“Why is Old Bob here? What is the objective of Old Bob being at the dessert counter?”
This question wasn’t asked by me. It was posed to me, by Old Bob himself, as we sat down for a one-on-one interview, and it made it clear to me within the first five minutes of our talk that Bob knows he’s doing a lot more for this school and its students than just handing out sweet treats. Bob has been manning the dessert station in Peirce since mid-January of 2018 (far shorter than it might seem) and he’s quickly cultivated wonderful, friendly relationships with many Kenyon students. Whether or not you’re someone who frequents the desserts, you know about Old Bob.
But we at the Thrill knew there was more to Bob than a kind face and some s’mores bars, and wanted to get an inside look at who he is, and how he stays so upbeat and friendly all the time.
This interview quickly became much deeper and more personal than I had at first expected it to, and so to honor that we’ll dispense with some of the easy, biographic information first: Bob was born in Pittsburgh, but spent his childhood in Atlantic City, where he also went on to become a teacher, teaching Middle School for 18 years. After that, he went on to work in sales.
“I previously sold cars,” Bob explained to me, as I asked what he had been doing before coming to Kenyon, and how he found his way here. This time with the car dealership was coming at the end of a 26 year long stint as a salesman, many years of which was spent around Kenyon–prior to selling cars, he helped sell and transport food and bread to both Peirce and the Gund Gallery for events, so he has been around the campus far longer than many of us would have guessed.
Bob explained that, over the years, he sold Fred Linger, financial administrator, eight cars, which set up, in his own words, “A relationship of trust, and a bond of appreciation… I was given an opportunity [from Fred] that, if and when a change was going to come for me, to give him a call.”
This talk of a relationship of trust might sound, at first, like some sort of line, something used to sell cars or bread or what have you. But anyone who knows Bob understands that when he says these things–building bonds of trust, appreciation–he means it wholeheartedly.
“The superficial level is me being over there goo-gooing everybody. ‘Oh, you made a great dessert choice, oh you made a good–‘ sure. That’s the introductory level. But there’s a “why” behind an action.”
Bob went on to explain what he calls the Three Second Smile Rule.
“When [you] smile at me, in less than three seconds, this is what that smile does: you are saying I have value; you are saying I have worth. If in less than three seconds your smile is telling me I have worth and value–that I even have a very small but significant percentage of relevance in your world–I stand taller. I stand straighter. I feel valued. And, as a result of that, I want it to go out.”
And this, really, is the core of Bob’s ideology. He gave me numerous examples of friendships he’s developed with the students, made with the simple building blocks of kindness, and a three-second smile. Bob was a teacher, Bob is a grandfather; he’s lived a life that makes him appreciate the importance of the health and happiness of the young people around him.
“I experienced some pretty tough things when I was teaching,” Bob told me, voice heavy with sincerity. He’s become more and more aware of the mental health crisis facing college students, and he knows that, as much as one person ever can, he wants to help.
It was the greatest pleasure to speak to Bob like this. He and I have always had a great relationship, but I never knew quite how deeply the idea of kindness goes for him. “To summarize,” he said to me, at the conclusion of our talk. “There is no summary.” And he’s right, of course; it’s hard to sum up quite how much genuineness shines out of this man, and how deeply he cares.
“I get up every day wanting to get back here!” he said emphatically. And though that’s a sentence we’ve all heard time and time again, with Bob I knew just how true that was.