Elmhurst resident Bobby Scheiding is never one to feel sorry for himself. Always quick with a smile and a friendly word for the many people he met around town, he never let his disabilities slow him down or keep him from living independently.
"Bobby has touched so many of us in so many ways," said his dear friend Andrea Zable, a life-long Elmhurst resident. The 44-year-old has known Bobby for decades. "I think we all have a story or two we can share about Bobby. He's like an Elmhurst legend."
According to an article written about him a year ago in the Elmhurst College Leader, Bobby contracted polio when he was 8 years old. The Leader wrote about Bobby because he was a favorite staffer among the college students for nearly 10 years, working first in the kitchen, then in the cafeteria at the school, keeping things neat and clean.
He never knew his birth mother and "bounced around" between foster homes growing up, Zable said.
"He would drag his one leg when he walked," she said.
And walk he did—all over Elmhurst—until about 15 years ago, when he began using a red scooter, she said. He proudly flew an American flag off the back.
"He would be-bop around on that. Everybody knew him," Zable said.
He always had a job, lived on his own and was an inspiration to all he touched, she said.
"For having such a sad, sad story, he just came through so strong and so positive," Zable said. "We all just grew to love him."
But one day not too long ago, Bobby, now in his mid-60s, just wasn't around anymore, she said.
"I saw him in Walgreen's probably a year ago. I was getting prescriptions and so was he," she said. "I was talking to him and he was all excited to be getting a new apartment. Then I didn't see him for a while."
She began asking around town if anybody had seen Bobby.
"Then all of a sudden we hear, 'Oh, Bobby's in a nursing home,' " she said. They saw it on Facebook.
The physical challenges Bobby had throughout his life had compounded with age.
"He has numerous health issues that have become exacerbated to the point he can no longer live on his own," Zable said, so he was taken to Elm Brook Healthcare Centre in Elmhurst.
She goes to visit him frequently; he has good days and bad days. Some days his soft voice is barely understandable because of medication, but "he's definitely not mentally checked out," she said. Most days, he lights up when visitors come to see him.
On a recent visit, Zable brought him a milk shake.
"We had a good visit and he was up most of the afternoon," she said. "He is still the Bobby we have all come to know and love. We talked about York High School, Hamburger Heaven, the Elmhurst police, for whom he has so much respect."
And he was very appreciative of the milk shake, she said.
"To see his smile as I put the straw in his mouth melted my heart and made me cry."
Another of Bobby's friends from childhood, Jenny Nagle, brings her dog to visit.
"He was kind of his old self that day," Zable said, "(But) he was kind of crying, saying, 'I want my normal life back.' Seeing him like that rips my heart out."
Zable dreams of taking him out of Elm Brook and wheeling him back through the streets of downtown Elmhurst, where he spent so much of his life chatting with folks and spreading cheer.
"I would love to do that, But I don't think they'll let me," she said. "They have him as a hospice patient. That doesn't mean he's going to die soon, but I don't think he's ever going to come out of there."
She said she wants all who remember and love him to know where he is so they can visit. Zable said he is getting visitors, but it is still lonely there for him.
"If anyone can find some time in their day to please stop and see Bobby, you would really touch his life like he has touched so many of ours," she said. "He is just the sweetest soul. It would mean the world to him."
For folks from the "old neighborhood" who would like to pay Bobby a visit, Elm Brook is located at 127 W. Diversey Ave. in Elmhurst. For more information, call (630) 530-5225.
Did you run into Bobby in Elmhurst over the years? Please share your stories in the comments below.