At Morningside of Franklin, a Five Star assisted living community in Franklin, TN, Bob Blackmer is known as the man of many costumes. The 87-year-old resident of Morningside, where he is affectionately known as “Mr. Bob,” dresses up on special occasions to bring smiles and laughter to his fellow residents as well as Five Star team members. Mr. Bob has appeared as Ben Franklin, Scrooge, a clown, a Living Dead zombie, a Mexican campesino, a shepherd from Biblical times, a Western outlaw—you name it, he’s done it. Not only has this brought more joy to Morningside; Bob’s star turns have made him a celebrity on Five Star’s social media channels.
Bob also runs the weekly travel club at Morningside, in which residents take virtual tours of fascinating places around the world. It’s just one of dozens of roles Bob has played on his own journey through life, including as husband and father. In honor of Father’s Day, we asked this dad how it all got started.
Do what you love: Passing on a father’s wisdom
Bob began his pursuit of many passions at a very young age when he lived in Northern New York, not far from Ontario. His father, who worked for the border patrol, helped Bob start his first business: shoveling snow at the age of five. “He loaned me his coal shovel,” Bob remembers. He cleared neighbors’ sidewalks for 5 cents a pop, saving up enough to eventually buy his own shovel.
Other ventures soon followed. Shining shoes at age seven paid much better than snow removal, at 25 cents a pair. A paper route at age 10 grew so rapidly that Bob had to bring his brother in to help. (“We bought new Schwinn bikes with our savings.”) Bob worked his way through high school while competing in sports and playing and singing in band and chorus, somehow finding the time to earn his pilot’s license at age 16.
What did his father make of flying and all these pursuits that began with an old coal shovel? “My dad only got upset with me once,” Bob said. “My brother and I got lost in a snowstorm when we were four and five. We ended up three miles from home. The border patrol found us. My dad was upset; we could have died. But other than that, he let me do what I wanted.”
Bob passed that lesson on to his own children, daughter Judy and son Mike. When they each turned 16, Bob told them they should start earning their own money—but he gave them a huge incentive. “I said, ‘I’ll help you buy a car,’” Bob says. “So they each got jobs, and they paid half and I paid half. Then they both had jobs and they both had cars.”
Aside from that intervention, Bob followed what he had been shown about being a good dad. “I let my kids do what they wanted to do,” he says. Of course, he may also have passed on the value of discipline from his 25 years in the military as well as caring for his wife, Barbara, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, also for 25 years. Judy recently retired from AT&T, and Mike runs a thriving roofing business following another successful career building luxury homes. Together, they’ve given Bob three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. “They both turned out well,” Bob says modestly. Remembering his snowstorm adventure, he adds, “And they never got into any trouble.”
The travel club at Morningside is the latest example of Bob’s philosophy on life, which might be phrased as “Do what you love.” As to why he started it, Bob says, “I asked myself, what would I enjoy doing, what would we enjoy doing?” Each week he shares YouTube videos from travel writers and hosts. “Right now, we’re visiting all the cities of Europe,” Bob says. “We’ve been all over the United States and all the national parks. We’ve even taken a train from Nova Scotia to Vancouver.”
Life and laughter at Morningside
Today, Bob is as busy as ever, despite breaking a hip last August. The man who delivered more than 1,700 speeches, presentations, documentaries and workshops over a long and storied career as a teacher, volunteer and Toastmaster is busy on his seventh book, a Western. (One of the other six was a book about his and Barbara’s journey with rheumatoid arthritis.) He keeps three different computers humming in his apartment—he used to have five—and enjoys visits with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Tennessee.
When not dressing up, leading a series of travelogues or writing a novel, he’s enjoying World War II movies and Westerns. If you ask, he’ll tell you he enjoys his life at Morningside. “Especially during this past year with the pandemic, we saw that it’s important to remember to laugh,” Bob says.
Maybe that explains all those costumes, which Bob puts on with the help of Morningside’s resident assistants. When asked why he does it, Bob says simply, “I have a desire to make people laugh.”
That would be an understatement, according to Wendy Harrington, executive director for Morningside. “Bob is literally the heart of our community,” says Wendy. “He has an amazing personality and his love of living life to the fullest is contagious.”
So Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Bob, and to all the dads out there—with thanks for the many roles you play.
Happy Father’s Day—and every day
Just as dads play important roles in their children’s lives, so fathers and father-figures help make Five Star neighborhoods the vibrant, thriving communities they are. Whether you’re looking for Assisted Living, Independent Living or Memory Care, find out if there’s a Five Star community near you.