Tribute to Bob Bach

by Phil Johnson

Bob Bach

1939 — 2021

Photo of Bob and Marlene Bach

Football can be a useful metaphor for where things are in one’s life, especially if it is someone you have played the game with — an easy way to communicate. For example, for the past three years or so, Bob Bach could easily report where he was in his physical struggles. Like: “How’s it going, Socko?” “Well, Whitey, I’m on my own 25. I haven’t punted yet.” Try as he might, he could not get much beyond the 25-yard line from then on.

Bob had a replacement heart. Before he received the heart, he asked, “Whitey, I got a theological question, if I get this new heart, do I have to give it to Jesus too?” He directed the question to Arvid Adell as well. “Even with the reassurance from this seasoned theologian, I re-upped anyway. Now I have, with certainty, been born again, born again” (Fall/Winter 2015).

Bob did get a new heart on Nov. 6, 2009, he gave it to Jesus, and made excellent use of it for a number of great years.

In 2016, the Minnehaha High School football champions of 1966 invited their Coach Bob and Marlene to come to Minnesota as special guests for their class and team reunion celebrations. Bob and Marlene came. It was grand to have them around. One evening during their visit, they gave a smashing concert at Covenant Village in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Bob played the piano and provided a running commentary of stories about the Gospel songs Marlene was singing. They blessed the audience with cheer. Covenant Villagers and guests applauded Marlene and Bob warmly. Many of you have heard their music, either in concerts or from recordings, and know how their music touched hearts.

Bob was a natural, adept, and talented. I first met the California Comet, so called because he could run so fast, on Spaulding Avenue on the North Park College campus. That was the beginning of a lot of fun. I smile as I think of it. He was a terrific running back. However, his being a natural was not limited to football. He played the trumpet, the piano, could swim and dive, and shoot long jump shots. You name it. During college years, he gave the impression that he was not interested in wasted effort. For example, he regularly ducked out of wind sprints at the end of football practice. “I might get a charley-horse, Coach,” he’d say, saving himself for games.

Bob acquired the name Socko, indicating his explosive speed. He loved working for Ivar Wistrom, North Park campus engineer. They were buddies. Ivar liked to have someone “travel” with him as he went about fixing things around the North Park campus and for faculty. If Socko was working, it went like this: “C’mon Socko,” with a shake of his head. That’s all the summons needed. Socko was Ivar’s first choice to travel with him, hands down, reliably witnessed. If there was nothing pressing, the first stop might be Red’s for a cup of coffee. It was a time of light hearts and amusement for them both, and for the rest of us. We all loved working for Ivar and Bob led the way in that.

When Coach Yank Swanson created a freshman team and a sophomore team to play each other to close out the football season of 1957, Coach made Bob the captain of the freshman team. My money was on the sophomores, of which I was one. We were unaware of how Socko was planning to beat us. We did not know what he could do when he was in charge. He taught his teammates how to execute the classy UCLA “serpentine” huddle, surprising us the first time they had the ball. He also designed some new plays. Thus, the freshmen had it together and soundly defeated and humiliated us sophomores. I should have realized what Bob could do, and with that experience, I began to.

After five years at Minnehaha, Bob and Marlene, with their young son Dan, returned to San Andreas, California. Bob taught English and coached football at his alma mater, Calaveras High School. His teams won championship after championship — seven in all. Then came his several superintendent appointments, and finally two four-year terms as Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools.

Bob became the “Roving Reporter” for Pietisten, writing articles in which he interviewed people and told stories (19 of these articles are online).

Bob’s birth family, the Fords, migrated to California from Tennessee. They lived for a time along the Stanislaus River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Bob’s birth mother died and his dad could not raise all the children. So little six-year-old Jonathan Moses Ford was up for adoption. Pastor Fred and Anna Bach of the San Andreas Covenant Church did the adopting. This young “vagabond” as he called himself, became Robert F. Bach, educator par excellence and, in his family’s parlance current to the end, the “Main Man.”

Bob’s boyhood family was the fruit of grace. Gratitude filled their lives and fueled Bob’s accomplishments. Bob tells of his admiration for his adoptive parents and the love-filled home in which he grew up in, known as “The House at 349 Neilsen Road” (Fall 1988).

The summer of 1978, Dr. Bach taught a summer-school course, “Toward Positive Student Discipline,” at the University of California at Berkley. He invited me to be “subject matter expert.” That was a stretch, but why not? I seldom got the podium, which was okay with me. I don’t know how to tell you what a fine class it was.

There is a saying, “If the teacher is not respected, and the student not cared for, confusion will arise no matter how clever one is.” Bob understood that. There was no confusion in his class. About 30 teachers from various settings around the state of California made up the student body. Professor Bach was clear about what he meant by positive discipline. He shared his vision and drew out the wisdom and experiences of the teachers. Teacher and students thrived happily throughout the week. Meanwhile, we played pick-up basketball every evening at an outdoor court near the Hotel Durand where we were staying.

Dr. Bach treated everyone with respect and good humor. It made him effective as a teacher. That’s why the prisoners at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California, to whom he taught English and writing, loved his classes, wrote papers, and made strides in getting back their self-respect. I saw him in action there once.

Bob played each of his positions in life — husband, father, grandfather, educator, friend, musician, writer, patient, and more with clarity, charity, skill, thoughtfulness, humor, and love. A few months ago, the school board named a gym in Bob’s honor. (The video of the dedication is available on YouTube, “Bob Bach Gymnasium Dedication.”)

At the end of his life, prolonged hospitalization created the deep sadness of a long separation for Marlene and Bob. Covid-19 restrictions did not allow Marlene to visit, other than by phone, from mid-December through to Bob’s death. A last-ditch effort to save his life by amputating his right foot did not save Bob. It left him unable to punt. Finally, the adversaries in his body stopped him on fourth and ten. This game over. Ready for the next one.

Blessings upon Marlene and family. May the memory of their beloved husband, father, and grandfather provide strength and comfort.