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Robert “Bob” Bodman turns 100-years-old this Saturday, but reacts to it the way he’s handled most things in his life – with a dose of humility and humor.
He’s even playing down the fact March 2 has been officially declared Bob Bodman Day in Bement.
“I have no objection, but I didn’t advocate it. I don’t want people thinking I’m better than them. I just lasted longer,” said Bodman, who was born and raised in Bement then returned in 1974 after retiring as an engineer from General Electric.
His reaction is no surprise to longtime friend Art Wilkinson.
“That’s just Bob. He is one of the finest gentlemen you will meet,” said Wilkinson, also of Bement. “He never wanted to be in the limelight.”
But shunning the spotlight did not slow down the soon-to-be centenarian either in childhood or his adult life outside of Bement. He comes from a good pedigree, as his grandfather Joseph Bodman helped found the town in 1855. One of the main streets in town is named in Joseph’s honor.
Bob was valedictorian of the 35-student Bement High School Class of 1931, where he was a lineman on the football team that won the Okaw Conference title his senior year. The championship is something he remembers to this day, especially the squad’s rare win over county rival Monticello.
Earning an academic scholarship to the University of Illinois, he earned his electrical engineering degree in 1935, and also met Isabella Kinsella, whom he married in 1935.
It was a marriage that lasted over 73 years before her death in May of 2009.
“They were never apart,” said son Richard, who has been organizing a celebration this Saturday afternoon for his father. Planning could have been difficult since Richard now lives in Georgia, but he said any time he called and told people it was for “Bob,” they jumped right in.
“People have been very favorable. They think a lot of him,” said Richard Bodman, one of two sons along with Cory, now an Arizona resident.
After retiring from GE in 1974, Bob Bodman took on unofficial town historian duties, and attacked it with vengeance. His two-volume, 1000-plus page guide to businesses in Bement includes meticulous maps of where businesses were located at various periods of the town’s timeline.
Wilkinson remembers an office at Bodman’s Bement home that contained as much town history as any room in town.
Bodman also co-authored “A Bodman Chronicle” in 1980, which spelled out the history of his family after they arrived during the New World during the Great Puritan Migration between 1629 to 1640. By the time Bob Bodman was born in 1913, he was already the family’s ninth generation in America.
That historical bent also prompted him to volunteer as a greeter at the Bryant Cottage State Historic Site, another task he took seriously.
“Any questions I had, any project I needed a photo for, or just the opportunity to bounce an idea – Bob is always interested in anything ‘Bement’ or ‘Bryant Cottage,’” said Marilyn Ayers, who manages the historic site.
“Bob was always ready to step in and become a tour guide. There was no better way to welcome traffic through Bement than a friendly greeting from Bob Bodman,” added Ayers.
“He’s really had a love affair with Bement and the history of the town,” added son Richard.
“I’ve had a good life,” said Bob Bodman. Asked for the secret to lasting 10 decades, his advice was simple.
“Just behave, more or less,” he said.
Despite his family being in this country almost 400 years, he will be first to celebrate a 100th birthday, according to the detailed family records he has helped compile.
Bodman deserves a day named after him, even if he doesn’t quite believe it himself. Wilkinson, who sang in the local Presbyterian Church choir with him for many years, is one of those would honor him not only for his accomplishments, but his willingness to help the Bement community.
“He was always there to help out. If you needed anything, he was available,” said Wilkinson, pointing out that Bodman is still officially on the the board of the non-profit Bement Foundation.
“You’re going to have to go long and hard to find someone like Bob,” added Wilkinson. “He never wanted to be in the limelight, but he’ll always have a star over his head.”