GREENFIELD — In 84 years of life, Robert B. Erwin collected a lot of nicknames.
Some were spurred by the myriad roles Bob served throughout his life in the community, whether as a businessman, farmer or longtime member of the local school board.
The men in his senior golf club dubbed him “the penguin” for his shuffling gait and 5-foot-8 frame, which they deemed made him short enough to tease.
And the friends, family and coworkers comprising the staff at Cynthia’s Hallmark in Greenfield sometimes referred to him as “The Head Bean,” a nod to both his love of jelly beans and his role as co-owner of the largest Hallmark store in the country — a second career that took on a life of its own after he retired from dentistry.
Following Erwin’s death last week, those same family, coworkers and friends are remembering the impact he had on the Greenfield community, which he supported not only through his business but his acts of service over the years. The longtime business owner died Friday from lymphoma after being diagnosed in March.
Born in Mitchell, Indiana, in 1932, Erwin earned his degree in dentistry at Indiana University, where he met Cynthia Ballantine.
They were married in 1957, and the newlyweds moved to Greenfield in 1958, when he opened his dental practice, said daughter Kelley Holden.
While their four children were growing up, Erwin served on the Greenfield-Central school board. A member of the board from 1977 to 1989, he served as president for several terms, said assistant superintendent Ann Vail.
His influence led to the inclusion of a soccer team at Greenfield-Central High School in the 1980s, son Cort Erwin said. In addition, he was a founding member of St. James Lutheran Church and an active member of the Greenfield Sertoma Club.
But Bob Erwin had several passions throughout his life, not just in service roles, his son said.
He loved to travel, especially to Africa, and enjoyed learning ballroom dancing.
While he was learning to dance, he’d come back to the store warehouse and try to convince employee Jill Pribble to take a turn around the floor with him.
“You’re just my size!” she remembers him saying to her.
Bob found different ways to be charitable throughout the years, and he rarely sought recognition, Holden said. He donated toward the creation of Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center, and during his years as a dentist, he made sure no one in the community went without the dental care they needed, Holden said.
Cynthia Erwin led the charge to purchase Kay’s Hallmark store in Greenfield in 1985, and Bob Erwin retired from his dental practice shortly after. Over the years, the pair turned the gift boutique into the largest such store in the country at 15,000 square feet, also opening three additional Hallmark stores in Hamilton County. Cynthia died in 2007 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Holden said.
During his years as “Head Bean” of Cynthia’s Hallmark, employees said Bob Erwin distinguished himself through his selflessness.
“He reminded me of my dad,” said Kris Lashaway, his secretary. “He wasn’t all about business. He liked his numbers, but he treated us like family, not just employees.”
During the craze for Beanie Babies, the Hallmark stores owned by the Erwin family donated $1 from every purchase to the local Boys and Girls Clubs, she said.
He loved his work, and he kept doing it up until the day before his death, making phone calls and checking on his stores’ numbers, Holden said. He’d felt ill since September but was only diagnosed with lymphoma in March, she said.
His joy for life inspired his family not to hold a traditional funeral but a celebration of his life instead, his children said.
“He really enjoyed life,” Cort Erwin said. “He fought the good fight and didn’t want to quit, but we said, ‘It’s all right, Dad.’”
Funeral services for Robert B. Erwin, 84, of Greenfield, will be at 4 p.m. May 20 at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church, 3519 S. County Road 600W, New Palestine. Friends may call from 2 to 4 p.m. at the church and are invited to a celebration of life gathering at the Erwin home immediately following the service.
Memorial contributions may be sent directly to:
- Alzheimer’s Association, 50 E. 91st St., No. 100, Indianapolis, IN 46240
- Cross of Grace Lutheran Church Endowment Fund, 3519 S. County Road 600W, New Palestine, IN 46143
- Hancock County Public Library, 900 W. McKenzie Road, Greenfield, IN 46140