Robert Francis Phelan


TALL TALES told to me by Uncle Bob “The Great”

Uncle Claude Phelan had a copper mine near Needles. There was no water at the mine, so he’d collect rain water and am off in a tank, and use very sparingly. Left over cold coffee was used to rinse off counter tops, tables and even the floor.

Claude Jr. & Bob stole a bunch of cantaloupe and cigars one day, and hid out in the barn to savor. When they were so full and sick of smoke, they took to striking & throwing matches. When they saw smoke coming from the hay, they ran out in full view of Grandma Phelan. She never told just who had burned the barn down, but held it over their heads forever as a threat.

Uncle Bob found a huge hive and kept trying to smoke out the bees to get the honey. He stole the farmers tractor, pulled the tree over and got the honey. He noticed the tree still smoking from his previous attempts to rid the bees, poured 100’s (?!) of buckets of water on it and left confident the fire was out. Later he saw smoke, ran to pour more water on the tree, not noticing the path of dry grass that led to a hay stack was smoking also, and with a mighty explosion, the stack went up in flames.

At the Grand Canyon, granddad lost his job. The only means of supporting the family came from the selling of bread baked by grandma & Aunt Marcella. White and wheat bread sold for 3 cents , raisin/avocado for 5.

Sundays, Bob, Gene & Torn were sent to church each with a penny. Bob & Gene would steal Toms penny and buy a news paper for 3c. They would sale it 5c by hiding their jackets in the train station and wrapping onion sacks around them to keep warm. They’d stand out in the cold and hold papers up for sale – folks took pity on them, bought and might give an extra penny to the poor. They’d go home loaded with more money than granddad use to make in a day, but still got beat for begging. Claude would Cry – Bob would laugh making the beating that much harder, but wearing out the one doing the whipping so when Tommy’s turn came, they went easier on him.

Granddad ran a mule pack team for campers going down the canyon – later he ran a motor tour along the rim. Granddad always said “Before you say it out loud think about what you’re gonna say, say it to yourself and think about it again. If it still sounds good to ya – go ahead and say it out loud.” He also lived by “If you don’t have something good to say about someone – don’t talk about them.”

Grandma use to tell me about the haunted house they lived in at the Grand Canyon. The builder supposedly died before finishing and came back to complete the job. They would stir the fire at night to die out and find fresh logs a blazing before falling asleep. Grandma would nail the attic windows shut to find them pried open the next day. There were always noises and large foot prints in the attic dust. One night their dog stood at the back door, hair a risen growling low at a shadow standing outside. When the door was opened no one was found yet huge footprints were left in the ground… Now Uncle Bob said he was the one who nailed the windows to lower down boxes of trash while clearing the attic and who re-life the fire after grandma went to bed because he was so cold. He didn’t account for noises or footprints however.

Remembrances’ of Bob

Last Tuesday morning my best friend, Bob Phelan died. Who was this man whom many of us loved and admired.  Many of us remember him as the Lord Jesus Christ’s man. Always evangelizing, he spread the word in action and by his life.   This was not always the case however. The Lord seasoned Bob just as He seasoned Moses before He set him to His task. Bob was born during the great Depression and as a result worked wherever he could find employment.  He sold newspapers, iced boxcars, broke horses, and at one time was a Bull Cook for forest fighters.  He even overcame the problems of rheumatic fever to become a 1st Class Machinist’s mate in charge of a small minesweeper’s engine room during the Korean War.

Bob was physically and mentally strong, able to challenge those whom he thought needed to be challenged either verbaly or physically. In fact he at one time had built up quite a reputation for being able to use his fists.  But the Lord had better things in mind for him. He was the dynamite setter and blaster for a mine in Nevada when he was introduced to Dorothea who started him on a new course – a course that eventually led him into marriage and a family, life in California and his partnership in SYMETRICS, and a very close walk with Jesus Christ.

My first awareness of Bob was when I attended an evangelism commission meeting at Dorothea’ s house. I was startled by what I thought was some phantom movement in her caning room when something seemed to have moved through it to the outside patio. Nothing was said at that time, but I later found out that that had been Bob at avoiding anyone who was “‘religious”. For Bob, some may recall, had long since put aside his Christian up-bringing, his church membership, and his active belief in God.

Then one night, in answer to the many prayers of Dorothea and her many Christian friends, the Lord quickened Bob. Bob told me that just before he went into the hospital for heart surgery, he granted Dorothea’s special request. He did this since here was nothing else meaningful that he felt he could do for her in the remaining time that he had before undergoing an operation that he might not survive. He let her Christian friend Bob do the unthinkable – pray over him. And having done that for Dorothea, Bob went on to the hospital without giving it any further thought.

It was, as he lay in the solitude of his hospital bed, prior to the operation that his mind came back to thoughts of the Lord. He told me that he said something like ‘Okay, if you are out there, show me by reducing the great pain that I should experience while my chest heals after the operation”. He further said that when he regained consciousness after the operation he did not, indeed experience this great pain and he said “Okay, you really are there. Thank you Jesus” and a pro-active evangelist for Christ was born. He even witnessed to his new hospital roommate before he went home. For when that man returned from his heart surgery, he asked Bob how he managed the pain so well and Bob told him.

Dorothea watched this great change in Bob and when she was really convinced that he had indeed been reborn in Christ, she told us how her prayers and our prayers had been answered.  Shortly after this I had the privilege of inviting Dorothea and Bob to Cursillo while I lay in my own hospital bed. I was so glad that Bob had agreed as I felt that he would make a great witness at Cursilio. Little did I realize that the Holy Spirit would touch him so strongly at his Cursillo that this also would became a great spiritual event for Bob.

It was because of Cursillo that I really got to know Bob and that he became my best friend. For after that we started grouping together weekly for Saturday morning breakfasts. This lasted for many years until Bob could no longer enjoy eating breakfast and we changed our meeting time to late Friday afternoons. During this whole period, various others joined us from time to time, starting with the Bob who prayed over him before the operation. Our last grouping was last Sunday when Dottie and I joined Him and Dorothea on their porch. As we sat there eating wonderful strawberries and scones and drinking tea that Dorothea had prepared, Bob joyfully talked about listening to the Lord all one night during his last hospital stay. He also joyfully talked about God’s wonderful love, demonstrated in all that God has given to his children and in the love that Bob’s friends share with Bob and with others- It was as though he was giving the sermon on God’s love that is detailed in I John 4, verses 7 through 21.

Yes, Bob was God’s man, actively spreading the word of God’s love. He did it with his family, his friends, and his business associates. He and Dorothea were both strong supporters and active participants in the Cursillo and Faith Alive movements. Also, as he grew in the Lord he decided that he also should give his business to the Lord and after a couple of times when Bob temporarily took it back he gave it to the Lord permanently and used its unexplainable, ever increasing profitability as a bold witness to his business associates, including investment bankers, of God’s miraculous love and care.

As Bob grew in the sure knowledge of God’s love and as his faith increased, so did his boldness to proclaim Christ. Bob not only evangelized in his daily routines but also, on trips or under medical care in doctors’ offices and in hospitals. Bob reached the point where he convinced strangers on Sunday mornings at open air restaurants to accompany him to a nearby Christian church and he even spoke of the Lord at Ventura’s Hobo encampment. I personally know of one case where he helped prevent a new born Christian Navy Ensign from falling under the influence of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon missionaries. That Lt. is still grateful to Bob and Dorothea.

Yes, as family and friends, we will all remember Bob as a husband, father, and kind and true friend to be loved and treasured. But even more so we will remember him as one, who in the fullness of time, became a loving follower of Christ and boldly answered His call of Matthew 28 to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”.

by Joe Donnely

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