Robert Rost (Bob) Reese, of Geneseo, died June 22, at the age of 87. But he left behind a legacy that made him a renowned figure, not just locally, but across America, and around the world. Born in Moline IL, Bob took an early interest, inspired by his father, in the shooting sports. After years of persistence, and countless hours of practice, Bob earned the distinction of becoming the junior champion of trap shooting in North America at the age of seventeen. Bob married his wife Carol (Schillinger) June 25, 1951, in Geneseo. Shortly thereafter, Bob left for Santa Barbara County, CA to serve in the United States Army National Guard.The Reese's returned to the family farm, in rural Colona, to manage a 400 acre property with his father after Bob's military discharge. The farm was bustling with corn and soybeans, cattle, hogs, and chickens. Bob would later introduce his sons Denny, Dave, and Tom to agriculture, but also to his greatest passions- firearms, military items, and all things patriotic and representative of freedom. Bob's big break in the Army Surplus business, which would later lead to opening a store in Geneseo, came during the Vietnam War. When Bob learned the US Army at Rock Island Arsenal needed 20,000 BAR machine gun parts and 20,000 magazines to equip the troops, he sprung into action. Having already filled his barns at the farm with a large stock of military vehicles, gun parts, and surplus weapons, he had a jump start to fill the order. Once he did, it would lead to many more opportunities to arm American servicemen and women. 1974 would be a huge year in gun manufacturing and Reese family history. Bob would mortgage the farm to purchase the rights and business of Springfield Armory (which had closed in 1968), that had been founded in Springfield, MA, by George Washington in 1794. The company is famous for internationally known firearms like the Springfield 1903 Rifle, the Springfield 1911 Pistol, and the M1 Garand. Gen. George Patton would call the Garand the "greatest battle implement ever devised." Bob would open the business, with his wife and sons, on Route 6 in Geneseo where it stands and thrives today under the leadership of Denny Reese. The Henry County Republic conducted an interview with Tom Reese, 61, Bob’s youngest son, who retired in 2014 after 40 years with Springfield Armory. Here is an edited transcript, compiled with help from Tom’s wife, Jane: What is the most important life lesson your dad taught you?
I had the privilege of spending so much time with my dad. I, of course, grew up with him, but as an adult I lived near him, we played together, and we worked together every day.
I learned from just watching him and being with him during all those years how to be a good person. He showed me through his words, but also through his actions, that it is so important to always treat people with kindness and respect- to treat everyone how he would like to be treated.
I learned from my dad how to be a husband. He always treated my mom like she was the most important and special person in his life. Dad showed me how to be a father- I learned that spending time with children is the most important thing in raising good people.
Dad showed me that sometimes the most effective form of discipline was letting me know how my actions had disappointed him, rather then harsh words or strict consequences.
What was your dad’s greatest talent?
I think his greatest talent was his ability to read and understand and communicate with people. He loved taking young people under his wing, and guiding them not only through business situations but really through life. His people skills helped him in all aspects of his life- with his personal relationships as well as his business dealings.
What were your dad’s favorite things to do?
My dad loved everything related to guns. He was interested in how they worked. He was interested in their history. He LOVED shooting. Dad always had a fine appreciation for super accurate long range sniper rifles. He assembled one of the most complete military sniper rifle collections in the world.
He hunted and fished on his Colona farm, and all over the world. He was one step from completing the Grand Slam of North America in hunting. He had legally harvested 26 of 29 marked big game animals around the continent, even though he did not start this quest until his 50's. He shared that love with my mom and acted as her number one hunting guide as she hunted all over the world as well. Dad always made sure mom got the best and first shot, at the biggest animals.
My dad introduced me and my brothers to dirt bikes, we all raced off road dirt bikes together. He treated himself to a real Swedish racing dirt bike, a 1974 450Husqvarna. He was so proud of that machine and really loved it.
But mostly dad loved spending time with his friends and family. He was always so cheerful and fun. He told the best stories.What did your dad teach you about how to run a successful business? I remember hearing from dad and grandpa, TW Reese, that a person doesn’t always have to be the smartest guy in the room to succeed. The best thing to do is to always surround oneself with good, intelligent, hardworking people and trust them enough to let them do their jobs.
What did your dad like about Geneseo and why did he build his business here?
Dad was born and raised in this area. I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to go anywhere else. This is where his family was, where his friends were- it was home.
Dad liked the people- he knew their work ethic, their morals and values, and again, many were friends and family. Dad loved Green Machine Football. He played, he enjoyed watching me play, Some of my very best memories were watching my son Tommy's football career with my dad.
Anything you would like to add?
My dad was a magnificent, wonderful man. He was so very intelligent and innovative and hard working. I think he meant so much to a lot of people. I am the person I am today because of the opportunities he gave me and the lessons he taught me.
My dad had the bluest eyes, the biggest smile, really cool side burns, an awesome cowboy hat and cool, cool sunglasses
It is such an honor and a privilege to be his son. (End of Interview).
Son Dave Reese, and wife Colleen, followed in Bob’s footsteps with the Army Surplus business and running the family farm in Hanna Township. The life and accomplishments of Robert Reese continue through all the lives he changed and touched in his 87 years on earth.
(Editor’s Note: An obituary was submitted by the family and ran in the June 28 Republic.)