Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

next week's column: Robert Probst: Nice Guy of the Year


There are few people in this world who I admire so much that I’m unwilling to poke fun at them.

After all, I’m a humorist; if I don’t get funny at least once a column, I’m dragged before Obama’s new humor czar, Wolf Blitzer. The guy’s a riot.

With the legalities out of the way, let’s talk about one guy I could never make fun of, a person universally admired even by strangers on the street, a man so nice that even Chuck Norris could never hit him. I’m speaking, of course, of Nancy Pelosi.

Kidding. See, now I’m legally set for two weeks.

I’m actually speaking of Robert Probst, who I refer to as “The Judge”.

Some people I admire so much more that I can’t refer to them by their first names. I’ve known – let me grit my teeth and try it – Robert Probst for twenty-three years, and I don’t think I’ve ever called him Bob.

He’s not The Judge because he ever sat in judge of me. No, it’s because, from 1974 until 1998, he worked that job in Noble County, and after retiring from Circuit Court he’s continued part time as a senior judge, serving across northeastern Indiana.

That was an elected position, and he didn’t win it by glad handing, pretty words, or stabbing anyone in the back; he won reelection over and over through his work ethic, wisdom, and fairness.

Should anyone think I’m biased, I should point out that his daughter and I were divorced about twelve years ago. Bob Probst never treated me one iota differently afterward; things happen, but he takes people according to who they are rather than their titles, positions, or relationships.

I know that’s not funny, but give me this one.

On April 20th Robert Probst was named Kendallville Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. You don’t get that job by sitting in front of the TV in your t-shirt, watching “The Bachelor”. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Watching TV, I mean.)

But there are lots of decent, hard working people in the world. Why do I admire this one so much? Well, we could start with the facts:

Personal: Robert Probst lived in Kendallville all his life – in fact, in the same house since he was an infant. He had one love of his life, Judy (who also won Citizen of the Year, in 1976), and they were together until the day she passed away. You can tell his house: It’s the place that’s perfect through the sweat of his own brow, but still feels like home.

Professional: Did I mention all those years as judge? You all know how I feel about lawyers as a group, although in all fairness the bad ones have mostly migrated to Washington. There really are several I like, but there aren’t many I put on the top of the “should be sainted” pyramid.

He joined the Air National Guard in 1961, the year before I was born, but one year on active duty wasn’t enough: When he retired, it was as a full bird Colonel.

Faith: Probst is a lifelong Lutheran, and I’d imagine St. John’s is as much a home to him as his own house. In all the time I’ve known him, I don’t recall ever hearing him say one bad thing about anyone – even people who deserved it. He didn’t just talk the Christian talk: He lives it. He and Judy were never able to talk me into joining the choir, though.

Community Service: Well, I may not have room here, but let’s give it a go.

He was the first Kendallville Park Board president. Church Secretary, 46 year member of the Kiwanis, on the board of the Noble County Community Foundation, involved in Foundations of Noble County, the Kendallville Christmas Bureau, the Kendallville Tree Commission, and a volunteer on the automotive maintenance team at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. He’s also a great guy to track down if you want a boat ride on Lake Bellaire.

In 1998, the governor of Indiana made Bob Probst a Sagamore of the Wabash, a prize so selective that only people who win it are told what a Sagamore is.

Next time I go whining and crying about the pitiful few things I’m involved in, I’ll try to remember that list.

Still, none of that really explains why I admire him so much. Any Joe on the street can rack up an impressive list like that, just be sticking around. Look, I’ve been a firefighter for almost thirty years, but I’ve never dragged anyone out of a burning building, and I’ve never once been killed in action, unless it happened after I sent this column in. There are people in this world with equally impressive resumes who I wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire. (He would, though – in fact, Bob Probst would take his own shirt off to smother the flames.)

Let me give you an example of why I feel this way:

One day I was driving down the street, about halfway between his home and the church, when I came across a man scooping up debris from the pavement. One of those heavy, decorative street lamp globes had fallen and there, in the middle of a busy street in mid-afternoon, was Bob Probst, respected Circuit Court judge and Sagamore of the Wabash, scooping up the pieces.

Nobody told him to. It wasn’t his job. He did it because it was the right thing to do. He didn’t call the press, he didn’t wait for the government to act, and he didn’t have a “Glass Scooper 1st Class” medal struck that he could pin to his shirt. He just – did it. By the time I parked and got back there, it was done.

He still holds that decency, honor, and work ethic that no one seems to have anymore, and if there’s some little thing that needs done to make his community better, he does it. That says all you need to know about Robert Probst. Well, that, and a comment made to me once by a coworker, who described how he cursed in front of Probst in court one day when a divorce settlement didn’t go his way.

“I was mad,” my coworker said, “but not at him. Afterward I apologized to him. He’s a fair guy.”

I rest my case.
Tags: column, new era, slightly off the mark

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