At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Operation Combat Bike Saver
5016 West 133rd Avenue
Crown Point, IN 46307
A 501C3 dedicated to helping Veterans with PSTD, TBI, Depression.
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
With a quick wit and a pun for every occasion, Robert “Bob” Stephen Ailes lived a life rich in levity and service to others. A man of faith and honor, Bob lived each moment fully and embraced others instantly. As a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and social worker, Bob led with his heart which drove his desire to inspire laughter and hope in the hearts of others. Revered by many, Bob’s legacy will long live in the lives of those who knew him best.
The mobilization of war efforts in 1942 was quick and effective with car makers and other manufacturers changing to the production of weapons of war. Gas rationing, Scrap Days, and Victory Gardens became the norm, while The Declaration of the United Nations, the newly formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and The Voice of America assured that every citizen had their eyes focused on a better future. Nowhere was there more hope for the future than in Kalamazoo, Michigan where Elroy & Irene (Heighton) Ailes celebrated the birth of their son Bob on April 23rd.
Growing up as an only child, Bob’s life was built on a firm foundation of love, faith, hard work, and family. While his father provided for the family through his work as a machinist at Fuller, his mother worked as a stay at home mom. As a young child, he was fondly dubbed “Bobber” by his grandmother, the nickname he proudly carried his entire life.
Bob attended Kalamazoo Schools and learned first hand while attending Kalamazoo Central, the immediate gratification of making people laugh. Whether with a silly pun, corny joke, playful prank, or a famous food fight, Bob soon found himself the catalyst to his peers' laughter and with a clear life calling. It was also during his early schooling that Bob fell in love with history especially the Civil War era.
Determined to build his future on a career in a service field, after graduating from High School in 1960, Bob began working towards his Bachelor’s degree in Social Work at WMU. As a proud American, Bob also served in the Army during the Vietnam War. While in basic training, Bob’s father died and Bob was called to request a hardship discharge to assist his mother. As a result, Bob stayed stateside throughout the remainder of his service. After completing Basic Training, he continued through advanced training and was a specialist, E5. While in the Army Bob worked as a social worker tending to his fellow soldiers’ needs and paving the way to a 30-year career with the Veterans Administration.
In time, Bob married his first wife, Andrea, and the couple was blessed with three sons: Kevin, Jeremy, Chad. The boys were Bob’s world and he lived to provide them with a wonderful life filled with love, laughter, and adventure. An undauntable source of faith, Bob supported his boys in all of their endeavors. Even when challenged with single parenting, Bob’s unwavering belief in their greatness remained a constant in their lives.
The boys grew up learning a love of the outdoors from their father. Whether camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, exploring shipwrecks or tending to the dogs, Bob instilled respect and passion for nature in his sons. As in his own youth, the Allegan State Game Area became a center point for many of the family’s adventures, as did Van Buren State Park, the Straits of Mackinac, and the cottage they rented at Chief Lake every year. When not exploring the outdoors, Bob shared his love of cars by taking the boys to car shows and tending to the 1951 Ford he had inherited from his father when he turned sixteen and drove each of his boys home from the hospital in when they were born. Though Bob’s slapstick humor and enthusiasm for joking with complete strangers often caused the boys great embarrassment, they never doubted his love for and commitment to them.
Throughout his 30 year career, Bob made a lasting positive difference in the lives of many Veterans. With care, compassion, and empathic listening Bob was a gifted social worker who always had time for others. Over the years Bob facilitated group work for Veterans assisting them in the often grueling process of transitioning from hospital to independent living. As a mentor, he knew what was needed and would eagerly go the extra mile for anyone even driving out of town.
Not only did Bob’s career focus on being of service to others, so did his life outside of work. Bob was a devout Christian who served as a church deacon at Victory Baptist Church in Portage and who informally adopted several “grandchildren” he generously helped through a variety of difficult situations.
On September 14, 1996, Bob had the good fortune of marrying his beloved, Laura Van Vlack, at First United Methodist Church. Having met through his personal ad in the Kalamazoo Gazette and knowing each other for over nine years, the couple confidently declared their vows surrounded by their loved ones.
Bob and Laura shared a common love of history and the Civil War. Together they passionately saw the world through eyes that saw the history, value, and wonder of everything from old houses to old trees. Together they reverently explored the world to learn as much as they could, with Bob retracing famous footsteps at key historical places. Each place they explored inspired new traditions as well as ideas for other cool trips. Bob became an enthusiastic Civil War reenactor embodying the persona and history of President Lincoln’s private escort effortlessly teaching others through his example. Bob also served on the Civil War Round Table where his interest, efforts, and contributions to various historical circles will long be remembered.
A man of many interests, Bob enjoyed the music of his youth including the tunes of the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Cash. He especially loved the elements of “car stuff” in the music of Jan & Dean, and always enjoyed Elvis impersonators. A proud member of the Kalamazoo Antique Auto Club, Bob owned two classic cars: the ‘51 Ford he was gifted by his father and a ‘77 Thunderbird he meticulously fixed up. Having learned the art of bodywork and painting, Bob often helped others do the bodywork on their cars because he just couldn’t stand seeing rust on anyone’s car.
Without a doubt, Bob’s grandchildren were his heart’s delight. He loved sharing his passions with them and soon taught them the fine art and value of a silly joke. They’ll never forget why “melons can’t get married” nor that “there are Indians around here some place.” And while the mortification of hearing a joke for the millionth time may always be present, they will fondly remember the spirit of their grandfather’s efforts to make them laugh and his infinite faith in them.
Clearly, it is difficult to imagine life in the absence of Bob’s steadfast and positive presence. May there be deep comfort in knowing that Bob’s spirit lives on in the hearts and lives of those he loved. Each time we go mushroom hunting, walk the trails at the Allegan State Game Area, wear a goofy hat, retell one of his famous puns, or lend a hand to someone in need, we celebrate “Bobbert’s” legacy in our daily lives. In so doing, we ensure that world continues to ripple in Bob’s much-needed faith, hope, love, and laughter for years and years to come.
Robert “Bob” Stephen Ailes of Portage, Michigan, died February 26, 2018, in Kalamazoo. Preceded in death by his parents, Elroy and Irene (Heighton) Ailes. Surviving are his wife, Laura Van Vlack; 3 sons: Kevin Ailes, Jeremy (Shelley) Ailes and Chad Ailes; grandchildren: Sean (Becca), Matthew, Jessica, Bradley, Jayden and Molly and great-grandchildren: Mavis and Aldin; and many cousins, nieces, and nephews. Visit with family and friends on Thursday from 10 – 11am at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr. Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900 where services will be held at 11am. A luncheon will follow in the Life Story Center. Burial with military honors will take place at Genesee Prairie Cemetery. Please visit his personal web page at www.betzlerfuneralhome.com, where you can read his story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home.