Food Bank Founder Bob Randels Dies at 72
We were talking the other day about the young people who were once counter-culture protesters of the 1960’s, and how so many did a complete about-face from the ideals they once embraced and became completely different adults. For many, the price of those ideals was just too steep or it was too hard to follow that path. Then you meet someone like Bob Randels, who figured out a way to hold on to those things, adapt them to the times and truly make a difference in the world. Bob Randels, who died on September 14th at the age of 72, made a monumental difference in our community.
Randels started the Food Bank of South Central Michigan back in 1982 when they weren’t even a thing. He retired in 2014.
Arlene Tannis remembered those early years of the Food Bank.
“Back when I was still fairly new in radio I met a man that was trying to help people by starting a food bank of sorts out of his garage. He wanted to feed those in need in the community or in as many communities as he could. He contacted me somehow, at the radio stations I was working at (back then WKFR & WKNR in Battle Creek) and we started brainstorming about publicity and public service and possibilities. Over the years, Bob Randels created and developed the Food Bank here in Calhoun County that now serves many counties in this part of Michigan and feeds tens of thousands in need. Back in the early 80s, I'm sure even he didn't realize that his one step at a time efforts would snowball into an organization that helps food pantries, churches, other non-profit groups and individuals with food needs in multiple counties and even reaching out to food banks across the country.”
Randels’ son, David, posted a wonderful tribute on Tuesday night that says it all, and he gave us permission to share it here.
“My father passed away this morning. We are overwhelmed with heavy grief and sadness, and my head is still spinning at the awful and relentless rapidity of it all. He was a good man. A good man in the most critical and important sense of the term. Good in the sense that he accomplished all the most important functions of a life—being a husband, father, grandpa, brother, friend, and more— piece by piece with care, gentleness, and thoughtfulness. But also good in the sense that the idea of ‘doing good’ “and ‘working for good’ shaped his life’s work and his commitments.
He dedicated his professional life to projects that one would be hard pressed to find alternative forms of making a living more pressing for the world we find ourselves in. How many of us wake each morning knowing that we are off to the office to do something more important and good than battle the suffering brought by hunger in our community?
Dad found the very existence of children living in hunger intolerable. Which of course it is. No rationalization or argument could be mounted to justify anyone of us having a good night’s sleep in a country with so much, while so many of our children suffer unnecessarily. He worked for decades—with great success—trying to convince the rest of us of this simple and self-evident equation.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to hear so many of the thoughtful and heartfelt reflections from so many of you who knew him. As his son, I could not be prouder of this good man. I needed to tell him that more. I know that now too late.
He had so many tools in his tool bag, many of them seemingly supernatural in their capacity. He was a creative at heart—something I think that was fostered by his mother, a teacher. But unlike so many creatives, he was also equipped with a fine-tuned strategic, tactical, logistical and ‘get-things-done’ mind to put a plan in motion and see an idea through. So much of this approach I assume he learned from his own father, a superintendent.
As so many of you who knew him have shared with me over the last couple of days, so often these plans and the final realization of the idea would be accomplished by a legion of talented and smart volunteers gleaned from all walks of life. For decades, he marshaled teams of organizers and partners, working throughout the community, doing good on their own terms. Sure, because Bob had asked, but also because THEY needed it.
As his friend told me yesterday, Dad saw himself as the opener of doors that people already wanted to go through.
He was simply giving people the opportunity to be the good they desperately needed. In this way, those legions of workers, fed the hungry, eased suffering, and made good.
To me, he was my Dad—persistent in his effort to, in the same way described above, open the doors for his son and encourage me, through his love, to walk through and be good, too. Oh, how lost I will be without that.
My hope is that we will be reminded—and remind each other—how important it is to walk through those doors that lead us to the better versions of ourselves and the better versions of our communities. I hope we will learn from him that we need a great deal more impatience and intolerance for the most inexplicable forms of suffering we encounter. Mostly I hope I can be as good as he was.”
Tannis put it very well when she wrote, “I am reflecting on a man with one of the finest souls you'd want to meet. A truly good man. His family has my sympathy and our community should aspire to the example he set forth. It was a privilege knowing him.”
I always looked forward to seeing Bob Randels at the Cereal Festival, displaying the “Empty Bowls” created by people in our community to raise a little money, but mostly to be a symbol of the work our community still has to do. It didn’t matter if your politics differed, Bob was always genuine, and always the same. He was one of those people you walked away from wanting to be more like him.