Brookings loses running legend, super volunteer Bob Bartling

He is remembered as a mentor and a kind and genuine man.

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BROOKINGS — With the death, at age 97, of Robert “Bob” Bartling, Brookings and South Dakota have lost a gentleman, mentor and citizen of legendary stature in the world of long distance running in our state — and so he is being remembered by those who saw him as a friend and mentor. 

“The designation of legend gets overused,” Dave Graves, president of Prairie Striders Running Club,” said earlier today. “But there is no other word. He broke ground by becoming an adult runner in the late 1960s. That was unheard of then. He went on to become an accomplished master’s runner and an even greater advocate for the sport of running as well as a charter member of Prairie Striders Running Club.

“If you were a fan of SDSU (South Dakota State University) athletics, a casual or serious runner, or just enjoyed a good beer, you had a friend in Bob Bartling. He was a genuine man with an eye for excellence and a smile for everyone. I hope I never forget the twinkle in Bob’s eye.”

Shari Landmark, chief wellness officer at the Miller Wellness Center at South Dakota State University, has known Bartling for much of her life.

“We all went to the same church when I was growing up,” she said. “I really got to know bob when I volunteered for the Jack 15 when I was in college in 1997. She also knew Bartling for the marathon. She later “started at the Wellness Center and took over the Jack 15.”

“He was such a patient person and just a wealth of knowledge,” Landmark, herself a distance runner, added. “He had a dedication to running in Brookings. There were times I questioned training in some different things and Bob helped me through that, which was great. Until you actually do it (distance running), you need a little help in how to chunk up those runs.”

She saw Bartling as a “mentor, in so many ways.” When it came to putting on a race, he noted a need for attention to detail: “The temperature at the start of a race, we had to get that. Those things make a difference when you’re looking at times. It all makes sense now, later on.”

A synopsis of the first 90 years of his life of was noted on his birthday on Aug. 26, 2016, when Mayor Tim Reed proclaimed the date “Bob Bartling Day.” Among Bartling’s many achievements, the proclamation noted that he was: “the leading advocate for running in the Brookings area for more than four decades, … a premier runner at mid-age, … part of a relay team that set the 4X-1-mile national age record in the early 1980s … and a charter member of Prairie Striders Running Club and served as its first president and served as treasurer from 1970 to 2010.”

As an advocate for running, Bartling practiced what he preached, during decades of distance running, completing the Longest Day Brookings Marathon three times: 1970, at 43, in a time of 3:23:35; 1975, at 49, in a time of 2:59: 28; and 1977, at 51, in a time of 3:04:46. The sub-3 hour finish is a sort of 26.2-mile rite of passage that makes a recreational — but serious — runner feel all the work of a marathon is worth it.

During his three-sport days at Brookings High School, class of 1944, Bartling was left halfback in the single-wing football formation and chosen by the student body to be homecoming lord. In basketball, he hustled as a guard was selected as Bobcat captain. In track and field, he won several major events, including being a member of the 880-yard relay team that won a title at the 1944 State Track and Field Meet.

While attending South Dakota State College, he lettered in football and golf.

Bartling will leave a legacy of many achievements, with running being a major element: being a member of “The Prairie Striders” — the first running club in South Dakota and the establisher of the Jackrabbit and the Longest Day Marathon, both of which were the first road and marathon in the state.

Steve Berseth, retired athletic director of the Brookings School District, recalled Bartling’s induction into the Brookings High School Sports Hall of Fame: “He was one of the nicest persons I ever met as well as a great mentor.”

Perhaps Dave Graves summed up best what Bob Bartling was to Brookings — and South Dakota.

“Brookings is poorer because of his departure, but we’re all abundantly blessed to have known him.”

His memory lives on in the Prairie Striders Running Library collection housed in Briggs Library on the SDSU campus.

Continue John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.