Dr. Robert F. Schnabel, age 94, passed away peacefully on January 5th, 2019, at Friendship Village retirement community in Bloomington, MN, surrounded by his family.
Bob was born on October 28th, 1924, in Pittsburgh, PA, the eldest of two children to Hugo and Clara (Rasch) Schnabel. As a young child during the Great Depression, like many Americans, his family fell on difficult times. After a fire destroyed their home, he and his younger sister, Dorothy, moved in with local relatives. Though the siblings were living in separate houses, Bob still held fond memories of his time in a one room attic, especially the taste of his aunt Ellie’s homemade root beer. In Bob’s early pre-teenage years, his family reunited and moved to Huntington, WV. He lived there until 1943 when, at the age of 18, Bob enlisted in the Army. After getting trained in science and engineering, he was assigned to a weather station off the Eastern Seaboard to monitor changing weather conditions in support of the final years of the war effort. Following the war and his father’s early death, Bob decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and pursue a career in medicine. He studied at West Virginia University and obtained a medical degree from The Medical College of Virginia in Richmond in 1953. Following graduation, he completed his residency at a county hospital in Des Moines, IA, returning afterwards to the mining hills of West Virginia to practice general medicine.
But Bob’s true passion was in caring for children, so he returned to Des Moines to study pediatrics at Blank Memorial Hospital. It was there that he met fellow pediatric resident and future wife, Norma Berg, from Portland, OR. They married on July 21st 1955, at Oak Knoll Lutheran Church near Medicine Lake in Minneapolis. After a short stint in Omaha, NE, where he and Norma had their first son, Peter, in 1956, they found a permanent home in the northwestern Minnesota farming community of Crookston.
Bob spent the next 30 years as the Northwestern Clinic’s sole regional pediatrician. Following his retirement, Bob and Norma moved out to their cabin on Bad Medicine Lake near Park Rapids, splitting time between Minnesota and exploring the United States from their second home in Tucson, AZ. Though he loved to travel throughout his life, Bob found his time at their lake cabin to be the most precious, and he spent his later years making it a sanctuary for family get-togethers, weddings, and celebrations. Bob’s years in Crookston were some of the happiest of his life. In addition to raising five children with Norma, he was humbled by the opportunity to provide compassionate, heartfelt care for mothers and children across multiple generations of local families. He personified the bygone spirit of the rural ‘Doc’, known to most by his wool hat, grey hair and mustache, kind hands, and gentle demeanor. Up until his retirement, he was still often awake in the middle of the night, making house calls to check on new mothers with struggling newborns, attending to patients with severe flu, or rushing to the emergency room to remove an inadvertently shot BB from the ear of a young child. Bob’s unique gift was to make every mother feel special and every child important, teaching empathy and compassion through his actions and his words. His loving commitment to his own family and his caring devotion to the many parents and children he served in Crookston and surrounding communities left a lasting mark on all who were fortunate enough to have known him.
Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Hugo and Clara Schnabel, sister, Dorothy Brammell, and his great-nephew Patrick. He is survived by Norma, his beloved wife and best friend for over 63 years, his five children Peter (Theresa Orange ) Eugene, OR, Andrew (Louise Collins), South Bend, IN, Margaret (Pam Moussette) Minneapolis, MN, Mary (Knut Swee), Minneapolis, and William (Kim Berg), Minneapolis, his eight grandchildren, Kieran (Na’ama Tubman) Schnabel, Emily Schnabel, Liesl Schnabel, Paola Schnabel, Gunnar Swee, Julia Swee, Max Schnabel and Ian Schnabel, his two great-grandchildren Liam and Aryeh, his nieces Kathie Brammell Cunningham, Huntington, WV and Jennifer Brammell (Andy Hinkle) Hinkle, Atlanta, GA, his nephew Robert Brammell, Louisburg, NC, and great-niece Kelli Cunningham, Huntington, WV, and many other nieces, nephews, extended relatives and friends.
The family is planning a celebration of Bob’s life over the summer at their treasured cabin on Bad Medicine Lake, Ponsford, MN. Interment will take place in the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. In lieu of gifts and flowers, the family invites you to make a donation to the RiverView Foundation of Crookston in Bob’s memory, with a designation to the Schnabel Family Fund in support of pediatric care services. https://www.riverviewhealth.org/foundation/about-us/