Bob Turner said goodbye in his own way.
As the graduation ceremony for American Legion Boys Nation 2017 came to a close, Turner invited the 98 delegates to gather in front of the stage while the program staff gathered on the stage.
Turner, retiring after 35 years on staff, then led Boys Nation in song one last time on July 28 at Marymount University’s Reinsch Auditorium.
It’s been an emotional year for Turner, whose wife, Betty, passed away in April. Turner has always been forthcoming with his emotions — “Having him come over to you and put his arm around your shoulder and say, ‘Nimit, I love you,’ … what more can you ask?” former Boys Nation junior counselor Nimit Jindal said last year — but he wasn’t sure he could get through a farewell speech.
“I didn’t know how much I could say, I decided to not say too much at all,” Turner said a few days later.
“Most of the people you won’t see again. I developed some friendships that just can’t beat and (retiring Program Director) Mike Buss is one of those. He’s more like a kid brother to me than anything.”
Turner’s involvement in the Boys State and Boys Nation programs dates to his own time as a Georgia Boys State delegate. A few years later, he was asked to come back and help with the program.
“I said I don’t know what I can do to help, but I went and got involved. Every year got better,” he said.
In 1982, Turner was asked to serve at Boys Nation. He’s been back every year since, even during his term as American Legion national commander in July 1991. He began as section counselor for Washington Section and became Director of Activities in the late 90s.
That’s when the Turner-led songs became part of the program.
“I wanted to do something different,” Turner said. He wrote a song called “Show Your Colors America.” When Holocaust survivor and regular Boys Nation speaker Nesse Godin said she liked “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that was added to the repertoire.
Through it all, the impact Turner felt he was making on the future of the country kept him coming back.
“I enjoyed the students. … It got in my blood,” said Turner, who’s also been involved in other Legion youth programs such as the National Oratorical Competition. “In some small way, I felt I was helping develop the youth in our country.”
Boys Nation Legislative Director Mike Bredeck agreed, saying last year, “When I share stories that he’s had the opportunity several times to go in the White House, there are different presidents that personally know him, and he’s had the opportunity to meet lots of different presidents, but you know, that’s not as important as the thousands of individuals that he has met and changed.”
Turner is confident the Boys Nation staff will continue to excel.
“We’ve got a good nucleus there,” he said. “(PNC) Dale Barnett (Turner’s replacement as Director of Activities) is a good man; having been in the education field for a number of years, he knows what to expect from the students. We’ve shared some conversations already about things he wants to try and accomplish. I think everything will be alright.”
Still, Boys Nation won’t be the same without the man who’s served for almost half of the program’s 71 years.
“He is American Legion Boys Nation,” Buss said. “Always will be.”