ENCINITAS — Robert “Bob” Nanninga, the venerable Renaissance man who worked tirelessly to change the face of a community, died of pneumonia Feb. 14. He was 45 years old.
“The lights have gone out on ‘The Bob Show,’” Councilwoman Teresa Barth said when asked about the impact of Nanninga’s death. He used the phrase often to describe himself.
Nanninga was a columnist for this paper for many years, writing “Observations from the Edge” in a way that provoked thought among readers and often controversy.
In addition to his work as an actor, artist, poet and journalist, Nanninga was also a businessman. With his longtime partner, Keith Shillington, he opened the popular E Street Café in downtown Encinitas on Sept. 3, 2004 — his birthday.
“We had 15 years together and not a single moment of it was dull,” Shillington said. When asked what he would miss most about Nanninga, Shillington paused briefly. “The enormous wealth of information and engaging in intellectual conversation,” he replied. “Bob’s articles represent at least one of the conversations we had every week.”
At a crowded memorial service Feb. 15, a diverse cross-section of people paid tribute to the man who lived life to the fullest.
“He was a force of nature and one of those personalities that cannot be denied,” said Dody Tucker, executive director of the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association. “He was involved with so many service organizations in town,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.”
Tucker said Nanninga was in some ways a mentor to her. “He always had faith in me and I always appreciated that from Bob,” she said.
From the environmental challenges of the area to theatrical, cultural and political issues, Nanninga had a hand in everything. “He was like a cultural icon, really,” Tucker said.
One of his many passions was promoting the local arts community. Danny Salzhandler of the 101 Artists’ Colony first worked with Nanninga a decade ago at the Full Moon Poets’ Society Poetry Slam in Encinitas. Nanninga emceed the event and became synonymous with its success. “He really did give his heart to the poets,” Salzhandler said. “And he shined brighter than the moon.
“I heard someone say that ‘we’re just another boring town without Bob,’” Salzhandler said. “They were right.”
Nanninga was a champion of open space preservation, smart growth urban planning and supported conservation measures. From volunteering at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum and teaching elementary students the finer points of theater to spear-heading the Environmental Film Festival and Environment Day, Nanninga was known for putting in long hours of hard work.
His service included traditional avenues for change. He served as a commissioner on the Parks and Recreation committee from 2001 to 2006. His political ambitions led him to campaign three times for a seat on the City Council. While he was never elected, Nanninga’s name recognition and activism grew with each political cycle.
“There’s a job opening in Encinitas but nobody to fill it,” Salzhandler lamented. “It’s going to take 20 or 30 people to finish all of the things Bob started.”
“Encinitas has lost a brilliant star,” Shillington said. “The shockwave is felt around the world.”
“I will miss his exuberance and flamboyance,” Tucker said. “He made me feel like I could do so much more than I even thought I could. He was meant to be center stage and he loved it.”
“I so cherished every moment we had together,” Shillington said. “It was an honor and a privilege to be his partner.”
In addition to Shillington, Nanninga is survived by his parents Clay and Sandra Nanninga; and siblings Tom, Bill, Karen and twin sister Jessie Ruth Nanninga.
A poetry slam dedicated to Bob Nanninga is being planned for sometime next month at the La Paloma Theater. Details will be published as soon as they are available.