January 29, 1932 - May 4, 2020
Robert Alton “Bob” Underwood, 88, went home to Heaven on Monday, May 4, 2020, from his residence in Decatur, Illinois. He fell asleep about 3:00 in the afternoon, and was still sleeping around 5:00 p.m., but by 5:15, his dreams of Heaven became a reality for him, waking up in Glory. He had suffered a stroke on September 30, 2017, and had been struggling against the old-age onset of diabetes, having had his right leg amputated below the knee last year. He was born January 29, 1932, in DeWitt, Arkansas, to Oku Alton Underwood and Mary Magdalen (Browning) Underwood, and was the oldest of eleven children. He was also the oldest grandson of John and Mae (Fox) Browning, and the oldest grandson of Sam and Sarah (Benthall) Underwood who bore the Underwood surname. As a boy, Bob worked sometimes in a sorghum mill, feeding sugar cane into the rollers. In 1940, the family moved from the Arkansas Delta to Cottage Hills, IL, in the Alton industrial area. Here, Bob worked as a caddy at the Cloverleaf Golf Course on Fosterburg Road during his junior high years. He would spend his high school years working on his parent’s dairy farm just southeast of Carrollton, where he developed an interest in medicine while tending and mending the livestock. Bob graduated from Carrollton High School in 1950, having played as a star defensive tackle on the Carrollton Hawks football team. Bob served as a medic in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War, achieving the rank of Sergeant (Airman 1st Class), serving as a physical therapist and neurosurgical assistant. He served at Billy Mitchell Field and the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Milwaukee, WI; and at the 6407th USAF Hospital, and the 801st / 6481st Medical Air Evacuation Group, at Tachikawa Japan; along with detached duty at several hot spots and MASH units in Korea. In 1955, he settled in Decatur, where his parents had relocated; and in 1968, he and his wife Mary purchased the old Benton family farmhouse on Martha Drive off Bentonville Road. Continuing his interest in helping and saving lives, Bob was a Long Creek volunteer fireman for about 15 years; and was a (100-gallon) blood donor, CPR and trauma trainer, and Disaster Relief worker and leader for the Decatur chapter of the American Red Cross for many more years. In his capacity as a Red Cross Disaster Relief worker, he drove and manned food provision and water emergency vehicles, and helped locally organize those kind of efforts in the aftermath of such emergencies as the tornado that hit Findlay, IL (1990); Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, FL (1992); Mississippi River floods (1993); Tropical Storm Alberto’s flooding in the lower Appalachians (1994); Hurricane Floyd’s flooding of North Carolina (1999); Tropical Storm Allison in Houston, TX (2001); 9/11 Attacks, Ground Zero, Manhattan, NY (Sep-Oct 2001), and Logistics Control at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, NY (Oct-Dec 2001); Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Lafayette, and Houma, LA (2006); and other missions mostly in the 1990’s. Bob’s five weeks at the north edge of Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan in the days after the Twin Towers were destroyed affected his breathing for the rest of his life. He came home for a week and went back to New York City for another six weeks, but due to his age (69) and the previous weeks’ impact on his lungs, the top Red Cross administrators assigned him to coordinate some of their logistics in Brooklyn. The most moving of his many duties was organizing hundreds of civilian and military volunteers to fold the 5,000 “official, regulation” casket-size American flags for the expected number of funerals for the victims of the attacks. Bob personally met and shared a number of conversations and cups of coffee with a few professional athletes including some well-known NFL players, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Director of the United States Secret Service Brian Stafford, and several of these men’s top deputies, as well as pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and Bill Harrison, President and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank, who sent 700 employees to Floyd Bennett Field who volunteered to fold American flags. He said that big shots just put their pants on the same way as anyone else: one leg at a time. He started working at Caterpillar Tractor in Decatur in November 1955, and retired in 1987 from U.A.W. 751. Bob was a UAW Journeyman Tool & Die Maker, and later traded that in to become a Journeyman Machine Repairman (Hydraulic Specialist). Some of his best friends at Caterpillar included Casey Whitten, Marion Garner, Tom Shehorn, Jim Ferris, Kenny Jewell, Bill Benton, and Leroy Wilson. For at least 60 years, he worked on cars and other vehicles whenever needed, including probably hundreds of family and friends’ vehicles, and at least one church bus for Calvary Baptist Church, many lawnmowers and other engines and machines, often working for free or just for parts, but always with a smile and a joy in helping others. In keeping with his lifelong interest and mechanical skills, Bob also was one of the many young men (along with his brother Bill) who would drag race out in the country on N. Brush College Road and other places back in the 1950’s and 60’s. He was very successful, and managed not to kill himself, or any of his cars or their engines, or anyone else for that matter. Bob also helped his father (Oku A. Underwood) and father-in-law (Clarence E. Hart) build or repair or paint several houses in the Decatur area between 1955 and 1975. After retiring from Caterpillar, he was a bus driver for the Mt. Zion School District. When his sons were still school age, Bob assisted with training JFL football; played church softball for Calvary Baptist Church; and sponsored and helped in Royal Ambassadors and Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts sporting events such as track and field competitions and boat and Pinewood Derby races. He indulged his children with helping them get their cars, working on hobbies like model trains and planes and ships, riding motorcycles and dirt bikes and four-wheelers, and collecting stamps and coins, sharing an interest in all of these. He also supported his children in band, sports, FFA, FBLA, academics, and everything else in Mt. Zion Schools, MacArthur High School, and various colleges. Bob could play the harmonica and (sort of) play the piano, and he had a good bass singing voice; he was always humming, singing, and whistling Gospel songs. Bob enjoyed sports, especially Packers and Bears and college football, St. Louis Cardinals baseball, and mostly college basketball, always cranky when the Illini lost. Bob was a badminton champion in the Air Force, and learned croquet there, bringing both of those backyard sports home. Rook, Dominoes, Horseshoes, and Washers were sacred and inherited family favorites, and visits to his own parents’ house or family reunions weren’t complete without one or more of those tournaments, and Bob’s dad Oku Underwood was the one to beat. Bob kept a small arsenal of rifles, shotguns, and bows, to hunt deer, pheasant, quail, wild turkey, and a few unfortunate rabbits and squirrels, up until about 1980; he was a decent fisherman when he had time to bother with it. He was a good swimmer, had some combat parachute training in the Air Force, and enjoyed hiking and camping. He and Mary took the family on vacations every year, driving and camping wherever they went, and managed to drive through every state in the lower 48 at least once. Disney World, Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, The Alamo, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon were destinations visited numerous times. Dad was also a keen bird watcher for much of his life, built birdhouses for purple martens and wrens and bluebirds, and always fed the winter songbirds and hummingbirds. He planted and tended a quarter-acre vegetable garden and an acre fruit tree orchard for 25 years at his Long Creek Township residence, between 1970 and 1995, also keeping sheep there for a while in the early 70’s. He loved dogs, too, and grew to tolerate certain cats. Bob was not much of a reader, but he loved to read and study the Bible. He also read Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”, which he often said was the only book other than the Bible that he had read all the way through. He was keenly interested in family history, and enjoyed traveling and seeking out old family properties and cemeteries in the old South. But preferring livelier entertainment at home, he enjoyed good Western movies and series, The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and military comedies like Hogan’s Heroes and McHale’s Navy. He also loved Star Trek, police and detective dramas like Mannix, Cannon, Magnum P.I. and the A-Team, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, The Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith, Lawrence Welk, and Hee Haw. He loved Hank Williams (Sr.) and old-time Country music, and was a distant cousin of Harold Lloyd Jenkins (a.k.a. Conway Twitty); he also enjoyed classical music, military marches, ragtime, and trumpet jazz. He was an avid user of C.B. radios in the family’s vacationing days, and when he could, he wouldn’t miss tuning in to his favorite AM Radio programs, such as Rush Limbaugh and the old Saturday Morning Comedy Show on KMOX St. Louis. Bob’s all-time favorite music and television viewing, however, was Southern Gospel music and Billy Graham crusades and other good preaching and worship. Bob trusted Christ as his Savior on 12 Nov 1944 when his family resided in Cottage Hills, IL, and they attended the Cottage Hills Baptist Church in Bethalto. After 40 years as a Baptist layman and Sunday School teacher, heavily emphasizing evangelism and discipleship, Bob became an ordained Baptist minister in 1995, pastoring at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Dittmer, MO, and later in Murrayville, IL. He was a Sunday School teacher and soul-winner in Decatur and Macon County for 63 years, mostly at Woodlawn, Calvary, Trinity, Mt. Zion, and Tabernacle Baptist Churches. He was a song-leader and evangelist with the Lay-Led Revival Team in Illinois and with the R. F. Gates Evangelistic Team (Shreveport, LA) on several missions in the American West and Southwest. He occasionally joined his grandparents or uncles in their Gospel music group, the Browning Quartet, sometimes to fill in for an absent regular member. He also was active for many years in the Illinois Baptist Brotherhood and the Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief teams, helping build the Korean Baptist Church building in Schaumburg, IL, and repair the Baptist Church in Leadville, CO, among other projects. Between 1966 and 2011, figuring an average of 3 persons per home, 3 homes a week, 50 weeks a year, for 45 years, Bob and Mary Underwood together witnessed to at least 20,000 people in their homes or at their front doors about salvation in Jesus Christ. Add to that all the casual contacts through each week, bus visitation on many Saturdays, and the many extra times when they divided up with other prayer partners, and Bob’s years in Decatur between 1955 and 1966, an additional 12 to 15,000 people were likely introduced to the Gospel of saving grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. (Mary went with godly ladies like Margaret Butts, Darlene Mayberry, Sandy Ratts, Carole Goff, and Kay Antrim, etc. Bob went with godly men like Archie Grigg, Doc Evans, Casey Whitten, Jim Cade, Bill Langley, Lorne DeJournett, Jack McKinney, Jim Butts, Al Fravala, Bill Walker, Gene Ratts, Willard Goff, and Bob’s own father-in-law Clarence Hart. Bob was a rough diamond, overcoming many difficulties in his youth and beyond, and seemed to have been prepared by the Lord for straight talk about Christ with a bunch of tough factory guys and veterans. But he couldn't think of anything more important in life than to know Jesus and be ready for Eternity. Bob always had a laugh, a smile, a good story (sometimes hours long!), and an encouraging word for everyone, despite sometimes having a gruff exterior when angered or frustrated. He was a big brother to not only his own siblings and their spouses, but to his wife’s siblings and their spouses. Through teaching, evangelism and discipleship, and even through games and sports, Bob influenced dozens of boys and young men for Christ, and some young women too; nephews, nieces, church kids, school kids, neighborhood kids, prodigals and waywards, playing in sin’s shallows or drowning in sin’s deep waters, even in the sewage of addiction and wreckage and ruin, he never met a person for whom he did not see a hope and a good future. He knew that Christ would make the difference for good in anyone’s life who desired not mere “religion” but a real relationship with God. His influence was very often part of a team effort with other godly mentors, but he was involved in the lives of young people far and wide, and many who survive to this day consider Bob Underwood almost an adopted Dad, and credit the Lord for using him to help them understand Christ’s love, the real meaning of life, and maturity and responsibility. He was a deeply imperfect sinner serving a wonderfully perfect Savior…and now he’s Home in Jesus’ arms. In 1956, Bob married Miss Esther Marie Estell of Hillsboro and Decatur, IL (daughter of Harry F. Estell and Ethel A. Rigsby). In 1966. Bob married Miss Mary Lee Hart of Akin and Harristown, IL (daughter of Clarence E. Hart and Audrey L. Whetstone), and Mary survives. Bob is also survived by his five children: Carolyn Spaniol (Mike) of Sun River, OR; Stan Underwood of Hardin, IL; Julie Bieser (Michael) of Emden, IL; Matt Underwood (Kara) of Mt. Washington, KY; and Mark Underwood (Courtney) of Decatur, IL. He is also survived by six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren: David Gant III, and children Cara and Dallas Gant; Ashley Underwood and son Brenten Foutch; Amber (Jalil) Russell of the US Coast Guard, and daughter Selena; Kristin (Damon) Waterhouse, and children Dawson and Lydia; Devin (Rick) Bales and daughter Abigail; and Dalton (Marley) Glasco. Bob is also survived by siblings and in-laws Kathryn (Underwood) Cullers of Marion, IL; Jerry (Judy) Underwood of Belton, MO; Sherry (Mrs. Dwight) Underwood, of Mesa, AZ; Bev (Underwood) Vandygriff, of Godfrey, IL; and Mary (Mrs. James) Underwood, David Underwood, and Cherie Underwood of Jerseyville; 22 Underwood nephews and nieces, and 21 of the Hart family; one uncle, Glenn Browning of Alton; and many other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by one grandson Brent Allen Gibson Underwood; Underwood siblings and in-laws Bill and Louise (Hartbank) Underwood, Dr. Benjamin D. Cullers, John Edward Underwood, Jeanette (Underwood) Menezes, Dwight Underwood, Jimmy Underwood, and Herman Vandygriff; great-nephew Ari Cullers; Hart brothers- and sisters-in-law June (Hart) English, James Hart, Joan (Hart) and Larry Jones, Jack Hinton, Norma Hart, Linda (Hart) Cole, and Bobby and Christine (Brero) Hart; nephew Steve Jones; and Bob’s first wife Esther (Estell) Hise. Private family services will held at Moran & Goebel Funeral Home, 2801 N. Monroe, Decatur. Interment will be at Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, IL. A celebration service is being discussed for some time in the Summer of 2020. You may view the live stream of the service at 11 am, Monday, May 11, 2020, at http://webcast.funeralrecording.com/, the event number is 29040, password is Underwood.
Robert Alton “Bob” Underwood, 88, went home to Heaven on Monday, May 4, 2020, from his residence in Decatur, Illinois. He fell asleep about 3:00 in the afternoon, and was still sleeping around 5:00 p.m., but by 5:15, his dreams... View Obituary & Service Information
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