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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

Nearly 500 honor activist's memory

BY FLORENCE DETHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As a harp played softly, soothingly, and the music spread through the Performance Hall of the Collingwood Arts Center, pictures of Robert Brundage, the much-beloved community activist, played on the screen that spanned the stage.

Some were old and some were newer, some were sweet, others whimsical, but in all, the man known affectionately to many as Bob was smiling, characteristically bright-eyed and bushy-bearded, his eyes twinkling with a hint of mischief.

Thus began the memorial service for the late Bob Brundage, a service that honored a man, guests said, whose commitment to his community was unparalleled.

Nearly 500 friends and family, colleagues and classmates, came together last night to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the man who had given, they said, so much of himself to others. They came in suits and dress shoes, jeans and sneakers, bearing memories of the man and the kind heart, fierce intellect, and generous spirit he so graciously shared.

Gathering in the corridor outside the theater waiting for the doors to open, old friends squeezed through the throng to find each other as classmates from years past reconnected, and neighborhood residents told stories about Mr. Brundage, who was knocked off his bicycle last month, causing fatal injuries.

"All this kind of shows the tragedy of life, that someone so good could be snuffed out like that," said Old West End resident Henry Doder, 73, who had known Mr. Brundage from the neighborhood.

Councilman Wilma Brown watches as city worker Joe Tarejlis unveils the sign dedicating the bike trail at Ottawa Park to Robert Brundage, an avid bicyclist. Councilman Wilma Brown watches as city worker Joe Tarejlis unveils the sign dedicating the bike trail at Ottawa Park to Robert Brundage, an avid bicyclist.
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The service itself was a multicultural, multifaith celebration of what many consider a modern-day Renaissance man.

With a program of sung and unsung musical selections and readings from the Gospel of John, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, among others, guests said the rites embodied the spirit of diversity that Mr. Brundage embraced.

The Rev. Kenneth Peterson, who delivered the prayer, said he would always remember his old friend's "imposing intellect even greater heart and his very unique ability to read between the lines of life and take delight in the simple things."

"He believed that every human being, every being, had inherent value," the Rev. Lynn Kerr said before she read from Thoreau.

And after an interlude during which guests were called upon to greet each other and exchange thoughts of goodwill, "as Bob would have wanted them to," David Brundage, Bob Brundage's younger brother, delivered the eulogy.

In deliberate and measured tones, he told the audience about growing up with his brother on Norwood Avenue in the Old West End and the days they had spent playing in the yard. He described how they climbed up the gnarly branches of the old Box Elder in the yard and dove into the piles of leaves that would appear when autumn rolled around.

And then there was the music.

In a family of five boys, each of whom played a different instrument, he laughingly recalled the patience his parents must have possessed to endure the learning groans and screeches of his and his brothers' efforts on the trombone, clarinet, and violin, among others.

He recalled how his brother had excelled, and not just at the cello, but at school as well.

"He had a keen mind, close attention to detail, and the ability to focus with undivided attention," he said.

The younger Mr. Brundage said he had not known how large an impact on the community his brother had made nor realized just how many organizations he had been involved with prior to his passing.

After the ceremony, the mood was bittersweet as guests flocked outside to enjoy fresh-baked refreshments and reflect on what most everyone called a beautiful tribute.

"The service was so beautiful and so fitting," Claudia St. Clair, who knew Mr. Brundage from the Old West End, said. "So many denominations and cultures were represented. He was just an unbelievable man."

The ceremony capped off a day of remembering Mr. Brundage. Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner dedicated the Ottawa Park Bike Trail to Bob Brundage.

The mayor hailed the late Mr. Brundage as a "community builder" and commended his efforts on behalf of social justice, education, the arts, the youth, and the community.

"He deserves a place among those Toledoans, who, through their hard work and dedication to this city, moved it forward in leaps and bounds," the mayor said.

The dedication is particularly fitting because the image of Mr. Brundage that much of the community will remember is that of him, wearing his helmet, riding his bicycle.

Mr. Brundage died July 7 at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, more than two weeks after he was assaulted and robbed of his bicycle while pedaling home from a meeting of Jobs with Justice at the Kent Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

A coroner ruled that blunt force trauma to the head was the cause of death.

Dailahntae Jemison, 15, who police say admitted on the evening of the attack that he had assaulted Mr. Brundage, has been charged with aggravated assault and murder and is being held at the Juvenile Justice Center downtown.

A resident of the Old West End, Mr. Brundage was involved with more than 20 community organizations, including the Collingwood Arts Center and the Urban Coalition. He played the cello in the Toledo Symphony and the Toledo Youth Orchestra.

"I don't think it's possible to capture the uniqueness of Robert," said Michael Szuberla, who had been good friends with Mr. Brundage for more than 10 years. "But I think it came through."

Contact Florence Dethy at:

fdethy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6064.



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