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An amazing journey: Bob Herbert

LAURA HALL Under the Radar
Bob Herbert talks about how different his youth was growing up in a one room schoolhouse.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at the journey of Bob Herbert.

The condo of Bob Herbert rises high above the Gulf in Miramar Beach. Looking out from the 50-foot long balcony, the panoramic view is breathtaking with shimmering white quartz sand and blue waves rolling in as far as the eye can see.

The furnishings of the home are lovely but subdued, nothing pretentious here. The walls of the master bedroom are covered with private photos of Bob training with his son, Mike.

Other pictures show Fidel Castro hanging a first place medal over the head of Mike after he won an Olympic first in kayaking. Another photograph captures Mike at the White House with President Bill Clinton. A wall plaque to the right of Bob’s desk is filled with small pins from all the Olympics he has attended and participated in.

In another room, completely hidden from the main living area, is shelving which contains more medals and ribbons than I can count. Not covering just one area of athletic ability but a conglomeration of medals representing outstanding achievement in shooting, canoeing, kayaking and tennis. Bob Herbert has lived life beyond any person I have ever known, and I want to back up to the beginning.

Bob tells me an astounding story of his youth.

“I was born on a farm of 78 acres in Illinois. We had a horse which we used for planting and harvesting hay and grain. Our home had no electricity, no running water. We caught rain water for washing clothes and ourselves. There was no heat in the house except for a wood stove in the kitchen. I walked across the fields to go to a school house where 20-25 kids all piled into one room. In the winter us boys had to come in early to chop wood to go in the pot bellied stove. We had one teacher for the entire school and each day, each grade had her teach to them for 45 minutes. I got a good education, and if you paid attention you could learn ahead as you listened to the teacher giving lessons to the higher classes.

My family was so poor I wore shoes and clothes that were given to me from the community. When I finished the eighth grade I went to town for high school and found they provided showers for gym class. This was the first time I ever had a shower with running water. I had to have money for food at school and decent clothes to wear so at age 12 I took a job with a neighbor who had a custom hay baler on his farm.

As the hay bales came out it was necessary to knot two wires together on either side to hold the bales securely . I took the job, sat in the heat and dust and twisted these knots together for each bale. I was making one penny for each bale knotted with wire. The most I ever made in one day from sunrise to dark was when we baled 1,000 bales and I made $10, which was a lot of money back then.

At 16 I was paying my way through high school working at a casket company delivering caskets. I never had a day off while in high school because I worked every weekend and holiday because I was pulling down big money, now making $1 an hour. At this point I had to give up part of my wages to pay my dad for room and board.

I was smart and I could think for myself. I’ve always wanted to do everything to the best of my ability. For graduation, I bought my first new suit which was dark blue, double breasted. I later got married in that suit.”

I can tell from Bob’s broad grin and twinkle in his eyes that he vividly remembers that suit.

By age 18 Bob was independent and deeply in love with his high school sweetheart Carole. They ran off to Arkansas and secretly got married. They never, ever, told their parents, so when Carole graduated from high school they had to have another wedding. A year later Bob decided to build his own house. So, with no experience he bought a book from Sears Roebuck on “How to Build a House.”

What followed was a house with one bedroom, living room, kitchen and bath. The year 2015 finds the house still sitting quietly on this lot.

Don’t miss the ending to this marvelous story in the next addition of the Log.

Laura Hall is a freelance reporter and longtime Destin resident.