There was 4 children in our family, Me, my sister Pat, my brothers Bob and Ray. Now there is only 3.
Bob’s funeral was on a weekday, a workday; but the church was packed, with relatives and friends. Just before the service was to begin a school bus filled with people pulled into the lot. They were people that lived in the town where Bob had a small general store he bought a few years before. In those few years, Bob had endeared himself to those people so much, the town shut down to attend his funeral.
Bob was one of a kind. To know this gentle giant was to love him.
Nancy, Bob’s wife, asked if I would read an eulogy at the funeral Mass. It certainly wasn’t something I wanted to do, standing before a crowd and talking; but I did it anyway. I did it for Bob, for his wife and two children, for his many, many friends. I did it because Bob loved life, loved to laugh, and the last thing he would have wanted is somber funeral.
Here’s what I wrote those many years ago.
ROBERT LEROY OSTERTAG 2/25/44 – 11/18/2008
Nancy asked me to speak about Bob’s accomplishments. Well, Bob and Nancy celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year, and that’s quite an accomplishment in today’s world. I’m sure Bob would consider Debbie and Robby as his two dearest accomplishments. It’s trite to say that someone was, not only a good father, but also a good friend to his children. But in Bob’s case it’s not trite. It’s true.
And Bob certainly can be proud of being a father to the many special children, like Curtis and P.J., that Bob and Nancy, Debbie and Robby brought into their family.
He was barely old enough to have a chauffeur’s license when he began to drive truck for Ray Furlong. He made good money. On paper. The company was going downhill and Bob got some cash and a lot of IOU’s. He was loyal to Ray though and pretty soon he ended up owning the truck he drove. Then later, the company. He changed the name to Ostertag Transfer.
He could drive a truck with the best of them. Drive a semi better backwards than most drivers could forward. Years later when the independent truckers were being squeezed out, Bob used his skill to teach at the county vocational school. It wasn’t just his truck-driving skills that won him all his Teacher of the Years awards, it was his people-skills also. Bob cared about his students and his students knew it,
Bob liked people and people liked Bob. It didn’t matter if you were a life long friend or a total stranger, you could talk with Bob. Funny part was, even in a long conversation, Bob never really talked much. He smiled and he listened. When he did talk, he went straight to the point, no phoniness, no malice. And you always felt better after talking with him.
That’s really why he wanted to own a small store in a small town. Be able to talk with town folks and farmers, like the people he grew up with. He knew he’d never be rich off of Mezzeppa Mercantile, but he’d be happy.
When Bob was little we never thought he’d be such a stay- around- home kind of guy. We thought he’d be an explorer. He liked to roam. As soon as he learned to walk he would head up the path and spend time everyday with Grandma. As he grew older he tried to roam further, visit more people.
One day Uncle Charlie came busting into the house. He told Mom that her two little boys were hiking down Highway 55. He said he tried to bring them home but the dog with them wouldn’t let him near the boys. Mom didn’t think they were Bob and Ray. Her two angels were playing in the fenced-in sand pile.
But Charlie was right. Bob managed to pile up enough sand and toys to climb over the fence and then he found an empty 5 gallon bucket he put upside down up so Ray could stand on and bust loose.
About that time both of them had their tonsils taken out the same day. That night, Bob decided to explore the hospital and managed to climb out of the hospital bed. He didn’t have a bucket for Ray, so he talked Ray into trying to squeeze through the bars on the bed. When the nurse came in to see what the commotion was about, Ray had his head stuck on one side of the bars and his body on the other. And Bob was trying to pull the bars apart to Ray could get unstuck.
After Grandma died, Bob went further up the hill and adopted Mrs. Winkle as a surrogate grandmother. And vice versus. He talked to her about wanting to be a farmer and have lots of animals. One day, Mrs. Winkle bought Bob a little calf. Told him to raise, then sell it, and he’d have money to buy two calves. Keep doing that and someday he’d get his farm.
Problem was Bob like animals too much. He made a pet out of it, named the calf, ‘Herman’. Mom and Dad never said much about it, but Grandpa did. He would try to explain to Bob the animal couldn’t be a pet; and if Bob didn’t sell it pretty quick, it would eat up all profits Bob could hope to make off it.
Bob knew Grandpa was right and one day he worked up nerve enough to bring Herman to the stockyards. Got Owen or Gibby, maybe both to help him. They had the animal unloaded and in a holding pen, and the commission man was about to the write Bob a check, when Herman let out a beller. Bob ran and opened the pen, took Herman out, loaded him back in the truck and brought him back home. Grandpa just shook his head. Took Bob three times before he finally left Herman at the stockyards.
When he finally bought his farm, he knew being a small farmer was no better than being an independent trucker but the farm insured him of a life-style he wanted, and the one he wanted for his family. And he could have room for a lot of animals.
Over the years he raised cattle and horses, pigs and chickens. Bought a donkey once. Pat and Herb woke up in the middle of the night to all kinds of noise. Bob was giving his nephews and niece a ride on the donkey. In their living room!
He always like the hard work involved with raising animals but, like with Herman, he hated the thought of having to get rid of them.
He was about two and a half when he made he was responsible for his first major impact on our family. Grandma hung up the phone and told him that he had a new baby brother. Then she asked if he knew what the baby’s name was going to be. Out of the clear blue, he said “Raymond”. Now that wasn’t the name Mom and Dad had picked out, but by the time Mom and the baby came home a few days later, it was too late to change. Raymond was his name.
Bob was about fifteen, maybe sixteen. I had been out of the Army a few months and came in the house one Saturday and mentioned I had to come up with a date in a hurry. Wanted to go to a party that night and I needed a date.
Now I had noticed Bob had been kind of sheepish around me lately. I thought maybe he still was thinking about my brand new used- car that I brought home a few weeks before. He had offered to do me a favor and take it down to Huber’s and put gas in it for me, while I dressed up. An hour or so later the phone rang to tell us Bob and Owen and my brand new used- car had ended up in the river. Bob and Owen recovered none the worse for wear. That’s more than I can say about my brand new used-car.
Anyway, that’s wasn’t the reason for his sheepishness. When he heard I needed a date that night, he told me, I kind a had a date for that night, or rather he had a date, and it was really my date. About a month before a friend had given me the name of a girl, he wanted me to call up. I just threw the number on my dresser and forgot about it. But not Bob. Seems he had been calling this girl now for a couple weeks, pretending to be me. And that evening was going to be his first date with her. He was relieved when I said I would take her out that night. After all she was in college and he knew he have to tell her the truth once he met her.
Make a long story short, that gal and I have been married now for some 47 years. I probably never would have met her if it wasn’t because of Bob.
We all got stories to tell about Bob. A lot of us are here today because we’re related to Bob. All of us are here today because Bob was our friend. And there are a lot more of his friends that couldn’t make it, but are with us today in spirit.
I hate to end on a negative note, but, Robert LeRoy, you left us way too soon.
Today would be his 71st birthday.