Bob Beach was born in 1926 in Bemidji, Minnesota and grew up in Guthrie Center watching his father run a chain of stores, Beach’s Five and Dime, during the depression. Bob learned a lot of lessons from his family growing up. He watched his dad partner with the community and this is where Bob’s entire philosophy for his life’s work became ingrained.
Bob left Guthrie Center and served in the US Navy from 1944-1946 on an LST ship picking up troops from the islands in the South Pacific. Bob was a radio man monitoring the navy channel.
Bob returned to Eastern Iowa and worked a year with his father at the Five and Dime and soon ended up at the Iowa State Teacher’s College, now known as the University of Northern Iowa. Because he enrolled into the college a bit later than the normal student, Bob was left searching for housing, as all the student housing was full. He was sent in the direction of T. Wayne Davis, a fellow veteran who had a room for rent. This meeting may have been a pivotal moment, as Bob never left Cedar Falls and struck a lasting relationship with T. Wayne Davis. In addition to a room, Mr. Davis also offered employment for Bob while going to school at Latta’s Bookstore near the campus.
Bob graduated from UNI 1951 with a BA in Business Education and an opportunity to continue to work at the bookstore. He served many capacities and has received many honors. Bob was deeply involved with the National Association of College Stores Member from 1948 until his retirement from the University Book & Supply in 1995.
While leading the bookstore, Bob firmly believed he needed to be the partner, if not mediator, between the college, students, College Hill Businesses and the City of Cedar Falls. He was compelled to make the Hill and the University a better place to be, which drove his passion for improving relations with the faculty, the city and numerous improvements to the campus. Bob was the middleman between town and gown. He became involved in fundraising efforts for the Campanile, the UNI Dome, Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, and the McLeod Center. In fact, nearly every building on campus has Bob’s fingerprints on it somewhere as Bob has been a consistent hum in the background of numerous community projects.
Bob’s progressive mindset credits his as one of the first bookstores in the nation to introduce computers to order books in order to maximize efficiency. Additionally, when the store remodeled, he made sure to adjust the floor plan to accommodate for peak student traffic flow and to draw in more customers to the hill and build notoriety, Bob bought a double decker bus and held black tie events at the store.
Jerry Harris, COO of Western Home Communities recalls his first day on campus as a student. He headed to the bookstore as an incoming freshman football player for UNI, a bit behind in securing his books for class. He went to the basement to search for his books and struck up a conversation with a gentleman working the shelves. Come to find out, it was Bob himself who essentially took a vested interest in Jerry and ultimately became a tremendous mentor for him. “Bob is one of those guys who can tell if you are searching for something, He is observant, a keen listener and can read people and provide advice and insight that would not otherwise come to light.
Bobs leadership allowed people to be themselves and has helped to make the Cedar Valley a better place to live. Bob’s legacy is to have fun, enjoy life and do what you can to make other peoples lives better.