Bob Hubbell, community leader, dead at 79

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By Bill Birns
The light dimmed in our community last week. Bob Hubbell died.
For nine decades, Bob Hubbell had been a leader in the community: the baby saved by the doctor’s wife; the fire-keeper at school; the student-leader and Eagle Scout; the pillar of the community who helped lead the hospital, fire departments, Rotary, ambulance squad, and countless community organizations and events.

Robert Burr Hubbell, of the Kelly Corners homestead that bears his family name, died Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 at Albany Medical Center.

Bob was born on December 20, 1933, in Margaretville, the son of Ralph Taylor Hubbell and Inez Lillian Archibald Hubbell.

A premature baby of less than 30 weeks, Bob’s prospects didn’t look good to the delivering physician, Dr. Gordon B. Mauer, who did not think Bob would survive. The doctor’s wife, Polly, thought differently. Polly Maurer swaddled the tiny newborn, and placed him in a shoebox, which she warmed in her wood-stove oven, feeding him with an eyedropper. With her tender care, he miraculously survived.

And Bob was a survivor, in the truest sense of the word. He lost his mother when he was only seven, learned responsibility the hard way. By the time he was in fifth grade, he had full responsibility for keeping the fire burning at the Kelly Corners School.

As a boy, Bob achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and, in so doing, developed a lifelong love of scouting. At age 16, he, the late Glenn Gavette, and several other scouts drove cross-country to a scout jamboree in New Mexico. He continued to serve the Boy Scouts, locally and in the Otschodela Council. He helped clear Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp, now part of Henderson Scout Reservation

A man of faith
Bob was a man of deep faith, who did not wear that faith on his sleeve, but allowed it to guide his positive connections with the many individuals with whom he worked, volunteered and lived. Father Ray Donahue was his great friend and spiritual advisor. They shared a passion for the outdoors, and for a faith based on works. Bob, like “Father D” was always available to lend a hand to any of his many friends.

Bob was a graduate of Margaretville Central School, where he was honored with the coveted Balfour Medal, given annually to a student of high character, community spirit and achievement in high school.

Bob served in the U.S. Army, training at Fort Drum, before being shipped to West Germany as a telegrapher. While in the service, he married Carolyn Rudd, of Ilion, on July 21, 1956 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Carolyn had come to Margaretville as a young teacher. Her mentor, the late Marian Connell, had been Bob’s teacher, and Marian thought the two would make a match.
Carolyn and Bob first set eyes upon each other in the cider-pressing room of Hubbell Brothers. She and Bob cuddled in his hospital bed the other night, last week, when he died.

When Bob returned home from the Army, he continued his education, graduating, in 1959, from the New York State Ranger School in Wanakena. Now a family man with a young child and others soon to arrive, Bob returned to work the family dairy farm, in Kelly Corners, and its associated business, Hubbell Bros. This business continues to this day as Hubbell, Inc., under his son, Rudd.

Margaretville-area outdoorsman, Lee Keator, was a mentor and friend who helped shape Bob’s lifelong love of the outdoors and his passion for environmental conservation. It was the environment, nature, and the outdoors that were Bob’s true home and true calling, and he credited
Lee with planting that seed. It was on a solitary walk outdoors that Bob fell ill two weeks ago.
He was an active dairy farmer until 1966, when his father became ill. At that time, the dairy was terminated. Bob began to actively manage Hubbell Bros., the wide-ranging business founded in the late 1800s by his grandfather, Will Hubbell and his great-uncle, the inventor, Burr Hubbell. Bob continued, on the farm, the traditional calendar of seasonal chores that he so loved. Each spring, he collected, boiled and bottled maple syrup, and each fall he squeezed apples for cider in the ancient cider press at the Hubbell Brothers’ mill. Winters were spent cutting firewood for next year, and hunting meat for the freezer.

Those activities, so central to country life, Bob passed down to his sons, daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He was proud of how his son, Toby, cared for the intricate mechanics of the ancient mill. Sapping and cidering still go on at the Hubbell Place, thanks to “Pa,” as the family called him, lovingly.

Bob was a volunteer fireman, starting in the Halcottsville Fire Department. He was later a member of the Margaretville Fire Department. He was also, for many years, a fire commissioner.
In the mid-1960s he became one of the earliest members of the volunteer ambulance squad in Margaretville. Bob also served on the Board of Directors at Margaretville Memorial Hospital.
A lifelong Democrat, Bob served as an elected councilman on the Middletown Town Board. His politics sometimes caused him trouble. While driving her then-fiancé, Bob, to Ilion to meet her family, Carolyn discovered that he was a Democrat. Being from a prominent Republican family in the Mohawk Valley, she was dumbstruck, fighting the urge to throw him out of the car, luggage and all, and leave him on the side of the road. The initial shock – a Democrat! – simmered down, they were able to reconcile, and their mixed marriage survived his remaining 57 years, each keeping to their respective parties.

Bob was a member of the Middletown Historical Society, and took great pleasure in preserving and sharing the history of the family farm in Kelly Corners. He was a descendent of Richard Hubbell, who arrived in the New World in 1640, and of Enoch Hubbell, a Revolutionary War veteran who settled on what-is-now-called Hubbell Hill.

Milo Hubbell, who settled the family farm where Bob lived and died, served in the War of 1812 at the age of 14. Milo’s son John, Bob’s great-grandfather, became a well-known and well-liked minister of the Old School Baptist Church, ministering at what-is-now-known-as the Old Yellow Church near Stratton Falls, just south of Roxbury.

Bob frequently posed for pictures in an original “Calico Indian” costume from the Anti-Rent war of the 1840s. Sometimes, you could prevail upon Bob to blow the tin-horn of that era, its two-toned blast ringing through the hills, just as it did in the 1840s to gather protesters to the sudden forced-sale of some poor tenant’s livestock and goods, to meet the disputed obligation of overdue rent.
Bob continued to work on the family farm, and in the family business, until 2011, when he first fell ill with a stroke. Working hard to recover, this past spring, he helped son Toby boil his first batches of maple syrup, continuing a tradition now six generations old on the family farm.

Bob loved his community. He loved time in the outdoors: hiking, hunting, fishing. He loved going to Camp 13 at the head of Dry Brook.

Above all he loved his family, especially his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Robert is survived by his wife Carolyn Rudd Hubbell; his children, Robert Burr Hubbell, Agatha Jane Lor, Joseph Rudd Hubbell and life-partner Barbara Taylor, and Ralph Taylor “Toby” Hubbell and wife Becky; grandchildren Ivan, Michael and Justin Lor; Jerrod Hubbell and life-partner Miranda Mead; Peter, Emma, Erin, Kevin, Jake, Casey and Tyler Hubbell; great-granddaughters DeAnna and Taylor, 27 nieces and nephews, and numerous grand-nieces and nephews. He was pre-deceased by his brother. William, and sister, Nancy Finch.

Bob donated his body to medical science, a final act so in keeping with the generous spirit displayed in life to so many. A Requiem Mass will be celebrated at St. James Episcopal Church, in Lake Delaware, this Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at 11 a.m.

Bob made another last wish, that friends not send flowers, but instead support two groups and causes close to his heart. He asked that memorial contributions be made to the Otschodela Council, Boy Scouts of America, 6134 Route 23, Oneonta, NY 13820 or to The Historical Society of the Town Of Middletown, P.O. Box 734, Margaretville, NY 12455.