mr. A says, “My life goals were to be a teacher and parent that would be reliable, simple, caring, steady and an honest kinda guy. I think a lot about addressing life’s challenges is using common sense; I don’t know how many times I told my own kids, ‘just use your heads.’ ”
Mr. A did follow his goal, and became a South Whidbey teacher and later a Langley Middle School assistant principal. Since retiring, he volunteers at several places in this community including as a Sunday School teacher, and at the food bank, along with remaining an example for others to emulate.
Dr. Lisa Bjork, a former South Whidbey superintendent, remembers Mr. A: “I was continually impressed with Bob; he would do anything for the kids, for the staff, or the district. If I wanted something done, I asked Bob. He made it happen no matter how difficult the task. He was amazingly reliable and consistent, but what’s more he truly cared about the kids. He made each student feel important and he had an incredible ‘middle school’ humor.’ ”
Mr. A also inspired his students to do their best.
“I met Mr. A when I was 9 years old,” says Paul Benz, 35. “He was a big part of our church family. Much like my own parents, Mr. A expected me to do something with the potential he saw in me. When I broke the rules at school, Mr. A gave me the same suspension anyone else got. His integrity and consistency has made me a better person. When I left for the Peace Corps, Mr. A sent moneys with me, and wrote me an encouraging letter that I keep up on my wall.”
While interviewing Mr. A, his wife Connie joined in. Mr. A helped build their modest-sized home on the same property where he was raised. Their daughter and her family and his mom also have a home on the property. The acreage is reminiscent of Walton’s Mountain. In fact you can almost hear the Walton’s’ theme music.
Mr. A agrees saying, “Good night John Boy, good night Mary Ellen.” His mom, who also has lived here her entire life, calls on the phone. While Mr. A is talking with mom, Connie shows some of his latest paintings of barns, farms and ocean scenes. The woodworking on their home is finely crafted, as are his other endeavors.
Connie shows a humorous short family movie that Mr. A produces every summer with the grandkids, always about some adventure at Camp Hailey. This 10-minute comedy is entitled “The revenge of old man Morgan.”
Mr. A is in the background as narrator and as puppeteer of a makeshift peculiar-looking hand puppet he calls Betty Blooper.
He also hand-makes beautiful, small paper beads he gives as gifts. He teaches this to his Sunday school students, and hand carves wooden crosses for each beaded necklace.
With some prodding he picks up his ukulele and plays and sings a song about the first driver’s test his granddaughter Hailey took. He makes up songs for many family occasions. He also has written a historical book detailing his family stories to pass on to his grandchildren. He calls it “Just off Swan Hill” which includes a photo of his one of his favorite cows, June Bug.
The phone rings. “Hi Mom,” he answers. While he’s on the phone, Connie again takes the opportunity to say, “Every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. Bob takes his 91-year-old mother to town, where they usually shop at Jo-Ann Fabric, as his mom still sews. They shop at more of his mom’s favorite stores, and then eat lunch together at mom’s favorite Jack in the Box, for the usual burger without cheese. They always make it back for an afternoon nap. It’s their special day together.”
Mr. A worked to put himself through school, doing concrete labor, working on the ferries, and they lived in a funeral home. The two of them and their first child Jeff got free rent, in exchange for casket viewing on the weekends. Connie said, “It was hard; we always had to keep Jeff, our baby, quiet.”
Mr. A says, “One day they told me to pick up a body at the hospital. The orderly pointed me to the room where the body was; she looked dead to me,” he says grinning. “But when I started to pick her up, she moved.”
He says they struggled financially for many years when they first got married. “But it made us stronger, and we are still very thankful for the small things in life to this day, if you know what I mean.”
“I know I have a tough exterior, but I am soft on the inside.” He’s sentimental and tears up at movies, he says. “I suppose I don’t show that part of me to most people.”
“Alright,” he says, abruptly changing the subject, “It’s time to feed the cows.”
Walking out in the pasture, he calls each of his five cows by name. “They know I will always take care of them, they trust me. They count on me to feed them the same times every day. I’ve lived with cows all my life.”
Son Jeff reflects on his dad. “I don’t know anyone that has a stronger moral compass than Dad. He raised my sister and me through discipline, responsibility and adventure. He was strict but fair; the few times I got the paddle I deserved it. We could play but only after our chores. On the adventure side, dad was awesome. We took family trips I will forever cherish, even though we were like the Griswolds on Vacation. I was fortunate to have my dad as my sixth-grade teacher. While that could be a nightmare for some kids, I loved it. Now, my dad is our three boys’ role-model and they get to spend time with dad.”
Mr. A said when his children, Jeff and Jenny, were little he hurt his back, and was laid up for three months.
“At one point I cried like a baby, wondering about our future.” He got better with surgery, but he’s had to be careful with his back ever since. “It’s embarrassing not being able to lift. Every time we go somewhere Connie carries all the luggage; I can just imagine what people think.”
They both laugh. Connie says, “It’s true, I’m his back.”
Mr. A says having her lug around their baggage doesn’t fit his beliefs. “I believe in old- fashioned values, opening doors for ladies, sealing a deal with a handshake. I miss the times where the family could sit down to a TV show together without worrying about inappropriate language.”
South Whidbey teacher Tom Sage remarks, “Bob is old school. He’s a hard worker, with a work ethic that’s an example to all. He never considers the easy way, with him it’s the right way. He’s compassionate and calm. I remember one time when he had to restrain a student that was out of control. Bob never lost his temper and gently spoke to the student while cradling him in his vice-like grip to make sure the student didn’t hurt himself or others.”
We need easy-going, dependable people around in this complex world, people like Mr. A, he said.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT MR. A
“Bob is a very upstanding person; you never know where your foot steps will lead. He lives his life as a good role model. A lot of kids respect and look up to Bob, because of his character — I do too. People like Bob are hard to come by. He makes his steps count in life, he lives a life well lived.”
Jim Leierer, former coach and teacher
“We have been close friends throughout our whole life. And we’ve had many good times together and still continue to do so. Bob is a great asset and good example for the community. Being a good example, Bob is a good Christian man.”
Lloyd Schumacher, life-long friend
“If a kid was in trouble and sent to Bob as their assistant principal, they always knew they were gonna get dealt with fairly and with an ever present calm demeanor. His hearty laugh and glad-to-see-you grin makes a person feel valued and, for that moment, important. It’s been an honor to work with [such] a reasonable, compassionate and honorable man as Bob.”
Gerry Barrat, Langley Middle School teacher
“I worked with Bob, Mr. A to all of the students, for several years at Langley Middle School. Bob was very calm, kind, and supportive of students. He is a wonderful person, not to mention bringing so much fun and laughter to LMS. Bob, along with Greg Willis, added to our legacy.”
Sue Terhar, school district superintendent secretary
“Rarely in life does one meet a man like Bob Alexander. Bob is deeply rooted in the South Whidbey community. But more than that, he has given his life to make our island home a better place to live. He’s 100 percent invested in his family, his church, the public schools and public service. Our daughters all attended Langley Middle School and Mr. A was the one who knew their names, took interest in their lives and cared for them like his own. His work was not a job, it was a calling, and consequently Mr. A has influenced an entire generation of students. He teaches Sunday School, goes on mission trips with our young people and continues to call the students by name. I would be remiss if I did not say that Bob is also a very lucky man, for by his side is the amazing woman who has shared his life. “
Pastor Jim Lindus, Freeland Lutheran church
“Where to even to begin to describe my grandpa a.k.a. ‘Shafto’? He is stubborn, yet flexible, frugal, but not cheap. He is the jack-of-all-trades and can do anything unless you need help with something more technical than a television remote. He is also very smart with his money and has inspired me to start saving for my own retirement at age 20. Grandpa is not one for long phone calls, his home answering machine prompts callers to leave a message and, ‘Connie will call you back.’ He is a man of deep faith and always puts God above all priorities. Having him as my grandpa has made me a better person.”
Kyle Alexander, grandson
“I have great respect for Bob Alexander. We worked side by side for 15 years at LMS and remain great friends today. He is a person who has impacted the South Whidbey community throughout his life. Raised here, Bob possesses a keen understanding of the people and history. He brought that awareness to his 30 years as an educator. Bob was always guided by an interest in what was best for the student. He was known affectionately as Mr. A. In his role as assistant principal, Bob provided leadership throughout the middle school program. He made significant contributions to our athletic program and athletes. When the new auxiliary gym was built, a group of students asked the school board to dedicate it in Bob’s name. The board enthusiastically agreed. In addition to his wonderful contributions to our community, the center of Bob’s life has always been his family.”
Greg Willis, former middle school principal
“Bob is fabulous. He drives to Seattle every Monday for the food pick up for the Food Bank. He’s always cheerful and willing to help in any way he’s needed.”
Karen Korbelik, Good Cheer Food Bank manager
“Mr. A is a perfect candidate for … Hometown Hero. His daughter Jenny and I were best friends all through school. He was my sixth grade teacher; vice-principal for seventh and eighth; and best-friend’s dad during those pesky high school years. I have the utmost respect for Bob. He’s hardworking, then at school and now, dedicated to education, church and his family. He also has a good sense of humor and isn’t above a good prank now and then. In a time when families struggle to stay connected, value kids and their education, stay faithfully committed, Bob stands out in the crowd. Thinking of his impact multiplied across all the students he has worked with is astonishing.”
Ph.D,. LMFT Family Touchstone
“Bob is the funniest, wittiest, nicest, and most positive person on Whidbey. He always has a ready joke and most importantly, a helping hand. I loved working with him at Langley Middle School and he could have quietly retired, but fortunately helps out at Trinity Lutheran Church and is my daughter’s Sunday school teacher.”
Jenny Campbell, middle school teacher
“Bob was my son’s fourth-grade teacher. Loudy still remembers Mr. A reading him ‘Tales of a fourth grade nothing,’ which is still Loudy’s favorite story. Bob was always a great support to me when I worked at LMS, and all the kids liked and respected Mr. A”
Diane Fraser, former middle school administrator
“Throughout the years, Bob has proven to be supportive, fair, kind, and a calming influence in any crisis. Bob lives by a high standard with expectations that he models. I appreciate all Bob has given to the school district and community.”
Patricia Sargent, middle school teacher
“In his role as athletic director at Langley Middle School, he was very supportive of coaches and athletes, while holding them to high standards.”
Jack Terhar, middle school teacher
Gary Robert ‘Bob’ Alexander
Born: Feb. 7, 1947; Everett, Wash.
Father: Bill, ticket seller for state ferries, cement finisher
Mother: Mabel, housewife, checker at Clinton Food Mart
Siblings: Bill and Larry
Education: Langley High School, 1965; Western Washington University
Spouse: Connie, married March 16, 1968.
Children: Jeff and Jenny
Grandchildren: Kyle, Hailey, Sierra, Sawyer, Seth and Simon; and great-grandson Wilson
Years on Whidbey: 64, four years teaching and living in Everett.
Hobbies: Woodworking, raising cows, painting, traveling, making silly movies with the grand- kids, family genealogy and cooking
Personal sides of Bob Alexander
One of the hardest things you have had to do?
“Mom called and said dad was late for dinner, and she was worried about him. I got in my car and looked for him, and found ambulances and an accident. I then had to go back and tell Mom, Dad had passed away in a car accident.”
Nice thing someone did for you?
“I was really shy when I was a kid, and in order to earn a Bible at St. Peter’s church we had to get up in front of everyone and recite the 23rd Psalm. Knowing how bashful I was, Ester Moe allowed me to recite it just to her, and gave me the Bible anyway, which I still have today. You would have had to know Ester to appreciate this kindness.”
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Connie answers, “Bob plans to make his own simple wood casket.”
What six words would you choose for your epitaph?
“Connie took good care of me.”