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Bobapalooza – coming full-cycle in Building Two

The sun sets on a biodiesel icon’s career in a building that is rising from the ashes of biodiesel fame.

Bob Armantrout rose to his bare feet when I entered the cavernous building, stepping over books and gift bags to embrace me before settling back into the wing-backed chair. The cluster of former co-workers rose as well and greeted me as Bob went back to signing copies of Backyard Biodiesel, a book he wrote with Lyle in 2015.

Building two, risen from the ashes of Biodiesel

The space seemed so much larger now without the enormous biodiesel tanks. Lyle had left the high perimeter catwalk in place, power-washed the thick coat of grease off the metal steps, and converted the second-floor lab into a bar. Matt, Bob’s former boss at SCS Global, had been Piedmont Biofuels Coop’s Executive Director for Lyle back in the day and it seemed the perfect venue for Bob’s retirement party.

Thirty-five SCS Global employees had flown in from the Americas, Europe, and Asia for a three-day retreat and to celebrate Bob’s illustrious stint with the company. Every one of them were garbed in a Hawaiian shirt to match the one Bob wore. Many had brought snacks from their country, strange-tasting cookies and candies, coffee, clothing, and even something for me: a bass-relief plaque of the white church at Suchitoto, El Salvador.

Neighbors, Bob Kim and Lyle with the guest of honor

There was plenty of local color as well—close friends and people we hadn’t seen in years. Only two wore Hawaiian shirts and that was happenstance. The atmosphere was joyous. Bob holding court, the crowd swelling, cups of free beer, handshakes and hugs, laughter echoing from the high steel ceiling, bouncing off the catwalks, people balancing plates of food on their laps.

Matt took the mic and welcomed everyone, then turned it over to Bob. Lyle, standing beside me leaned over and said, “Uh oh, here comes Bob. Get the hook!”

“If anyone has a story,” Bob began, “of the stupidest thing you heard me say or the stupidest thing you saw me do, I invite you to come up and share it.”

Andy was already walking forward with his hand in the air. Bob went and sat off to the side on the stage. “Bob is the only person I’ve ever seen work the phrase, ‘anal leakage’ into a business meeting with people he didn’t know.” I searched Bob’s face for signs of chagrin as everybody roared.

Lyle went next, making us all laugh with a story about needing Bob to retire so he could sell more beer. Matt read a retirement tribute in the style of Kurt Vonnegut that he’d crafted with the help of ChatGPT. Trip teased Bob about his early bedtime. Ina told us how she came to realize that Bob wasn’t just a guy who liked to talk a lot, but that he was weaving a story, like a tent, and bringing her and everyone else inside.

Eddie from Brazil spoke about his first virtual meeting with Bob in which he was confounded by casual attire, and how he came to appreciate Bob’s informal approach. “He was normal,” he said. Normal, not formal. Colorful, not drab, allowing others to relax and be real human beings.

And that is what Bob does, he shows up barefoot in a colorful shirt, puts you at ease, allows you to be human, envisions a better world, and invites you to join him.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

12 replies on “Bobapalooza – coming full-cycle in Building Two”

Ahh yes, I can recall the first time I saw you two on Little Corn. Bob with his relaxing smile, welcoming us there. Camille, speaking spanish to the porters who had our bags in a wheelbarrow. You both made us feel like we had entered paradise. Congratulations on the retirement, Bob! On to the next chapter of your lives.

Wow sounds like you had some good times with friends and was quite a party!
Congratulations Bob! Now the two of you can share the new horizons you guys very much deserve?

Yes! And, by the way Fred, we’re going to be in Colorado in a couple of weeks and would love to see you. Mark your calendar for May 24th.

We’re so sorry to have missed this. Our best wishes for a most excellent retirement!

What a wonderful celebration for a wonderful being!!! Cheers to your official retirement!! I can’t wait to see what you two get into. Xoxo whit and ben

So sorry to have missed but I was doing what island girls do best…. island-hopping in the Bahamas.

Wishing Bob a wealth of joy and adventure in retirement!!! Enjoy every precious moment! ?

Thank you, Karen! I’d like to say I wouldn’t have rather been island-hopping, but that would be wrong. Not that I didn’t enjoy myself . . .

My earliest memory of Bob was sitting on a couch with him as he was reading to me at the Hamlin House in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. I’m guessing we were very young but I already knew how smart Bob was!
My favorite memory of Bob was when we went to Madison so he could skate board down Bascomb Hill! He said “Meet me on State Street!” He made it down that very steep hill with a big smile on his face! Our first trip to Hawaii, years ago, Bob, Camille and their cool energy efficient car gave us a warm Aloha! Wishing you both a Wonderful Retirement. Until we meet again! ?

It really was a bumping evening. So much fun. So interesting to see so many people from different stages of Bob’s working life. I caught up with folks from Chatham Marketplace, and CCCC, and Piedmont days. What a blast. Thank you Matt for throwing such a fine evening.

Thank you, Patty, for those sweet memories. And Lyle, we couldn’t have done any of it without you—not Piedmont, Bob’s retirement, or that bumping party.

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