(Posted Aug. 28, 2017)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
“I was shocked. It was never expected. I was truly honored,” said Bob Harper of his reaction to being named grand marshal of this year’s West Jefferson Ox Roast parade.
A perusal of Bob’s service to the community and country make it easy to understand why the West Jefferson Community Association tapped him to lead the parade, which steps off at noon Sept. 2 and signals the start of three days of Ox Roast festivities.
Born in London, Bob moved to Plain City when he was in fourth grade. He met his future wife, Leona, in high school after schools in the area consolidated to form the Jonathan Alder School District. Leona had attended Canaan; Harper, Plain City.
The two were married in 1958, the same year they graduated and shortly after Bob completed basic training with the Army Air Defense Command.
“I went into the service right after high school to get it over with, then reenlisted for another six years,” Bob said.
In total, he served in the military for 9.5 years. His first station was with a fire control center in Michigan that oversaw missile sites in the Detroit area. His last station was as an instructor at the Air Defense School at Ft. Bliss, Texas.
In between, he served stints in Georgia and Nebraska, plus a year in Korea after the war. Bob and Leona’s first two children, Robert III and Charles, were born at Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan. Their third child, Michael, was born in El Paso, Texas.
After Bob left the military, he and Leona moved to West Jefferson, where Leona’s family lived and where Bob would be within easy driving distance of potential jobs.
“I like to say I found my way to West Jefferson through a pretty girl,” Bob said.
He eventually settled into a “weighty” career, first with Fuller Weighing Systems and later with Emery Winslow Scale Co. The former made equipment that automated the measurement of ingredients for everything from Campbell’s tomato soup, White Castle buns, and Pepperidge Farms layer cakes to brake pads, asphalt and cement.
“So, anything and everything,” he said.
He was executive vice president at Fuller when he left to join Emery Winslow in 1990. The latter made railroad, truck and bakery scales, among other weighing systems. He spent three years as plant manager in Terra Haute, Ind., before returning to West Jefferson to serve as a regional sales manager covering the Midwest.
Bob retired from Emery 11 years ago, but his service to his community began early on during his working years.
“While I was at Fuller, Leona didn’t like me sleeping on the couch after work and encouraged me to join the Jaycees,” he said.
This was in the 1970s; West Jefferson had a thriving Jaycees chapter at the time. Bob ended up serving as president. One year, the group painted the viaduct over Main Street/Route 40 as a community service project. That and their other charitable activities won them a statewide award that year.
“(The viaduct) doesn’t look big, but it is when you get up there with a paint brush,” Bob said with a laugh.
Hooked on community service, Bob went on to serve for seven years on West Jefferson village council, half that time as president. He helped council to become more involved in the village’s budgeting process during that time. He was elected as fiscal officer for Jefferson Township in 2001 and continues to serve as the township’s administrator. He also has served on several committees at West Jefferson United Methodist Church.
For the past 14 years, Bob has been integral in organizing one of West Jefferson’s annual celebrations—the July Fourth Streetfest. He first became involved when Bill Martin, the former organizer, became ill. Bob rallied his brethren at West Jefferson Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7005, for which he has served as commander and is now quartermaster. They have kept the Streetfest going—providing the community with a family-friendly festival and patriotic fireworks display.
When he’s not doing his part as a civil servant and all-around community supporter, Bob works as payroll officer and marketing manager for Mike’s Pizza in West Jefferson.