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Profiles of People: Meet Bob Heirman



Bob Heirman, naturalist and historian, stands at the entry sign for the large riverside park named after him.

For many of us each New Year is a contradiction of terms.
“Out with the old, in with the new.” Do I throw away clothes I still like? Do I quit doing things I still enjoy? Do I stop having contact with people I still think are interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking? Of course not. And that is why I have chosen Bob Heirman to profile for the first month of the year. Love him or find him emboldened, 84-year-old Heirman is honed with opinions and actions that have been around since Hoover which are still relevant.
Who among us doesn’t appreciate walking without being confronted by litter? Don’t we all, young and old in Snohomish County, like traveling on roads where homeless encampments are not scattered among the nests of bald eagles and hawks along the Snohomish River? Heirman has worked tirelessly for 70 years to see that our lands are preserved for everyone to enjoy if they simply respect them properly — rich or poor.
Born in Everett, but raised all his life in Snohomish, Bob and his older brother (who sadly passed away recently) lived all their young lives in the attic of their parents’ farm house. They were happy to live what he calls, “a beautiful childhood in the wildwood.” He didn’t leave home until the age of 27. His mother was a great cook and he pulled his own weight. Heirman thinks by the time he moved out he had probably completely rebuilt the family home. And he always worked outside the home also.
When he didn’t have a chainsaw in his hand he was a locomotive fireman and engineer for Northern Pacific (later Burlington Northern) for 44 years, and was chosen BN’s outstanding employee
out of 45,000 others. Heirman was also a championship tennis player and singer. He still sings to help others at nursing homes, but said he refuses to sing in church because he
does not like the songs.
A backcountry individual by nature, Heirman considers himself a naturalist who has spent a lifetime working to protect the environment. He is very proud that a 340-acre wildlife park along the Snohomish River was named after him, but he is most happy that it is a protected area where people can recreate.
He likes people, he says, who have an honest understanding of the historical nature of Snohomish. His patience is sorely tried by those who don’t. Among those who frustrate him are city leaders, especially those who allowed development around Blackman Lake and its surrounding area. He truly believes the lake is being horribly abused.
Heirman knows that lake and all that surrounds it is living and must be taken care of as such. Having been the person who planted many of the fish in the water, it is hard for him to watch them dying as they swim unprotected into construction overflows.He tries to make people listen, understand and edu-
cate themselves as to the delicate balance of the ecosystem, but greedy developers seem to have more power at present than one older man with a wealth of knowledge and modest means.
But Heirman is not going quietly into this good sunset
of his life. He empowers himself and others by speak-ing, writing and generally being a quintessential presence for living a life of meaning. He boycotts Fred Meyer because Snohomish Station ruined his beloved creek. He said he has no idea what is going on indowntown Snohomish. And to Heirman, having a Boys’ and Girls’ Club and a closed swimming pool where the hometown baseball field once stood is perhaps the worst travesty example of what is gone in small towns across America.
Where have the people gone like the lovely Marge
Schultz, the singer who persuaded him personally to share his singing voice with others and who continues to be an inspiration to him even though she has passed on?
Heirman has accomplished much for the betterment of others. He acknowledges he hasn’t done it by himself. He may not be very pleased with what many consider progress, but he has stood up and stood for that which we all know to be valuable: Mother Earth.
He’s had by his side through his successes his lovely wife Clara, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, his priest, and many friends, including farmer Cliff Bailey and fisherman Ralph Dahlquist. These, and many others, all still accompany him as he speaks to what is his philosophy about life.
“We’re called to do random acts of kindness and to make the world a better place because we walk upon it,” he said.
Two of Heirman’s more popular books will be going through reprints in the near future: “Snohomish County. A Poet’s Paradise,” and “A Railroad Runs Through It: Reflections from Everett to Darrington.” He will also be speaking on Feb. 21 at the Snohomish Senior Center.


Author Patricia Therrell’s column traditionally runs on the third week of the month.
If you’d like to suggest someone to profile, let the Tribune know: 360-568-4121.

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