Robert Irwin Wald was born in Kansas City, MO with his twin brother William to a talented piano teacher and Mother Gertrude Lee (Shackelford) Wald. She was an acclaimed concert pianist and recording artist that led many sessions at the Aspen Music Festival and who successfully taught piano to a great number of Brookside area students (including her grandchildren) on her two gigantic concert Grand pianos. His deep love for classical music came from many years of listening to his Mother playing the most subtle Beethoven and Chopin concertos.
Robert’s early childhood was spent in Kansas City with his other siblings Richard+, Barbara+, William+, and Joanne his sole remaining sister. From his childhood to late teens Robert resided in Pasadena, CA with his Mother and Father Gerhardt Anton (“GA”) Wald until GA’s untimely death May 28, 1937 in a LA auto accident. Upon GA’s passing, Gertrude brought the children back to the Kansas City Brookside area where GA had two houses constructed for them.
In the 1920’s GA’s closest relatives founded the All Nations Flag Company and Wald Fireworks Company. This latter company resided underneath the old Broadway Bridge until the city forced its move East of Kansas City. For many years Robert took his sons to Uncle Jerry where gigantically huge boxes of overflowing fireworks were brought home for the neighbors’ amusement and the eventful neighborhood bottle rocket wars.
Faith: Robert’s devotion to his Roman Catholic faith called him to be a St. Ann’s parishioner for almost 60 years. Robert served as a Greeter, Lector, and Eucharistic Minister over his years, participating weekly in early morning perpetual Eucharistic Adoration at Holy Cross for many years. On his deathbed he stated his most important lifetime achievement was this hour of deep prayer with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the numerous miracles that accompanied and flowed from these visits. He was man of heroic virtue with “clean hands and pure heart”; in his 30s he prayed the Liturgy of the Hours using the Small Breviary with John F. Huhmann (a future Monsignor) while pondering his Priestly vocation. His true vocation blossomed as the spiritual Father of our family. He was a long-time member of the Serra Club of Kansas City in Kansas dedicated to religious vocations and served as their Secretary for several years. Many wonderful meetings were spent with son/member Robert Gray discussing their shared faith while driving to/from the meetings.
Family: Robert first met his wife Helen Jane Gray through his Brother William and Gray relatives across the street, and their lifelong marriage lasted over 54 years in Prairie Village, KS. They received a Papal Blessing from Pope Benedict XVI for their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012. Helen Jane and Robert gave birth to two boys in the 1960’s, Robert Gray Wald and Theodore Lee Wald. Both children attended Saint Ann’s Grade School and Bishop Miege High School as a result of the couple’s dedication to their faith coupled with excellent management of funds from his full commission sales salary; their entire life has been about “delayed gratification”. Both children graduated from Kansas State University on engineering scholarships and then graduated with MS degrees from other prestigious graduate engineering programs.
Robert Gray married Susan Lynn Wrobleski (Pittsburgh, PA) in 1997 and have two children Kate Elizabeth Jade Wald (14) and Harrison Robert Tong Wald (12). Theodore Lee married Azuhana Binti Azid (“Anna “, Penang Island, Malaysia) in 2001 and have three children Faris Irwin Wald (13), Ian Ryan Wald (8), and Alisha Riana Wald (5). The grandchildren remember “Tokwan”—the name they called him as Grandfather—as “being a powerful presence in their lives”, “being really nice”, that he “listened (to them) intently”, and “called to make sure home work was performed daily”.
Memorable family vacations in the Caprice Estate station wagon included Tombstone, Big Sur, Juarez, Phoenix, Omaha, Flagstaff, Houston, and Padre Island. Robert was a very reluctant international traveler and had to be pushed to go to Malaysia for Theodore and Anna’s wedding and to Europe to visit Robert Gray and Susan twice.
He and Helen Jane loved to hand out Halloween candy to hundreds of kids, attend their grandchildren’s sports and scouting events and savor his sirloin steaks and hamburgers cooked to perfection on his grill.
School and Military: During his senior year at Southwest High School in Kansas City, MO, Robert followed his older brothers Richard and William by enlisting into Naval Service to support the WWII effort. He was fully trained as a Morse code communicator as the second seat in the very fast HB-2C Helldiver dive bomber. Prior to deployment, 2-way radios were introduced that forced retraining and the Atomic Bombs were detonated, thankfully preventing him from the planned Japanese invasion. Dad always said the dropping of the two A-bombs on Japan kept his brothers and himself alive. In 1946 Robert was honorably discharged and returned to Southwest High School to complete his senior year, playing Offensive Guard on the MO state championship football team. Ironically he missed the state final game when he was bit by a black widow spider while cleaning out his Mother’s garage; his teammates called him the “amazing spider man”. Robert organized monthly lunches at Johnny’s up to his death where the team discussed Coach House and their teams’ deeds of lore. Robert completed a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Missouri in 1952 and was a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity.
Work: Out of high school Robert worked with teammate Bob Closser at the IXL cattle ranch in central Wyoming for the hardest summer he ever worked. He began working at Pittsburgh Plate Glass then at Macy’s in downtown KC where he was a buyer for their bedding department. From this expertise and the explosive demand for home furnishings, he had a successful 45-year career as a professional interior decorator and furniture salesman at Pilgrim House/Traditional House Furniture in Prairie Village then as a furniture sales manager in North KC. The thing that he said set him apart was his “willingness to go into homes” and assess the current and future envisioned state, create a plan with diagrams within their budget, then insure the transformation was successful. The number and quality of homes he assisted was astounding and includes Joe Montana’s home and the gigantic circular home at 87th and Mission Road.
Scouting: Robert was extremely active in the Boy Scouts of America, serving as a Den Leader of the children’s Cub Scout Pack 3098 and later as Scoutmaster of Troop 98, both at Saint Ann’s. He “resurrected” Boy Scout Troop 98 when it was about to fail and with help turned it into the “Cliffhangers” focused on rappelling and rock climbing. The excitement of this troop’s new focus led many scouts from other troops to abandon their existing troops and join. He personally led hundreds of nights in overnight camping and summer camps at Camp Naish (at great cost due to lost sales commissions) including many sub-zero winter campouts where scouts were ordered to leave the camp fire one hour prior to bedtime to better acclimate to the cold. A common image was his late night bed checks with his Eveready lantern making sure nothing funny was going on. He led the amazing pioneering work on a 5-story pioneering (rope-tied) tower at Bartle Auditorium in 1981, winning the top show award after months of planning and hard work. Robert’s service to scouting culminated in the lifetime scouting achievement awards: the coveted Silver Beaver as the highest BSA leader service award, both the Saint George Medal and Bronze Pelican Award for Catholic service to youth, and the District Award of Merit. Robert became the District Commissioner and eventually the Assistant Council Commissioner of the Heart of America Council in 1983; he always said scouting was never about him and his awards but the fun and leadership development of the Scouts under him. Robert never achieved his own Eagle Scout award due to the untimely death of his Father, but both his sons were pulled by his example and intensely pushed by their Mother to this highest award. Robert Gray continues to serve as an Assistance Scoutmaster with his son Harrison who is now a Star scout (Robert’s highest rank).
Wise Sayings: “What you are to be you are now becoming”. “Keep your dauber up!” “Old money always comes with strings”, and “All ashore that’s going ashore” (as the kids piled out of the automobiles).
So how did Dad get his Son’s to actually do something useful in school? It was his love for BBQ burnt ends, as a grade of all “As” earned the family a trip to the Smokestack BBQ in Martin City, MO, each semester. Favorite times with Dad included going to air shows at Richards-Gebaur AFB, World’s of Fun and canoeing with the Scouts. Also we will dearly miss his many discussions on life and faith while sitting in his living room big chair.
Robert was a faithful and dedicated Father, Husband, Brother, Scoutmaster and friend. May Robert rest in peace with his departed Mother, Father, Sister, and two Brothers.
In lieu of flowers the Wald family requests all contributions be sent to the St. Ann’s Endowment Fund to benefit their Troop 98 “Cliffhangers”. The Funeral Mass will be at St Ann’s Catholic Church located at 7231 Mission Rd, Prairie Village, at 10AM on Friday, September 2nd, with interment to follow at 1:00 pm at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery located at 8321 Quivira Rd, Lenexa, KS. Assistance by Funeral Advocates, LLC.