Help Bob and His Family Today!
The Gift of Clarity: The Story of Bob and Loretta Estabrook
Bob and Loretta Estabrook have worked together since they met at age 18. They have worked in restaurants and in various capacities throughout their 29 years of marriage. Since 2011 they have worked together at Skyline Technology Solutions. Bob started volunteering with Bello Machre in May of 2011 and has been an integral part of our partnership with Skyline by championing, coordinating, and spending his time working with this organization.
This story is about commitment, a positive outlook, and love. Please take a few minutes to share in Bob and Loretta’s story below . . . and then please pass it along to anyone who you think might be inspired to help and heal.
In 1985, Loretta headed for Havasu City, Arizona to take an extended vacation at age 18. She quickly learned that extended vacations require funding, and she walked into a McDonald’s to start working and finance her good times. After two weeks, a handsome young man started working in that very same McDonald’s and the first time she saw Bob Estabrook, she was thunderstruck with love. “I walked into the room to get something, and I walked by and said hi and took half of another step and swung around to get a better look!” says Loretta, 29 years later. “It took me two weeks to ask him out, and we started dating. We were married 10 months later and haven’t been apart since.”
Bob and Loretta decided to move to Las Vegas to experience the big city and to find work in other restaurants. That was fun for a while, but they were drawn to the mountains of Payson, Arizona. Located 90 minutes north of Phoenix, the newlyweds found a place of peace and beauty to start their family. Bob and Loretta worked at JB’s Big Boy restaurant (together, naturally) starting in October 1986. Times were tough for the young couple. They traded their waterbed for a used car (that they had to hot wire to start!) and soon after that Loretta and Bob discovered that they were expecting their first child. Things went well until our unborn son, Nick, decided he wanted to see Arizona six weeks early. Loretta took her first (and so far, only) helicopter ride to the hospital in Phoenix where Nick arrived and spent his first three weeks in the hospital gaining strength before heading home. Bob and Loretta commuted the 75 miles through winding mountain roads, praying for Nick’s health. The drive was only part of the challenge, as Bob and Loretta were splitting shifts at the restaurant – one working to stay afloat while the other was visiting Nick in the hospital for those critical weeks.
Bob grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and his family needed him to help run their business, so off they went. Bob took a sales role and quickly learned that life at a desk was not in his blood. He and Loretta returned to the restaurant game, both putting in long hours working at a variety of casual dining chains and gaining the experience (and money) they needed to fulfill one of their big dreams - opening their own restaurant.
The Estabrook family grew with the addition of Lori who also arrived one month early and required some extra care for her first few weeks. Bob and Loretta repeated the process of work, love, and commitment by splitting shifts and heading into Detroit to be with Lori. Long days of parenting and work were followed by long nights at the kitchen table figuring out of to make ends meet and save enough to get Café Au Lait open. Which they did, on July 4th, 1995.
Bob was 29 and Loretta 28, with two young children and a big future ahead of them. They worked together, in all aspects of their life, every single day. “Bob and I have always been able to get along 24-7,” says Loretta, “We just fit together and if one of us is down, the other would pick us up.” Café Au Lait was a gourmet coffee and sandwich shop. Quickly customers began to frequent their place with Bob and Loretta enjoying the fruits of their labor of love. Despite the long hours and pressure of running a small business, the Estabrook's kept on smiling, loving each other and their kids, and keeping an eye on their future.
A near tragedy struck when their daughter Lori tried to cook some food at home (“She wanted to get into the restaurant business,” says Loretta) and set the kitchen on fire. No one was hurt, but the kitchen was damaged and that added to the bills and pressure that the entrepreneurs were feeling. “We did what we do. We rebuilt and started over.”
The building where Café Au Lait was located was unfortunately overrun with termites, and Bob saw the need for stability so he went back into managing casual chains while Loretta tried to keep their own place afloat in 1999 – 2000. “Our customers didn’t care about the termites, but I knew we would have to move which was expensive, or close up, which is what we had to do.” One more time, Bob and Loretta leaned on each other and started anew.
Bob’s career took off at Applebee’s where he quickly rose through the ranks to be named their General Manager of the Year in 1999.
“I ran a tight shop. I knew where things had to be perfect and I wouldn’t settle for anything less than 100% compliance and I was a pretty tough boss. I was doing all the hiring, firing, management, and running my stores with a passion for being the best. I’m pretty sure I left a wake of people behind me that didn’t share my commitment, but I didn’t care. I had a family to support and I wouldn’t stop until I was the best,” said Bob in a 2014 talk to a group of IT professionals.
With the award came a sizable bonus, which finally allowed the Estabrook’s to breathe easier and enjoy the rewards that come with success. They bought a fixer upper house just outside of Detroit, which they updated and renovated from top to bottom. Bob built a finished basement with a custom audio-visual system to enjoy during the cold Michigan winters, and purchased a 40-foot powerboat and a membership to a yacht club to enjoy the lovely summers with his family on Lake Michigan Detroit River. There was one other thing that Bob purchased before he bought a single nail or gallon of fuel for his boat…Loretta shares this story:
“We met and married before we were twenty, and all we could afford were the simplest plain gold wedding bands. When Bob won his award, the first thing he did was to go out and buy me the most beautiful diamond wedding band and he surprised me with it by holding it in the picture of him with the Applebee’s Executives as he received his award. I cherished that ring with all my heart. He thought of me first, just like always and I wore that ring with so much love and pride for him. Years later, I removed my ring at the kitchen sink and accidentally knocked it into the disposal as it was running. The ring suffered major damage. someday I would like to be able to proudly display my love and admiration for him by wearing that ring again.”
In 2008, Detroit’s economy imploded with the failure of the auto companies. Thousands of people lost their jobs, and soon afterwards, their homes. All around Bob and Loretta’s home, families were foreclosing and moving out, while drug dealers and thieves moved in. On Thanksgiving Day 2009, while the Estabrook's were out of town visiting family and friends, thieves broke into their home and ransacked it. They took the family car and totaled it in the city. Bob and Loretta didn’t give up, they bought another car, which was stripped of its tires and left on two blocks within days of putting it in the driveway. The house across the street was burned down.
Bob and Loretta decided it was time to sell and take their children somewhere safer. The real estate agents laughed when they named their price for their home. “No one will buy your house. Look around at the neighborhood,” the agents said. Furthermore, the boat was worth pennies on the dollar now and things were bleak. Through no fault of their own (Bob and Loretta never missed a payment on any of their credit purchases) they found themselves staring at financial disaster. Bob called his friend Tony, and asked him for some advice on starting over (again) at age 44.
Tony invited Bob and Loretta to join him at Skyline, which at the time was a small IT service firm of 74 employees. Tony had been brought aboard as the CEO, and he asked Bob and Loretta to start the company’s Human Resources department. Neither Bob didn’t nor Loretta had the usual qualifications for running HR, but that didn’t stop Tony from hiring them him and it simply spurred Bob to re-invent himself as an HR Specialist. He studied, took the tests, asked for help and relied on his experience in the restaurant business to build a professional process for recruiting, hiring, and developing people.
Bob quickly became one of the critical people at Skyline and his new career took off. He saw a chance to help people get their start in IT and founded Cable Force at Skyline. Cable Force offers people with little or no IT experience a chance to get into the field at the ground level by training them in structured cabling and putting them to work in data centers. He hired a trainer to teach them the necessary skills and then he found jobs for them. Three of his people have moved into higher level positions at Skyline and he has helped them to transform their lives from unemployment to careers with real opportunity to raise their families and advance their skills and earning potential.
Bob was excited about his new career and the Estabrooks were back on track. Loretta even worked for free in 2014 to help Bob find good people for Cable Force, reinventing herself to become a recruiter/payroll specialist/den mother to the Cable Force crews. Skyline brought Loretta on full time in January 2015. Bob started working out to regain the looks that Loretta was so struck by in 1985. He lost weight, built strength and stamina and he was feeling great.
Then, in February 2012, he started noticing a twitching in his legs.
Bob went to the doctor, who referred him to a variety of specialists to figure out what was going on. Bob never stopped working while he shuttled from Johns Hopkins Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center and Kennedy Krieger to find out what was happening to him. Finally, in May 2013, Bob and Loretta were dealt a blow that made their prior struggles seem like a walk in the park. A doctor informed them that Bob has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a neuro-muscular disease that is almost always fatal within 2 – 3 years. Loretta asked the doctor what they should do, to which he responded, Take a cruise. “I have never felt such an urge to punch someone as I did when he said that to us,” says Loretta.
Bob and Loretta shared the news with the Skyline Executive team, who responded as they always do…with compassion and a plan to do whatever it takes to help the Estabrook family. Bob didn’t want everyone to know right away as he still had plenty of work that he needed to accomplish.
He kept his usual schedule, albeit peppered with doctor’s appointments. He started taking Loretta out to concerts, camping trips, and other things that they had always been too busy to do before. He kept on building Skyline by founding Skyline Staffing Solutions, a temporary staffing agency that focuses on IT positions. He helped develop and teach Skyline’s Communications and Cathedral Building classes which impact virtually every employee by giving them the skills and mindset that are needed in order to pursue a person’s full potential. Loretta and Bob kept doing what they have done all their lives – working together, loving each other and looking for everyone who needs their help and then giving it. It wasn’t until November of 2014 that Bob’s disease started to become noticeable to others, and he decided it was time to share his diagnosis and here is how he did it at Skyline:
Even in the face of ALS, Bob chose to share his devastating news as a gift – one that gives him a single, clear goal for every single day he has left – a clarity of purpose to help people and have a positive impact on everyone he comes into contact with. He does so, and continues to do even though ALS is quickly robbing him of his physical abilities. His smile is as gracious and genuine as it ever was, and his advice and positive outlook inspire those of us who are blessed to know and love Bob and Loretta personally. He will stop working full time at Skyline on April 8, 2016, but everyone who knows Bob knows that it simply means he will be behind the scenes, still offering the servant leadership, grace, and advice that have impacted us all.
Bob Estabrook was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. This devastating diagnosis is an unimaginable thought for any person . . . for any family. As he shared the news with his friends and co-workers . . . the outpouring of love from his extended Skyline family was overwhelming. What do you need . . . how can you help.
This webpage has been set up through Bello Machre's Ray of Hope Program. Medical expenses, adaptive equipment, and so many other things will be needed as the Estabrook Family embarks on this devastating journey. Please help by making a donation today to cover the many upcoming medical expenses to come. First and foremost, your donations will help provide an accessible van and equipment for the home.
Thank you for your support!