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Bob Hunt as I knew Him - an essay by Donald Heberling

After my father, Donald Heberling, died in 2003, I found two dozen essays he wrote during his plebe year at the United Sates Naval Academy. Considering how often a military officer gets transferred (the first 16 years of my life, I moved 16 times), it is amazing my father kept the collection.

These days, my wife Robin and I are working hard to downsize our possessions, but I have kept all my father’s papers. I can’t bring myself to throw out anything to do with family history. We now summer in the cottage my father bought in 1981 on Hill Island.  Other family members have cottages in the Thousand Islands – all of us appreciating the place and the people.

One of the essays I found was written about Robert (Bob) Hunt.  One wonders what the exact academic assignment was that led to this 700 word essay, and we are not sure of the grade, although there are comments written by the professor.  What we do know is Donald Heberling admired this River man – Bob Hunt - and we can sit back and enjoy the memories.

Bob Hunt as I Knew Him

Written by Donald Heberling,

Midshipman, US Naval Academy, October 13, 1942

Bob Hunt was one of the most singular persons I have ever met. Essentially, he was a river man, but I have always contended that no mere phrase could even approach an accurate description of him. To me, he has always been an integral part of that section of the Saint Lawrence River known as the Thousand Islands. Each year, I manage to spend a few weeks of the summer season in this picturesque region, and until this year, Bob was always to be found at or near his small farm on La Rue Island, where our cottage is also located. He was always available when I wanted to know where the best pike were to be found, or what the best channel to such-and-such an island was. This year, with Bob gone over the Great Divide, I discovered that my vacation was, somehow, empty. I know now just how much my friend contributed to my previous unforgettable summers.

He was brought up in that very farmhouse where he lived when I knew him. At that time, everyone supposed him to be in his sixties. In this little ramshackle house, he lived until he died, engaging in the various activities typical of the Canadian native of the vicinity. Bob was not industrious however, but preferred to live from day to day, doing only the absolutely necessary chores, and postponing the others “until tomorrow.” This attitude was very plainly evidenced by the condition of his land and his various buildings. His barns and boathouses were in such a state that many have wondered at the magic which seemed to hold them together. When standing inside, one saw more the sky than of the skimpy, leaky roof. These buildings seemed to have taken the path of least resistance to the wind, and have long since lost any symmetrical appearance that they might have had.

Another example of Bob’s lack of industry is evidenced in the yard leading from the river to the house. In it, one may find anything from old boats and useless fish nets to decrepit bob sleds and empty beer and liquor bottles. Everything rests just where it has fallen, perhaps five, perhaps fifty years ago.

His farm, too, Bob worked with that carefree nonchalance peculiar to himself. His crops were one third the size of what they should have been. He was content to sell enough to buy a few bottles of liquor, and to let the rest wait until he again became somewhat thirsty. It was not an uncommon sight to hear Bob and his wife, Nellie, who was equally lax, singing their troubles away to the tune of a few bottles of their favorite rye whiskey, oblivious to the drastic state of disrepair in which their possessions existed.

Nevertheless, with all his short-comings, Bob was a friend, indeed. He loved to go fishing and to show someone his favorite haunts, in which to catch a few fine fish. He would get up in the early hours of the morning to escort some novice to his favorite blind, and introduce him to the thrills of duck hunting. He was happy when he was letting someone in on his “personal” secrets concerning the wildlife of the vicinity. He could tell some wonderful tales of the days when he was young, and Indians were not uncommon in that region.

Bob was an able woodsman and a crack shot with his rifle. Whenever the crows were feeding on his newly planted seeds, Bob would get out his trusty gun and make short work of several crows, more for the sport than for avenging the harm that they did.

Perhaps my most vivid memory of Bob is that of him coming in with his cows. They were constantly breaking through the old fences, weakened by the years, and scattering over the island. At length, after a trying search for them with one of his dogs, Bob would tramp home, with that triumphant grin on his weather-beaten face with the cows winding their way in single file before him. The tinkling of the cow bells was a symphony to him at a time like that, and he would look at you as if to say “Durned if those cows can hide from me for very long.” This one sentence exemplifies his attitude towards life. If he had wished he could have really prospered in his field, but he whiled away his life, happy to be alive, and taking joy in doing what he wanted, whenever he felt like it, to the extent which his state of mind happened to allow.

Presented by Paul Heberling

Paul Heberling was born in 1946 in Peoria, Illinois. At the time, his mother was staying with her parents because his father was on a navy cruiser in the Mediterranean. His father’s naval career meant moving an average of once a year, so the Thousand Islands became one of the few stable locations in his life. The early part of Paul’s career as an engineer was spent at GE’s corporate R&D center in Schenectady, N.Y.  This allowed frequent visits to the Thousand Islands. Later, he was transferred to Ohio which allowed only one or two visits to the Thousand Islands each year. Since retiring, Paul and his wife Robin enjoy spending their summers on Hill Island.

Editor’s Note: 

We appreciate being able to add this family photograph  sent to TI Life after publication in April 2014, by Gloria Cruppi who read the article and realized it was about her relatives. 

“Robert Hunt was born Robert Henry Hunt in1868. He was the son of Thomas Fitzmaurice Hunt and Hannora McGrath.  Nellie Louise Poole was born in 1876. Nellie was my great-aunt, the sister of my Grandmother, Florence Irene Poole Cadue. 

When Rob died, my mother brought Aunt Nell to live with us in Fairport, N.Y. She lived with us until her death.”

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  • 1953 Hunt Gibson House.  Photo courtesy Garth Gibson, sent to TI Life, May 2014.

    1953 Hunt Gibson House. Photo courtesy Garth Gibson, sent to TI Life, May 2014.

  • Aunt Nell. Photo courtesy Gloria Cruppi

    Aunt Nell. Photo courtesy Gloria Cruppi


Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Tim Heberling
Comment by: Tim Heberling ( )
Left at: 1:00 PM Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Great pics Paul - were they part of Dad's essay?
Steve Evans
Comment by: Steve Evans ( )
Left at: 4:13 PM Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Hi Paul,
Great article. Do you know when Bob Hunt was born and how long did he live?
Jim Barnum
Comment by: Jim Barnum ( )
Left at: 5:40 PM Tuesday, April 15, 2014
I love the formal attire apparantly required when boating on the St. Lawrence. Great story. We all need to write such stories so our kids and grandchildren will be able to peer into history.
Paul Heberling
Comment by: Paul Heberling
Left at: 6:04 PM Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Except that he died around 1941, I don't know. I could guess, based on various bits of information in the article on Henry Hunt in the February issue and the comments. Asking the same question after that article should yield an answer. Taking a walk through the cemetery in Rockport also might yield the answer. I should do that this summer.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 7:35 PM Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Thank you, Paul. We probably could might- say your dad liked Bob and admired him. Too, it may be this assignment especially appealed to him- your dad, in that he could talk in it about people he liked and why he liked them. Too, I bet he got good grades on these papers as it is said (and I agree) we do best the things we like most doing.

Maybe Suzy would consider a hall of ... Famous River Rats- Bob would surely qualify!

I also have a candidate. He was MacAvoy, a Sugar Island paddler and ground camper. I know very little about him- not even his first name. There are Sugar Islanders who know more than I. Some do remember him but not so many anymore. He was, however, legendary on Sugar.

I have mentioned his exploits herein before.

For starters, paddled a 'peanut shell' and a canoe (the one towing the other, alternately) - with all his gear, from Yonkers N.Y. (the town/city next north from N.Y City on the Hudson) to Sugar Island in thirteen days.

Up the Hudson, across on the Mohawk canal and river, over to Oswego on the lake, across Lake Ontario to the mouth of the St. Lawrence (!) (have you ever seen a, 'peanut shell'? About three inches of free-board) (free-board: distance from water surface to water being in the boat) ... and then down the St. Lawrence to greet my grandmother one bright morning while she was washing vegetables on our only dock.

Says he (says she ... ) "All de way from Yonkers in toiteen days!" Spelling mine.

This was in the 1930's, I believe.

Speaking of him to my grandmother- we all knew him (although I was very young) for many years after this delightful introduction ... and to other Sugar Island paddlers in subsequent years, gives us no reason to doubt this story. Actually, all the more to believe it!

You say about remembering the, 'indians'. I would like to know more! I a student of Eastern Woodland Indians of the earliest era. When such as Champlain, and Frontenac and Amherst some roamed the St Lawrence.

I have been reading up. Is a tremendous amount of material. Starting with the Jesuit 'Relations' and Francis Parkman's many volumes.

I can say, my initial impression is- during these earliest years- certainly before Wolfe turned the French out of the nation they founded with his victory on the Plains Of Abraham in 1759, these islands were likely sparsely visited, settled.

Enmity of the Iroquois nation- then Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca- to the French and their, the French- native friends. War parties going to and fro in search of peltry. Especially, eventually, the beaver.

So too to avoid the, then, ferocious, Iroquois warriors who at one time are credited with a vast domain or 'fiefdom' spreading east from the Mississippi to central Maine and south to the southern Appalachian's and the Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw nations, parties to the upper lakes travelled by way of the Ottawa and French rivers- not on the St. Lawrence. Also, the river and lakes provided a somewhat 'natural' boundary between waring, 'Canadian/French' Indians and Indians located to the south of the/this Great lakes/St Lawrence River line.

I might entertain an article on the subject one day but still currently learning. Would enjoy corresponding with others who hold this same interest.
Mary Gotham
Comment by: Mary Gotham ( )
Left at: 7:52 PM Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Paul, this is a wonderful glimpse into another era. The photos are a great accompaniment to your dad's essay. Thank you for sharing. I am glad you didn't part with your fathers papers. I have a feeling your grandchildren will be someday as well.
Kate Nelson Morgan
Comment by: Kate Nelson Morgan ( )
Left at: 9:08 AM Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Rob Hunt was my great-grandmother's younger brother. He was born Robert Martin Hunt in 1867, so he was in his 70s when your father knew him. Uncle Rob spent his entire life in the house on Hill Island that your Dad remembered.

Unfortunately, Uncle Rob was long dead by the time I was born, but I grew up hearing story after story about him. As I have been writing the history of this family (and wrote the article about Henry Hunt - Rob's older brother - that appeared in the February issue of Thousand Island Life ), it has been interesting to note that although Rob and Nellie had no children, Rob's section is the longest in the book so far because there are so many stories that have been written about him. He certainly marched to a different drummer and made an impression on a number of folks, family and friends alike!

Thanks so much for sharing this! If you would like to see other photos of Rob, please get in touch with me.
Gloria Bradbury Cruppi
Comment by: Gloria Bradbury Cruppi ( )
Left at: 1:16 PM Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Rob Hunt was my Grandmother's brother-in-law! Aunt Nell, my g-aunt, my grandmother's sister. Aunt Nell lived with us until her death here in Rochester, N.Y., my mother brought her here to live. I have pictures, and even have Uncle Rob's gold watch locket or whatever's it's called.
Any pictures you might want, i would be glad to share. I was quite young but do remember the Heberling name, my Mother had friends that lived and visited often. they lived on Upton Park in Rochester and we saw them often, I never knew the connection.Thanks again for sharing this lovely memory.