CLIFTON FORGE — Robert “Bob” Umstead believes the Town of Clifton Forge has a bright future based on his seven years of service as a member of the Clifton Forge Town Council.
Umstead said, “If the Town of Clifton Forge’s past seven years is an indicator, then I think that the future is very bright.”
With school merger having been approved for Covington City Schools and the Alleghany County Public Schools, the combining of the two school system’s athletic teams could occur as soon as the 2022 fall sports season.
Umstead recently retired with 49 years of teaching experience in the public schools of Michigan and Virginia under his belt, and currently, he serves as an assistant football coach on a voluntary basis under Will Fields, the head football coach at Alleghany High School, while serving as head coach of the AHS indoor track team.
Having served as the coach of indoor track, the sport that he has coached since 2006 at AHS, Umstead has coached one state champion, Gaige Kern. Kern won the 1,600 meters. Also, 31 others have received all-state honors.
Coaching comes easy for Umstead, a star athlete at Pinckney High School in Pinckney, Mich. where he lettered in football, basketball, cross country and track. Some of his high school records have remained intact since 1966, the year he graduated.
Born in 1946 in Howell, Mich. to Robert J. Umstead Sr., a carpenter, and Patricia Stackable, a cosmetologist, Bob distinguished himself as a high-scoring guard in basketball, a four-year starter on the varsity football team where he played quarterback and the number one runner on the cross country team as well as the mainstay of the track team.
Before moving from Michigan to Clifton Forge in 1983, Bob had earned two M.A. degrees, one from the University of Michigan, and one from Michigan State University. Both were in the field of special education.
While attending Eastern Michigan University in 1968 where he was training as a distance runner for the upcoming U.S. Olympic trials, he was struck from behind by a motorist. The impact sent him flying over an embankment into a drainage ditch that he managed to crawl out of and reach a nearby house to get help.
The injuries he suffered, seven breaks in the bones of his right leg, ended his hope of making the U.S. Olympic Team.
He considers his battle to overcome his physical disability as the most challenging aspect that he has battled for decades.
Though legally blind, Bob has enough vision to teach others, and when Pat King hired him to teach special education during the first year of consolidation between Clifton Forge City Schools and Alleghany County Public Schools in 1983, he was assigned as the vision specialist for vision-impaired students from Alleghany County, Covington, Bath County, Botetourt County, Rockbridge County and Buena Vista.
Based at Alleghany High School that had operated for the previous 20 years as Alleghany County High School, Bob served the entire area, and before long, he was hired to coach as well, serving as head volleyball coach, assistant track coach and assistant football coach.
As for his future goals, Bob remarked, “My goals for the future are to remain physically active and mentally active.”
Bob and his wife, Deborah “Debbie” Blayer Umstead, can be seen walking for exercise in Clifton Forge almost on a daily basis. Debbie is a graduate of Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she met Bob while he was attending nearby Eastern Michigan University.
Debbie, who is also a retired teacher, was working for Bob who was the manager of Meijer Thrifty Acres in Mich., a large retailer that Bob describes as an equivalent to a Walmart.
The couple who have been married since May 7, 1977, have six grown children: Knic, the eldest who is 41. He is an artist and art instructor at Radford University.
Next is Rebecca, who is 40 and self-employed; Katie, a cosmetologist who is 36; Ben, the manager of Grill Marx in Md. who is 30; and Bob and Debbie’s twins, Allyson, an English teacher at Glenvar Middle School, and Mary, a student at Catholic University in Washington D.C. The twins are 28.
As for Bob’s many achievements, he observed, “My most satisfying achievement is being married since May 7, 1977, and having six children, all who are living productive lives.”
In addition to their six children, Bob and Debbie have five grandchildren.
Having earned three degrees in Michigan before moving to Virginia, Bob could have coasted into retirement, but he has furthered his education by attending Virginia Tech where he has completed his course work for his Ph.D. in special education.
As for the new school system that will be formed on July 1, 2022, Bob believes that it will have a positive impact on the Alleghany Highlands.
Having served as president of the Alleghany Education Association for 14 years, he hopes that the opportunity will present itself so that he can become involved with the new school system.
Bob concluded, “I would love to participate as a school board member in the new school system.”