My Generation

Bob: Just a Great Teacher

What’s the mark of a great teacher? In Bob Siebrecht, it’s a teacher who can see in his students what they cannot see in themselves.

The Illinois agricultural communications world is a small one. It’s kind of like a family. And a good share of that family is mourning the loss today of a wonderful friend and mentor, Bob Siebrecht. Bob died earlier this week, the result of a sudden illness. He was 59.

Bob was one of two Bobs and a Gerry who made up the ag communications faculty at the University of Illinois, during my tenure in the mid-‘90s. Bob Siebrecht, Bob Hays and Gerry Walter.

Bob Siebrecht – or Smokin’ Bob as we liked to call him, because he was just that cool – was our Illini ACT advisor, which meant that he came to a lot of late-night meetings which seemed like a good idea to a handful of sleep-deprived college students. But he never complained. I think that’s because he really liked students. And he loved teaching.

Bob taught AGCOM240 (as it was called back then), which was a highly-sought-after photography class. We learned not just the fundamentals of camera operation, but also how to navigate a darkroom, developing film and making prints. In short, Bob and his class took me - a scraggly southern Illinois farm girl who always did like to take pictures - and showed me the world of Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Walker Evans. He taught us to look for the beauty in the great rural American Midwest. He took us to Chicago and taught us to shoot in the city, and to soak up the Museum of Art.

Bob was as laid back as they come, but he had a way of getting things done.

When I came back to the University of Illinois campus for my senior year of college, I was completely fired up about going to this meeting of the American Ag Editors Association. I was sure I needed to go, because a) one of the people I worked with that summer said I should go; b) it was in Chicago and that’s really so close to Champaign; and c) the same guy who said I should go also said it would be a great place to find a job. Who needs another reason?

When another student and I shared this idea with Bob, he nodded, smiled and told us he “could probably get us some funds for that.” I have no idea where or how he kept this secret fund, but he pulled the money from it and sent us off to Chicago. While I was there, I met Mike Wilson, had an interview and within a month, had a job offer at Prairie Farmer.

So Bob? He’s pretty much responsible for my career here.

I will miss his emails, full of quiet wit and charm. I will miss hearing future students tell tales of Bob in the Classroom. I will miss his quiet way of skirting the campus bureaucracy and getting the job done. Indeed, the ag comm community has lost a good man, and a great teacher.

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