Friday, March 13, 2015


My grandpa passed away last week, and I really want to write something here to honor him. I've been having trouble finding the right words, though. Everything I write feels clunky. So I apologize if it comes across that way. I'll say this, though: I loved my grandfather so, so much. I was lucky to have had him in my life for 35 years. Even though I knew logically that he was not going to live forever, I always kind of thought he would. I will miss him dearly.

Baba Bob, as he was known to Clare, grew up on the Iron Range in Hibbing, Minnesota. His dad worked in the iron ore mines there. Bob left town when he was 20, though, to join the Navy. I love the following story, and I think it exemplifies the Family Impatience. When Bob went to enlist in the military, he tried the office of the Marines first. There was no one there. "I am not going to wait around," my grandpa said, and headed for the office of the Navy instead. Thank God he did. I wouldn't be alive if he hadn't, because it was the Navy that sent him to Chicago, where he met my grandmother on a blind date. They were together for just six weeks before he shipped out to the South Pacific, where he spent the war on Guam listening to enemy radio transmissions. My grandparents were married in November of 1945. That's 69 years of marriage. Amazing. At my sister's wedding, the band did the "anniversary" dance. You know, the one where each married couple stays on the floor, leaving as the years are called out until only the couple who has been married the longest remains. Well, my grandparents were the last ones standing. When asked how they made it work for so long, my grandpa yelled, "Don't talk!" He was joking, of course. He and my grandmother had a loving relationship, and he talked plenty.

My grandpa worked in radio (ending up as the station manager of WKTY in La Crosse), owned a carpet store, traveled the world, and participated in an exercise program at UW-La Crosse for more than forty years. He was still going regularly just a few months before he died. Most importantly, to me, he was the perfect grandfather.

He was funny. So funny. I visited him in the nursing home at Christmas time. "There's a nurse here I call Godzilla," he said. "Well, not to her face." He always had a story and a joke. It was so fun talking to him. He could be serious too, of course. I remember talking to him when I was trying to decide where to attend college. I wanted to move away, but I felt guilty, thinking my parents would be upset. "You have to live your own life," he said to me. So simple, yet so true.

He loved his grandchildren. I know he loved his great grandchildren, too, and I am so happy he met them. Clare adored him.

There is so much more I could say. There are so many stories. I want to write them all down. For now, though, I'll end with this. My dad described him this way in the obituary he wrote for the paper: "His family and friends will always remember him as a great husband, father and grandfather, and for his intelligence, thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness, and exquisite sense of humor."

You were the best, Grandpa. I'll miss you always.

Robert H. Topinka
August 24, 1922 - March 4, 2015


  1. Oh, Em. I'm so sorry. It is so hard to lose a grandparent, especially one that sounds as absolutely delightful as your Grandpa Bob (I laughed with tears spilling down my face about Godzilla the Nurse). It doesn't seem to matter if we get 4 years (like with my Grandpa Bill) or 35 years, like you got. When it is someone we love, it is never enough time. I'm glad you got to know him as an adult though, and that he got to see what a wonderful person you grew to be--and that you grew people for him to enjoy, too. Sending lots of love.

  2. Oh, Em, I'm so sorry, too. And then you felt like crap last week on top of it! Sending your warm thoughts and deepest sympathies. I'm glad you got 35 years, but Katie's right. It's never enough.

  3. Sending you and your family hugs. He sounds like a great guy. I thought you did a really beautiful job describing him and his personality and how much he meant to you.