Bob Kent died unexpectedly on July 4, 2022 at Lone Star Lake doing what he loved—swimming. He was born on March 16, 1941 to James B. and Lucy Ellen (Beal) Kent in McMinnville, Oregon. His family moved to Kansas City, Kansas, when he was eight. He graduated from Wyandotte High School and went on to earn a B.A. in Religion from Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. Bob was a competitive swimmer at both Wyandotte and Carleton, where he was on a student work grant.
He met Kay Jones in 1964 on a blind date arranged by Kay’s nursing instructor, who was married to Bob’s high school friend. Bob and Kay were married on June 3, 1966 in Kansas City, Missouri and recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary. Bob went on to finish his Masters of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Boston. They moved back to Kansas where Bob earned a PhD in American Studies from the University of Kansas.
Bob and Kay wanted to stay in Lawrence, where Kay was the director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. Faculty positions within commuting distance were hard to find. A friend recommended that he apply to be a firefighter. Despite being older than most recruits, Bob at the age of 43 passed all the physical tests and in 1984 he joined the Lawrence Fire Department. Bob was the only firefighter in the history of the department with a doctoral degree.
Being a firefighter allowed Bob to pursue independent research as well as serve as an adjunct researcher in the Departments of Special Education and American Studies at the University of Kansas. He also taught courses and seminars on American history, political science, and civic professionalism. His academic interests included critical social theory, education and democracy, American liberalism, and social justice.
During his 20-year career with the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical Department, Bob was a lead negotiator for the local union of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), a member of the advisory board of the IAFF Hazardous Materials Training Project, and a grant reviewer for the U.S. Department of Energy training grants through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He was instrumental in changing the way the union negotiated with the department. When he retired from firefighting at the age of 63, he was believed to be the oldest firefighter in Lawrence to actually hang off the side of the truck and run into burning buildings.
Bob was an avid reader and lifelong learner. He loved good food, cooking, hiking, dancing, traveling, listening to classical music, working out, and spending time with family and friends. He was a member of the Lawrence Masters Swim Club and the Mad Dogs and Englishman running group. Bob was well-liked and a loyal friend. He treated people kindly and was nonjudgmental. He was described as “all sunshine” when he entered a room. A person like Bob does not come along very often and he will be greatly missed.
Survivors include his wife, Kay, brother Jay Kent (Carol), brother-in-law Wendell Jones (Charlotte), sisters-in-law Wanda Jones and Willene Arthur (Lawrie), and several nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his parents. A Celebration of Life is planned for Friday, August 19 at 2:00 p.m. at Arterra Event Gallery, 2161 Quail Creek Dr., Lawrence.
The family suggests memorial contributions made to Visiting Nurses, sent in care of Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, P.O. Box 1260 Lawrence, Kansas 66044.
Mary Kaiser is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.