The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school community lost a familiar face Tuesday, as Robert Speck passed away at the age of 87.
A “champion of education,” Speck served on the district’s Board of Education for 36 years, re-elected for 12 consecutive three-year terms.
Christy Multer, who has worked in public relations at the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District for 28 years, said Speck will be missed across the district and throughout the community.
“He represents one of the strengths of our community: old-fashioned values and support for education. He stood for the values that we all still abide by and that we honor here,” she said.
Multer said Speck was a caring and indefatigable member of the board. He was as devoted to his volunteer position as he was to proper governance, always double-checking the board’s decisions against their policy manual.
“If someone came in with a complaint about a hallway or sports field, Bob would come to the next meeting and say ‘Oh, I checked out that spot and you’re right, it needs work,’ or something. He always followed up or checked the records, whatever it was,” she said.
Speck was an active member of the Stevens School Parent-Teacher Association in the 1960s, which Multer said was almost unheard of for a father in the ’60s and ’70s. He was elected president soon after, and in 1973 he was honored by the PTA with a Founder’s Day Award, the highest award given by the BH-BL PTA.
His first elected term on the board began in 1974, and as a member of a committee with a rotating board, he served as president six times during his tenure.
Since then, Speck has been honored with a number of awards. He was named “Citizen of the Year” by the BH-BL Rotary in 1998 and was asked to march as grand marshal of the 9th annual Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Community Flag Day Parade on June 10, 2010. The BH-BL middle school media center was named the Robert S. Speck Library Media Center in his honor in 2005.
Speck also served as president of the Capital Region BOCES Board of Directors and as a member of the New York State School Boards Association Board of Directors.
Aside from his volunteer work, Speck had a 36-year career with the General Electric Co. after settling in Burnt Hills in 1958 with his wife, Betty. He received his Master of Science degree in nuclear engineering from Union College in 1963, but he always had an interest in history.
Speck’s passion resulted in a completely archived history of the school district, with a bookcase of binders chronicling more than 30 topics he pulled together by sorting through documents and records long forgotten.
Rick Reynolds, retired history teacher and current Ballston town historian, said he believes that Speck’s collection is unmatched by any school district in the country. The two worked closely to collect information about the school district and the one-room schoolhouses that used to exist in the area, but it was Speck’s personal investment that fueled the collection.
“Bob acquired amazing things. Because of him we have original books from the schoolhouses in the 1800s. He got them from people who had them sitting in their attics. That stuff gets lost if someone doesn’t preserve it, and Bob was the guy who preserved it, and he wasn’t even a trained historian,” Reynolds said.
Speck kept organized notebooks of research and approached Reynolds about using them to write a book about the school’s history, knowing full well that in his 70s, he couldn’t do it alone. The two were able to put together a group of writers and historians to complete the 200-year history in 2005. But Reynolds said without Speck’s extensive research, the book would never have been written.
“He supported the school 100 percent. He attended all kinds of games, even if his kids or grandkids weren’t playing. He was always at events, always at the school concerts. Bob was a wonderful supporter of education and kids, someone all of us look up to,” Reynolds said.
Speck’s hard work preserving the history of the school district while improving the board’s functionality has earned him the moniker “Mr. Burnt Hills,” something that will live on long past his death.
A memorial service has been scheduled at the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church, 816 Route 50, Burnt Hills, at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
After the service, the family invites those who wish to pay their respects to join them at a reception at O’Rourke Middle School. Because of the size of the crowd expected, the BH-BL Board of Education has offered the use of the Robert S. Speck Library Media Center, or “Bob’s library,” from noon to 3 p.m. for the reception.
The family has also created the Robert S. Speck Scholarship Fund in his honor and is asking anyone wishing to make a gift in his name to send checks made out to “BH-BL Central School District” to the BH-BL High School, 88 Lakehill Road, Burnt Hills, NY 12027, with “Robert S. Speck Scholarship Fund” in the memo line.