Robert Humphrey – in Memoriam
On November 5, we were informed of the passing of Robert Humphrey, one of the giants of PATC. Robert joined the club in 1962 and was awarded an Honorary Life membership in 1982. The Robert Humphrey cabin was renamed in his honor on July 16, 2011. Some of those who knew him shared some memories below. If you would like to add a remembrance, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
His earliest cabin work, as far as I know, started in 1962 or 1963, helping to oversee (With Bob Tucker, I believe) Sexton Cabin--the Sexton Cabin that burned down and was rebuilt, then had to be torn down when the land it was on became a Wilderness area.
Robert spent the vast majority of his spare time on cabins projects for the next forty years, often saying that he held a paying job in order to be able to afford cabin work trips. In those 40-some years, Robert helped with the construction or maintenance of numerous cabins. The most significant would probably be Jones Mountain Cabin, the Vining Tract cabins, Cliff's House, Meadows, Doyles River, and John's Rest. As his health problems became greater, he slowed down but still made trips--at the age of 91--to Schairer Trail Center.
Going through the cabins book, I counted more than 15 cabins that I remembered Robert having work trips to for maintenance or construction, and that does not include the two iterations of Sexton Cabin or Pine Grove Furnace--all long gone.
When I first became active in PATC in 1993, Bob was a very senior member of the Council, and held him in respect bordering on awe. He mostly worked on cabins, and it seemed like every cabin I could name, Bob had worked on it. For instance, when I first rented Little Orleans, I found out that Bob had headed the crew that put it into the system.
He had a most engaging personality. When Council members got into arguments, Bob would just smile and chuckle. It seemed that nothing bothered him.
For many years Bob Humphrey was Involved in almost if not all construction and maintenance of cabins, shelters and privies. I was lucky enough to be involved in several projects with him. He was the consummate recycler saving building materials in multiple locations throughout club properties.
There wasn't a log, a board or a piece of corrugated metal that he wouldn't save. He always tried to make use of recycled material in order to save the club money and was very successful in doing so.
Bob's last big project was the re-erection of the cabin which we now call John's Rest. It was a cabin he had bought out in West Virginia with the intention of restoring it for his own use. He later changed his mind and I, as cabin construction supervisor for the club, bought it from him to be used to build a new cabin for the PATC with a donation which we received from Lea Fischbach to honor her husband John. I asked Bob to take on the task and he agreed to do the job. I think he did his usual outstanding job.
While I was still on the PATC Council I made a motion and got it passed to rename Weaver Cabin as Robert Humphrey Cabin. I was proud to attend the dedication ceremony of that cabin.
There is a huge hole in PATC today and it is there due to the recent passing of Robert G. Humphrey. Anyone who had the privilege of working next to Robert out in the mountains and meadows of PATC properties and the structures we enjoy today, came away with invaluable information not found in a textbook.
PATC’s historically documented account of a lot of the club’s departed pioneers include a very elite group of people I was privileged to know such as Ruth and Fred Blackburn, Woody and Bartie Kennedy, Jack and Carolyn Reeder, Bill and Elizabeth Johnston, Tom Johnson, Harry Bridges, Jean and William Golightly, Warren Sharp, Keith Argow, Sam Moore, Robert Hilbish, Dede Bauer, Ray Fadner, Lyman Stucker, Marguerite Schneeberger, the list continues. But of all of the Club’s “celebrities”, the one I was mostly in awe of, and a little intimidated by, was Robert Humphrey.
In my first month as cabin reservation, construction, and maintenance coordinator, I was invited to my first shelter dedication of the David Lesser Shelter, then the next weekend a cabin dedication at the Morris Cabin. Both events were officiated by then Club President, Charlie Graf, later to become the Cabins Construction Committee Chairman and cabin privy maker officianato, when Robert found he needed help. It was an amazing time for me. I learned a lot of woodland ways of living listening to Robert’s stories about this time and that time. With the most basic of ideals, and tools, Robert brought back to life a multitude of cabins we now enjoy, mostly beginning as mere remnants in a heap under a couple sheets of corrugated metal roofing. Sometimes, when we had hunters show up on Club properties, scaring the dickens out of cabin renters, he’d just say, “Well, we’ll just wait and see how that goes.” He was a person who knew that giving something some time, would straighten itself out eventually. Robert knew what to do…always.
I remember the time when Cliff Firestone passed away. If Cliff’s property had not been surrounded by land parcels owned by club members, his house would have been picked completely clean of his belongings. Robert and I brought all of the things Cliff left behind back to the headquarters. It was discussed and voted on to have a “silent auction” of these belongings. Robert talked a lot about his friend Cliff, a nuclear scientist who was a member of the group who worked on the Manhattan Project. Robert told me Cliff’s admiration for the Club and his desire to leave a large sum of money to be invested and grow to have a constant source of revenue to support the Club’s cabins for folks who work, walk, and play on the woodland trails we maintain.
Working with Robert just felt right to me. What doesn’t feel right is that now I can’t pick up the phone and ask him if he has any long screws and wing nuts to replace the ones a renter used to poke the fire in the woodstove and now can’t be found. (How did I know that? I read it in the log book, where else?) Robert not only built, rebuilt, refurbished, demolished or dedicated cabins and shelters, he opened up an important aspect of PATC that allows for members and non-members the opportunity to enjoy all of the trails we maintain with a place to retreat to at the end of the day of hiking or maintaining trails.
But above all, he was the keeper of tradition…something PATC needs to bring back into play, for it was built on such and honored by many. We miss you Robert. Rest peacefully. Many a glass of spirits will be raised in your honor for we may never see the likes of you again my friend.
My first association with PATC in 1976 involved Robert. I started working with his cabin construction crew on rebuilding the Hermitage cabin. He was a patient teacher. I couldn't hit a nail with a hammer consistently so he told me to stay away from finish carpentry - trim work - until I improved. His work trips were as much social events as they were construction activities. All work was done with hand tools. I found the experiences very enjoyable. There were a lot fewer cabins than exist now. Cabin construction and major maintenance were both in Robert's domain.
Over the ensuing years his gang worked on many of the cabins, from Pine Grove Furnace in PA to Doyle River in southern SNP. Robert's "ant labor" force, as one member called it, carried all materials to the work sites. We always hiked in and camped on-site. I remember we hauled lumber, plywood, concrete and flooring down the Corbin Cutoff Trail for repairs to the Corbin Cabin. Robert and his crew were instrumental in re-opening some of the shelters in SNP that had been closed for a number of years. They were designated as Huts. I remember working on Hightop and Pinefield Huts. The construction of a new shelter on Calf Mountain was also one of his projects.
Robert was also instrumental in bringing some new cabins into the system. He ran the activities to construct the Myron Glaser cabin, which included the work of a contractor for foundation, block and stonework. He also led with projects that brought the Dawson cabin, Meadows, Little Orleans and the cabins on the Vining Tract on-line. Some cabins had to be removed. The Wolf Gap cabin was torn down over a few winter worktrips. He was very saddened when he was told that the Sexton cabin had to go. He had been involved with its construction. I believe it was his work on the Sexton cabin that resulted in him being asked to lead the rebuilding of the Jones Mountain cabin. That led to his work on the Hermitage. Robert was involved with a significant amount of cabin-related effort over at least two decades. He was also a club VP for a while. His service to PATC was significant and varied.
I knew Bob from the mid-1970's until the 2005 timeframe when he basically retired from PATC. The following is what I consider one of the greatest contributions Bob made as head of PATC'S cabins program.
When Robert Humphrey and Jack Reeder (then PATC President) went to a Shenandoah Park partners meeting in 1979, the then SNP Superintendent Robert Jacobsen casually told everyone at the meeting that he was thinking of converting the PATC Shenandoah Park cabins into NPS ranger stations.
Bob and Jack were stunned and after discussing what to do, Jack endorsed Bob's concept of undertaking a PATC cabin-property purchase plan to acquire properties adjoining the Park so that those who had enjoyed PATC Park cabins would still be able to rent a cabin next to the Park and hike into the Park.
Bob's plan (with Council support) resulted in these PATC actions in the two years immediately following Superintendent Jacobsen's announcement:
- Purchasing the Vining tract (five cabins) (Greene County)
- Accepting the Cliff Firestone donation of the Weaver (now Humphrey) Cabin. (Page County)
- Purchasing the Meadows Cabin property (Madison County)
- Accepting the donation of the Rosser Lamb cabin property (Greene County)
Without Bob's leadership and persuasive abilities, we would have lost the opportunity to counter the Park Superintendent's threat of closing the PATC Park cabins by PATC acquiring replacement cabin properties.. Fortunately, the Superintendent backed off his proposal a few years later and allowed PATC to continue to rent the SNP cabins.
Since then, PATC has acquired four additional cabin properties adjoining Shenandoah Park (Lambert, Huntley, Old Rag, and Horwttz) all because Bob Humphrey had the vision to insure PATC would have a PATC cabin-rentals program that those enjoying the hiking experience in Shenandoah Park could take advantage of.
I first met Robert at Little Orleans cabin in 1985 where we were digging a new privy. Over the years we became good friends and worked together on many PATC projects. Robert had extensive knowledge of the club and all of its land holdings and cabins. His ability to work with and understand people from all walks of life made him such a wonderful asset to the club. He was a very kind and gentle man, never in a hurry and he always completed what he started. Every day of the year when people visit many of our cabins they are enjoying the fruits of his labor. PATC and the world are better places for having had Robert Humphrey.
Photos: (All by Brigitta Shroyer except as noted.) From Top of Page: (1) Mary Helen Shortridge far left, Shirley Strong center; (2) Robert Humphrey Cabin sign (photo by Martha Reynolds); (3) Robert on the right at John's Rest; (4) Robert and Shirley at John's Rest.
Robert Humphrey Cabin
Photo: Martha Reynolds