WILMINGTON — When Bob McNemar was a college student, he and his father and brother came down with tuberculosis and Bob spent months in bed in recovery. His father and brother, however, died of tuberculosis.
Happily Bob turned 100 on Thursday, and will be the guest of honor at an open house this Sunday, Feb. 19 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Cambridge dining room on the first floor in the independent living section at Ohio Living Cape May, Wilmington.
He was born in a house on Truesdell Street in Wilmington and was a member of the Wilmington High School Class of 1935, a graduation class that included Nathan Hale who became a surgeon in town.
As a senior in high school, McNemar began writing small stories for the Wilmington News Journal. He had become a substitute carrier for the News Journal when he was 11, and later worked as a “printer’s devil” in the composing room the summer of 1933, and worked in the newspaper office in the evenings during high school prior to his start in news writing.
He continued in the news department through college, and went full-time in 1941 when he received a bachelor’s degree from Wilmington College. He was editor of the News Journal from July 1953 until January 1957, and would be a newspaperman all his working life, retiring in 1983.
McNemar got into newspaper work early, did well and liked it, said his son Donald McNemar, a former president of Guilford College in North Carolina who now teaches international relations at Bentley University near Boston.
“He really saw journalism as sort of a community service. He wasn’t in the investigative journalism. He was very much, ‘We need to cover this because people in the community want to know about this’,” Donald said this week.
For example, Bob covered the Clinton County Fair extensively, taking photographs of the youth who won awards for their livestock projects. According to Donald, his father would explain that the parents looked for their children’s names in the paper.
But furthermore, Bob saw it as a service, “sort of community building. How does the paper help the community be a healthy place and people supporting one another and sharing information and so on?” said Donald.
Bob wrote news stories and took photographs with a big camera.
“He turned a small closet off of our bathroom into his darkroom, so he would develop pictures right there at home,” recalled the son.
After leaving the News Journal, Bob was editor at the Xenia Gazette for 13 years, spent nearly 10 years with the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, Kentucky, and then was the first editor at a new weekly newspaper in Mount Sterling, Kentucky for three years before retiring.
He has donated many of the photo negatives from his newspaper work to the Clinton County Historical Society and the Xenia Library.
Upon retirement in 1983, Bob and his wife Kathryn Hunt McNemar returned to Wilmington. They met at Wilmington College.
Donald is the only one of Bob and Kathryn’s four children who survives. Two died of cancer and one in an accident.
Bob’s longevity may have several sources, said Donald. Bob’s mother lived to be 92, so genetics could be a factor.
Bob has stayed active, giving up his car two years ago and his bicycle five years ago. Bob began walking about a mile every morning in Sugar Grove Cemetery when he was 83 — after wife Kathryn passed away.
Donald thinks the contributing factors to his father’s long lifespan could include the regular walking, and his father staying involved and engaged through activities that help people.
Among other things, he has been an active member of the downtown Wilmington Friends Meeting including being a part of its Quaker Breaker moving crew, has served on the Quaker Knoll Camp Board, served on the Mental Health Board, and delivered Meals on Wheels.
He wrote and prepared for printing the Wilmington Yearly Meeting of Friends centennial book.
As a newspaper writer, photographer and an editor, Bob saw the newspaper person’s role as contributing to the community, and helping honor and recognize people and build up their successes and encourage them, said Donald.
Bob’s attitude and practice, said his son, can be described this way: “The press is here to make our town better, and that’s what he tried to do.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.