Robert “Bob” Francis Egenes would try to grow just about anything. Tomatoes, flowers, herbs. If he could find seeds, he’d plant them. He’d give tours of his garden and plant beds. Everything that grew had a story to go with it.
His stories about his gardening hobby were as vibrant as any plant that sprouted from the work of his green thumb.
Except one. The story we never got to hear was about a basil plant that shot up from his unattended flower bed at home. As basil plants go, this one was majestic. It was more than 2 feet tall, thriving from late summer rain and the afternoon Florida sun at the house where he and his wife, Becky, lived. Its green, healthy, and fragrant leaves reached for the sky. He would have described it with his trademarked “unbelievable!”
One of the healthiest things he ever grew was a plant he never saw, a story he never got to tell. But it is a story that needs telling. It grew during the final months of his life while he was in hospitals and care centers, trying to solve the riddle of his declining “body of steel.”
Ancient Greeks believed a growing basil plant opened the gates of heaven for someone passing away. Maybe that basil plant was escorting him on to the next life. It’s a good story.
A better story was his confession of faith that he shared in his final hours, a step toward exchanging his earthly body ravaged by the effects of diabetes for a new one in Glory where there is no more pain and no more tears.
Someone who did things his way, Bob left this world in that fashion on Oct. 16, 2023, at Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla.
He was 79.
Bob was born in Janesville, Wis., on May 24, 1944, to Harold and Elizabeth Egenes. He went to Delavan-Darien (Wis.) High School. His family moved away from Delavan, Wis., before his senior year in high school. They bought a home in upscale La Grange Park, Ill, and he graduated from Lyons Township High School in 1962. A member of the boys swim team, his long-limbed frame was well-suited for a smooth freestyle stroke that he kept into adulthood. The night of his senior prom, his mother made a meal for four couples, including him and his date. It was served at the dining room table on fine China. He drove her Buick convertible, top down.
After high school, he attended college in upstate New York at Paul Smith’s College. He learned about cooking, hotel and restaurant management and got his bachelor’s degree in 1967. He could sauté, braise, fry and grill with the best of them. “Will you be here for supper?” he’d ask. He loved to feed others. Given his druthers — didn’t he always prefer his druthers? — his favorite meal, especially at lunchtime, was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
He met Donna June Lierly in Florida. They married in 1968 and moved to Elsmere, Ky., where they lived next door to Cincinnati Reds ballplayers Bobby Tolan and Wayne Granger. They went to ballgames at Crosley Field. Bobby and Wayne got them tickets. They sat with the players’ wives. They had three children — Mike, Holly, and Andy.
In 1981, Bob married Rebecca “Becky” Lynn Lykins. Becky had two children, Tonya and Travis.
Renee was born when Bob was 45 years old. (If emojis were a thing in 1990, this would be a good place for the “face with raised eyebrows” emoji!) Now, the children were his, hers and theirs. One of his favorite pictures and memories came in August 2013, when his, hers and theirs gathered one weekend in Cincinnati to be together, eat together (probably grilled chicken, one of his favorites), and go to a baseball game together. Reds 8, Cardinals 3. He spoke often and fondly of that weekend, maybe because it was the last time his, hers and theirs got together.
Bob lived and worked in the Northern Kentucky area for nearly five decades before retiring to Florida. He worked at Sky Chefs at the Greater Cincinnati Airport. Later, he came to be a part-time driver’s instructor at Boone County Driving School. He eventually bought the business and worked what became his dream job. Every evening after dinner, he would call the next day’s students to remind them about their lesson. If no one answered, he had the message for the answering machine down to a perfect efficiency of words and concluded with “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He’d drive through neighborhoods pointing at houses, “I taught the boy who lives there how to drive … and the girl who lives there.” He had stories for each one.
Later in his career, he drove for Avis Rental Cars and was a proud member of the ROMEO Club (Retired Old Men Eating Out). His Avis buddies called him “Tomato Bob” because of all the fresh-picked tomatoes he shared with his friends.
He loved to travel. Hawaii (twice), San Francisco (three times), Key West and numerous points in between. “It’s a good education,” he would claim. He wasn’t wrong.
He liked Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball, Johnny Carson, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Eat’n Time Restaurant in Delavan, live music, solitaire, chess, feeding the birds and squirrels, riding his bike, socializing with neighbors, writing letters by hand (his Christmas letters were classics), old churches, giving tours of Cincinnati to strangers, Neil Diamond, Pete Rose and, surely his favorite, family around the dinner table for which he would say grace and conclude with an emphatic “Amen.”
He is survived by his wife, Rebecca, of Melbourne and children, Mike (Melissa “Missy”) Egenes, Eureka, Ill.; Holly (Seth) Klusmeyer, Quincy, Ill.; Andy (Cazy) Egenes, Irvine, Calif.; Tonya (Jeff) Cook, Riverton, Utah; Travis (Gina) Holtkamp, Park Hills, Ky., and Renee Egenes (Bud Stumpf), Covington, Ky.; sisters, Mary (Frank) Howery, Janesville, Wis.; Carol Egenes, Williams Bay, Wis.; and brothers Rolfe (Karen) Egenes, Centennial, Colo.; Ron (Kathy) Egenes, Grass Valley, Calif.; and Tom (Linda) Egenes, Fairfield, Iowa; grandchildren, Laken (Brody) Hibbard, Megan Egenes, Reagan Egenes, Kaitlyn Egenes; Dax Klusmeyer; Nate (Jessica) Cook, Carl (Ashlie) Cook, Clayton (Josie) Cook; Nick Holtkamp, Heather (Chris) Joering; Sophia Lawrence and Emberlee Stumpf; great-grandchildren Brooks Hibbard; Rebel Cook, Riot Cook; Addyson Cook, Nicholas Cook; Connor Joering, Harper Joering and Hailey Joering.
He was preceded in death by his parents, brother, Richard Egenes, and grandson, Josh Cook.
Per his wishes, Bob’s body was cremated. A Celebration of Life is planned for May 25, 2024, in Northern Kentucky at a location to be determined. A memorial fund has been established to assist with final expenses.