Jul 13th 1929 - Jun 27th 2012
A man of great honor, humility, and goodwill, Robert Thome was a blessing in every sense of the word. His selfless acts were unmatched, and his quiet faith provided a real life example of what it means to walk a humble path. A more devoted family man would be hard to find, and together with his wife, Bob raised children he was so very proud of. Equipped with a quick wit, he told the best stories and his jokes and puns often had those around him in stitches (and left his children with an occasional groan!) The timeless legacy Bob leaves behind will be proudly carried on by those who follow him.
The year 1929 is often remembered as the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, but it brought great joy to a couple in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They couldn’t have been happier as they welcomed a healthy baby boy into their clan on July 13th. Robert was the youngest of four children born to his parents, Leo and Katherine (Meyers) Thome, and he was raised in the family home on the west side of Grand Rapids alongside his siblings, James, Margaret, and Marianne. Although he often kept busy with friends, Bob still managed to find mischief around nearly every corner. He attended local schools, but he made it perfectly clear that school wasn’t really his thing.
As a young boy some of Bob’s traits and interests were already firmly in place. He was known for his generosity throughout his life, and even as a kid he would often give gifts to friends and family. He developed his love of sports during his formative years as well. Bob was particularly fond of baseball and football. As a teen he loved going to Notre Dame and Michigan State University games, going so far in his young adult years as to be a "fake football player"- sleeping in the players’ rooms to disguise himself as a team member on Fridays for curfew bed checks before football games so he and his friends could impress the girls. He also had an incredible ability to remember various sports statistics, especially for his beloved Tigers.
Like so many other young men of his generation, Bob was drafted into the Army during the Korean Conflict. He was stationed in Germany. Bob loved to tell the story of how he took a shell in his eye while in the military… of course… as the joke goes it was only an eggshell from the kitchen! As a soldier he was well respected by his superiors.
After being honorably discharged, Bob returned home and soon went on a blind date that would change his life. He met Imelda Wernette and they enjoyed a wonderful courtship. With a desire to build a life together, Bob and Imelda were married in 1955. Together they were blessed with four children: Joseph, Anne, Mary Katherine and Teresa. Bob loved being a father and was always on the lookout for fun things to do with his kids. Whether it was the Ionia Free Fair, a trip to the museum or zoo, a dip in Campau Lake, or an evening at the Berlin Fairgrounds to catch the demolition derby, Bob thoroughly enjoyed this special times with his children. As an avid card player, he also taught his children how to play cards from an early age. By the time each child was five or six they were using pennies from the penny jar while learning the ins and outs of poker. Bob’s loved taking his son to catch a Tigers double header. Since the reception in the house wasn’t very good, sometimes after church, they would sit in the car to listen the Tigers games. Bob and his wife raised their children in the Catholic faith, and Sunday mass was an important component of family life.
Their early years as a family found them at a home on the southeast side before settling into a home on Baumhoff Street, on land where the first Thomes settled, where they remained for many years. Life was always a bustle of activity around the Thome place. Always generous, his home was stocked with plenty of candy and soda that was offered to anyone who came over. “Go get yourself a soda from the riffy”, were Bob’s first words most often spoken when one would stop by.
To support his family, Bob was more than willing to work hard. For a time he worked as a typesetter for Grand Rapids Herald Newspaper. He also tried sales at Fuller Brush but selling wasn’t something he was particularly fond of doing. He eventually settled in at Kelvinator where he remained for many years. For nearly 20 years he also had a second job as “Grandpa Bob” at Granny’s Kitchen on 28th Street. He welcomed people, occasionally acted as Santa and the Easter Bunny and helped manage the day to day business. The restaurant became a family affair when some of his children worked there, too. Even after he retired, Bob continued to work as a greeter at Red Hot on Alpine Avenue where he also made an appearance as Santa Claus.
Bob was actively involved in the union through work, even serving as steward for a time, and he was also a strong democrat throughout his life. Bob was never big on the outdoors and especially disliked doing yard work. He even convinced his children to camp inside the living room rather than outside at a campground! Although he was willing to work hard, he also had the ability to nap in his chair at the drop of a hat. In fact, when he wasn’t working, taking the kids somewhere or visiting with friends he was settled in to a recliner, where he would sleep, watch a ball game, a game show or “All in the Family” and then say a rosary.
The things to love about Robert Thome are many. Bob was a big guy with a big heart, and he was very humble to boot. Bob was truly humble and continually directed the spotlight away from himself. He loved visiting with people and was quick to greet others, especially after he moved to Lincoln Square after his wife’s death in 2004. He loved his new friends/family at The Square and was thrilled when his sister Margaret moved in. He created a deeply special bond with Jan Holtrop who helped him over the years. He would consider Patrick Ziegler an adopted son and member of his family. Bob will be deeply missed while his memory is forever cherished.
Mr. Robert “Grandpa Bob” Thome, age 82 of Grand Rapids, MI passed away June 27, 2012. Bob will always be remembered as a selfless, kind, funny, generous, faithful man with an exceptionally quick wit. He was preceded in death by his wife, Imelda, and by his brother James. Bob is survived by their children Joseph and his fiancée, Cindy Huerta, of Colorado, Anne Goff of Oregon, Mary Kay Thome-Shaw and Chris Shaw of California, Teresa Thome and Fred Stella of Grand Rapids; 3 grandchildren, Ian and Sean Goff and Bob Thome; his sisters Margaret Bekema and Marianne Julien; as well as several nieces and nephews and Patrick W. Ziegler, who held a special place as an “honorary member” of his family. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Tuesday, July 3 at 11 AM at Holy Trinity Catholic Church – Alpine. Friends may visit with his family at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home – Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel on Sunday from 6-9 and on Monday from 6-8:30 PM where the Rosary will be prayed at 8:30 PM. Memorial contributions to either the John Ball Zoo Society or the Grand Rapids Public Museum are appreciated. You may read more about Bob’s life or sign the guestbook at www.lifestorynet.com. And, Facebook users, please visit https://www.facebook.com/GrandpaBobThome to learn more and share your memories with family and friends.