Robert “Bob” “Klemmer” Klem
June 2, 1954 – February 18, 2018
They say it’s the dash that’s the most important thing in a person’s life. What happens between those two dates are what defines you more than the dates themselves; the people you touch, the relationships you develop, the mark you leave on this world. For Bob Klem, the dash was over 60 years of service, laughs, and love.
“Since 1995 I’ve been a hockey fan, cheering the Avalanche on, and going to Topeka Scarecrows games. I went to Iraq in 2003. For years I wanted to get on the ice but never was in the right place. I’ve always been a fan of goalies. Then the Mavericks came to Kansas City. I don’t quite remember how it is that I met Bob. Because of hockey that’s for sure, and especially because of goaltending.
This happened either 2014 or 2015 Bob invited me to visit him because I wasn’t exactly sure how a goalie got dressed for a game. I was invited into the locker room and shown how a goalie gets dressed; giving me the insights and finding out he was a Blackhawks fan. I stayed for the game, sitting with Robbie, and then having a post-game meal of a beer.
I found out about Skate with Bob and started donating what I could. Bob gave me my first goalie skates. We spoke about the gear Simmons made, and my first blocker and trapper came from Simmons. “Tell them Klemmer sent ya.”
I drove two-plus hours to catch Maverick games, and in the intermissions, I would zip through the arena to talk shop with Bob for a few moments, seeing him say hi to all those around him. I never told him that I suffered from PTSD, and I never told him how much it meant to me that he would take time to speak with me for just those few moments. We spoke about (Charlie) Effinger, (Shane) Owen, (Josh) Robinson, and (Mike) Clemente.
In 2015, I asked if he needed a water boy for the Skate with Bob game. He asked if I wanted to be an Assistant Coach, and I ended up being the head coach. I dressed the part, the players did the rest. In 2015, I moved to Minnesota to go to school and to get closer to hockey. We kept in touch, talking shop, talking Mavericks. Talking about the camps the Mavericks had and how Coach was working Klemmer because he could handle it.
In 2015, I was able to tell Bob that I made it on a team, The Hellfish, and despite their red colors, my stick tape was purple and my skate laces were purple. In March 2016, I was able to share with him, as a rookie that I won my first hockey championship. When I came back home for holidays and Joe (Rozycki) would hook me up with some tickets to catch the Mavericks, I would zip over to say hi and talk shop. I was always amazed that Bob was able to do so much, fighting cancer on and off the ice, being a welcoming member of the hockey community.
I’m sitting here crying right now because I realize I won’t see his tweets, his direct messages, and I realize that when I come down to catch a Mavericks game, I won’t have anywhere to go to during intermission.
I want to say it’s not fair. It’s not fair that someone that does so much for others, gets taken away.”
Klemmer was a guy that you heard before you saw; a man who never met a stranger and considered everyone a friend. His booming voice was unmistakable in the concourse of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena and his intermission conversations with anyone that would listen are legendary. There would be a short talk about the previous period of play before the conversation would inevitably move to whatever he was working on currently for the Have a Skate With Bob Foundation. For Bob Klem, hockey was a vehicle used to fight for a much greater cause.
“My favorite thing about Bob wasn’t his immense love of hockey, it wasn’t his tireless work for his charity, it wasn’t even that he dyed his hair purple every November for pancreatic cancer awareness month – my favorite thing about Bob was that he called his grandson, Bobby, ‘the grand dude’. Bob grew up in Southern California and knew how to properly use the word ‘dude’. You’ve got to respect a thing like that. Also, as a Californian, he knew a thing or two about the In-N-Out Burger – another passion that we shared.
Tap your sticks on the ice for #35, I know leaving Robbie and his family was hard, but going out with his goalie pads on – that’s totally the way he would have wanted it.”
When the talk turned to HASB, Klemmer’s face would light up and the energy in the conversation increased (read as Bob talking really fast and you had better keep up). There was always more to do and more games to plan. If the last game raised $20,000, there had to be a way to get to $30,000 the next game.
“It’s taken me a bit to try and come up with the words I am at a loss for. You won’t find many a human who is more passionate, caring, charitable and loving than Bob Klem is. He was as selfless as any person I know, and while we would vent and work off each other on certain events with the charitable things we did, we only had these debates out of the love and passion we had for what we were discussing/doing.
We only were able to see each other a few times a year, both being the way too busy people we are who refuse to say no to much, but he and I both did everything we could because we love to live life. I know as we left each other our last time it was with a hug and an “I love ya brother” as it always was when we finished dinner after the Rockford HASB. I can’t find the words to express the sorrow I feel to Robbie & his family, it’s never easy, but I know how much you all loved him and I certainly know how much he loved each of you and would want you to celebrate and continue living your lives to the fullest and we will continue keeping HASB strong.
Rest in peace Bob, you gave everything every day to everyone, you will be missed greatly.”
Everyone hates cancer, cancer hated Bob Klem.
A man who lost his wife, Becky, to pancreatic cancer in 1999, Bob dedicated the rest of his life to her memory and making sure that his two daughters, Sarah and Rachel, didn’t forget their mother. From humble beginnings, the Have a Skate With Bob Foundation quickly grew to become a fundraising force for pancreatic cancer research. Using hockey as a tool, the foundation would raise thousands of dollars through charity games and auctions.
“I first met Bob Klem in the spring of 2016. After playing pick up hockey for more than a decade, I was talked into joining an adult league in Kansas City. Bob was the goalie and the captain of the team I joined. But it soon became clear he was so much more than that. He was the face of Kansas City hockey. Seriously. Everyone knew him; folks treated him more like an institution than a player. No matter who we played or what rink we were in, everyone knew, liked, and respected “Klemmer.” Indeed, Bob was so renowned that when the KC Mavericks needed a goalie to pose for a billboard spot, they filmed Bob because he was always at the rink.
Such standing and affection were born of Bob’s story. He was born in SoCal but came of age outside of Chicago before settling in KC. In 1999 his wife died suddenly after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. To honor her memory, Bob held a charity hockey game in KC to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. The game shortly became an annual event and was soon joined by a partnership with the Rockford Ice Hogs. To coordinate his growing roster of activities, Bob formed the “Have a Skate with Bob” foundation. In the few years I got to know Bob, I watched him organize charity games in partnership with four pro-hockey teams; and observed as he attended numerous rallies in support of cancer survivors and their families.
Most people knew Bob much longer than I did. But he touched my life in the short time I knew him, and I am grateful I was able to call him a friend. I had the good fortune of playing in two of Bob’s charity games, and two full seasons as a teammate. I used to tease him that he was a standing goalie, but not by choice. But if I’m still out on the ice past 60 like he was I’ll call it a victory.
Bob passed doing what he loved, playing hockey. His death was very sudden and totally unexpected. Though he left far too soon, he will not soon be forgotten. The KC Mavericks and the Rockford Ice Hogs held moments of silence in his honor before their Sunday games; the KC Ice Center hung every jersey Bob wore in its rink, and his memorial service will be held at the Silverstein Ice Center where we played. I wish I had one more skate with Bob. But I’ll forever cherish all the skates I did have with him.”
But, it wasn’t the games or auctions that made the foundation what it is…it was the man behind it. Klemmer was such a charismatic personality, you couldn’t help but love him even if you were playing on the opposing team in one of his hundreds of games in net. He’d tell you that you couldn’t beat him on his glove side and then laugh at you when you tried anyways. His chirp game was hilarious and frustrating all packaged into one beautiful gift to those that were fortunate enough to know him.
“There’s something about playing hockey in a town like Kansas City. Those of us that play well beyond our athletic peaks are bonded -related like brothers and sisters (deeper than that in a lot of cases.) Last night, we all lost a brilliant father figure and elder statesman who kept the whole thing together. No one ever cared more about a sport and a community like Bob cared about all of us.
I played with and against Bob Klem for the better part of 2 decades – many times in the same day. In fact, my favorite memory of him is winning a game as teammates at Line Creek on a Friday and then, playing on Sunday opposite each other, I backed into the crease to screen him, and immediately got a 2-hand slash on my ankles. I turned around to see Klemmer laughing his ass off. He left a mark, for sure.
I can’t process why he would be taken from us when the world desperately needs him. But I’ll see you on the other side Klemmer. Love you, brother. Looking forward to seeing you slash everyone crashing the gates of Heaven. RIP Klemmer.”
Bob fed off of hearing everyone else’s stories of fighting courageously against all forms of cancer. Never thinking of himself, he was the ultimate cheerleader that everyone wanted in their corner when going into the toughest battle most would face. Cancer struck Bob’s life again when his partner-in-crime, Robbie Lawson, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but Bob and Robbie hit that battle head on and never looked back. The battle was over before it had even begun and you have to think a huge part of that was the positivity of the gentle giant with the purple hair and the roaring laugh. We were all better people because we had Bob in our corner.
“I was in charge of arranging equipment and staging the Mavericks Hockey shoot that turned out to be one of the biggest promotions in the team’s history. (I didn’t know that these pics would be on towels, cups, busses, billboards etc ). The morning of the shoot, I’m scrambling to find goalie gear. I immediately call Klemmer. He answers, obliges to help out and not only shows up with his gear but brings TWO sets! Home and away!!! The funniest part about the shoot was that he thought I would have someone else wear his gear….NOPE!! When he found out he was going to be a model, he absolutely lost it!!! He was so excited and probably lost ten pounds of water weight during the shoot but never complained and had a smile on his face the entire time.”
-Simon Watson, KC Mavericks
Bob found great joy in the little things. Whether it was tossing a puck to a kid, taking another picture in his sweaty purple gear, or taking a young player under his wing, Bob did it all with a smile. He genuinely cared about people and in this day and age that is something to be revered and respected.
“Occasionally in life, you meet someone who inspires you, not by a battle they fight for themselves but the battles they fight for others. This is the true essence of Love One Another that James likes to share. This morning we heard the shocking news.
I remember the day we met Bob Klem, it was 3 years ago and James McGinnis was still in his wheelchair. James loved the purple in his uniform and from that day forward the friendly banter began between James and Bob. This is also the day we learned of pancreatic cancer and his cause to battle this cancer. (#PUCKCANCER). Bob gave James a challenge while he was still in his wheelchair, “Next year I want you to try and score a goal on me at our #SkatewithBob charity event” James accepted that challenge and began training to shoot a puck with his St Mary physical therapy students. James was very shaky this day but scored on the third attempt. Bob confessed to me he defended hard on the first attempt and then eased up but never letting on to James he did that.
As year three rolled around the banter increased with James proclaiming he would either shoot right at glove or the five-hole (between the legs) and score on Bob for the battle against pancreatic cancer. James was very stable this year and scored on his first shot. Bob was thrilled confessing he defended hard and that was a legitimate score. I have never seen a goalie so excited to be scored on than that day.
From a wheelchair to scoring on his first shot in three short years. I will never forget these memories and how Bob inspired James to paint two paintings to auction off at the pancreatic cancer silent auction. We will miss deeply this special person who touched our lives and it was so unexpected we will be struggling to reconcile what has happened.
I imagine if you asked Bob where the gates to heaven were located he would tell you in the crease on the goalie box and if he had to go, this is the way he wanted to go. (On the ice).”
–Patrick McGinnis, James 9 Recovery
In a world that screams selfish, finding someone so selfless is a treasure. Each of us will carry memories of our encounters with him forever. We will remember how to do things the right way…with our whole heart.
“It’s taken me most of the day to process and come up with the words… finding out today that my good friend Bob Klem passed away last night, on the ice – doing what he loved. Nearly 6 years ago a mutual friend Daniel Russell suggested I introduce myself to a guy that ran a charity hockey game… I met Bob a few weeks later for the first time and started a long journey of capturing various events, games and moments for HASB.
There has been no better ambassador of Hockey, no greater warrior against Pancreatic Cancer, than Klemmer. He was passionate about everything in life, a truly gentle spirit, and kind heart. He always had a smile, and time to talk to you… I was truly blessed to know him, and to consider him a dear friend. Thank you for always being a great friend, I’ll miss your smile and laugh and I look forward to seeing your smiling face again, knowing that you’ll vouch for me when it’s my turn to stand at the gates.”
–Jeremiah Griffith, Photographer for HASB KC
“Before Mass this morning, I was shocked to learn that he skated his last game late last night and quite literally died doing what he loved – playing hockey! Klemmer leaves a legacy bigger than his outsized personality as he used nearly all his free time building up Have A Skate With Bob Foundation to raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
On a personal level, Klemmer taught me a lot about dealing with people with whom I might disagree, he also taught me some of the “finer points” of hockey. I enjoyed playing with (and against) him. I was honored to have played on two teams with him as well as taking part in several HASB charity games. Whether as teammate or as opponent, Klemmer always provided encouragement and positive feedback as he sought to share his love for the game with anybody, no matter their skill level, who wanted to play!
Rest in Peace, my friend. May angels lead you into Paradise, may the Saints of God come to welcome you.”
–Father Joseph Totton
With his purple hair, purple stick tape, purple gear, purple shirts, and purple hats, Klemmer made sure everyone he came in contact with knew that he was there to fight pancreatic cancer until there was a cure. We’ll never know if Bob had given any thought to who would continue the fight, but don’t worry Klemmer, we’ll take it from here.
Until we have a skate again, stick taps to you #35.