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The Leader sat down with Robert Weaver three years ago to interview him about his time in the military and his life in St. Joseph. Excerpts from that interview are included in this story.
Robert Weaver lived a full life.
Weaver, who was 97 years old when he died at 7:40 a.m. on April 4, had seen the world as an expert airplane mechanic, served as postmaster of St. Joseph for 30 years and worked as a firefighter.
‘His knowledge of St. Joseph history and people was immense’
Those who knew Weaver speak of his ability to remember events and people from the past. Whether it was the history of the St. Joseph-Stanton Fire Department, his time in the military, his work at the St. Joseph Post Office or the St. Joseph American Legion, Weaver seemed to know everything there was to know about St. Joseph.
St. Joseph resident Greg Knott said he recently sat down with Weaver and interviewed him for four hours.
“I always enjoyed speaking with Bob,” Knott said. “His knowledge of St. Joseph history and people was immense.”
Former St. Joseph-Ogden High School Superintendent Jim Acklin said he got to experience Weaver’s immense memory first-hand during a football game.
The high school honored Weaver at halftime as one of the village’s surviving World War II veterans. Weaver spent the game in the press box sharing his memories of his high school days at St. Joseph High School in the 1920s.
“I was amazed at his power of recall,” Acklin said. “An old African proverb says that, ‘Every time an elderly person dies, it is like a library has burned down.’ St. Joseph has definitely lost a big library with the passing of Bob Weaver.”
‘Another of the greatest generation gone but not forgotten’
Weaver, who was born on Jan. 3, 1920, was a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps and served for four years during World War II.
“His passing represents another of the greatest generation gone, but not forgotten,” Knott said.
Weaver said his interest in airplanes motivated him to enlist in the Air Force. Weaver went to Chanute Field in Rantoul and qualified for airplane mechanic’s school.
Weaver was sworn in just a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and received his training in California at what is now Edwards Air Force Base.
Weaver thought he would be sent to England, but instead was sent to North Africa by ship.
Weaver would be taking part in Operation Torch, which was a large Allied landing to take control of North Africa from Germany.
The ship Weaver was on was supposed to land at Port Lyautey in Morocco.
The port was under French control but they didn’t expect much resistance from the French, Weaver said in a 2014 interview with The Leader.
The French had other ideas and shelled the small landing boats the troops used to reach the port. Eventually the troops made their way to an airport where Weaver was supposed to fix airplanes, except the runways had been destroyed so the planes could not land.
Weaver worked all over the Mediterranean and repaired airplane engines.
He was sent to India in 1944 and worked in Karachi.
Weaver said they were also sent through Cairo, the Sahara Desert and Casablanca.
Weaver kept a copy of the “Army Times” from his trip to Cairo that included a lot of information about the end of the war.
Weaver was discharged shortly after the end of World War II on May 19, 1945.
Weaver was the first soldier in Champaign County to be discharged under the point system which gave the men a point for every month of service and a point for every month of service overseas. Combat awards were given five points and anyone with a dependent child under 18 was given 12 points.
After the war, he went to college at the University of Illinois, majoring in mechanical engineering but didn’t finish the course and instead worked as an instructor at Chanute Field while living in St. Joseph.
‘It was just neighbors helping neighbors’
Weaver served as a firefighter in St. Joseph for 21 years after his military service.
He remembered when the department had a Model T they used as a fire truck to fight in-town fires.
“I could ride my bicycle across town and get to a fire before they could get their truck out,” Weaver said in 2014.
Weaver said the town was just 500 people at that time but he knew serving his fellow citizens was important.
“It was just a way to take care of the town people,” he said. “It was just neighbors helping neighbors.”
Weaver was one of the few volunteer firefighters who worked in the village during the day.
“One fireman was looking for a few local people,” Weaver said. “It was through his interest in getting me to volunteer that I signed up.”
Weaver said that he often went to night time calls and a siren was sounded alerting firefighters to head to the station to find out where ether were needed.
“A lot of the times I was the first one there,” he said.
In January 1954 Weaver was one of many firefighters who fought a blaze at St. Joseph Grade School.
Weaver and his wife Bernice were living on Warren Street at the time.
“When the siren went off we looked out a couple different directions from our windows upstairs and we could see the glow,” he said. “I followed the glow in the sky and drove right to the fire.”
Weaver said the fire started in the basement of the building and was working its way to the new addition of the building.
Weaver said he was on the hose that was trying to protect the addition.
“The old building, everything in it was wood. The trim, the floors. It was all burnt,” he said. “They pulled me and somebody else because it really got hot.”
The grade school was closed for almost two years after the fire with students going to class at the American Legion Hall.
In 1966, Weaver and the department worked a fire that occurred at two giant corncob sheds at the Coeval processing plant east of St. Joseph.
“It didn’t take much to cause a fire,’ he said.
Weaver said he remembered being scared and that the firefighters didn’t have on any protective gear.
“I think it lasted more than a week,” he said. “We always feared that cob plant.”
In 1969 Weaver helped the department fight a fire at the local lumber yard that sat where Main Street Station now resides.
“It started sometime after midnight,” he said. “It was just full of lumber.”
Weaver, who lived half a block from the yard, could see the fire from his home. He said that fire spared no part of the store except a safe.
“That survived,” he said.
Weaver said that part of working with the department was the uncertainty of the calls you would receive.
“You never knew when you answered how severe things would be until you got there,” he said. “You just had to react. I was proud to be part of my hometown.”
‘He had such a great personality’
St. Joseph resident Julie Hendrickson said she would remember Weaver’s charisma.
“I loved him,” she said. “He had such a great personality.”
Weaver would often use village hall, where Hendrickson works, to hold senior line dancing classes, which several senior citizens attended each week.
“The man could cut a rug,” Hendrickson said. “They would go to senior events and perform.”
Acklin said he would see Weaver at various functions and he was always very friendly.
“He seemed genuinely glad to see me,” Acklin said. “Although he slowed down in recent years, he remained very sharp mentally. I will miss Bob.”
Mayor Elect Tami Fruhling-Voges also remembered Weaver’s charming personality as well as his devotion to his wife Bernice, who he married on Oct. 11, 1953 in Martel, Tenn.
Fruhling-Voges, who volunteers with the St. Joseph Senior Citizens group, said she remembers seeing the Weavers attend the group gatherings.
“They were the sweetest couple,” she said. “They always seemed so happy and he took such good care of her. You could tell he truly loved her.”
The Weavers often ballroom danced, a hobby Weaver continued after Bernice’s death in 1998.
Weaver would occasionally do dance demonstrations for the seniors club, Fruhling-Voges said, and he always brought homemade treats to the meetings.
“Usually doing the growing season he would bring something from his garden and fresh, hot from the oven homemade blackberry cobbler,” she said.
‘St. Joseph was my town’
Weaver was appointed acting Postmaster of St. Joseph in May 1950. Within two years he was appointed as permeant postmaster. He served for 30 years.
Fruhling-Voges said her family members remembered Weaver’s work with the post office and described him as an outstanding postmaster.
“He was always super friendly,” she said.
St. Joseph resident Jill Robbins said she remembered Weaver’s time as postmaster very well. Robbins and her mother moved to St. Joseph from Indiana during Robbins’ freshman year in high school after her father passed away. Moving to such a small town was an adjustment for Robbins and her mother, as was having to go to the post office to pick up their mail every day.
“If Mr. Weaver ever saw us come into the post office he always greeted us and asked if we were getting settled in town,” Robbins said. “He continued to always say hello to me whether I was at the post office or walking to the high school or at a town event. Even just a couple years back I saw him and he was the same dear gentleman I met many years before. I will always remember him being so kind and soft spoken.”
He was also a member of the St. Joseph United Methodist Church, the St. Joseph Senior Citizens Club and the American Legion Post 634, where he served as past commander. Weaver was also past president of the St. Joseph Lions Club and was a member of 40 & 8, an organization for veterans of the U.S Armed Forces.
Weaver was named the St. Joseph Citizen of the Year by the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce in 1980 and served as the grand marshal of the St. Joseph Community Festival Parade in 2011. He also attended St. Joseph and SJ-O football games or more than 80 years.
“St. Joseph was my town,” Weaver said. “I’ve had an interesting life. I’ve had an enjoyable life.”
Weaver was preceded in death by four brothers and six sisters. He is survived by one son, Charles, and several nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 8, at Freese Funeral Home, 302 E. Grand Ave., St. Joseph, with the Rev. Scott Millis and the Rev. Paul Dinges officiating. Burial will be in Mount Olive Cemetery, Mayview. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the funeral home.