Robert “Bob” Francis Smith, age 85, a lifelong resident of Renville, died Thursday, May 9, 2019, at Renvilla Nursing Home in Renville. The visitation will be Monday, May 13, 2019, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Dirks-Blem Funeral Home in Olivia, Minnesota. The funeral will be at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at First Lutheran Church in Renville. The Rev. Jane Crawford and Rev. Matt Hausken will officiate. Burial with military honors will be in Morton Cemetery south of Olivia. In Lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to Renville County Hospice. Funeral arrangements are with Dirks-Blem Funeral Home in Renville.
Bob was born July 6, 1933, in rural Olivia where his parents Ora and Edith (Millard) Smith farmed and raised their children. He attended public school in Olivia before his family moved to a farm north of Renville. He graduated from Renville High School in 1951 where he was active in FFA and had an innate love of history that would follow him throughout his life. Bob loved to race, drive, fix and own cars and always had an unparalleled, fond connection to new and shiny vehicles; he even kept a running roster of the vehicles he’d owned from his first car to his last. While in high school as a junior, he met Merle Grabow, a freshman at that time, in study hall and he loved her, through good times and rough ones too, from that point until the end of their life together. His mantra was the promise he had made to Merle’s dad John almost 70 years ago -- to take care of her and until his final days, he did his very best to fulfill that promise. He and Merle married on January 31, 1954, at First Lutheran Church in Renville. Shortly after that, Bob whisked Merle away, taking her with him as he served in the United States Army, stationed near Baltimore, Maryland. After his military service, Bob and Merle lived in Renville and farmed north of there where they raised their three children Paul, Diane and Nancy. Bob also worked various jobs off the farm as a mechanic in the early years, raised hogs and crops, drove school bus, worked at Green Giant and other jobs to provide for his family. But most knew him best for his 35 years as a rural mail carrier for the Renville Post Office. The patrons on his route along the river bottom often claimed they could set a clock by the moment Bob pulled up to their mailboxes, that’s how punctual he was. Later, before retiring in his late 50s, Bob assisted at Blomkest, Svea, Willmar and Kandiyohi post offices. After retiring from the postal service, he took on a second career for more than 10 years, driving a motor home for Migrant Health Services and helping clients throughout Minnesota. He received the 2002 Ageless Hero Award for his dedication, even learning a little Spanish along the way. The program celebrates extraordinary people 65 years and older who served as role models for others. He and Merle loved to travel, often packing up the family for trips to the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Estes Park, Glacier National Park, and of course Christmases in Arizona when all were younger. After retiring, Bob and Merle loved their Arizona winters, meeting many good friends there, extreme jeeping in the mountains, giving tours of Tortilla Flats and other Superstition Mountain hot spots to hundreds of new snowbirds. He could have worked for the Arizona Office of Tourism! Bob was the most enthusiastic tour guide and airport flight transportation around. For roughly 20 years until about five years ago, they called Apache Junction their winter home from December through May. In the summer months from the 1970s through the mid-80s, they enjoyed the cabin Bob and his neighbors built along Northern Lights Beach on Big Kandi near Willmar. He would often spend all weekend driving his speed boat around the lake, teaching and pulling water skiers by the dozens until they had had their fill. He always said after a bad day, everything seemed better at the lake. Bob and Merle also enjoyed cross-county snowmobiling with neighborhood friends and attending numerous community and high school events, especially those when family members were involved. He served on the church council and as council president at First Lutheran Church in Renville, was a member of the American Legion, an honorary FFA member and former 4-H leader. In the last five years, they moved from their home in rural Renville near the original farm site to a new home they built on Bayberry Avenue in Olivia. Bob became Merle’s primary caregiver because of her macular degeneration. But in 2018, both he and Merle agreed they needed additional help, moving into Parkview Assisted Living in Olivia, then to Meadows on Main in Renville and most recently to the Renvilla Nursing Home. This past year, the melanoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia Bob had been diagnosed with earlier in his life caught up with him. When first told of his terminal cancer diagnosis, Bob comforted US by reflecting on the good life he’d lived, especially enjoying his times with Merle, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If you’d ask him about them, he’d burst with pride and felt so blessed. And he also recalled how lucky he was to have traveled to so many states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
Bob is survived by Merle, his wife of 65 years; son Paul (and Carol) Smith of Northfield; daughters Diane Hrabe of Henderson (and Ed Hrabe of New Prague) and Nancy (and Jason) Krumheuer of Olivia; grandchildren Paul (and Katie) Smith of Savage; Michael Smith of St. Paul; Josh (and Allie) Hrabe of Lonsdale; Melissa Hrabe (and fiancé Casey Peterson) of Burnsville; Bethany Hrabe (and special friend Chris Gibson) of Apple Valley; Casey (and Kirk) Elfering of Olivia; Brad (and Chantel) Elbert of Glenwood; Danny Elbert (and special friend Kaylee Katich) of Pittsburgh; and Bailey Elbert of Olivia; great-grandchildren Lily, Brayden, Holden and Lula Smith; Kenley, Elin and Kye Elfering; Emma and Ahna Elbert; and Parker Hrabe; sister Mona Wright of Osakis; sisters-in-law Hellen Grabow of Renville and Lorraine Grabow of Litchfield; many nieces, nephews and cousins; and lifelong friends. He is preceded in death by his parents, his brother Wendell and sisters Darlyne, Thelma, Vava, Vera, Wanda Kay and Baby Smith; and brothers- and sisters-in-law.