R.I.P., Bob Helmholdt

A practicing orthodontist for 52 years, Dr. Robert D. Helmholdt gifted untold numbers of people with bright smiles in more ways than one.

Almost 50 years ago as an undergraduate student at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, I first heard the name, “Bob Helmholdt.” My esteemed economics professor, Dr. Hans Sennholz, mentioned in class how much he enjoyed speaking at conventions of dental professionals—in part because he usually saw his friend Bob there.

"And, of course, the most important ingredient in that economic system was freedom!”

Over the years, Bob Helmholdt of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would host opportunities for Dr. Sennholz to speak many times to audiences in southeast Florida, to which this exchange of correspondence attests.

At least 25 years ago, Bob and I finally met and he subsequently did the same for me, arranging multiple speaking engagements in the Ft. Lauderdale area. Only a few months ago, my FEE colleague Jason Riddle and I had lunch again with Bob at his favorite country club. As always, we had a stimulating conversation—informative but also full of good humor—but alas, it proved to be our last. Bob passed away on January 25, 2020, just two months shy of his 90th birthday.

A Legacy for Liberty

A practicing orthodontist for 52 years, Dr. Robert D. Helmholdt gifted untold numbers of people with bright smiles in more ways than one. He was among the best of his profession and a genuinely fun person to spend time with. More than anything else, however, it was Bob’s commitment to liberty and free markets that cemented our bond.

In a 2013 tribute, “Bob Helmholdt: Trooper for Liberty,” I wrote:

Bob grew up in abject poverty, but as he puts it,“It didn't take me long to realize that there was an economic system in place that allowed me to rise to whatever level my study, hard work, responsibility, frugality, and God-given talents would allow. And, of course, the most important ingredient in that economic system was freedom!”

Bob was born in Grand Rapids, MI, on March 31, 1930. He made Florida his home as soon as he completed his education at Hope College in Holland, Michigan; the University of Marquette in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. In the midst of his education, Bob served as a Captain in the United States Army and received the Commendation Ribbon for meritorious service.  

At the height of his orthodontic career, Bob accepted invitations to speak in countries such as China, Russia, South Africa, Central America, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Nicaragua, where he informed and inspired. He won numerous noteworthy awards and led multiple associations, committees, and foundations. As CEO of the Lou Church Educational Foundation, he helped secure considerable support for the Foundation for Economic Education. We at FEE will always be deeply grateful for that.

Bob’s obituary in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper a few days ago includes a paragraph illustrating how much he enjoyed life:

Regardless of his many accolades, Bob loved the simplicities of life. He was happiest in the sun with a good book or winning points on the tennis court. Many have spotted him cruising around town with the top down in his favorite set of wheels. His other activities included swimming, biking, and skiing. He valued an active, balanced, and healthy lifestyle and vowed that he would never stop learning.

FEE president Zilvinas Silenas and the staff and board of FEE join me in extending heartfelt condolences to Bob’s wife Margie, their children Maggie and Ryan, his longtime administrative assistant Babs Hart, the extended family, his fellow trustees at the Lou Church Educational Foundation, as well as Bob’s many friends. He will be greatly missed.

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