The Rev. Robert J.“Bob” Vetter entered the Lord’s presence Friday, November 6, after a long battle with metastatic melanoma. Born and raised in New York City, he graduated from Andrew Jackson High School where he ran track and was a high jumper, then enrolled in Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in Columbia, South Carolina where he earned his BA in Biblical Education in 1958. Later that year he married Waltraut (Wally) Von Malek, his high school sweetheart who graduated from King’s County Hospital School of Nursing. In 1959 Bob accepted a position as Youth Director at Baptist Temple in Brooklyn but when he and Wally, along with their infant daughter Deborah, arrived he was told by church officials the church was financially broke and there no longer was a position available.
Desperate to find work, Bob interviewed with the New York City YMCA and started a street gang program funded by a Rotary International three-year grant to fund a youth program in the Hell’s Kitchen community of the city.
While working for the “Y” he attended a graduate program in Sociology and Community Organization at Columbia University Teacher’s College, his first son, Robert James, Jr. was born, and he was offered a position with the Sumter, So. Carolina YMCA where he was responsible to start a new YMCA and Summer camp. His efforts were recognized by the Jaycees of America when they voted him the Outstanding Young Man of the year. It was during his tenure in Sumter that his second son, Steven Paul was born.
Tragedy struck the Vetter family when they moved to the Boston area where he assumed the Executive Director position at the Needham YMCA. An exciting opportunity to rebuild an old “Y” on a 15-acre site on the Charles River that housed the first YMCA Ice Rink in the country caught the attention of the greater Boston community. Life was good until Wally woke one morning with an unrelenting headache. A school nurse, she knew this was not an ordinary headache and suggested Bob take her to the hospital where she was admitted for observation. With plans to drive to New York with the family to sell their camper to friends of his parents, Wally insisted he go, take the children with him and pick her up when they returned Sunday afternoon. But by the time the family arrived at his parents’ home, he was met by his dad with an urgent message to call the hospital and talk to the doctor who was also a personal friend.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Brown said. “We lost her.”
Taken aback by what he heard, Bob answered, “What do you mean you lost her? She is in room….”
“No Bob. You don’t understand. Wally is dead. “Dr. Brown said. “She suffered a brain aneurism.”
Now a widower with three children ages 13, 12 and 9, Bob eventually began keeping a diary of how God supplied the every need of the family through their church, Christian friends, and neighbors. It was during this period he was introduced to his second wife, June Jenkins by a friend who knew June was a writer and that Bob’s pastor was encouraging him to have his diary put in book form.
After working on the book and submitting it to the publisher, they were married, after which Bob decided to investigate the possibility of attending seminary, a desire he wanted to pursue for some time. He enrolled in Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in So. Hamilton, MA and initially worked part time for the seminary as a development officer and attended classes part time until he realized how long it would take to complete the Master of Theological Studies degree.
While attending seminary Bob and June started the Christian Singles Foundation on the North Shore of Boston, a ministry that was rare in churches for older singles who were never marrieds, widow/widowers, or divorced individuals. The ministry grew from a small group of singles into a ministry with a monthly meeting of nearly 100, weekly Bible studies, and retreats. This ministry came to the attention of Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC, where he was called to be Singles Again Pastor, and to David C. Cook Publishing Company who requested the Vetters to write a book on singles which they entitled, “Jesus Was A Single Adult.”
In later years Bob served in a variety of ministries: Pastor, Maranatha Bible Church, Salisbury, NC; CEO of the USA World Team Mission Office, Coral Gables, FL and Atlanta, GA; and Associate Pastor, Providence Baptist Church, Raleigh. He moved to the Pinehurst area when he accepted the Vice President position of St. Joseph’s Foundation in Southern Pines at the time Belle Meade was being built.
Since retirement, he has served as a supply preacher in local churches and was also interim pastor at Ives Memorial Baptist Church, Pinebluff, and later at Beaver Creek Baptist Church, Cameron. He also served as a part time Chaplain at First Health Moore Regional Hospital.
Bob leaves his wife of 47 years, June; daughter Deborah and husband Daniel Jantzen; son Robert James (Jim) and wife Janice; son Steven Paul and wife Joyce; along with grandchildren Dr. Matt Jantzen and wife, Amy; Dr. Elisabeth Dowlen and husband, Dr. Hugh Dowlen; Colby Jantzen and wife Brenna; Kristen Vetter, Ryan Vetter, Nicole Vetter, Thomas Vetter; and great grandchildren Luke, Will, James, Georgie Beth, Robin and Charlie. James and Robin are both named after Bob, and Will is named after Bob’s father.
This “Kid from Queens” as he referred to himself, worked on meditations and sermons until shortly before his death to complete his goal of preparing over 500 messages during his ministry.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, November 15 at 2:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines, with Dr. David Helms officiating. Please note masks required.
Memorials may be given to First Baptist Church, Southern Pines or to First Health Hospice in Bob’s memory.
Online condolences may be made at www.bolesfuneralhome.com
Services entrusted to Boles Funeral Home of Southern Pines.