Bob passed peacefully into the welcoming arms of his heavenly father, surrounded in love by his wife Deanna, family and friends on Valentine’s Day, 53 years to the day he and Deanna had their first date.
Born in Torrington, CT to Dorothy and Stuart Cleaveland, Bob grew up in “the red house” on Ridgebrook Road with his only sibling, older sister Dorothy (Dottie) who, on January 16, 2017, died 13 months before Bob. Both parents and all Bob’s grandparents also predeceased him, leaving Bob – without children – as the last in the Cleaveland lineage. Bob’s parents were both only children so he had no aunts, uncles or cousins. Bob’s fondest memories of growing up included summers spent at a Highland Lake cottage called Bass Rock that his family rented for many years. This past fall Bob was delighted to at last show this special place to Deanna. He also remembered happy days at his paternal grandfather’s home with fireplaces Bob could stand in and the big red barn in Harwinton, CT which he also showed Deanna. Bob grew up enjoying baseball played with friends in his back yard, Boy Scouts, singing in the youth choir and Pilgrim Fellowship at Center Congregational Church, performing in high school plays, working at The Mertz Company, his father’s department store. Bob graduated from Torrington High School (1962), then attended Worcester Academy (1963) in Worcester, MA for a post-high school year where he played football and wrestled before entering Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, OH. At OWU Bob played football, was on the ROTC drill team, sang in the Acapella Choir and pledged Chi Phi fraternity, enjoying life with his “brothers” at The Oaks. Bob graduated from OWU in 1967 with a BA as an English major.
In his college sophomore year, Bob met Deanna, a freshman, at a party her sorority gave for his fraternity. After their first date, they were always a couple. After his graduation, Bob was hired as the Sports Information Director for OWU’s “Battling Bishops” teams so he remained in Delaware, OH as Deanna began her senior year. On his December birthday that year (1967), Bob received his draft notice during the Vietnam War. Expressing that he could fly over rice paddies easier than crawling through them and drawing on his college ROTC experience, Bob chose to enlist in the Air Force in March 1968 aware he would then have a 4-year military commitment rather than 2 with the Army. After completing his basic training at Lackland AFB, TX and technical training at Chanute AFB, IL, Bob and Deanna were married on September 7, 1968 in Deerfield, IL. They enjoyed a 3-week honeymoon road trip across the country before Bob reported to McChord AFB in Tacoma as a Weather Observer for flight support. Bob served at Chu Lai in Vietnam from August 1970 to August 1971, returning to McChord until his discharge 6 months later. Refusing to accept the Vietnam service ribbon in 1971 for a war he did not believe in, Bob proudly began wearing an Air Force Vietnam Veteran baseball cap the last few years with the Vietnam service ribbon embroidered on it. When fellow veterans and others noticed the cap, Bob often heard, “Welcome home” and “Thank you for your service” warmly expressed. Bob always replied: “Thank you for your support.” And as he requested, he will receive military honors and the playing of “Taps” at the family’s private cemetery service to bless his ashes.
While stationed at McChord, Bob was hired as a part-time agent with John Hancock Life Insurance. After his military discharge Bob attended University of Puget Sound, earning his teacher’s certification in spring 1972. Student teaching convinced Bob to instead begin his full-time career in insurance sales with John Hancock in September 1972 where he remained for 9 years achieving membership in the company’s President’s Honor Club and the industry’s Million Dollar Round Table. In April 1981 Bob joined Persing, Dyckman & Toynbee, a local insurance brokerage firm. Bob earned the professional designations of CLU in 1984 and ChFC in 1985. Professionally active in local and state Life Underwriters Associations, Bob served as President of the Tacoma-Pierce County Association as well as Legislative Chair for the WA State Association, often lobbying and testifying in Olympia on behalf of the state organization, a role he enjoyed and was effective at. In 1981 Bob was honored by the WA State Association of Life Underwriters receiving both the Member of the Year and Inspirational Award. Bob was also a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Estate Planning Council. He treasured his regular meetings with Gayle and Jerry, trusted insurance colleagues from different firms, for mutual education and encouragement – special personal relationships that developed into fall weekend retreats for the 3 couples for the past 23 years.
While at PD&T, Bob along with Deanna began teaching financial retirement seminars. With Bob’s expertise expanding into comprehensive financial planning, the Cleavelands were led to open their own financial planning firm, Cornerstone Financial Strategies, on April 1, 1999. The Cleavelands sold their practice to business partners in 2009, remaining with the firm until their retirement on August 31, 2011 to ensure a smooth transition for their clients for whom they cared deeply. Bob loved to say, “Our clients became our friends, and our friends became our clients” with Bob’s business partners and their families becoming extended family to the Cleavelands as well.
Bob’s community service was wide and varied with much of his giving of time and resources focused on children. Shortly after arriving in Tacoma, Bob joined the Tacoma Totemaires Barbershop Chorus. Together Bob and Deanna became members of the congregation at University Place Presbyterian Church where Bob was a Deacon and Ruling Elder and developed a “Contingency Form” church members could use to state their “at my death” wishes to help family members and their pastors. Bob was an active member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce particularly with legislative issues in his early career years. A charter member of Tacoma’s City Club, Bob’s service club involvement was with West Tacoma Optimists and as a charter member of the North Tacoma Rotary Club from 1986 to 2017. He served on the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Foundation board (Development Committee) as well as serving as a founding board member of Palmer Scholars which provides financial and mentoring support to Pierce County students of color. Believing strongly in the effectiveness of their missions and work, Bob loved supporting the ARK Institute of Learning, Families Unlimited Network, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chaplaincy program as well as many other worthy community causes that touched his heart. In his retirement, Bob volunteered with SCORE which mentors owners of small businesses. Also in retirement Bob, along with Deanna, became a volunteer with Franciscan Hospice, serving many retired military patients that influenced his evolving appreciation for and understanding of those who have served, including himself.
Bob’s greatest legacy of giving and testament to his love for children was as a co-founder of the Make-A-Wish chapter for Washington and Alaska. Learning about this young, growing national charity at an international insurance meeting in San Francisco in 1985, Bob returned with a desire to help locally – only to learn there was not yet a local chapter. Wishes for Washington kids were being granted by the nearest chapter in Oregon. So Bob with his friends Greg Wong (who attended that same insurance meeting) and Penni Maples pooled their love for kids, their ideas, their connections, their areas of expertise and co-founded what was then Make-A-Wish of WA State, cobbling together a dedicated board of volunteers who went to work for the kids. Bob laughingly said that, even without children, we still gave birth because it took 9 months to launch the chapter and receive status as a 501(c)(3) charity in March 1986. Bob served the local chapter as co-founder and board member from 1986 to 1992, and he also served on the National Board of Make-A-Wish Foundation of America from 1988 to 1994. From humble beginnings as nothing more than an answering machine in a spare bedroom at the Cleaveland home and granting just 6 wishes that first year, the Make-A-Wish Washington and Alaska chapter is now headquartered in Seattle and will grant just under 400 wishes this year. An incredible legacy!
Bob treasured his “brothers in Christ” relationships with his men’s covenant group that has met together each Friday morning over breakfast for 42 years. Studying and praying together, challenging and encouraging each other’s spiritual growth, supporting each other on various life journeys and challenges was an incredibly important part of Bob’s life and Christian walk. As the group has aged and experienced health declines and the loss of both members and spouses, the gift of these trusted friends became even more important to Bob and each other.
Vowing never to be a “someday” person, Bob lived life to its fullest with Deanna as he was able, despite mobility and health issues in recent years. In younger, healthier days, he loved to fly stunt kites as they enjoyed several long weekends at The Sandpiper in Pacific Beach, WA and at the annual WA State International Kite Festival in Long Beach, WA. He delighted in holding annual Easter egg hunts for children of friends in our yards (and helping one lucky child find the “golden” egg!). Bob loved music – from barbershop quartets to classical to jazz to vocals to instrumentals to oldies to Hawaiian to movie and Broadway soundtracks – everything except opera and country! He loved going to concerts, large and small, to hear live music. Bob was an avid sports lover, a NY Mets fan who shed tears of joy when his beloved team won their first World Series in 1969, a devoted Russell Wilson and Seahawks fan, and a long-suffering Mariners fan who had finally moved from rooting to ranting! He loved that Deanna enjoyed entertaining, and, rather than going out, Bob preferred opening their home to friends to enjoy special visits over good food, wine and margaritas. Bob and Deanna traveled throughout their life together and, in retirement, particularly enjoyed chasing the sun in the winter from Maui to Palm Desert to the Phoenix area where Bob loved spring baseball games and renting a golf cart as a second car for their stays. With just Deanna or with friends, Bob loved cruising the coast of Mexico, to Alaska, to the Mediterranean, through the Panama Canal, up the New England/Canadian maritime coast and down the St. Lawrence Seaway, along the Danube for a Christmas markets river cruise with what Bob called the “gang of 14!” He cherished the good times he and Deanna enjoyed with nephew Dave, professionally a Spanish interpreter, when they spent 3 weeks in Spain together. Some of Bob’s happiest travel times were to Maui where, from 1987 to 2004, he and Deanna owned a beachside condo on Hau’oli (Happy) Street! Special friendships and memories were made as they stayed there over the years, and the guest books from their condo rentals also hold treasured memories for them. Bob’s friends often called him Scuba Bob, he loved his aloha shirts and when he and Deanna owned Cornerstone Financial Strategies, every Friday was Aloha Friday with Hawaiian music playing and aloha attire.
Bob is survived by Deanna, the love of his life he called his “bride” for 49 ½ years. He is also survived by his sister’s children and the large family he married into that loved him so, particularly his brother-in-law Doug Davis and sister-in-law Nancy Davis. As Uncle Bob, he leaves behind 8 nieces and nephews who called him UB: Katrina Svoboda Johnson; Franz Svoboda (Jane); Kurt Svoboda (Joanna Goldstein); David Svoboda; Kristi Grimes (Dave); Michael Davis (Tanya); Kevin; Nicholas Robert (named for Bob, Nick is also Bob and Deanna’s godson). Great-Uncle Bob (“Grubby”) also leaves a great-niece Anna Johnson and 3 great-nephews Keith Johnson, Jaxon Svoboda and Ezekiel (Ez) Davis. Bob is also mourned by Deanna’s extended family including Aunt Mary Ellen Pryor and all of Deanna’s cousins, their spouses and children who knew this man with a heart and hugging arms big enough for them all.
Bob left behind these descriptors of himself: entrepreneur; connector of people and relationships; risk manager and life planner; problem solver; volunteer; singer; creator; Friday morning covenant group member; son/husband/uncle/friend. And he described his life in this way: “Bob lived a full life of love, faith, family, service and adventures with the love of his life, Deanna.”
Bob’s memorial service and a celebration of his life will be held on Friday, March 9 at 2:00 pm at University Place Presbyterian Church, 8101- 27th St. W., University Place, WA 98466. In keeping with Bob’s love of Maui, aloha attire is welcome.
For those who wish to honor Bob’s life, the family suggests contributions in his memory may be made to Make-A-Wish of Alaska/Washington (akwa.wish.org) or the charity of your choice that supports children.