Bob Rolfe remains active in his home west of Champion and will celebrate his 100th birthday Monday, Aug. 7. (Johnson Publications photo)

Bob Rolfe’s experiences many over past 100 years

    For Bob Rolfe of Champion, Monday will mark one of many milestones in his life. But this won’t be just any milestone—it will be the day Rolfe turns 100.
    From his home on the south bank of a dry Frenchman Creek bed west of Champion, Rolfe reflected on a vast array of experiences accumulated over the last 100 years.
    Perhaps the first question might be how a natural-born Canadian citizen ended up spending the last 44 years in Chase County.
    It’s really about a love story that has spanned the last 74 years.
    Rolfe met the love of his life, Ann Pugh, while working at Northrop in California during World War II.
    Ann grew up northeast of Imperial on her father’s ranch. After graduating from high school, she did what a lot of people did in those days—take off for the big city and bright lights in California.
    Bob remembers that Ann worked in his department. Even after he was transferred to another assignment, “I kept my eye on her,” he said earlier this week.
    Seventy-four years ago, on July 3, they tied the knot. Bob remembers he got the day off but went right back to work the next day. The war was going on and Northrop was a big player in supplying planes to the military.
    Bob was a test engineer for Northrop’s experimental planes. He logged thousands of hours in the air, recording flight data.
    Much of his efforts were spent on the development of Northrop’s P-61 Black Widow.
    It was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-tail design that made its first test flight in May 1942, with the first production aircraft rolling off the assembly line in October 1943.
    Rolfe said he was ready to go into the military but he was excused due to the important civilian work he was doing for the Army Air Force.
    While not a veteran per se, Rolfe said he’s proud of the work he did to serve his country in a time of war.
    His flying days ended when his sinuses exploded from the pressure at 18,000 feet.
    After the war, Rolfe remained with Northrop, taking  new assignments that moved him from military base to military base.  
    The couple raised four children, Mary Lynn, James, Susan and Roberta and that meant moving them, as well.
    Since he hadn’t served directly in the military during the war, he said he and his family could endure the moves, compared to what soldiers accomplished in the war.
    The longest they stayed in any one place was about three years.
    His final assignment took him to Iran, then an ally of the U.S.
    His job was to help them develop a system to design, build and test planes for the formation of their own air force.         As the head of the program, he said Ann was forced to act as an emissary for the company and hosted many parties in their home.
    During his stint there, Rolfe even met the Shah of Iran, who was later deposed by radicals in the country.
Back to Chase County
    In March 1973, he and Ann left the rat race behind and moved back to their 40 acres Bob had purchased the year before.
    There, with the help of his architect son, they built the retirement home of Bob’s dreams.
    Bob said he relished the quiet of nature he experienced on his little farmstead, far away from the hustle and bustle of stress-filled career with Northrop.
    Bob immersed himself in local activities, organizations and causes.
    He was a champion for the elderly, serving as a member of the Silver-Haired Legislature, the Nebraska Council on Aging and the Federal Commission on Aging in 1995.
    He helped to establish services of AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) in Nebraska.
    He also became a Master Mason with the Masonic  Lodge in Imperial and was a member of
Toastmasters.
 

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