Bob and Iolene B. are, quite simply, a delightful couple. They moved into The Highlands in June 2017, and since then have become a welcome sight walking, hand-in-hand, through the halls. With the aid of their children, the Bob and Iolene moved from North Carolina to their new home here at Kensington Park, where they are conveniently located near three of their daughters.
Their journey to Kensington Park began in Minnesota. Bob was born in Washington state, but moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, as a baby. Iolene was born and raised in the small town of Pierz, Minnesota (pop. 600 at that time). They met in St. Paul, at a Friday night prom ballroom dance. Bob mentions that the absence of alcohol permitted the admission of younger dancers. Bob spotted Iolene from across the room, asked her for a dance, and then a date. He learned he’d have to wait a week, though, because Iolene’s date book was full for the week! Eventually their courtship ensued, and a wedding date was set.
Iolene was 25 years old when they were married and Bob was 20. Under Minnesota law, Bob had to submit a letter of permission from his parents because he was underage. Both were hard workers. Iolene’s father believed that girls should help support the family rather than attend high school and, at 14, Iolene, the oldest of nine, got a job in a private home cleaning and caring for a child. She earned six dollars a day, which was enough to pay for her family’s heating needs — wood and coal. After a year, Iolene’s younger sister took over this duty, and Iolene began to earn wages to pay for her high school education. Tuition was high — $25 a year! She graduated from high school and started working for Western Electric, first as an assembler of phone dials, and shortly thereafter as an instructor. She remained at Western Electric from 1944 until 1951, when her first child was born, and she left to become a full-time mother and homemaker.
After talking his father into letting him attend public, rather than Catholic school, Bob entered Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul. He originally thought he would study to be a draftsman, like his father. The course was only a month-long! But following graduation, he started working on a factory assembly line and became active in the UAW. A union official spotted Bob, and strongly suggested that he go to college. Bob listened to that advice, and enrolled in the University of Minnesota, where he attended classes in the morning, and worked from 3:30 p.m. to midnight. He graduated with an AA degree.
Bob was elected as the youngest president of the UAW local at age 23! While working in Minnesota, Bob became interested in unemployment issues, and was asked by his friend Senator Gene McCarthy to testify before Congress. Bob caught the eye of Congressman Joe Karth, who asked him to be his assistant while, at the same time, the Labor Department took notice and offered Bob a job at an even higher salary. His single trip to Washington, D.C., resulted in three different job offers! Bob spent the majority of his career working at the Labor Department, and eventually was an undersecretary. After several extremely busy years, Bob decided to scale back and took a new job in Colorado, where he was involved in labor matters in five surrounding states. As he says, with a slight giggle and grin:
“That job was great. I could do the work in fours hours a day, and I could always find parking!”
Bob’s interests eventually led the family back to the D.C. area, and where he joined the National Mediation Board, working on labor disputes in the airline and train industries.
With all of their great successes, the Bob and Iolene’s crowning glory is their family. They have eight children. Their oldest, Joe, passed away a few years ago from cancer at the young age of 52. They also have 21 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. And they believe that a great-great-grandchild may be possible sometime in the not-so-distant future (no pressure, kids!) Their children live in Colorado, Maryland, and North Carolina, and everyone comes to visit regularly. When asked if their children get along, Bob and Iolene, almost in unison answer, “Oh yes. Very much so!” The apples certainly don’t fall very far from this family tree!