Growing up, it was my privilege to go to school with the children of Robert and Rosemary Hendrix.
While as a youngster I didn't have much interaction with Bob and Rosemary, I remember them attending Sunday Mass with their children. Both of them were also very active in parish life at St. Mary's Cathedral.
Bob was also very prominent in Cape Girardeau business circles as the executive officer of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, a post he held for 21 years. A few months after his retirement in 1993, Missourian managing editor Joni Adams found him still active.
Here's her "Profile" of Bob Hendrix, published Oct. 4, 1994:
PROFILES: HENDRIX PROVES THERE'S FUN TIMES, FRUSTRATION AFTER RETIREMENT
Bob Hendrix is enjoying his retirement from executive director of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce. Duties on a hospital and a bank board keep him busy along with reading and golf. (FRED LYNCH ~ Southeast Missourian archive)
By Joni Adams
Bob Hendrix has taken retirement in stride. He can be found on the golf course three days of the week or reading one of his "jillion" books.
He worked 30 years directing chambers of commerce in Missouri, including more than 21 years in Cape Girardeau. Retirement allows him more time to spend with Rosemary, his wife of 35 years, his four children and eight grandchildren.
But don't misunderstand -- 62-year-old Hendrix hasn't retired from life, nor from life's little controversies.
He keeps busy as chairman of the Saint Francis Medical Center Board of Directors and as a board member and part-time business development director at Amerifirst Bank.
He grew up in the small river town of Washington, Mo., the only child of a traveling salesman and a housekeeper. His dad traveled St. Charles County selling auto parts and was gone two to three nights a week.
His mother always advised him to marry into a large family so he would have the brothers and sisters he always wanted. Hendrix followed her advice. Rosemary came from a family of 11.
"The day I married Rosemary, my mom asked: 'Son, don't you think you overdid it a little bit?'"
Hendrix described himself as a straight arrow growing up, although he admits to getting into a few scraps.
But tragedy struck when he was 16. His father died of a heart attack at age 47.
After that he developed a rebellious streak, he said, adding:
"I went through a stage asking, 'why, why, why?' It took a few years to work through that. I became a real headache for my mother."
Although he and Rosemary grew up two blocks apart, they didn't know each other as children. She went to Catholic school; he attended public school.
"Back in those days, never the twain would meet."
No K-rations or foxholes
Hendrix graduated from high school and enrolled in college with no specific career in mind. His draft number was close, so he quit college and joined the Navy.
"I enlisted because I decided I didn't want to go into the Army and sleep in foxholes and eat K-rations and be shot at."
In boot camp, he earned top honors in weapons, which landed him on a ship headed to Korea as a member of a forward observer team.
"That means I sat on a mountain, eating K-rations in a foxhole being shot at," he said.
He shakes his head. "Somewhere my plan went awry," he said. "Thank God we weren't there long."
His team directed the gun fire from the ship -- watching where bombs fell and telling gunners to move their weapons left or right.
The whole experience taught the 19-year-old he wasn't immortal.
He remained in the service four years, and up until the day he left, considered a 20-year career.
Hendrix had joined the Navy in 1950. When the armistice was signed in the latter part of 1951, his ship took part in transferring prisoners.
Then in 1952, they saw the world -- making several trips to Japan, Okinawa, Formosa and Hawaii.
"It's an experience you wouldn't give a million dollars for, and you wouldn't give a nickel to do it again," he said.
He took his turn at military police duty in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Formosa and Korea -- never armed with more than a nightstick.
"I came back to our home port in San Diego and was issued a .45 with 20 rounds of ammunition," he said. "It was miserable duty, gathering up the debris and making sure sailors didn't have too much fun."
Discovering chamber work
He returned home to Washington, again unclear about his future. Checks around town revealed an opening at a bank, and he became a teller.
After years of touring the world, he found the job dull and confining.
Its lasting benefit: a co-worker introduced him to Rosemary.
They dated for three years, finally marrying in 1959 after working through religious differences. Hendrix converted to Catholicism.
He spent a year at the bank, sold gas appliances for a year, and worked three years for a life insurance company.
Then Hendrix discovered the chamber of commerce. He became an assistant to the director.
"It was a good chamber that promoted Washington," he said. "They had a lot of good projects, and I got involved in several committees."
When the director left, several businessmen encouraged Hendrix to become director.
"I hadn't really thought of it before, but it seemed the thing to do," he said.
There were a lot of night hours in life insurance, and he was married with a child.
He thought he could spend more time at home, but as it turned out, he had jumped from the pan into the fire."
Hendrix threw himself into the job, and discovered he liked chamber work despite the long hours.
"I finally found something I really liked," he said. "I loved working with the people. They were people who wanted to get things done. I had found a niche."
He followed chamber of commerce jobs to Hannibal and Springfield.
In 1972, he came to Cape Girardeau as chamber executive.
Chamber work changed drastically over the years -- from simple community promotion to aggressive industrial recruitment.
In the old days, cities could sell themselves on their merits, but the competition for new industry became fierce.
As time went on, industries expected lucrative giveaways and incentives from prospective towns, including free land, free utilities and long-term tax rebates.
"In a lot of cases, industries moved just for the incentives, cash or tax rebates," he said. "When they ended, they just moved again and the towns received no long-term benefits."
Get ready for culture shock
Recruiting efforts took Hendrix to Japan five times, and China once with Missouri trade delegations.
The experiences eventually paid off in new industry. The trips also proved a culture shock for Hendrix.
"The first time I went to Japan and they threw raw fish in front of me, I had to swallow hard not to have my stomach come up," he said. "I didn't want to insult them so I ate raw fish, octopus, seaweed, broiled sparrows, 1,000-year-old eggs, bee larva, grasshoppers. It was a real treat biting down on grasshoppers and getting the legs stuck in your teeth."
Other Japanese experiences really shook him up. His trips coincided with two major earthquakes.
"I'm just a little boy from Missouri setting on a fault that's never really rumbled," he said.
He was sleeping in the 28th floor of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo when the first quake struck, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale. The quake threw him out of bed. The whole building creaked and groaned for an hour afterward.
He was traveling on a subway during the second earthquake that measured 6.5.
"You don't know how dark it can get until the lights go out on a subway," he said. "The train stopped and everything went black for three or four minutes. It seemed like three days before the power came back on. We were sardined in the car, and I got claustrophobic. I started walking on people's heads to get topside."
The Japanese, he says, take the quakes in stride.
During his third of fourth trip, Hendrix started getting brave and set out across the city on his own.
"I got lost more times in Tokyo than you can shake a stick at."
On one occasion, he boarded the wrong train and headed out of Tokyo. He jumped out at the first station, which was deserted.
"I knew I was in trouble because everything shuts down at midnight," he said. "There wasn't another soul there except an old Japanese man sweeping the platform with a little broom. He didn't speak any English, but I showed him the card from my hotel, that was English on one side and Japanese on the other."
The man walked Hendrix into the station and held out his hand for money and purchased his ticket from the automated machine. He then took him to the right track and waited for the train. He pushed him aboard the next train, and bowed as Hendrix left.
"If he hadn't been there, I'll still be on the outskirts of Tokyo," he said. "I met an awful lot of great people from that fine country, some of the hardest working people I've ever met in my life."
He credits the Missouri trips with bringing Biokyowa and Tri-Con to Cape Girardeau, TG USA to Perryville, and several other companies to St. Louis and Kansas City.
But the thrill of helping to bring Biokyowa to town soon turned to frustration over labor problems.
Cost overruns on the Biokyowa plant ran into the millions of dollars. The labor problems included sabotage at the plant and intimidation.
Hendrix remembered coming out of his house one morning to find his tires slashed.
"It got so bad I was afraid for my life a couple of times," he admits.
Cape Girardeau and the region suffered from a terrible labor problems for a number of years, dating back to jurisdictional issues during the construction of the Procter & Gamble plant.
He faulted the Biokyowa project contractor, the Austin Co. out of New York, their anti-union attitudes and the fact they used labor people outside the area.
Hendrix credited Johnny Ray Conklin, who then was head of the Southeast Missouri District Council of Carpenters, with helping the region weather many of these problems.
"It's a reputation that was hard to live down, but we did," he said. "It took a lot of hard work. We haven't had those kinds of problems for 10 years."
Even the Biokoywa plant, which started on rocky ground, has since expanded five or six times.
A bitter battle
Also at the top of his "worst times" list was the bitter battle over the Show Me Center, which left the town divided.
Initially, the project united the town -- passing by a 73% majority.
At the heart of the fight was the location of the building. The two prominent sites were near the hotels along I-55 or on the Southeast Missouri State University campus.
While the chamber didn't take a stand on the location, Hendrix says the organization did promote the building with vigor.
In retrospect, Hendrix says the location should have been part of the ballot issue.
Another bone of contention was the fact the hotel and motel tax included no sunset clause.
"It was felt the tax was needed for the ongoing expenses for the building," he said. "Ironically, that changed when the university agreed to take over upkeep and any deficit."
The division spurred a second chamber of commerce.
"I was mad and upset," he says. "Cape Girardeau got to be a kind of joke with two chambers."
Hendrix runs his fingers through his silver hair. When he came to town in 1972, his hair was dark brown.
He says many of those gray hairs came from the Show Me Center controversy and second chamber. The latter group folded after about six months.
"It was a frustrating time," he sighs. "We worked so hard to do something good in the community. Thank goodness that too passed."
Ready to retire
Despite the problems, he looks back on his years at the chamber with satisfaction.
But Hendrix admits he was ready to retire.
"I was tired. I was beginning to lose my enthusiasm. I was beginning to get up in the morning and not look forward to going into the office. It was telling on my walk and my attitudes. I made the decision to leave. I think the board was surprised, but I convinced them I had thought a lot about it. My decision did not come in the heat of anger."
The chamber worked its way through the rough years, he says, with more members and a bigger budget than ever.
Over the years, he feels the chamber got better and got tougher.
"There's truth in that saying about finding strength in adversity."
No health crisis
As chairman of the board at Saiint Francis Medical Center, he has found the national politics surrounding health care frustrating.
"There is no health care crisis," he emphasizes. "If there is a crisis, it's in the payment and the government brought that on itself."
If the government paid hospitals and doctors what it owed for Medicare and Medicaid, Hendrix feels there would be no need for cost shifting.
"It makes me absolutely furious to hear politicians talk about taking over health care and simplifying it," he said. "If the government took over, it would be catastrophic. How can government fix health care when they're the ones who broke it in the first place?"
He also adamantly disputes a public perception that Saint Francis and Southeast Missouri Hospital don't work together. Hendrix and Charles Hutson, chairman of the Southeast board, remain the best of friends.
"We communicate all the time," he said. "We both get frustrated with each other, the community and the government. I believe we have some of the best health-care providers in the country right here in Cape Girardeau."
He contends local providers collaborate in many areas. Hendrix points to a recent reception hosted by both hospitals and the Cape Girardeau County medical society and joint recruiting efforts that brought 22 new doctors.
A hospital merger wouldn't be easy, even if the justice department and government were taken out of it.
"We have to go at things step by step," he said. "We can't jump off a bridge, you have to climb down the ladder. Just getting to the point of fully collaborating with each other will take an abundance of patience and understanding on everyone's part."
Gray hairs remain
Hendrix does enjoy the slower pace of retirement, but he misses the hundreds of people he worked with through committees and at the office.
"With the bank, hospital, golf and honey-dos, I keep busy."
Three days on the golf course each week have improved his game, but he wouldn't admit his handicap.
"Then I wouldn't be able to cheat, and nobody would believe it anyway," he teases. "It's a frustrating game. You automatically make friends with anybody else who can stand to be that frustrated."
Is he glad he retired?
Hendrix pauses and looks out at his wooded back yard a moment.
"I think so. Life has sure become a lot simpler and more enjoyable."
But the memories and gray hairs remain.
Robert Hendrix passed away Tuesday, April 6, 2010. His obituary appeared in the April 10, 2010, Southeast Missourian:
Robert Bramblet Hendrix, 77, of Cape Girardeau died at home Tuesday, April 6, 2010, following a lengthy illness.
Robert, known affectionately as Bob, was born Aug. 17, 1932, in Bowling Green, Missouri, to Harvey Robert and Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Bramblett Hendrix. He married the love of his life, Rosemary Holtmeyer, in Washington, Missouri, Jan. 17, 1959.
Bob is survived by Rosemary, his wife of 51 years; four children, Lisa (Mike) Simmons of Cape Girardeau, Lynn (John) Kelly of St. Louis, Lisbeth (Mark) Hostetler of Columbia, Missouri, and Robert (Leann) Hendrix of Cape Girardeau.
Bob and Rosemary were blessed with 18 grandchildren: Ryan, Laura and Caitlin Simmons; Benjamin, Brianna, Sean, Shannon and Mary Therese (deceased) Kelly; Michael, Katherine and Jacob Hostetler; Elaine, Robert, Matthew, Philip, Lydia, Annelise and Cecilia Hendrix.
He was preceded in death by his parents and a granddaughter.
After attending Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served honorably aboard the USS Eldorado during the Korean conflict.
Following his military service, Hendrix became involved in his lifelong career, working for the chamber of commerce. After serving in chamber management positions in Washington, Hannibal and Springfield, Mo., Hendrix was appointed president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce in 1972. He held that position more than 20 years, retiring in 1993.
Bob served 21 years on the board of directors of Saint Francis Medical Center. He served as secretary/treasurer from 1982 to 1984, vice chairman from 1984 to 1991 and chairman from 1991 to 1997. Hendrix was a current board member of Saint Francis Health Development Services Inc. and a member of the Emeritus Board of
Bob was committed to making Cape Girardeau an excellent place to live and served on numerous civic organizations and boards including Cape Lions Club, Vocational-Technical School Board of Directors, Diocesan Development Fund, Cape Business College, Greater Cape Girardeau Development Corp., Cape County Industrial Development Board, Community Industrial Development Fund, First Missouri Development Finance Corp., Southeast Missouri State Marketing Advisory Council, Small Business Administration, Southeast Missouri District Fair Advisory Board, Selective Service Board and AmeriFirst Bank Advisory Board.
Bob was an active and longtime member of St. Mary Cathedral parish and was involved with Cursillo retreats, the marriage preparation program and many other activities.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Ford and Sons Mount Auburn Funeral Home. Parish prayers will be at 7.
Funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary Cathedral.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Mary Cathedral Building Fund or to Saint Francis Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.