BY JOE HOSHAW Jr.
Grosse Ile’s 2016 “Citizen of the Year” is longtime Fire Department member and prolific community volunteer Robert Walters.
Walters received his award surrounded by family and friends at a special Rotary Club meeting at the Grosse Ile Yacht Club last month. Two days later he fulfilled the long-standing Citizen of the Year tradition of serving as grand marshal of the annual Islandfest parade down Macomb Street.
Each year Grosse Ile Rotary salutes a member of the community who, for an extended period of time, has been a volunteer helping to make Grosse Ile an even more desirable place in which to live, work and play, said club award selection committee member John Repp.
After reviewing a number of well-qualified candidates, the selection committee was unanimous in choosing Walters, who joined the Island’s distinguished group of octogenarians on his most recent birthday.
“ ‘Service Above Self,’ Rotary’s motto, is at the core of the selection criteria, and Bob more than measures up,” the committee said.
Repp and the committee members reported that all those who know Walters well “readily effuse about him.
“Fellow Islander, Robert Pierce, when commenting about Bob Walters, made reference to the well-known expression that, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.’ Bob Walters is a busy person, and he gets things done.
“Dan Valascho describes him as the ‘Energizer Bunny, indefatigable and dedicated to humanity.’ Fred Hoffman added that, ‘Bob is never content to be just a member, he takes an active leadership role.’ ”
Walters, with his wife, Myrna, and several other relatives in attendance, was lauded not only for his 41 years of involvement with the township’s volunteer Fire Department, but also for his military service and nearly unprecedented long-term devotion to local organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sacred Heart Parish.
Being part of the Fire Department for such a long period of time was noted as a very special accomplishment. Aside from his first-responder role he also has been a leader in training activities that are vital to assure the competency and safety of all personnel.
“Though he easily gravitates to leadership roles, he is never above doing routine tasks around the fire station like inspecting the fire extinguishers and ensuring compliance to code requirements,” reads the selection committee’s news release.
Walters’ association with the K of C dates back more than 57 years. As a result of his leadership, the Knights assist in several community fundraising and community-services activities.
He also has been an active volunteer and supporter of key events such as Islandfest and Boar’s Head.
In 2009 he was heavily involved in the conception of the first Veterans Gala celebration hosted by his VFW post at the former naval air station on Grosse Ile. He has remained active in support of this venue. Similarly, he also participated in the 2011 program honoring Korean War veterans.
“Bob’s assistance in the VFW kitchen during food preparation, cooking and serving for various Post functions is another way that he has given of his time and abilities,” the committee states. “He often shows up early the morning after an event to help clean-up in the kitchen despite working in the kitchen late into the evening the day before. Dale Abbuhl, Post Commander, says that ‘Bob’s stamina is indeed remarkable.’ ”
Or, as Rotary President-Elect Jill Ryan vociferously reiterated as she presented the award, “indefatigable.”
Walters and his wife have been married for 55 years, have two sons, two daughters and eight grandchildren. Bob graduated on the GI bill from Lawrence Technical University where he received his degree in engineering. After retiring from Great Lakes Steel, he was called upon to oversee several major construction projects, including Detroit’s water treatment facility.
In addition to his long list of credits, he’s a licensed food handler in the State of Michigan. In this capacity, he happily shoulders responsibility for compliance under Michigan law whenever food is prepared and/or served at Sacred Heart Parish or at VFW functions. The frequency of food-related activities including fund raising meals and awards dinners keeps him more than busy.
Walters is also a member of West Shore Golf and Country Club, where he has served as president for two terms. His efforts there are credit with helping to keep West Shore viable during the economic downturn a few years ago.
“To be sure, golf is a leisure activity that he enjoys and appreciates. His enthusiasm for travel, golf, bowling, hunting and fishing has helped him be a well-rounded person — a joy to be around.”