Robert W. Novak
IN REMEMBRANCE OF BOB NOVAK
It is with great sadness that we must report the death of our father/brother/partner/best friend, Bob Novak, whose plug was good and properly pulled on the 24th of September, 2021. Bob had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. Considering everything, he’d actually been getting along all right until a few weeks ago when his coughing fits came back and his oxygen levels dropped. A trip to the ER in Crosby led to a trip to St. Paul, and ended on a ventilator with pneumonia in both lungs. He was 73.
Bob (aka, Robert Wencell Novak) was born on the 16th of July, 1948, the son of Vivian (Olson) and Wencell Novak. He grew up near Fifty Lakes, Minnesota, along with his sister Ginny, in what started out as a three-room log cabin that had no running water, electricity, or insulation of any kind.
Bob attended grade school in the little town of Emily, east of Fifty Lakes. First grade was a one-room Methodist church. Second grade opened in an actual school building, newly constructed. Then when Bob was in sixth grade, the family spent a winter in Cape Canaveral. (His dad got a job building missile hangars at the air force base.) By fall of 1960, the family had moved to Little Trout Lake in Emily and Bob was on a bus headed for junior high school in Crosby-Ironton. Bob always liked school. He was good at it, but more and more he yearned to be in a social setting. He served as class president, graduated in 1966, and was accepted at the University of Minnesota at Morris, the first member of his family to attend college. Bob graduated from Morris with degrees in Political Science, Speech, and Education.
Considering his time and place, Bob could have found work easily. But it was 1970 and someone named Nixon was busy making Johnson’s war worse. Bob had a low draft number. And like any sensible person he wasn’t interested in slogging through the marshes of Vietnam with a metal pail on his head. Grandma Viv thought he should go off to Canada. Grandpa Wencell thought he should do his duty and fight. Bob, who didn’t know what he’d do in Canada and didn’t want to die for a cause he opposed, ended up enlisting in the army. He drove to the federal building in Minneapolis and signed up to study Russian.
After a stint at Fort Leonard Wood in the Ozarks, Bob moved to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, a place he dearly loved. (Bob, like his mom, adored Steinbeck and Steinbeck Country.) He also enjoyed the challenge of learning another language. After an incredibly intense year of studying conversational Russian (failing meant a ticket straight to Vietnam), he gained security clearance and learned military Russian at an air force base in San Angelo, Texas, and was then sent to West Germany where he translated Russian to English at a little place called Wobeck Detachment inside the Elm Forest, just a few kilometers from “The East”. There in the town of Esbeck he lived with kindly and hilarious Germans, Heinz and Erica and their two children. For a kid who’d never really left the sticks, Bob was a long way from Dodge and loving every moment of it. He spent much of his two-year stint trying to cram four shifts into three work days so that he could afford long weekends traveling Western Europe.
Eventually Bob returned stateside, courted his friend and former high school classmate, Moya Odonovich (of Crosby), married her, got a job at 3M, and found a house on Hay Lake, south of St. Paul. Bob and Moya’s son, Nik, was born in 1980. Their daughter, Natalie, followed shortly thereafter. By the middle of that decade, Bob was working as a human resource manager, supervising employees all over the country. Life was getting stressful. He loved his children, loved Moya, but he also couldn’t closet or conceal his true identity any longer. He’d told Moya before they married that he’d had feelings for men. She empathized with him, almost told him a secret of her own, then decided to save that for another time. Both of them wanted to be “normal”, secure, and loved by their families. And so it went. Bob and Moya divorced. Moya moved Nik and Natalie to the Oregon coast, then Wisconsin.
In 1987 Bob moved to St. Paul where he eventually met Scott Berg, the long-term love of his life. In 1999, after 25 years at 3M, Bob (with Scott) decided he needed another change, bought an old bed and breakfast, and returned to Crow Wing County. Bob and Scott ran the literary-themed Hallett House Bed & Breakfast from 1999-2003, restoring the buildings, interior and exterior, and improving the grounds. After selling Hallett House in 2003, Bob and Scott moved to Serpent Lake and shortly afterwards established themselves as experts in the antique business, owning and operating Pine Cone Antiques, as well as several clean and immaculately kept homes and rental properties in the Deerwood/Crosby/Ironton area.
Bob, like his father before him, wanted to take care of his community. He served on the public library board, was appointed to Crosby’s city council, then mayor, before winning mayoral election in a landslide. Bob was integral in establishing the bike tunnel under Highway 6, as well as improving the sidewalks and streetscape of downtown Crosby.
Bob had some trepidation about settling down in the northwoods, but the two partners—one feisty and stubborn, the other quiet and gentle—both found that being honest and genuine, forward-thinking and decent to everyone they met led quickly to their acceptance within the community and established many deep and lasting relationships.
Bob was proud of who he was, confident, kind, and fair in all his dealings. He could bristle at what he perceived as others’ ignorance or shortcomings; he could be blunt; but he was ultimately more interested in leading by example and persuading friends and neighbors to act with the common good in mind. He had no enemies and many people with whom he disagreed respected him long after their arguments had passed.
Bob’s son regards his dad as being especially steady and thorough and competent. His daughter says simply: “He was a lovely man.”
Though it is less well known, Bob was a good singer and whistler, an incorrigible perfectionist, a talented woodsmith, a lover of lakes, Norway pines, corn-on-the-cob, his pontoon and his lawn tractor. His pet peeves were many, including but not limited to: conversational tangents, indecisiveness, carnations, music without melody, poor service, mean-spirited politicians, warm lettuce, soft bacon, and weak coffee. He had terrible morning hair.
Bob was preceded in death by his grandparents, Ruth and Joe Novak; Ruth and Walter Olson; his parents, Vivian and Wencell Novak; a sister, Nancy (stillborn); and his ex-wife, Moya Odonovich Novak.
Bob is survived by his daughter, Natalie Novak; his son, Nik Novak; his grandson, Tom Nagode; his sister, Ginny Ravnik; his brother-in-law, Tom Ravnik; his nieces and nephews, Becky (Dale) Pemberton, Brent (Loni) Ravnik, and Molly (Steve) Exsted; his grand-nieces and grand-nephews (Chloe, Zane, Ezra; Joe; Beau, Jake, Cole, and Vivian); and his unwaveringly loyal partner and best friend of nearly 35 years, Scott Berg.
Bob will live on in our memories. He requested no funeral.
In lieu of flowers, go plant them—especially petunias and nasturiums. Trees, too. Read books. Tell stories. Take care of those you love.