By Becca Maag
For the Enterprise
Bob Bement has found numerous ways to leave his footprint on Vale – as a memorable coach, teacher, volunteer and pilot.
Bob was born in Sherman, N.Y., in 1934. When he was 12, his family found their way across the nation to Vale. His father was an electrician for the Rural Electricity Administration, helping to bring electricity to remote parts of Malheur County, including Westfall and Beulah.
Bob went to school in Vale from the sixth grade through his high school graduation in 1952.
In his high school days, the state of Oregon wasn’t divided into athletic divisions like today’s 1A, 2A, 3A. The biggest schools on the west coast and the smallest eastern Oregon towns battled against each other for state titles.
One of Bob’s proud achievements from that time was when his football team was one of the top eight in the state. Another came in basketball when Vale was in the state playoffs. After splitting the first two games with La Grande, the Vikings lost a tie-breaker game to the Tigers, who went on to win third place.
Bob met his wife, Essie Burke, a Brogan native, in high school. They were married shortly after graduation on July 3, 1952. Essie passed away in September 2012; they enjoyed 60 years of marriage. Bob is the father of three children, seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Just after high school, Bob didn’t put much thought into pursuing his education and instead went to work on local farms. Then, two years after graduation, Bob decided to attend the College of Idaho to become a teacher.
He was still able to earn a basketball scholarship to the Caldwell, Idaho college, and played basketball all four years and football for two. He received athletic honors in college.
Although Bob enjoyed his athletic career at college, nothing compared to being a Viking and playing for his hometown.
“When you play with the guys you’ve been in school with all the way up through, there is more of a unit than when you go to college,” he said.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a minor in science, he got a job teaching in Filer, Idaho. He taught and coached in Filer, as well as Dayville and Harper, before returning to Vale in 1965.
Bob, who retired from teaching in 1990, taught drivers education, science, health and P.E. He also spent time as the head track coach, assistant football coach and assistant basketball coach. In 1967, he led his track team to Vale’s first district track championship.
Outside of school, Bob was involved in numerous local organizations including the Jaycees, the Sheriff's posse, the ambulance service and fire department.
In 2001, he was honored as grand marshal of the Vale 4th of July celebrations, and in 2016 he received the Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award for the city of Vale.
Bement is also known for his passion for aviation.
In 1980, Larry Standage and Bob bought a plane together. Standage taught him how to fly, and he hasn’t stopped flying since. He has spent about 3,000 hours in the air in the past 20 years. Bob has used his airplane to support the community. He donates airplane rides to fundraisers. When Vale was building the new Senior Citizen building, Bob donated his time giving airplane rides to help raise money. He gave rides to more than 60 people in a day.
He knows Malheur County’s rugged terrain better than most, and has used his plane many times to aid the Sheriff's Department in search and rescue missions.
Through flying, Bob became interested in the book “The Candy Bomber.” The book tells of U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen’s efforts after World War II to raise the spirits of children in bombed-out Berlin by air-dropping chocolates and gum to them.
Bob ordered the book and received an autographed copy – including a note from Halvorsen himself, saying he would love to go for a ride with Bob in his plane sometime.
Bob arranged for Halvorsen to visit and give a talk at the LDS church in Vale. The appearance packed the house, and Bob thanked him with a plane ride into the Idaho backcountry.
Today, he quotes a sentence from the Halvorsen book: “My father told me to do good things for others and expect nothing in return, and good things would happen.” Bob exemplifies that sentiment, doing good things and expecting nothing in return.
Asked for advice on life, he offers these tenets:
- Be helpful.
- Acts of kindness are good.
- Be more positive and less negative.
- Look for the good in others.
- Be responsible, don’t find excuses.
He also believes that the Golden Rule needs to return to importance today, and he encourages everyone to be true, because people figure out phoniness.
Becca Maag writes profiles for the Enterprise featuring local people who exemplify the spirit of Malheur County. To suggest a profile subject, email to [email protected]