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Bobbie Herman shares memories from 30 years of rubbing elbows with governors

Bobbie Herman shares memories from 30 years of rubbing elbows with governors

March 4th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in News
Bobbie Herman sits in her home Feb. 21 as she talks about her experience as a docent at the Missouri Governor's Mansion.

Bobbie Herman sits in her home Feb. 21...

Photo by Sally Ince /News Tribune.

Roberta "Bobbie" Herman has rubbed elbows with a lot of governors, their wives and their children.

She has stories to share about the past dozen or so Missouri governors and their families. And she also has stories about governors in other states.

When she married Bob Herman in 1953, the couple were known as Big Bobby and Little Bobbie. Then they had a son and shortened their own monikers to Bob and Bobbie. The son was the first of two boys the couple had.

Bob, who was born and grew up in Jefferson City, served in the Army, and shortly after they were married, he was stationed in Oklahoma. It was during this time they began visiting state capitols. They have since visited all 50 and met a number of governors.

All of the capitols have unique qualities, Bobbie said. All have personalities.

"It took us a long time," she said. "And in some states — like the Dakotas or Montana — they don't get many visitors. They're just so delighted to have you visit."

Nevada was "unusual," she said. The Capitol was really small. When the couple walked in and asked for a tour, a man responded, "Oh no, lady. Just walk around. If the door's open, you can go in. If it's closed, don't go in."

Once Bob was done with the service, they returned to Jefferson City, where he established Herman's Department Store.

"I always tell everybody, the governor and his wife live here," Bobbie said. "So we have wonderful access to them as just regular people.

"We've been privileged to get to know some of them well."

Governors and their family members went in and out of the department store. It often provided tuxedos for governors' inaugural balls.

Warren E. Hearnes was governor from 1965-73. Bobbie said she was in a music club with Hearnes' wife, Betty.

"We spent a great deal of time at the mansion," she said.

Although at the time, tours weren't typically given at the Missouri Governor's Mansion, Betty would ask friends to help her host events.

A favorite story, Bobbie said, was that the Hearnes would allow visitors to see the mansion's upstairs bedroom during inaugurals. She was stationed in the bedroom during one inaugural, helping put up coats, when a sitting U.S. senator approached.

"He was tired, and we sat down and talked and visited for a long time," she said. "Who gets to do that? It's a pleasant memory."

Years later — after Gov. Kit Bond's family began the tradition of offering the mansion for regular tours — Bobbie had become a docent. She was stationed in the bedroom during another inaugural, and who should walk in but Betty Hearnes.

"And Betty said to me, 'My gosh, Bobbie, didn't you ever get out of the bedroom?'"

It was Janet Ashcroft, wife of then-Gov. John Ashcroft, who made Bobbie a docent at the mansion. She's been a docent for more than 30 years.

The Ashcrofts provided "wonderful experiences" for docents, she said.

Following the Ashcrofts, Gov. Mel Carnahan took office.

Those were "glory years" in the mansion.

"It was wonderful to be there," she said. "It was a lovely, happy time."

Until Carnahan died in a plane crash shortly before he was to leave office.

Even that tragic time highlighted the beauty of the mansion. The governor's home went from hosting parties to hosting a funeral, Herman said, demonstrating what "this beautiful home can do."

The governor was laid out in the great hall of the mansion for visitation, Bobbie remembers.

"It was very sad — but one of the kindest things I can remember was that as we went through the line, Mrs. (Jean) Carnahan took my hand and she said, 'Bobbie, take care of this old house,'" she said.

And Jean Carnahan shared the home with the next governor, Roger B. Wilson.

"I know this to be true," Bobbie said. "She urged Mrs. (Pat) Wilson to move her family from Columbia to the mansion, just for that month."

Jean Carnahan wanted the Wilsons to experience life in the mansion, if only for a month.

Other governors had small children, which brought an entirely new life to the mansion, Bobbie said. The Holdens had two boys, one was a teenager and the other was a little younger. They had two big black dogs, she said.

"We'd be there — maybe for a dinner for all of us — and the kids would come running in," she said. "And it made you feel like, 'Gee, this really is a home.'"

The Blunts had a "little bitty boy" when they were in the home, which was another fun change to the mansion.

All the governors brought unique families to the mansion.

And tours brought wide-eyed children, mostly fourth-graders learning about Missouri history.

Children do say amazing things.

One day, as Herman was leading a tour through the mansion, nearing the end, she explained the area underneath the stairway is known as "The Nook." She then explained that a nook is a little area.

"And this sweet little guy comes and taps me on the shoulder and he says, 'Oh no, ma'am. Nook is a tablet — and I have one,'" Bobbie said.

"There are sweet, funny things that happen," she said. "And now that we're both retired, I can come home and tell Bob about that and we can laugh over it."