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Former Longtime Martin’s CEO Dies At 78

Mr. Bob Bartels
Mr. Bob Bartels

Mr. Robert (Bob) Eugene Bartels, who served as president and CEO of Indiana’s Martin’s Super Markets for more than 30 years, died July 17. He was 78.

Mr. Bartels was a 51-year employee of Martin’s. His wife Nancy was a daughter of the company’s founders, the late Jane (Cary) and Martin Tarnow. In 1964, the Tarnows offered Mr. Bartels an opportunity to join Martin’s as a right-hand executive with the company. Mr. Bartels served as president and CEO beginning in 1973 and as chairman beginning in 2005. With Nancy as a partner and trusted confidante, Mr. Bartels led Martin’s through many challenges and changes during his tenure. Under his leadership, the company grew from a “mom-and-pop” business into a fully functioning corporation, and the Martin’s team grew, developed and matured into a professional, innovative team. The company added 19 new stores, relocated six and completed countless updates and remodeling projects under his watch. He also oversaw the introductions of many of the company’s most popular features, such as Side Door Deli Cafes, Starbucks Coffee kiosks, catering and more.

Mr. Bartels also served his community and industry in many roles, including as past trustee of Stanley Clark School; past director of St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce; past director of YMCA; past trustee of Project Future; and various titles, including chairman of the Food Marketing Institute. He was instrumental in expanding Martin’s commitment to its communities, with fundraisers such as Heat for Homes, Roofsit, Advantages for Education and student scholarship programs, both public and private.

Mr. Bartels was born May 29, 1937, to the late Martin H. and Verna K. (Conklin) Bartels in Zanesville, Ohio. He attended DeKalb High School and Purdue University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1959. He joined General Electric and served in assignments in various East Coast cities. While visiting a fraternity brother in South Bend in 1962, Mr. Bartels met Nancy on a blind date. They married on Feb. 1, 1964, in South Bend and settled in Providence, Rhode Island.

Mr. Bartels enjoyed golf, skiing and piloting his planes. He was a devoted husband and loving father and grandfather to his children and grandchildren. He was an inspiration and source of encouragement and friendship to his colleagues at Martin’s, which number in the thousands.

According to his obituary, Mr. Bartels was a man gifted with a powerful intellect and an ability to understand great complexities, reduce them into simple concepts and put them to work. He was a steward and defined his responsibilities expansively. He was careful with resources because every penny represented customer and employee trust, effort and satisfaction. He lived the American dream fully; his commitment to personal excellence, education, demanding workloads and his ability to turn opportunity into accomplishment were inspiring. His hard work, commitment to high personal standards of conduct and seemingly tireless effort and engagement were his way of showing his love for his family, colleagues and friends.

Mr. Bartels also was a man of immense bravery—the unpretentious, simple, and direct kind, his obituary says. He had multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed more than 20 years ago. He faced it and made it as invisible and inconsequential as possible. He treated it like any other problem, not a disability, and problems can be answered. He only gave ground in millimeters and even those closest to him were protected from the depth of his challenges.

He will be missed by family, colleagues and friends who knew him for both his brilliance in the business world and his wit and wisdom as it applied to life,” his obituary says. “He was a good man. An unassuming hero. A gentleman.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Bartels was preceded in death by a brother, Richard.

Funeral services for Mr. Bartels will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sunnyside Presbyterian Church, 115 W. Frances Street, South Bend, where friends may visit with the family from 1-5 p.m. A private burial will be held Thursday at Riverview Cemetery, South Bend.

In lieu of flowers, honorary donations for multiple sclerosis research can be made to: University of Texas HSC Houston, ℅ Lucie Lambert,  Department of Neurology, 6431 Fannin St., Suite 7.044, Houston TX 77030.

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