CUYAHOGA FALLS — A community icon whose life was dedicated to giving back through his involvement with numerous organizations was remembered by family members, friends, fellow volunteers and city leaders for his generosity and civic spirit.
Robert G. “Bob” Heath passed away on Sept. 30, 2019, at the age of 94. Brian Heath said his father had been dealing with dementia for the past few years, and then had a bout with pneumonia at the end of his life.
Cuyahoga Falls City Council member Jeff Iula said Mr. Heath, along with his brother, Harry — who passed away in 2017 — were two of the most well-known people in the city.
“They were a team,” said Iula of the Heath brothers. “They were very, very close.”
Bob and Harry Heath were the first honorees in Mayor Don Walters’ program that temporarily renames Broad Boulevard in honor of individuals or organizations who made significant contributions to the community. A ceremony renaming the thoroughfare “Heath Boulevard” in honor of the Heath brothers — who were often seen together around town and volunteering at various events — took place in June 2015.
At that ceremony, Bob Heath said, “Cuyahoga Falls has been great to us. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to live here, go to school here …It’s a great town …Cuyahoga Falls is very dear to our hearts.”
Reflecting on that honor, Brian Heath said he was glad that both his father and his uncle were “able to fully appreciate” the Honorary Boulevard ceremony.
“Each of them was pretty active in and of themselves, but if you put them together, it really made things special,” said Brian Heath.
After his father died Monday, Brian Heath said he turned to his brother Kevin and said Mr. Heath was “probably going to have a beer with Harry as soon as he gets up there.”
The “Heath Boulevard” sign that was given to the Heath brothers four years ago will be displayed at the memorial service on Saturday. Calling hours will take place two hours prior to a 3 p.m. memorial service on Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Clifford-Shoemaker Funeral Home, 1930 Front St.
According to his obituary, Mr. Heath was born in Berkeley, Calif., and lived in Cuyahoga Falls for the past 62 years. Mr. Heath served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and later graduated from Kent State University with a master’s degree in education. He retired from the Cuyahoga Falls City School District in 1996 after 42 years of service. In retirement, he served on the Cuyahoga Falls City School District Board of Education, Cuyahoga Falls Park and Recreation Board, Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest Committee and volunteered for the American Red Cross. He was named the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year in 2001.
Preceded in death by his son, Robert Jr.; sister, Muriel Southwick and brother, Harry; Mr. Heath is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons, Kevin and Brian (Trisha); seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Son says his dad ‘always had time for others’
When asked to reflect on Mr. Heath’s life, everyone who spoke with the Falls News were quick to note that while Mr. Heath maintained a busy schedule, he loved meeting people and giving his time to others.
Brian Heath said his mother and father lived next door to him and this arrangement allowed Brian’s children to spend a lot of time with their grandparents.
Brian said his father was the “life of the party,” and “always had time for others.”
Brian recalls traveling with his father to the store and seeing his dad crossing paths with people he knew and stopping to chat. He noted there was a “running joke” in his family that his dad never made a “quick trip” to the store.
“He always had time for people and took time for other people,” said Brian.
Brian recalled being on a spring break trip with his father in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Brian said he was 17, but was going to celebrate his 18th birthday during the vacation at a time when the legal drinking age was 18. Shortly before the clock struck midnight on his 18th birthday, Brian visited a bar with his father, who convinced an employee to allow his son to enter the establishment. When he was officially 18 a few minutes later, Brian said he had his first beer.
Brian said that his father persuading the bar employee to allow him to come inside “kind of typified his way with people. He’s the type of person who could sell ice cream to an eskimo.”
Mr. Heath and his brother, Harry, were both involved for many years with organizing the Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest, a downtown event which marked its 40th anniversary last month. The event has raised more than $1 million which has been donated to numerous local charitable organizations.
Billy Harding, who chairs the Oktoberfest Committee today, said he served on the committee for a few years with Mr. Heath.
“I just remember he was always very genuine [and] down-to-earth,” said Harding. “He never met a stranger.”
Mr. Heath worked in education, and served as a principal at both Richardson and Preston elementary schools.
Judy Ray, administrative secretary at Cuyahoga Falls High School, remembered working as a volunteer with Mr. Heath at Richardson for 12 years when he was the building’s principal.
“I was always impressed with how he knew every student’s name,” said Ray. “Every year he knew every kid … Students always came first with him…He was always an inspiration and so highly liked by staff and students.”
Ron Salmon said he worked as a custodian at Grant School (now Quirk Cultural Center) while Mr. Heath was a teacher in the building from 1954 to 1958 and then as head custodian at Preston from 1958 to 1969 with Mr. Heath serving as the building’s principal.
Salmon recalled that the students “all liked Bob. He was a terrific principal.”
Salmon said he and the Heath brothers were “best of friends,” and took trips to Daytona Beach, Fla., served on the Oktoberfest Committee and worked on the Chain Gang at Cuyahoga Falls High School football games.
“We had a lot of good times, no matter what we did,” said Salmon.
Salmon described Mr. Heath as an “easy-going person,” and added, “I don’t think he ever had an enemy.”
City leaders offered lofty praise for Mr. Heath.
Iula said he will always remember Sept. 3, 1958. That was his first day as a student at Preston and it was Mr. Heath’s first day as the principal of the building. Iula called Mr. Heath “a very good friend.”
“Bob Heath was wonderful man that devoted his life to helping others, and Cuyahoga Falls is truly a better place because of his love for the community,” said Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters. “As a World War II veteran, devoted teacher and principal, school board member, park board member, and one of the Oktoberfest founders, Bob's legacy will live on for generations to come."
Laura Petrella, CEO of the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce, described Mr. Heath as “one of the warmest and kindest individuals I had ever met. He always had a smile and was such a great listener.”
“A person like Bob comes along once in a great while,” added Petrella. “He will be missed dearly in our community.”
When he spoke with Falls News two days after his father passed away, Brian Heath said he’d heard from “a lot of people” who knew his father through Preston and Richardson, as well as Oktoberfest and Little League.
“It’s humbling and it’s gratifying to see how many people my dad’s life touched,” said Brian. “I’ve appreciated it. It’s been heartwarming. It’s been very consoling the last few days.”
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.