Robert Russell Wolanske was born on August 5, 1941, in Greenfield, the town in which he lived his entire life. On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, he died there, at the age of 81.
Devoted son of Margaret and Dr. Stephen Wolanske, he grew up in the Ivy-covered house at 210 High Street, alongside older brother, Stephen, and younger sister, Linda (Martin). When he was 5, he accidentally rode his tricycle into a “No Trespassing” sign, breaking his nose and sparking a lifelong attraction to fast rides and flaunting the rules.
When he was 16, he met Pamela Severance of Greenfield at a baseball game on Beacon Field. He was instantly smitten. “He wouldn’t leave me alone,” she says. And after several failed pursuits, he decided to become friends with her mother. Bob and Pam dated through high school, and, after college, married and raised four children together: Caitlin Melendez, Matthew Wolanske, Dana Unaitis, and Jonathan Wolanske.
A day student at Deerfield Academy, Wolanske played varsity football and varsity baseball, graduating in 1960. He left Greenfield once—to attend Tufts University, returning four years later with a degree in pharmacy from Northeastern University.
In 1966, he opened the Apothecary Shop, along with a second medical supplies business inside the same building. Twelve years later, he sold it all to the Rite Aid Corporation, citing a desire for greater flexibility. “To seek and to find are two different things,” he told The Recorder at the time.
Wolanske then embarked on another successful career path as a financial advisor with investment firm A.G. Edwards, and began a long career of public service that combined his passion for Greenfield, love of athletic and political contests, and commitment to “boots on the ground” activism that helped build a better future for his community. He served on the Town Council, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Police Station Site Committee. He received a presidential appointment to the former local Select Service Board, acted as chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, and spearheaded the drive to reconstruct the Pumping Station Bridge after it burned in 1969. As chairman of the Elementary School Building Committee, he accomplished one of his proudest achievements when he prevented the construction of a new elementary school on Beacon Field. "That’s just not gonna happen," he told reporters at the time, "not when we can fix the good schools we already have.” His actions ultimately helped protect a beloved local landmark and the site where he met his wife.
In 2003, he ran in Greenfield’s first mayoral race. He lost, but soon after discovered renewed purpose in an equally vital community role—that of Santa Claus at both Yankee and Kringle Candle Companies. Whenever he was spotted by a starstruck child in the offseason, wondering what Kris Kringle was doing dressed in a Hawaiian shirt at Applebee’s or the Country Club, he engaged them in conversation, helping them believe that Santa was always watching.
Everyone seemed to know Bob, not least because he grew up the son of the doctor who delivered practically every baby in town. But his family saw sides beyond his public persona.
He could be, as some of his kids’ friends have described, “kind of a hard ass.” And it could take significant work to win him over, particularly if you were dating one of his daughters. If you called during dinner time, the phone would not be answered. Hats were not allowed at the table. And no one could leave until everyone was finished eating.
He bought the family a swimming pool so that they wouldn’t have to go on vacation. He kept a well-stocked jukebox, and he danced often. He attended every high school reunion. Even for the classes he didn’t belong to. He’d drive hundreds of miles to trim the hedges at his kids’ houses, often beginning without removing his blazer or even saying hello to the family. He loved throwing New Years parties and July 4th fireworks shows. He loved his bowling league and his softball team. Professional wrestling and amateur golf. NERF basketball in the kitchen. And desserts of any shape, form, size, consistency, and temperature. And if you baked it, he’d give you his honest feedback immediately. He collected Beanie Babies, Lucite paperweights, mortars and pestles, and cars—trading in his vehicle every other year for something that excited him more. He was a coach. And an umpire. And he cofounded The American Cribbage Association, which organized one of the largest cribbage tournaments in the world in the ‘70s and ‘80s and donated the profits.
While he admitted to having a hard time expressing his love for his kids in words, he demonstrated that love in how he showed up for them in life. He adored their partners—Vincent Melendez, Wendi Wolanske, Chris Unaitis, and Margot Melcon. And he was deeply proud of his grandchildren: Nicholas, Samuel, Sarah, Jacob, Sydney, Allyson, and Cyrus. Their photos and art were displayed prominently all over his house. And he was always on time. Which, for him, meant arriving 20 minutes early. Last week he left us far too soon. We will miss him like crazy.
Visitation will occur on Friday, May 5th from 10am to Noon at Kostanski Funeral Home at 220 Federal Street in Greenfield. The family is hosting a celebration of Bob’s life that same day, from 1 to 4 PM at the Elks’ Lodge on 3 Church Street in Greenfield.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to a dog-related charity he himself would support. Or just sneak your favorite four-legged creature a scrap or two under the table in his honor.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Kostanski Funeral Home, for condolences, please visit www.kostanskifuneralhome.com.
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