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First Evangelical Covenant Church
1933 Tremont Blvd NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Life Story / Obituary
Robert Allen Carlson lived a life rich in faith and family. A man who embodied the principles of his faith, Bob welcomed every person as a friend, and each moment as a gift. His gregarious personality inspired instant and meaningful conversations that often included Bob sharing his faith and hope in his Savior. With an unwavering commitment to living a life of service, Bob was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend, who will long be remembered and ever so missed.
Despite the obvious gloom of the Great Depression, the new decade held a power of hope that undulated in the hearts of many. With a natural drive to not just endure but thrive in the face of uncertainty, the nation continued to put one foot in front of the other to build a better future. Nowhere was there a greater sense of hope than in Chicago, Illinois, as Sanford and Eva (Allen) Carlson rang in the new year by welcoming their twin sons. As the local newspapers announced, Bob and Bill were the First Twins of the New Year, and their arrival on January 1 resulted in much celebration.
The youngest, albeit by only 17 minutes, of the four Carlson children, Bob's early years were spent in the good company of his older sisters, Jeanne and Margie, as well as his twin brother, Bill. As lifelong members of the Swedish Covenant Church, family life was firmly rooted upon the foundation of faith and family values. Bob's father made a career working as a secretary/treasurer for several companies. For a time, he was the vice president of a large international company and also worked as an executive secretary for the Detroit Area Christian Men's Ministries. Bob's mother not only ran the home, but she also worked various jobs in Chicago, eventually owning her own printing business when the family moved to West Michigan.
In 1943, Sanford's work brought the family to Grand Rapids, where Bob would spend the rest of his life. Bob and Bill attended and worked at Portage Lake Bible camp and began their secondary education at Union High School, before transferring to South High School. After graduating from South High School in 1948, Bob immediately entered the work world, securing a job as a typist and performing general office duties with Hager Lumber Company. In 1951, Bob began his military service with the United States Navy. From 1951-1955, Bob's active duty included being briefly stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, for schooling, then serving the rest of his active duty at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois. Bob followed his active duty with four additional years as an inactive reserve.
Upon returning home after completing his military service, Bob was contacted by Titus Hager, the founder of the lumber company he had previously worked for. Having learned of his return from service, Mr. Hager eagerly offered Bob the job that ultimately led to a long career in the lumber business. Starting in wholesale lumber sales as a primary buyer, Bob worked his way up to the position of Vice President in 1961. Bob's work ethic, loyalty, and gregarious personality led to a successful and satisfying career that spanned over 40 years. In 1964 he went to work for North Salem Lumber out of Oregon. In 1968 he joined a partner to open a branch of Santiam-Midwest Lumber brokering lumber deals and eventually retired from Hudson-Hines Lumber Sales in December of 1995.
In October of 1948, Bob had the good fortune of meeting his first wife, Barbara, at a Youth for Christ Conference in Grand Rapids. Two years younger than Bob, Barbara concentrated on finishing her schooling while Bob served the Navy. With their hearts set on sharing their lives, the happy couple married in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on May 24, 1952. After celebrating their marriage, the newlyweds settled in Chicago, where during their spare time, they provided laundry service to help make ends meet. In time, they returned to Grand Rapids and lived in a small apartment for a time. They then rented a house before purchasing their home on Lake Michigan Drive near Garfield on the lower west side.
Bob and Barbara's family grew to include four children. Michael, Cherie, Steven, and Elizabeth quickly became the centers of Bob and Barbara's lives, and together, they dedicated their days to creating a loving, supportive, faith-centered home. Barbara took on the responsibilities of full-time homemaker, while Bob was the primary disciplinarian. Though he had high expectations of his kids, he also encouraged them in all of their endeavors. He coached his children's sports teams and helped his sons with their paper routes. Bob and Barbara also modeled the importance of balancing hard work with the restoration of leisure. The family enjoyed making trips to the beach in Grand Haven, attending family camp at Portage Lake Bible Camp, renting a cottage on Mitchell Lake in Cadillac, and making long trips to Florida. Bob also enjoyed taking his family on drives, especially to see the lights in downtown Grand Rapids during Christmas. Holidays were always about gathering with extended families, alternating hosting responsibilities, and enjoying traveling to Detroit when gatherings were hosted there.
Shortly after their youngest child graduated and moved from home, Barbara's health started to decline. Sadly she died in 1993 at the young age of 61. Later that year, while renting office space from Eastbrook Builders, Bob was encouraged to talk with a recently widowed friend, who worked as the administrator of Eastbrook Builders and was also named Barbara. Bob remembered meeting Barbara in 1969 and agreed to make her acquaintance again. Bob and Barbara felt instantly connected and developed a wonderful companionship that led to marrying on November 13, 1993, at Crystal Springs Clubhouse in Caledonia. They were additionally blessed by the way their families blended and supported one another.
For the next 27 years, Bob and Barbara enjoyed a wonderful marriage. They wintered for up to six months at Barbara's home on Anna Marie Island in Florida and enjoyed traveling to Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, and Columbia. Many wonderful memories were made on senior bus trips and at summer Maranatha Concerts. Bob stayed busy fishing, carefully preserving his bounty for his annual end of the season fish fry. Every year, he welcomed 30-40 of his Florida friends to gather and fry up the fish they caught during the season. When home in Michigan, Bob stayed busy with his service at First Evangelical Covenant Church. He was an active memory of Crossroads Ministry, a prison ministry where he spiritually mentored inmates. Blessed with good health, he also spent time meticulously mowing the lawn at his duplex, even making up shirts that read Bob's Mowing Service.
Clearly, it is difficult to imagine life in the absence of Bob's steadfast presence. May we find comfort in the many memories we are so privileged to share and in the privilege of carrying Bob's legacy of loving-kindness forward in our own lives. Each time we root ourselves in our faith, welcome a stranger as a friend, cast our line, or gather with those we love to celebrate the holiday, we keep Bob's spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired us.
Robert A. Carlson of Byron Center, MI, Age 89, went to be with his Lord on November 25, 2020. Bob was born January 1, 1931, in Chicago, IL, to the late Sanford and Eva (Allen) Carlson. He was also preceded in death by his first wife, Barbara Carlson; sister, Jeanne Bryant; and his twin brother, Bill Carlson. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Barbara; children, Michael (Connie) Carlson of Rockford, Cherie (Denny) Leep of Rockford, Steven (Laurie) Carlson of Grand Rapids, Elizabeth (Hector) Chavez of Skokie, IL; step-children, David (Cheryl) Blair of Caledonia, Bruce (Cynthia) Foster of Caledonia; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Also surviving are his sister, Marjorie Elander; in-laws, James and Lois Hale, Donna and Phillip Sidwell; and many nieces and nephews. A private family funeral was held. Interment is in Rosedale Memorial Park. Memorials may be made to First Evangelical Covenant Church or Faith Hospice. To read more of Bob's life story, leave a memory or condolence, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.