Remembering a commissioner

“I want to talk about this further,” he’d say, leaning back in the tall chair.

He’d then clasp his hands together, wiggle one thumb, then the other, briefly look down at them and then up.

His eyes would turn toward mine, locking intently as he’d stare me down. If his eyebrows went up, right before he started speaking, that meant I’d better write down every word he was about to say.

He wanted to be quoted, he wanted his words to be made public.

After Bob Wolfe would speak his peace, on whatever the topic was . . . he’d look back at me again, quizzically. His gaze was the unspoken question of “Did you get all that?”

I usually did.

Bob had already been on the county board eight years before I started covering such matters. I remember going to my first county commissioner meeting here and being scared to death.

I was worried about understanding the topics, the issues. And I was nervous about them trusting me, accepting me and not holding grudges about things I had to write.

I walked in and introduced myself to the five scary gentlemen sitting around that giant desk. I explained that Brian Ruckle, the reporter they were accustomed to dealing with, had moved to China and I was his replacement.

“Have a seat, young lady,” Bob said, moving a chair to the corner of the big desk. “You can come up here and sit by me.”

I insisted that I was fine, just sitting in an audience chair.

“You are going to have a lot of paperwork to juggle around and I have a feeling you’re going to have to do a lot of writing,” Bob insisted. “Come sit up here with us, it’ll be a lot easier.”

I reluctantly agreed to sit at the corner of the big power desk. And I’ve been sitting there ever since.

That first meeting included taking bids for gravel. They talked about prices, types of gravel, locations of pits.

I had no idea what was going on. After the gravel discussion was over, Bob leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t worry. Not all meetings are this boring. You keep coming back and I guarantee you’ll get some good things to write about.”

And then he gave me that Bob Wolfe smile, the one where his fuzzy eyebrows would crinkle together and the lines on his aging face would intensify.

“There’s going to be a lot of interesting stuff around this table,” Bob whispered. “You just wait and see.”

And he was right. Over the years, I exhausted many pens and filled volumes of notebooks, hastily jotting down details of the board’s conversations and important decisions.

They dove into hard topics, like zoning regulations, livestock friendly status, allowable heights for cell towers, special exceptions, big purchases, budget crunches, GIS development, road construction, bond issues, valuation protests, economic development, employee issues and right-of-way.

As I struggled along to understand, get up to speed, Bob would take the time to explain things – I must have appeared confused.

I remember numerous times he’d summon me to the back room of his downtown store, Bits N’ Pieces, where he’d walk me through topics. And he was never afraid to speak his mind. I could always count on him to go on the record and make a statement about the topic at hand.

Bob loved being a county commissioner. He truly did. It wasn’t an issue of power or popularity – he believed he could make a difference.

Bob spent 16 years at that big desk – some of them at the center of the room in the chairman’s seat. He saw a lot of things happen in this county – some with controversy, some without.

I remember as his time on the board was winding down, he handed me a cup of coffee.

“Well, young lady,” he said, grinning. “I’m just about to the end of this.”

“Are you going to miss it?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, but then again, I’m kind of tired,” Bob said. “Just remember, grow a thick skin and keep writing everything that happens. It’s important that everyone knows what’s happening in their county government. And that includes me . . . since I won’t be here any longer.”

As that meeting was called to order, I remember Bob pointing to an item on the agenda and giving me that look.

“I’m going to have something to say about that,” he whispered, moving his eyebrows in that code-like fashion I’d become accustomed to. “Better get your pen ready.”

And he didn’t disappoint.

Bob Wolfe passed away last week. His funeral was Monday.

I hope Bob knew he was a respected civil servant and his dedication was appreciated. I also hope he knew I was grateful for the guidance he gave me along the way.

“Did you get all that?” he’d ask.

I got it, Bob. I got it all.





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