Robert "Bob" Alfred Sylwester
January 5, 1927 -
August 5, 2016
Robert (Bob) Sylwester, professor emeritus of Elementary Education at the University of Oregon, one-time elementary school teacher, prolific author, relentless editor, sought-after speaker, loved and respected father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, died peacefully in his sleep early Friday morning, August 5, 2016, at the age of 89.
Bob was born on January 5, 1927 in Portland, Oregon, the 8th of 10 children parented by FWJ Sylwester, the founder and first president of Concordia Lutheran College in Portland, Oregon (now Concordia University) and his wife, Arina Fiss Sylwester. Bob and his many siblings had a humble but extraordinarily happy childhood growing up in a house which was on what is now the campus of Concordia University in Northeast Portland.
One didn't know Bob without also knowing Ruth, and vice versa. They were married three days after Christmas in 1951 (taking frugal advantage of a church still decorated for the holidays) just two weeks after Ruth's 19th birthday and a week shy of his own 25th. They were married for 64 years until Ruth, challenged by years of dementia, passed away this past May with Bob dutifully sitting bedside, holding her hand, just as he had vowed 64 years earlier -- "in sickness and in health, until death do us part." Their marriage and their lives, and the lives of those who knew them, were filled with art, music, theater, books (and lots and lots of newspapers and magazines), good food and good (Oregon) wine, humor, and rigorous intellectual (often loud) discourse.
One thing is for certain, neither Bob nor Ruth could ever be accused of being "stuck in their ways." They rode the political and social and religious challenges of their time here on earth like a wave, ably and quickly adapting to and embracing the rapidly changing world around them. But above all else, Bob and Ruth will be remembered for their welcoming kindness, generosity, and unconditional love which, at times, considering the unpredictably of seven headstrong children, must have been difficult for anyone to manage.
Bob was a proud long-time professor at the University of Oregon after moving to Eugene from Seward, Nebraska in the summer of 1968. Quite literally Bob and Ruth were forced into starting with a clean slate when, soon after their arrival in Eugene, a devastating warehouse storage fire destroyed nearly all the family's belongings, including photos, Ruth's wedding dress, and many farmhouse antiques collected by Ruth during their nine years living in rural Nebraska. One could make the case, at least this once, that this was the Lord working in mysterious ways, as life in Eugene, 1968, was certainly different from life in rural Nebraska, and a clean slate was exactly what was needed for them and their young impressionable family. To their respective ends, and despite the challenges of age and their declining health, Bob and Ruth were blessed to be able to continue to live in the large family home they had built 48 years ago.
During and after his long decades of teaching at the UO, Bob traveled the world as a celebrated and sought-after speaker, and authored 20 books and countless articles, many of which were in his adopted field of neurology and brain development and the associated applications to primary and secondary education. Bob and Ruth parlayed his academic celebrity by filling their home with beautiful art and collectibles that Ruth gathered on their many trips abroad. The grand dining room table that sits 14 was the center of their home, and was the scene of many spirited family discussions, game nights, and memorable family meals that turned into late-night talks. To the end, Bob was an enthusiastic and engaged Oregon Ducks fan who felt compelled by Duck duty to pen a weekly email detailing and celebrating their ups and downs (lately, mostly ups) to his family and fellow Duck fans. Even for those who are no longer the Duck fans we were growing up, this coming football season (at least), in memory of Bob, we are all Duck fans. So, Go Ducks!
Bob and Ruth were very fortunate to be survived by all seven of their children and their spouses - Mike (Zofija), Steve (Koe), Tim (Norma), Tricia (Michael), Larry (Chau), Peter (Robin), and Andy (Mary) - as well as 20 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, and one toddler great-grandchild. They also leave behind dozens and dozens of extended family (including his lone surviving sibling, Alfred), and hundreds of colleagues and former students of Bob's and dear friends across the world whose hearts were unforgettably touched by Bob and Ruth somewhere, at some time, along their wondrous journey together. We are all blessed to have known them, and in their memory we will strive to embody the qualities and principles by which they lived their lives -- acceptance, respect, kindness, love, charity, and generosity.
A memorial will be held at a later date. Bob humbly requested that any memorial contributions people might wish to make be given in his name to Concordia University in Portland, and/or the College of Education at the University of Oregon.
Arrangements entrusted to Musgrove Family Mortuary. Please access the obituary and you are invited to sign the guestbook at musgroves.com
Published in Eugene Register-Guard on Aug. 14, 2016.