Hearts in the Archives are sad today. We received news that over the weekend one of our volunteers, in fact our longest-serving volunteer, passed away this past Saturday. Bob Semler, pictured on the left of the table, was 88 years old. He had been working as a volunteer here in the Archives since 1992. Every Tuesday, Bob would arrive just after the rest of the staff, coffee in hand, and claim his spot at the table. Gathering his favorite go-to books and the next boxes and folders of his current project, he would settle in and spend the majority of the day doing what he loved – identifying aircraft.
Working here in the Archives was just one of the many experiences Bob had in his long life. Born in Osborn, Ohio, in 1923, he lived here in the area for most of his life. After graduating from Osborn-Bath High School (now Fairborn) in 1941, Bob worked at nearby Wright Field for just over a year before entering military service in February 1943 in the Army Air Corps. While in the service, Bob attended radio school and gunnery school and was eventually assigned to the 89th troop carrier group while in the States. Eventually sent to the southwest Pacific, Bob was then assigned to the 2nd combat cargo group, 6th squadron. He returned to the U.S. and was discharged in February 1946. He returned to work at what became Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he spent 37 years working as an equipment specialist.
In addition to his love of aircraft, Bob was also an avid photographer, working a long second career as a local sports and wedding photographer. Purchasing his first camera when his son was born, Bob began taking pictures of quarter midget racing and other local sporting events. By 1957, he had started photographing events, especially sports, as a stringer for the local paper, the Daily Herald. In 1959, he added weddings to his repertoire, as well as other local events including the Boy Scouts, Booster Club, Eastern Star, and flower shows. He received many honors from local schools and organizations for his service and the thousands of photographs he took during his lifetime.
Following his retirement from WPAFB in December 1978 and the newspaper by August 1979, Bob hardly slowed down. He was a member of the American Legion Post #526, the Friends of the National Museum of the U.S.A.F, and of the Waco Historical Society. He was a long-time member of our very own Huffman Prairie Aviation History Society, a group of aviation enthusiasts who gather on the first Monday of every month to talk aviation history. We could always count on Bob’s friendly face in the audience at those events.
Bob’s contributions to the Archives were immense. Thousands upon thousands of photographs here in the Archives bear his pencil identifications of aircraft type and engine make. Researchers will long benefit from the untold hours he spent making our collections richer in detail. When Bob started here, he was part of a larger group of volunteers who would often tell as many stories as photographs they identified. We were fortunate to have them around as long as we did and to benefit from their lifetime of experiences as they shared their company, their stories, their expertise, and their friendship with us. We thank their families for sharing them with us for all those years, and we extend our deepest sympathies to Bob’s family and friends at his passing.
Tuesdays in the Archives just won’t be the same around here.