An east Yuma County educator who has spent countless hours over the past four decades volunteering his time to help improve the lives of the people in his community was recently inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.
Bob Sloncen, who served 34 years in the Coast Guard on active duty and as a reservist before retiring as a two-star admiral, was one of 17 veterans who made up this year's induction. The ceremony was held Oct. 26 in Phoenix.
“It's a tremendous honor because there haven't been many people from Yuma that have been inducted, if any. It's pretty special,” Sloncen said. “Anytime good things come to me, it is because of who I work with and my wife and family. You sacrifice certain things with the family to do something for the greater good.”
Sloncen, who arrived in the tiny community of Dateland in 1970, said being selected for induction is based more on what an individual has done after leaving military service, although their time in uniform is also part of the process.
“I wanted to give back to the community because I think it is a great place to raise kids and there are so many good people around. We need to realize there are good people over that mountain and there are good things going on out there.”
According to the Arizona Veterans HOF website, the medallion the inductees receive is the highest honor awarded by the governor to an honorably discharged military veteran of the state for their achievements outside of their military service that significantly benefit and provide inspiration to other veterans.
Sloncen said now that he has a HOF medallion, he plans to nominate other Yuma County veterans who also should be recognized, adding he believes there are many who are just as deserving, if not more, than he was.
“We have a lot of people who are worthy of this, so my job now as far as I'm concerned is to get other veterans from Yuma recognized. I know there are quite a few.”
Saying he always does his best to be a spokesman for the east county, Sloncen has a long list of involvement in civic activities that include being a member of the board of directors for Yuma Catholic High School, AEA Federal Credit Union and St. Francis Elementary School. He is also a past Brophy Prep alumni president and has been the head dishwasher at the Wellton Tractor Rodeo the past 15 years.
“You know that's an important job. They couldn't serve breakfast without me,” Sloncen said with a laugh. “They make the best biscuits and gravy. I only eat biscuits and gravy once a year and that is in January when we have that event.”
In addition serving on the Southwest Arizona Futures Forum, Sloncen is a member of the Arizona Rural Schools Hall of Fame and the Yuma County Educational Hall of Fame. And in 2001 he was selected as the Yuma County Citizen of the year, becoming only the second person east of Telegraph Pass to ever be chosen.
If not for Sloncen's involvement, Yuma Regional Medical Center's mobile hospital would not make the trip it now does to Dateland each week, nor would there be U.S. Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps in Yuma.
“A lot of those kids would never have made it to a doctor because their parents didn't want to drive 120 miles, or they didn't have the money to do it,” Sloncen said of the mobile hospital.
Although he expected to stay just a couple of years, Sloncen surprised himself and his family by staying for going on 42 years now. He started teaching seventh and eighth grades along with coaching boys sports. He even drove the school bus before eventually becoming the school's principal. He now serves as a consultant. Sloncen also announced Antelope High School football games for many years.
Sloncen has been married to his wife, Jill, for 46 years, has two daughters and seven grandchildren, who all live in Yuma County.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.