Heaven has a new handyman... Robert Earl Steinkraus, of Armada, Michigan, died peacefully with his family at his side on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at his winter home in Ellenton, Florida. He fought a seven year-long battle with multiple myeloma and gave it everything he had up until the very end. He was a robust 77 years of age.
Robert (or “Bob” as everyone knew him) was born in Detroit, Michigan, on December 18, 1942, to Paul Steinkraus and Carrie Regier Steinkraus. He grew up in Center Line, Michigan, and his family belonged to Redeemer Baptist Church. Bob showed great interest in photography and enjoyed working outdoors alongside his father in their vast fruit and vegetable garden. He even set up a darkroom in the basement, taught himself how to develop the film, and would eventually earn a small income by taking portraits of his fellow church members.
Bob attended Lincoln High School where he met his future bride, Sharon (nee Geyer) Steinkraus. They crossed paths in choir and shared a love of music and singing. It wasn't long before Bob mustered the courage to ask Sharon out on a date... though the love note containing his invitation that he tried to pass her was intercepted by their teacher, and Bob was forced to read it aloud in front of the entire class -- causing great embarrassment for her -- but she still said, “yes!”
While Bob had lightning-fast typing and shorthand skills, we’re pretty sure what really caught Sharon’s attention was the sparkle in his blue eyes and his clever, playful sense of humor. The young couple dated on and off until graduating in 1960, at which time Bob joined the U.S. Navy and shipped off to “see the world.” Bob was trained to be a Radioman with the Beachmaster Unit, and he relished the time he was stationed in San Diego. It was here that he discovered a love of riding motorcycles that would stay with him the rest of his life; we’re all hoping that he rode through the “Pearly Gates” on a shiny, new Gold Wing motorcycle.
Upon completion of Bob’s tour in the Navy, he returned to his hometown to seek employment and reconnect with his high school sweetheart. His long road trip home from California was barely in the rearview mirror before he was knocking on the door of Sharon’s parents’ home to see if she was still single. Sharon’s father almost didn’t open the door, stating aloud, “There’s a damn sailor on the front porch!” Thankfully he did open the door, and after getting reacquainted over long drives and romantic picnics on Belle Isle in Detroit, Bob and Sharon were soon married on November 7, 1964, at St. James Presbyterian Church.
The newlyweds moved from their first home in Hazel Park onto Roseville, where they began raising a family. Bob always worked hard to provide for Sharon and their two daughters, often enduring the toughest shifts at Ford without complaint, and in turn, Sharon stayed home with the girls and became the consummate homemaker. Bob and Sharon were devoted to and complemented each other like few couples do; it was not uncommon for Bob to find little love notes in his lunchbox alongside Sharon’s home-cooked leftovers.
Despite the demands of his job, Bob always made sure he took his family on vacation, eagerly mapping out exciting camping trips every July when the Ford plant would shut down. They would venture out in their orange and white Chevy Suburban with a Shasta camper in tow (and the CB radio handle of “Orange Crush”), ready to be nomads and see what new sights and adventures were “around the next bend.” Over the years, Bob and his family visited national parks and attractions from coast to coast; they walked across glaciers and marveled at geysers, bicycled around Mackinac Island, Michigan, and sampled lobster in Bar Harbor, Maine -- all of these experiences instilled in his daughters a love of exploring new places and an appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
One of Bob’s favorite pastimes was spending time at the Steinkraus family farm in Gladwin, MI with his Uncle Herb; he loved working alongside Herb on the tractors and the slower pace of life on the farm -- often exclaiming that, “It doesn’t get any better than this!” Bob and his family, his siblings and their families often gathered at the Gladwin farm in their campers to enjoy all that the rural paradise had to offer.
In 1979, Bob and Sharon fulfilled their lifelong dream of moving from the suburbs and “out to the country” by purchasing their own 1901 farmhouse in Armada, Michigan, that had a big backyard and an even bigger red barn. Bob was never happier than when he was driving a tractor (or even just his riding lawnmower), maintaining his “tools & toys,” and taking care of his one-acre property. Throughout his life, Bob was a consummate repairman and loved being consulted for advice, often expounding on how to solve your problem in greater detail than you ever thought possible! Either out of frugality or necessity, he was self-taught on just about everything under the sun: from auto repair to home improvements, and he took great pride that he could “fix anything and for half the price!” Bob’s workshop was always filled with remnants of past projects, and he delighted in being able to reuse a leftover piece of wood or hardware to solve another problem without spending a dime. It was not uncommon for his daughters to receive power tools as gifts, along with a lesson from their dad on how it was going to save them time and money -- he truly embodied the DIY attitude and was always ready to tackle any project and lend a hand.
Bob and Sharon embraced their rural lifestyle in Armada and spent many hours on their back screened porch, visiting with anyone who stopped by to chat about the weather or even better, share a cold beer. Once their daughters were both married and Bob retired from Ford, Bob and Sharon regularly traveled the country in their motorhome and began spending their winters in Ellenton, Florida. Between long weekends watching the freighters pass along the St. Clair River in Algonac and even longer treks to the Yukon Territory during the entire summer of 2011, Bob and Sharon didn’t let any moss gather beneath their RV wheels. Some of their favorite family memories were made when Bob and Sharon, his siblings, and their spouses (all fellow “empty-nesters”) would get together throughout the year to keep in touch with each others’ busy lives; these cherished visits were fondly referred to as, “Geezer Gatherings.” They’d linger over shared meals at a favorite restaurant, gather at a nearby campground, or set up camp in each other’s back yards. It was a chance to catch up, reminisce about their shared childhood memories, and brag about their kids and grandkids... it’s these times that Bob’s siblings will miss the most.
Bob and Sharon finally hung up their motorhome keys in 2003 when they purchased their present cottage in the Colony Cove Community of Ellenton, Florida. There beneath the palm trees and sunshine, they went on to enjoy 17 more years of bike rides, walks and picnics along the beaches of Anna Maria Island; morning crossword puzzles over coffee; “tinkering” and “puttering” projects galore; bargain-hunting at the Red Barn Flea Market, more than a few Manhattan cocktails at happy hour; countless beautiful sunsets, and lots of memorable visits from friends and family alike. They had the best of both worlds -- with their summer farmhouse in MI and their lakefront cottage in FL -- and Bob and Sharon’s love and devotion to each other was steadfast until that last sunrise over the lake on the morning of April 29th.
Besides his true love of over 60 years, Sharon, Bob is survived by his two daughters, Laura (Patrick) Rothwell of Memphis, MI, and Susan (Chris) Lonnett of Wheaton, IL; his three grandchildren, Marissa and Kaylee Rothwell and Nicolas Lonnett; his great grandson, Etiam Lonnett; his sisters, Eileen (Michael) Rande and Lois (Bob) Balsley, and his brother, Paul (Doris) Steinkraus.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Bob’s name to one of the following organizations:
1. Moffitt Cancer Center Research Foundation: You can donate online at: www.moffitt.org or by mail at: Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation, 12902 Magnolia Drive, MBC-FOUND, Tampa, FL 33612
2. Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation: You can donate online at: www.themmrf.org or by mail at: Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, P.O. Box 414238, Boston, MA 02241-4238
A memorial service will be held later this year in Michigan once the current pandemic subsides and it’s safe to gather together again.
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