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North Coast Current

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North Coast Current

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Activist, artist recalled through poetry

The life and work of Robert “Bob” Nanninga was celebrated in the same way he lived — with passion, emotion and humor.

Known as an outspoken activist for both the environment and arts community, Encinitas felt the loss when he passed away on Feb. 14 from pneumonia. Friends, family and supporters nearly filled the La Paloma Theatre on March 12 for a public memorial.

The line was buzzing with people sharing memories they had of Nanninga or how they met him. It was obvious that he was still bringing people together as strangers introduced themselves to one another like old friends.

“I think his biggest accomplishment was the people he pulled together from all different walks of life,” said Danny Salzhandler, a fellow artist and longtime friend of Nanninga, in an earlier interview.

Attendees ranged from Deputy Mayor Dan Dalager to present-day beatniks, all who came to pay their friend respect. The night featured musicians, readings of Nanninga’s poetry and other poetry dedicated to him.

As the tribute commenced, Salzhandler asked anyone who wanted to read a poem about Bob to “see the man in the rabbit ears in the lobby.”

That was the first indication that this wasn’t going to be a typical memorial service.

“There will no paid criers tonight,” Salzhandler said before introducing the night’s emcees, Jim Babwe and Bruce Stephens.

Keith Shillington, Nanninga’s partner of 15 years and owner of E Street Café, was welcomed with an extended standing ovation.

“Bob touched us all with his words and from them, the world is a better place,” Shillington said. “He would enjoin us to carry the torches forward, keep momentum and continue to build up steam.”

An election poster from Bob Nanninga’s 2008 Encinitas City Council run is shown inside La Paloma Theatre during a memorial March 12. (Photo by Scott Landheer)

Nanninga’s projects included spearheading Encinitas Environment Day, his theater work with students at El Camino Creek Elementary School and countless other causes.

Jim Gilliam, City of Encinitas arts administrator, worked closely with Nanninga on the new library’s theater productions.

“It’s a huge loss to lose Bob, because he was a tireless activist in the arts in Encinitas,” Gilliam said. “We always talk about arts advocacy and Bob was the arts advocate in Encinitas. There is no one who could hope to replace his passion or skill.”

Nanninga’s passion was also focused on environmental causes.

“His role as an environmentalist is probably far stronger in the city than his advocacy in the arts,” Gilliam said.

Nanninga wrote a weekly column in the Coast News on environmental efforts and had a television series, “Observations from the Edge,” which aired on KOCT-TV. Outtakes were shown at the tribute under the title “Bloopers of Bobness.”

It was evident that his “Bobness” made quite an impression. Michael Winkleman, a reader at the tribute, described him as “kinda Robin Williams, kinda Cher.”

Apparently, it was a winning combo.

“Look around,” Babwe said. “There aren’t very many empty seats here tonight, and for Bob’s family, this is a statement about how he affected this community.”

As for future plans to commemorate Nanninga’s contributions to North County, Gilliam said, “I would hope there would be some appropriate memorial of sorts for Bob; I’m sure that the community will come forward with the perfect idea.”

Lauren Ciallella and Scott Landheer are San Diego-based freelance writers

 

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Activist, artist recalled through poetry