Mayor Robert Bruce
Recently I attended a ceremony to honor a man whose name many of us recognize – Robert Bruce. The ceremony was held on a dark and cold Sunday evening at the Wetzel County Museum. I will have to say I anticipated that a great many people from the community would turn out to honor this man. Too my surprise, only about a dozen people attended the ceremony. I find it sad that a man who gave so much was not remembered by more when he was inducted into the Wetzel County Hall of Fame. His induction, in my opinion, was long overdue. Unfortunately, it may be that many in the community do not realize the contributions this man made during his lifetime.
On the wall, near his portrait, at the museum is a plaque telling of his life. Robert Bruce was born February 20th, 1893 in New Martinsville. His parents were Selva Raymond and Elizabeth Allan Bruce. At the age of 29, he married Kathryn Duerr. Along the way, they had two sons – Robert L. Bruce and Dr. William Bruce.
After graduating from Magnolia in 1911, he went on to college at West Virginia Wesleyan. During that year, his funding for college ran out, and he had to leave school. The following year, he returned, hoping to complete his college education. Unfortunately, once again, his funds ran out, and he left college for a second time.
Robert spent the next dozen years of his life traveling to find work. He visited many states and even ventured up into Canada. In his travels he worked a total of twenty-seven various jobs. Robert Bruce, “I worked at these different jobs for my livelihood and for the sake of experience, in lieu of education I was unable to get.”
While out in the world, beyond the Ohio Valley, Robert spent time working in the gas fields. He worked as a crew-member on an oar boat. He even went to sea working on a coast-wise freighter. That’s a freighter that travels along the coast carrying cargo. He truly tried many different careers. His working, out in the world, gave him an understanding of what made things work and the importance of leadership.
At the age of 46, in 1939, Robert began a new career that would be part of his life for the next thirty years. He became Mayor of New Martinsville. During his long tenure as mayor, he never campaigned for the office. He felt that his dedication to the job spoke for him, and if the voters felt the same way, they would reelect him. That is something they did until he retired in 1969.
Mayor Bruce was a charter member of the New Martinsville Yacht Club. He worked with the New Martinsville Centennial commission to hold the 100th Anniversary for New Martinsville. The event corresponded to the first regatta, to be held on the Ohio River, behind the Yacht Club. He not only worked to promote the regatta in the community. He traveled to different cities in the east, promoting the town’s regatta to boat owners.
When Robert was boy, he waited at the train depot every day. There, he would sell papers to passengers on trains when it stopped. During the induction ceremony, Fran Caldwell told a story that explains a lot about the man. She spoke of Robert, after he had become mayor, waiting at the station for the train to arrive at one or two in the morning. Robert offered, to any passenger that disembarked, a ride to a hotel or boardinghouse. He did not want anyone, who arrived in our town, to go unwelcomed. I don’t think anyone, at the time, may have realized what he was doing, waiting for the arrival of the night train. He was truly a remarkable man, both in public and behind the scenes.
Most everyone remembers Bruce Bowling Lanes that, a few years ago, passed into history. It began as a result of Robert’s desire to bring bowling to the community. Also, he was very much instrumental in helping to bring to the area, what we remember as, PPG Industries and Mobay. He tried to have them built within Wetzel County, but no property was available to meet the new industrial needs. Still, he knew the community would benefit from the many new people who moved into the town to work at the new plants.
In 1942, a bond of eighteen thousand dollars was secured to bring Bruce Park and Pool into the community. The new addition was opened in time for the beginnings of PPG industries’ construction. The pool and park are still part of our community today. Bruce Pool is only one of a few left with its unique above-ground design in America. Today, there are those who believe Bruce Pool is a relic of the past and is no longer needed. But I’ll bet if Mayor Bruce was still around, he would work toward revitalizing the pool for the benefit of today’s community. Those, who believe it is an old relic, may tell you it’s no longer needed and has structural problems. Mayor Bruce may have reminded those, who believe it is a relic, that it was not too long ago that some people said the same thing about the Lewis-Wetzel pool. But the wise town leaders decided to renovate the pool and make it into a water park. Last summer, Lewis-Wetzel, with its new water park theme, saw an increase in usage from the community. I believe if Mayor Bruce were still around he would want those same wise leaders to do the same thing for Bruce Pool. I also believe the citizens, who live in the vicinity of Bruce Park, would enjoy having a water recreation area close by this part of town.
In 1983, at the age of 90, Robert Bruce passed away while living in Forrest City, Florida. He was returned to his beloved New Martinsville and laid to rest. His legacy is one of dedication and hard work for the community he loved. The few people at his Hall of Fame induction understood it is for us, the living, to remember and honor those who were an important part of the community’s past. I hope that now, you too will remember the many legacies of a man named Robert Bruce, and the contributions he made, as I honor him Through the Lens.