Robert William Zahara, or “Bob” as he was known to everyone, resident of Grande Prairie, formerly of Sexsmith, AB, passed away on June 14, 2020, in Edmonton, AB, at the age of 70 years old after a brief battle with leukemia and complications arising therefrom.
Bob was born in Spirit River, AB, on September 27, 1949. Bob was raised on the family farm just outside of Rycroft, AB. As the oldest child, Bob always liked to tell everyone how hard he worked until his sister Marge came along to help with all the chores, and then eventually he got more reinforcements from his sister Peggy, and brothers Jim and Danny.
He attended Grade 1 through high school in Rycroft, where he skipped Grade 8 due to his high academic achievement. As a result of having a bit too much fun in his senior year of high school, he then did a year of upgrading and college at Fairview Regional College. He went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Political Science, and minoring in History at the University of Alberta (UofA) in 1970. Not finished at the UofA, he also completed his Bachelor of Education there in 1971.
It was during his studies at the UofA that he met his future wife, and love of his life, Sandra “Sandi” Dawne Zahara (nee Newton). Sandi won’t admit it, but we believe she started dating Bob because he agreed to type up all of her papers for her University courses. Somehow Bob convinced Sandi to not only marry him but that it would be a good idea to move back up north to begin their teaching careers. From that first year on, they taught together their entire careers. Bob did yeoman’s work as a first-year teacher in Caslan, AB, which was his one and only year as a full-time classroom teacher. The next year he applied for (as the only applicant) and accepted the offer to act as principal of the school in Caslan. After that promotion by acclamation, he was in management and never looked back. He next took a position as principal in La Glace, AB, (Kindergarten to Grade 9) for three years.
When the elementary school (Kindergarten to Grade 6) opened in Sexsmith in 1979, Bob was selected to be its first principal. Except for short stints at the County head office, he remained the principal at the Sexsmith Elementary School until his retirement in 2006. During this period, he went on to teach thousands of students that passed through the doors there, and is remembered fondly and loved by many of them. The day of his retirement the Sexsmith Elementary School was renamed the Robert W. Zahara Elementary School and retains that name to this day. After his retirement, he acted as part-time principal for a number of Hutterite colonies in and around the Rycroft, Spirit River, and Wanham areas. He loved this part-time principal position and his interactions with all the Hutterite communities in the mostly rural area.
Bob loved sports and was an avid hockey player and golfer. He played hockey and baseball growing up in Rycroft, and always regaled us with stories of having to tape the Sears catalogue to his shins for shin pads for pond hockey (for the younger kids reading this, a “catalogue” is a website that a store would print off and mail to you through the post office so you could pick something out of it to order, kind of like the slowest Amazon order ever). Bob also took up football in his university days and played junior football for the Edmonton Wildcats in 1969 and 1970. He was a defensive and offensive lineman and was a conference all-star as a defensive lineman the one year he played a full season in 1970.
This love of sports was inherited and passed on to each of his children. Ryan (football), Blair (football), and Amanda (softball), were all university-level athletes, and this was due in no small part to the hours of coaching, mentoring, and one-on-one tutelage that Bob provided to them as they were growing up. He coached so many hockey, football, baseball, and ringette teams for so many kids, and gave his time for the love of sport. He was so serious about this role that he had to go out and buy his own back-catcher’s mask so he could keep catching pitches for Amanda after he took a few of those pitches on the chin.
He and Sandi also travelled extensively to watch all of their children compete in sports, whether driving to minor hockey tournaments with a van-load of kids, driving down to Edmonton to watch Blair and Ryan play football, Blair for the University of Alberta and Ryan for the Edmonton Wildcats and eventually the University of Manitoba. He also went all the way down to Oklahoma to watch Amanda play college softball. There were many hours spent by Bob and Sandi on the road between Sexsmith and Edmonton, all so they could watch their children compete. This love of watching his children play sports extended to watching his grandsons Devon, Daymond and Sawyer play hockey, whether in Edmonton or in the Grande Prairie area.
Bob continued to avidly golf into his later years and had two hole-in-ones to his credit. He loved getting out with his golf buddies as often as possible after his retirement, including Randy, Jim and Rodney. He got a new hip in March of 2019 and was looking forwards to putting many more rounds on it before he had to hang up his clubs.
Bob gave his time to many, many things in his life, including many civic initiatives in the Town of Sexsmith. He was a town Councillor from 1983-1986 and 1990-1991 and was the Mayor of Sexsmith from 1992-1997. He also sat on many boards in Sexsmith for several years.
He will be sadly missed by his wife of 49 years Sandi; his children: Ryan (Cheryl) Zahara, Blair (Leann) Zahara, and Amanda (Mike) Howrish; his grandchildren from Blair: Devon and Daymond Zahara; grandchildren from Amanda: Sawyer and Walker Howrish; and his grandson from Ryan, Xavier Zahara; siblings: Marge (Mike) Collins, Peggy (Doug) Hollingworth, Jim (Julie) Zahara, Danny (Denise) Zahara, and all of their children; as well as his brother in-law Lance (Lois) Newton, and their children.
He was predeceased by his parents William George and Della Margaret Zahara (nee Craig).
A private Funeral Service for Bob was held on Sunday, June 21, 2020 for immediate family only. The service was live-streamed by Oliver’s Funeral Home.
Memorial donations may be made to the Alberta Cancer Foundation (710 – 10123 99St., Edmonton, AB, T5J 3H1, www.albertacancer.ca/donate).