Recent Obituaries
In Memoriam Archive

Robert Greensfelder ’50

November 7, 2018, in Grass Valley, California, at the age of 95.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Robert was seven when his father died suddenly from pneumonia. He moved with his mother to Spokane, Washington, where he graduated from Lewis and Clark High School.

Bob entered Reed in 1941 and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve after Pearl Harbor. Called into service at the end of his sophomore year, he was assigned to the USS Highlands and guided troop transport landing crafts onto the beaches during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Over the next five years, Bob completed another six semesters at Reed, studied in Mexico City under the GI Bill, and drove coast to coast as a marketing agent for a cooperative venture of California craftspeople. He married Jean Greiner Martin, a brilliant, imposing, and beautiful woman who had been an artist’s model for such painters as John Sloan and Salvador Dalí.

The couple settled in Mill Valley in Marin County, and for the next 23 years Bob worked in myriad positions in the field of independent and experimental film. He played a key role in founding the American Federation of Film Societies, promoting San Francisco’s nascent International Film Festival, distributing independent films through his company, Kinesis, Inc., and serving on the advisory committee of the Pacific Film Archive.

Bob became the western manager for Contemporary Films—a widely respected film distribution company with an exceptional selection of cultural, foreign, art, and documentary films—and worked there for 11 years. Personally, he funded and supported the making of The End, one of four films by visionary director Christopher Maclaine, and was instrumental in helping French director Agnès Varda create her short film Uncle Yanco. He also donated his time to produce the film Dreamwood by Beat poet and filmmaker James Broughton.

Bob and Jean’s home in Mill Valley became a gathering point for a mélange of artists, writers, filmmakers, and intellectuals, some of whom viewed the family as a haven from the tumultuous years of the 1960s.

Bob served on the board of the ACLU of Northern California, marched against the Vietnam War, was a founder of the Homestead Valley Improvement Club, and lent support to friends under attack by McCarthy-era witch hunts.

Trips into the Idaho wilderness as a youth ignited a lifelong passion for backpacking, and Bob kindled the same passion in his young children, leading them over monster passes in the Sierra Nevada and sleeping in tents he rigged from sheets of plastic. For his 50th birthday, he trekked the mountains of Nepal. Less than a year later, he and Jean moved to the San Juan Ridge in rural Nevada County to homestead miles from paved roads or power lines. It was near Bob’s lifelong friend from Reed, poet Gary Snyder ’51.

Bob became a mentor to many of the homesteaders who arrived after him, always gracious in sharing his labor and knowledge. He helped found the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association and the Yuba Watershed Institute and worked for decades on committees riding herd on gold mining proposals. In 2016, unable to keep up with the demands of rural life, he moved to Atria Assisted Living in Grass Valley.

Throughout his life, Bob loved offbeat humor, including the Marx Brothers and cartoonists R. Crumb and George Herriman. A champion of English grammar, he crusaded for the proper use of “lay” and “lie” up to his dying day. He is survived by his children Anne, Sara, Liese, and Ben Greensfelder.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2019

comments powered by Disqus