Robert Clarence Watters did not go gentle into the good night. After being diagnosed with advanced cancer, he left on his own terms and on his own time schedule, just the way he lived his life. He died on the morning of October 21, 2021, twenty-two days after his beloved wife Phyllis.
Robert (Bob) was born on April 4, 1926 in Ida County, Iowa, the son of William and Alma Watters. He and his two older brothers were raised on the Watters family farm near Holstein, Iowa. To get from the farm to school, he rode a pony, and sometimes in the winter, his father would take him by horse-drawn sleigh. In high school he played basketball for the plucky Holstein Pirates and he participated in school dramas.
In the summer of 1943, he started at Iowa State College in Ames. The stay was brief however. America was in the midst of World War II, and millions of young men were being called up. Volunteering to serve, Bob put college on hold and enlisted in the Army. After basic training, he attended officer training school, and as he liked to say, he rose to the lofty rank of second lieutenant.
Upon an honorable discharge in 1946, he was back once again in college pursuing a degree in engineering. Although his classes were challenging, he got high grades, thanks to his work ethic, his sharp mind and an unusually prodigious memory. He was gifted, but his modest nature wouldn’t allow him to recognize it in any public manner. He did well and did it quietly without fuss.
As in high school, he was active in clubs and college social events and activities. One night he was attending a dance at the college Memorial Union, and had gathered up his courage to ask for a dance from the next woman who walked through the door.
Just then, stepping gaily over the threshold, was Phyllis Williams, the beautiful daughter of Norwegian farmers from Storm Lake. She accepted – and before the night was out, he was smitten. He walked her home and asked for another date. They fell in love and were married in 1948.
For Bob and Phyllis, fresh out of college and full of dreams and ambitions, the world was their oyster and everything was possible. Bob started a business making cabinets while Phyllis taught school. He never lost his love for carpentry, or the sensation of holding wood in his hands, nor the creative process of forming it into something useful. No matter where they lived, he always had a woodshop, and through the years, he made many beautiful pieces of furniture from cabinets to desks to spinning wheels.
When their first child, a son, came along, Bob took a job at the Oliver Corporation. Later, he worked for the Lennox Furnace company. In 1952, an even better job opportunity presented itself: working for the 3M Company in St. Paul. When he turned in his resignation and announced that he would be working for 3M, his boss at Lennox asked him: "Why do you want to go to work for the 3M Company? They’ll never amount to anything."
Never anything, indeed. He started at the 3M shop in St. Paul. Ambitious and a perfectionist, his talents didn’t go unrecognized, and he quickly moved up the ladder at 3M. By the end of his career, he was part of the leadership of the Data Products Division. He managed two plants, one in Oklahoma and the other in California. Using company photographs, he memorized the names of each of the several hundred employees who worked in the two plants, and he could call each by name during his frequent visits.
Early in his career at 3M, two more children were born, a daughter and another son. Initially, Bob was based in St. Paul, but was transferred to Indiana where he worked at 3M’s Hartford City plant. In 1960, the family moved back to Minnesota, residing in White Bear Lake which became their home for many years and where the children grew up.
Despite his heavy work schedule, he found time to involve himself in the White Bear Lake community and church affairs, particularly the nearby Christ the King Lutheran Church. Bob and Phyllis, with their three children in tow, had attended the first church service there when portions of the building still lacked windows and doors. He served as president of the first Board of Administration. Throughout their days in White Bear Lake, he continued to serve in various leadership roles at the church, and never thought twice about rolling up his sleeves to wash windows, sweep out closets and wax floors.
Upon retirement, he and Phyllis were living in nearby Mahtomedi, and for several years, they enjoyed traveling, roaming around the country in an RV, always stopping to visit their children – and always helping with a house project while there. In time, they moved to Woodinville, north of Seattle to be close to their two grandchildren, Elizabeth and Colleen. Bob, along with Phyllis, followed the two girls to school functions and soccer and basketball games, always with camera in hand.
As the grandchildren grew and went off to college, Bob and Phyllis settled into a quiet life at Woodland Terrace, an independent living residence in Bothell, Washington where they made many friends. Eventually, in the summer of 2021, first Phyllis and then Bob fell ill.
Although both are gone from this life, they had a strong Christian faith and are together once more. We can imagine them, young again, Bob with his disarming smile, Phyllis beside him, lovely in a new dress that she had sewn herself, walking together, holding hands, just as if it were 1948 when everything was possible.
Bob was preceded in death by the light of his life and wife of 73 years, Phyllis Watters (nee Williams), mother Alma Watters (nee Soellner), father William Watters, and brothers Vern and Paul Watters. He is survived by daughter Shelley Watters (Steven Malmberg); sons Ronald Watters (Katherine Daly) and Gary Watters (Susan nee Callahan); and granddaughters Elizabeth and Colleen Watters.
A memorial service is planned at First Lutheran Church, Bothell, Washington at 9:30 AM, December 6, 2021. Reception to follow.
More information on Bob and additional photos are found here: https://bit.ly/3qjm4JT.