Remembering BobThe Northern Lights Elementary School community gathered Friday to remember a friend. Four years ago Robert “Bob” Salmela succumbed to a rare brain tumor at the age of 7. “He was just a sweetheart, just a joy to be with,” said Dusty Misfeldt, a paraprofessional who worked with Bob.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The Northern Lights Elementary School community gathered Friday to remember a friend. Four years ago Robert “Bob” Salmela succumbed to a rare brain tumor at the age of 7.
“He was just a sweetheart, just a joy to be with,” said Dusty Misfeldt, a paraprofessional who worked with Bob.
“Bob was with us for such a short time but within that time he taught our class so much about strength, love and friendship,” said his first-grade teacher Kris Kosey.
The boy is an intrinsic part of memories at the school.
Classmate Gage Wuorinen remembers running around the playground with Bob talking about Legos, video games and TV shows.
“We were like best friends,” said the fifth-grader Friday.
Bob was always smiling and happy to be at school, said physical education teacher Kris Leopold. Every time he came to gym class, he gave the teacher a hug.
“I can still remember Bob’s last trip to Northern Lights,” Leopold said. “He almost forgot he was in the wheelchair when he reached out to me.” The teacher pushed Bob around in the wheelchair while the children played a beanbag game.
“He was so happy,” Leopold said. “I have had a lot of memories in that gym in the last 10 years, but that one is at the top.”
“Bob was a beautiful boy, and full of love,” said Rita Dahl, Northern Lights secretary. “At his fundraising spaghetti dinner, he was given the microphone to say ‘thank you’ to his guests. He brought the house to tears with his laughter and love as he joked about the echo of the microphone as he questioned where his voice was coming from. Then he thanked everyone and said, ‘I love you all.’”
Dan Tracy met Bob as part of a Superior High School video project. Then a senior, he taped a video for Bob and his family at Northern Lights. The day he handed Bob the video and a Spartan football is still etched in his mind, four years later.
“I’ll remember his face forever,” Tracy said.
He and three classmates decided to raise money for a lasting memorial to Bob at the elementary school as part of their senior social project. Through a ping pong tournament and a talent show, they collected about $1,200. Unable to coordinate a time to put something up, they graduated and went on with their lives, leaving the unfinished work in the hands of one member, Carly Scouton.
“Everybody left; I stayed,” said Scouton, a University of Minnesota Duluth student.
The money sat in an FBLA lockbox at her home for years. Meanwhile, Misfeldt knew a project had been started for Bob. This fall she contacted Mike Matejka, senior project coordinator at SHS, to see what happened. He called Scouton and the ball started rolling again.
Friday, a “Work, Respect, Belong” sign in memory of Bob was unveiled on the younger children’s playground. Misfeldt shared pictures of Bob along with stories. Robin Salmela helped unveil the sign.
She still has all Bob’s artwork, his report cards, even his homework.
“He enjoyed every aspect about school,” Salmela said. “If he were alive, he would definitely want to be a teacher.”
Having a memorial at Northern Lights is a perfect fit. It was one of his favorite places and it expresses him well.
“He loved to learn,” Salmela said, and he never let his illness define him. For Bob, she said, the focus was always on others. And he was able to laugh through it all.
Scouton was on hand Friday to see the sign go up. It was a relief after so much waiting, she said.
“Honestly, I cannot help but feel bad that it took this long though, but in the end I’m smiling and proud because it’s finally happening,” she said.
Nearly 50 staff and students gathered Friday, some stopping by from Cooper School and Family Forum Head Start as well.
“We have not forgotten this bright little light named Bob,” said Northern Lights Principal Robyn Deshayes.
That message came through clearly to Salmela on Friday, complete with hugs and tears.
“This is a community where people don’t forget very easily,” she said. “Just the love that went into it, the whole project, is really inspiring.”