Bob Childers will be remembered today not only as a widely respected man who started Eagan’s fire department, but also as a father figure, a prankster and a person dedicated to helping people.
Robert Lee Childers died Sunday of pneumonia and respiratory complications. He was 77. His funeral will take place today at 10:30 a.m. at Mary, Mother of the Church, 3333 Cliff Road in Burnsville. Following will be inurnment at Fort Snelling National Cemetery with military honors. At 9:30 a.m., friends and family will gather to remember Childers.
Childers helped start the Eagan Fire Department in the early 1960s, and was an active member of the fire department for 23 years, according to the City of Eagan. He was the fourth fire chief, serving for nine years at a time of rapid growth in Eagan -- from 1977 to 1986, according to the city. He retired July 5, 1986, but remained active among a group of retired firefighters. Some joke that Childers was the retirees’ unofficial chief. He kept them in line, said Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott.
Scott remembers when he met Childers. He was 6 years old, and to Scott, whose father was part of the Eagan Fire Department, Childers was a gentle giant.
“I remember asking, ‘Who’s the big guy (with the) funny accent?’” Scott said, recalling Childers’ North Carolina drawl. Childers was from North Carolina, but lived in Eagan for many years.
Scott said Childers was known as a guy who didn’t necessarily want to be recognized for his work. An airline mechanic by trade, Childers often put in at least 20-30 hours a week with his volunteer duties at the fire department, Scott said. He simply got satisfaction from helping people, a sentiment City Administrator Tom Hedges also expressed.
“It just was a very important part of his life,” Hedges said of Childers’ dedication.
Scott, whose father passed away in 1997, said Childers was like an adopted dad to him. He was also a father figure to children in the Cedar Grove area, where he lived, said Dave Childers, Bob’s son. All the other neighbors had a beautiful, thick lawn. But not Childers’ -- it’s where all the kids played, Dave said. Sometimes Bob would let children play at the fire station, and would even take them on rides in the fire truck.
Childers was also a prankster. Dave Childers said his dad would put his false teeth -- which his eldest daughter hated -- on the dashboard of the car or in a glass in a cupboard that she would use to drink water.
Childers was widely known and respected.
“Wherever he went, everyone (loved him),” Dave Childers said. “Everyone did.”