Robert “Bob” Polaneczky, of Oreland, Pa. and formerly of Philadelphia, Pa., died peacefully on Dec. 24th, 2019. He was 83.
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He is survived by his wife, Betsy Youtz, and brothers Al (the late Pat) and Ed (Rosemary). He was pre-deceased by his brother Tom (Barbara). He is also survived by 16 nieces and nephews and their many children and grandchildren.
Bob grew up in Germantown and was a proud graduate of North Catholic High School, where he ran cross-country, which cemented his lifelong love of distance running. He was a frequent participant in the city’s annual Broad Street Run and the Philadelphia Marathon, and he was never happier than when jogging along Forbidden Drive in the city’s lush Wissahickon Valley.
As a teen, he and brothers Tom and Ed developed an interest in weightlifting, converting the garage behind their parents’ rowhome into a gym where they trained with friends for lifting competitions. In later years, he and his wife, Betsy, stayed fit through almost daily workouts at their local Y and through long weekend bike rides through Lancaster County, where they’d end the day with hearty meals at their favorite Amish buffets.
After graduating from LaSalle College with a bachelor’s degree in physics, Bob continued his studies at Villanova University, where he received a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He worked at Frankford Arsenal as a ballistics expert and, when the arsenal closed, developed and tested military aircraft technology at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster, Pa., from which he retired at age 55.
Bob loved the great outdoors and frequently traveled the United States with Betsy – they had a special love for the rugged beauty of the Southwest and for the country’s many national parks, through which they hiked and biked. They were also regular visitors to historic Williamsburg, Va., returning after each trip newly inspired to bring country warmth and charm to their home’s décor and design.
A masterful woodworker, Bob built nearly all of their home’s Colonial-style furniture and installed his own hand-hewn custom cabinetry, ceiling beams and window casements, which showcased the curtains and draperies that Betsy designed and sewed by hand. He also created beautiful wooden frames for her needlepoint creations and installed a hammered-tin ceiling in their kitchen, which Betsy adorned with hanging, dried flowers.
In the 1970’s, Bob went through a robust photography phase, toiling for hours in his basement darkroom to develop just the right shades and tones in the portraits he shot of his nieces and nephews for their grateful parents. He also collected model trains and especially loved aviation – he created model planes that lined the shelves of the case he built to display them.
When a few of his nephews showed a similar interest in flight, Bob organized trips to airfields to inspect and photograph airplanes of every make and model.
One nephew, Al, credits his own illustrious career as a military airman and commercial pilot to Bob’s support of his childhood dream to fly planes. A favorite photo is one that Betsy took of Bob, as Bob photographed Al landing a plane for Delta Airlines at Philadelphia International Airport.
Another nephew, Mike, recalls how Bob took him to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and then stopped for a Chinese dinner on the way home. Mike - one of nine siblings in a family where money was usually tight - had never tasted Chinese food before, let alone dined in a restaurant. The memory still makes him smile.
Another nephew, David, recalls how Bob – a sports fan – taught him how to shoot baskets and that he spent hours praising or lambasting the state of whichever Philly sports team was in season.
And Bob’s niece Rosemary recalled how Bob, horrified that her bare-bones car had only an AM radio, bought and installed an AM/FM radio in her automobile.
Bob also enjoyed taking his nieces and nephew “butterflying” – basically, hunting down beautiful monarch butterflies – which they’d then mount in wooden cases that Bob designed for their display.
Quietly generous, Bob supported many causes with annual financial gifts. And a few years back, when the country was in recession, he worried how it might be affecting his 16 nieces and nephews. He sent them each a $1,000 check, followed a few months later by a second check for the same amount. In the letter that accompanied the checks, he said they were part of “Uncle Bob’s economic stimulus program.” When his flabbergasted nieces and nephews attempted to thank him, he gruffly ordered them to use the money “for something fun.”
In his later years, he and his wife treated his brothers and their wives to monthly group dinners at Olive Garden, one of their favorite casual restaurants, where they’d pass the evening recalling fond memories of youth.
Bob will be remembered for his adventurous spirit; for his devotion to his wife, to his late mother, Veronica (who lived with him until her death in 1988), and to his brothers; for his affection toward his nieces and nephews; and for his kindnesses toward his lifelong friends and to his Oreland neighbors.
When he knew the end was near, Bob modestly requested there be no fanfare at his passing and forbade a service or burial (his remains were cremated, and his ashes will be spread at a later date). But his immediate family requests that friends and relatives leave remembrances here for the good-hearted and decent man they knew and loved. May he rest in peace.