Sadness in passing of Bob Teater

Steve PollickIt is with more than a little twinge of sadness that I note passing of Bob Teater, a larger than life man on the Ohio outdoors and natural resources conservation scene.

Bob died July 21 at age 86 from complications from Parkinson’s disease, a tough end to well-lived life. But more than mere accumulation of years, he packed his time here with exemplary public service and enviable leadership.

I first met him when he was my dean in the school of natural resources at Ohio State University in 1971. He had a Bob Evans-ish, down-on-the-farm way about him, and his big smile and even bigger handshake made you feel that you had just “done good” helping him get in the baled hay before a thunderstorm. Bob knew how to be inclusive.

“Man, just look at those big milkin’ hands,” he told me in our first grip when The Dean was welcoming us, a new batch of graduate students.  I was a guinea pig at SNR way back when, the first enrollee in a trial program combining science writing with natural resources management. Eventually it morphed into environmental education. Bob’s bubbly can-do spirit was inspirational; he could sell. I bought.

His career began in the military. He served in the Korean War in 1952 and spent 32 years in the Ohio National Guard, retiring as a two-star general. As a son of Kentucky tenant farmers, he grew up with a passion for the land and farming. He had dirt under his fingernails and was proud of it and never forgot his humble roots and his respect for hard work.

In time he would serve as associate dean of the OSU College of Agriculture and then director of the School of Natural Resources from 1969 to 1975. But perhaps his star shown its brightest as a champion for the outdoors and conservation when Gov. Jim Rhodes appointed him director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Bob was the epitome of what and who an ODNR director should be. For me he became the gold standard against which to measure other and future directors in similar posts. He guided the development of campgrounds, reservoirs, and lodges at many state parks among many, many other initiatives in a far-flung, complicated, often poorly understood arm of state government. In short he “got it” when it came to conservation during his eight years as ODNR director. He didn’t prove to be enough of a politician, though, having run unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for governor in 1982.

Later, Bob founded a natural-resources consulting firm, Robert W. Teater and Associates, and pushed for such projects as The Wilds, the renowned exotic-animal preserve in Muskingum County. He spent years raising money for the effort, finding a site and negotiating a deal with American Electric Power, which donated more than 9,000 acres. He was essential, indispensable in founding The Wilds.

Well, there is a lot more I could catalog about Bob Teater. But it would just be a list. Suffice it to say, I would have gone up the hill, any hill, with him. More than once in the last 42 years I have thought of him when I look down at my “big milkin’ hands” and think of him drawling it out with a big-chores-done-before-the-storm smile.

Categories: Ohio – Steve Pollick

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