ENCINITAS — Robert “Bob” Nanninga, the venerable activist, actor, poet, writer, businessman and friend to many who worked tirelessly to change the face of a community died of pneumonia one year ago on Feb. 14. He was 45 years old.
The anniversary of Nanninga’s death is a bitter pill to swallow for those who knew him best. Fellow artist and activist Marsha Lindsey said his absence has had a tremendous impact on her and the community. “Bob was my very good friend, so it’s painful to lose such an awesome, inspiring friend.”
From the environmental challenges of the area to theatrical, cultural and political issues, Nanninga had a hand in everything. “He left lots of projects for the rest of us to pick up and run with,” she said. “He might have been one person but he left many, many shoes for us to fill.”
Nanninga was a columnist for this paper for several years, writing “Observations from the Edge” in a way that provoked thought among readers and sometimes controversy.
In addition to his work as an actor, artist, poet and journalist, Nanninga was also a businessman. Nanninga, with his longtime partner Keith Shillington, opened the E Street Café in downtown Encinitas on Sept. 3, 2004 — his birthday.
Lindsey helped build the popular gathering place. “It took us eight months to build the café, so it was like having a baby together.”
“We had 15 years together and not a single moment of it was dull,” Shillington said in a previous interview. 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.” Lindsey said it’s quieter around town without Nanninga but that others are taking up the slack. “People still talk about him, he’s still inspiring them, so he’s still present in that aspect.”
Dody Tucker, executive director of the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association, said she has drawn inspiration from Nanninga, even after his death. “I often find myself thinking, ‘What would Bob do?’ when I’m feeling vulnerable or sad,” she said. “He was such a strong, fearless personality and force for and of nature that his very presence always gave me boost.”
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 lead 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.
But it is his larger than life personality that many people fondly remember most. “Just watching him strut into my office would put a smile on my face,” Tucker said. “I loved him dearly and consider myself very fortunate to have known him.”
“What I miss the most about Bob is his laugh and interpretive dancing,” Lindsey quipped. “If you knew Bob, you knew Bob completely. He was his true self all the time. Except when he was acting.”