Robert Singer

Family Life: Bob Singer is a true born and bred local boy from Chicago. His grandparents immigrated to Chicago from Eastern Europe in the early 1900’s. His parents’ first family home was a red brick bungalow on the river’s edge of the North Branch of the Chicago River in Albany Park. “I was the youngest in a family of five brothers. My parents ran a family sporting goods business just blocks away from our home.” When he was 5, the Singer family moved to Wilmette to take advantage of the better school system In New Trier Township. “I more or less grew up in a suburban bubble not having any concerns about city life. Starting in the summer he turned 9, he use to ride the CTA Linden Ravenswood lines by myself between Wilmette to join the rest of my family working in the family business. The business had 2 retail stores (Albany Park & Skokie) and institutional warehouse. Besides typical retail sporting goods it had a robust business selling uniforms and a broad range of sports equipment to schools, park districts, and pro shops. My family was also the original pro shop manager of the East Bank Club. Bob had a variety of odd skills when he started high school. By age 10 he was engraving trophies; by 12 he was heat pressing lettering and emblems on team uniforms; by 14 he was sharpening ice skates. It was a mom and pop business and my brother’s and I were expected to contribute.” Gay Head Start: Even though being raised with too many brothers and with sports being a large part of what was discussed around the family dinner table, Bob feels he was a typical gay kid growing up. He jokingly says he created his own Gay Head Start curriculum. “I participated in Wilmette Community Theater from ages 9-14 including a musical variety show called the Wilmette Park Troopers. He also was one of the lead roles in The Romancers which was the original non-musical version of The Fantasticks. His biggest role was when he was cast as the eldest prince in the King and I. Bob was also involved in choral singing from junior high all the way through college. “I attended New Trier West High School which was only three blocks from home. He wasn't athletic and like many gay kids felt very threatened going to gym class. Other boys challenged me. “What's wrong with you that you don't like sports and your father is in the business?” But he found a way to get out of gym class. He became an athletic trainer. Athletic Trainers are the nerdy guys who provided first aid at the football, soccer, wrestling and basketball games. Now the jocks needed him because he was the guy wrapping their sprained ankle and controlled access to the whirlpool and the Gatorade. The gay taunting more or less ended because the guys who were the biggest bullies now acted like they were his friends. With a sly eyes, Bob said ”And it did not bother me a bit having all these good looking high school friends”. Coming out: Being raised with four older brothers, Bob has always been most comfortable with being a part of a large group of guys. He has always gravitated to being a part of a male clique whether it is in choral singing or during college years in my fraternity. He pledged Zeta Beta Tau which was the largest fraternity at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana while he was still a senior in high school. That summer before his freshman year of college, Bob had an unorthodox coming out moment. He did not come out to his parents. His parents came out to him. Bob is still unsure if his parents listened in on a phone conversation or read a letter but it was high drama. His dad invited me to go out for a walk with him. He asked if Bob if he was gay. When they got back to the house, Dad looked at my mother and nodded his head yes. His mother must have just put on makeup. Bob still has the sight engrained into his conscious of his mother’s black tears rolling down her cheeks. Bob spent the summer going to a psychologist to get straighten out but as you all know now – that was a waste of his parents’ money. His parents stated that they were happy he already pledged in a fraternity because there would be over 180 eyes on anything Bob was going to do. So Bob’s closet was filled with irony – the hard part was done - he was out to his parents. Yet he had spent his freshman year of college with all these gorgeous fraternity brothers and profoundly fearful of being found out. At 19, Singer heard about a gay help line on the radio. It was run by Horizons which was a forerunner of the Center on Halsted. He called to find out if there was a place where gays from the North Shore suburbs can go to meet other gays. Guess what – there wasn’t any such place. Instead they directed him to the most northern gay hotspot in 1977. It was me a private club on the north side called Mans Country. They said Bob needed to come in to Horizons on Oakdale to pick up a letter of introduction to get me in. Bob thought that all sounded pretty fancy. When he arrived at the Horizon offices all eyes were upon him - a 19 year old suburban twink with curly hairy. One volunteer said he was going to Man's Country himself that night and would give Bob’s personal introduction. Once there, his new found friend offered to give Bob a private tour. Yes, you guessed it. Dressed only in towels the very friendly guide blocked Bob in a stairway and pushed for sex. Bob shoved past him and explored on his own. He made friends that night and on many other nights. It was a perfect place for me. He felt safe there because he did not have to go home with anyone. He ended up meeting friends his age that went to Northwestern whom took him out to the gay discos and bars. Yep – He was out! Way out! The biggest dilemma was to dress disco enough for the Bistro yet appear masculine enough for the Gold Coast. Guess who had access to all sorts of sports gear? Yes – for once Bob appreciated his family’s sporting goods business.” There was no putting this genie back I the bottle. When the school year started again at U of I, the social pressure from his fraternity brothers required him to date women. He is not proud of this but he would take a girl out on a date at 8PM and kiss her good night by 10:30PM. By 11PM, I was dancing at the local Champaign gay bar to Village People. Career “I was already thinking ahead of how my being gay would affect career. I wanted skills which would be transferable in case I was fired for being gay”. While at University of Illinois he completed a Bachelors in Accounting and then earned an MBA with an emphasis in informational technology (I/T). His first job out of school was at Arthur Andersen & Co as an I/T consultant. After three years there, he accepted a technical position at the Quaker Oats Co where he raised through the management ranks to a senior management position in Information Strategic Planning. Bob became a gay activist at work. He represented Arthur Andersen in a Chicago based gay business consortium called Out at Work. At Quaker Oats, Bob formed the employee LGBT affinity group called A Safe Place. A Safe Place pushed for employee benefit equity and AIDS awareness. Bob is most proud of spear heading the first Quaker corporate office Pride celebration as well successfully enacting both LGBT employee and HIV non discrimination policies. Within two years of forming A Safe Place, Bob also spear headed a program called Walk the Walk – Talk the Talk with senior management sponsorship. This program initiated Quaker Oats first participation in AIDS Walk (12th largest corporate team). It also initiated HIV Awareness Training which was made available at all plants, distribution centers and sales offices. During the National AIDS Awareness Month portions of the AIDS quilt was display in the corporate lobby at Quaker Tower. “I made positive trouble in order to force change. The Chicago Tribune ran an article on Bob's LGBT employee fairness efforts on the front page of the business section. Relationships and Caretaking Bob has had three partners. “My first partner, Harry, lived with me in Champaign while I went to grad school. The relationship lasted 2 ½ years but ended due to Harry’s substance abuse issues. My second relationship lasted over 8 years with David who was truly a life partner. David died due to complications brought on by HIV in 1993. I was honored to be his caretaker. David final wish was to have his ashes scattered on all the continents he had not been to during his life. This wish initiated Bob’s love of travel prompting him to go to Antarctica, South America and Europe. David left Bob financially comfortable so he was able to retire at an early age. He spent the better part of 10 years care taking David, both his parents and his middle brother, Neal. At that point, he had spent 25% of his life helping someone whom he loved pass. This, of course, changes you. Through those losses and being a caretaker, my social network had disintegrated and I had to rebuild my life. Identifying with the Bear community was a big part of that healing. I was fortunate enough to have one more relationship that lasted another 6 years. Jimmy was the perfect cub. They enjoyed 4 years together in Chicago before Jimmy had a job opportunity to move back to his hometown which happened to be Champaign-Urbana. . This doomed their relationship when Jimmy felt the need to return back to the closet. With them living together in Champaign, Jimmy was now once again was surrounded by his high school friends and family.” Bob moved back to Chicago after trying to make it work for two more years in Champaign Passions Bob has been single now for the past 8 years. His passion is split between volunteering and traveling. Since grad school, Bob has always has put his energy into social justice causes including multiple years of volunteer time at Howard Brown, Open Hand, Horizons, Chicago House, and Inspiration Corporation. Bob has spent the better part of the last ten years volunteering at the National Runaway Safeline (NRS) (WWW.1800RUNAWAY.ORG) as a crisis line volunteer. That had tp end with Covid isolation requirements. Bob has been looking for an appropriate replacement. He now is a member of the Howard Brown Community Advisory Council. Pre-covid, Bob’s travels had him away from home for over a third of the year. Most of his travel is enjoyed with on cruises with dear Bear friends who refer to themselves the Gang of Eight. Recently they have rechristened themselves the Gang of Ate, in homage to the cruise ship buffets. Over the years Bob has been to all seven continents and to over 75 countries. Bob other interests include going to museums, he enjoys ethnic restaurants, he works out at his building’s gym 3+ times a week, his Fitbit goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day, and absorbs all he can on Chicago history & architecture. He is very politically engaged on progressive issues and watches Rachel Maddow every night.. When Bob turned 60, he joined both SAGE at the Center on Addison and Chicago Prime Timers in an effort to broaden his social network. When meeting someone new, Bob enjoys meeting for coffee or likes to have dinner out somewhere he hasn't been before. He also likes theater, musicals, and concerts. Bob likes to focus his energy on experiencing things that are out of the ordinary. He even put it into a life mantra . Bob’s life goal is to make as many happy memories as possible for me and the people he cares about most – both family and friends. So be forewarned – expect the unexpected.

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