Bob, the Body Builder

Posted on 08 October 2014 by admin

Self-dubbed ‘lifelong learner’ comes full circle from Meramec to body building to Meramec 

Above: Bob and his girlfriend, Liz Fonseca, after a 5K in Edwardsville, Ill.

Above: Bob and his girlfriend, Liz Fonseca, after a 5K in Edwardsville, Ill.

Managing Editor

As the oldest of 10 kids, Bob Bellora, STLCC Meramec student, said it was never boring or quiet growing up in an Italian family. The experience prepared him for his own family years later.

Nineteen years ago, Bellora lost his wife, 45, to breast cancer, leaving behind two step children and an 8-year old son. He then had to become a mother and a father to his 8-year old son, he said.

“She died in October,” Bellora said. “The next May in third grade, they were having all the kids make a little construction paper teapot with a poem on there for their Mother’s Day present. They taped a teabag to it and said something about ‘when you’re hot and tired, here’s a teabag for you.’ He made it out to me for Mother’s Day. I still have it taped up in my kitchen,” he said.

Although his family has been at the forefront of his life, he said, Bellora has also devoted his time to continued education since 1974 while also maintaining a passion for body building.


Bob, the Student

Bellora began his college career at University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL) as a physics major. One year later, he said he reluctantly joined the Air Force after being drafted in the Vietnam War. There he worked as a linguist analyst; he translated documents and radio broadcasts from Vietnamese to English.

Learning the language was intense, he said. He studied for six hours a day for a year, giving him 30 hours of college credit from the University of Texas. He took German for three years and Latin for two between high school and UMSL.

Once fluent in Vietnamese, he said he now remembers about 10 words, having better memory of German and Latin.

To Bellora, learning Vietnamese was harder because it had no tie to the English language, while German and Latin have similar root words, he said.

After earning his Masters degree in Electronics Engineering, he took 18 hours of French through Fontbonne University. He took more French classes when he came to Meramec and said he used the language to help his wife, Carol, take her high school students to France.

Even with knowing many different languages, there never was a true desire to learn them, he said.

“It was just a necessity then. In high school, it was mandatory to take foreign languages,” Bellora said. “And in the Vietnam War, even though I was guaranteed electronics, they said that they needed linguists. So I was just appointed to be a linguist.”

While in the Air Force, he qualified to join the Air Force Academy. He had a week to make a decision, but turned it down because it required him to stay in the military for 10 years, which he did not want to do, he said. Instead, Bellora wanted to go to Rolla.

After three-and-a-half years in the Air Force, Bob came to Meramec for engineering, which UMSL did not offer. He chose the school for the low cost. He did not have much money as a veteran, so he came to Meramec on the GI Bill, he said.

Meramec’s engineering program was modeled to transfer straight to Missouri Rolla S&T, then called University of Missouri – Rolla. He transferred to Rolla in 1976 to get his Bachelor’s degree.

At Meramec and Rolla, he ran on the Varsity Cross Country Team. Even though he was busy (and eight years older than his teammates,) being on the team helped him prioritize and schedule better, he said.

His past seven years at Meramec, he has taken a weight training class every semester, including this summer.


Bob, the Body Builder

Weight training has since been a significant part of his life, he said.

“At the age of 19, I was going to a YMCA, trying to learn gymnastics,” Bob said. “The p.e. director talked to me about the fact that I was built better to be a long distance runner and gave me some books on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise where the first studies just came out. It’s by Dr. Kenneth Cooper – it’s called ‘Aerobics.’ And when I read that book, I decided that I wanted to try to stay in shape my entire life with cardiovascular exercise.”

Along the way, he has tried to add in other types of exercise. He was ignoring the importance of upper body strength, he said, so seven semesters ago he took a break from karate and switched over to weightlifting.

“I’m not going to stop,” Bellora said. “I will find time to go back to karate next semester, but I’m going to stay with weightlifting.”

Bob, the Professional 

After he received his degree in Electrical Engineering, Bellora worked for McDonnell-Douglas for 22 years, benefiting from an employment-paid Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering through Rolla.

For the next 30 years, he took classes at Meramec every semester “to learn a lot of new things,” he said.

He is retired now, but 40 years after his first days at Meramec, he has made it full circle to take a meteorology class and get a master natural certificate.

“It’s 11 classes and I don’t know why I’m doing this to myself,” Bellora said.

Studying is hard, but the classes and lectures are fun for him, he said. He started to lose sight of what the “fun” was all about until he remembered who he was doing this for – his son, his girlfriend and his teachers. He said he wants to know as much as he can for the tests and has received the highest grade on the first four.

After he retired, he said he did not want to have nothing to do. He said he would have part time jobs and take morning classes, in order to have a structure and “a place to get up and go to.” After a friend referred him, he took a part time job as a supervisor at the state, county and general elections. He took the job so he could learn more, he said.

Would he consider himself a lifelong learner? “Yes,” Bellora said. “I love to learn new things.”


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