Dr. Bob Stager remembered for community involvement

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For four decades, Dr. Robert Stager treated numerous people at his optometry practice in Kent, making many advances in his research along the way.

But it was his passionate support for his community and jovial manner with patients that made him so well known in Kent.

Dr. Stager, 89, of Kent and Highland Beach, Fla., died Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013.

Dr. Stager and his late wife, Dee, were considered a driving force that helped bring the Kent State University Museum and fashion school to Kent State University. Later, they had a gallery endowed in their name, which remains part of the museum to this day.

He was born in Cleveland to immigrant parents. His father, Maurice Stager, came to the United States from Poland and his mother, Sophie, emigrated from Hungary. The couple settled in Leadville, Colo. where Maurice Stager operated a general store. Wanting to give birth to her son in a "real hospital," Sophie Stager took a train to Cleveland, then took her newborn son to Colorado, where he would live the first nine years of his life before the family moved to Cleveland.

In 1950, he met his wife, a biochemist who was studying ballet, on a triple date, each with other people. The couple married, settled in Kent and had two children, Jan and Richard. Their marriage lasted 58 years until Dee Stager died in 2009.

He opened his optometry practice in 1951. Jan Stager Cohen said she frequently accompanied her father at his practice. She noted that her father made many advances in the optometry field, including pioneering bifocal contact lenses, researching soft contact lenses and doing visual training for children. People would often stop "Dr. Bob" in the street and thank him for treating their children.

"He helped people see, and not just visually," Stager Cohen said.

She said she originally thought she would become an optometrist, but pursued journalism because of the influence of her father.

"I would listen to him talk to his patients all day long," she said. "What I got from that is that every person has a story, and every person is important. He went out of his way to make people feel comfortable."

In 1991, he sold his practice, which continues to operate out of the West River Medical building as Glanville and Hussing.

Optrician George Harjung, whom Dr. Stager regarded as an adopted son, was mentored by Stager during the first five years of his career, and went on to work at the Glanville and Hussing practice. He recalls Dr. Stager as a man very involved in the lives of his patients, remembering details of visits two years ago.

"If the moment struck him, he would break out in song," he said. 'He had a sharp wit and always had a corny pun. He was a real piece of work."

He said Dr. Stager was a brilliant man who enjoyed his work and only retired after 40 years because of new training requirements for optometrists.

"I couldn't have asked for a better mentor," he said.

The Stagers were early supporters of the Kent State Museum, and entertained Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman, who brought the school of fashion design and merchandising to Kent State University. Later, the couple endowed the Stager Gallery at the museum, said the museum's director, Jean Druesedow. She noted that fashion was more the passion of Dee Stager than her husband.

"But he was very tolerant, and he told wonderful stories,"Druesedow said. "His sense of humor was extraordinary."

The Stagers were very proud of their Jewish faith, affiliating with Temple Israel in Akron, and were strong supporters of the Hillel Jewish Student Center in Kent. When Hillel opened its Cohn Jewish Student Center, the outdoor pergola was dedicated to the Stagers.

"The Jewish community in Kent is a small but mighty group," said Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of Hillel, who said Dr. Stager was a proud representative of that group and enjoyed educating neighbors about his traditions.

She said Dr. Stager would often join Hillel students for services on high holy days, adding an inter generational flavor to the services.

"He came from a very special generation," she said, recalling the story Dr. Stager once told of a teacher who influenced him. "He was very funny, very direct and very sweet. He always had a very caring heart and a very soft side to him."

His son, Richard, noted that his father had a "rich history" in Kent, and treated most of the athletes at Kent State University. His father's retirement was big news in Kent, he recalled. After a fire destroyed the family's home on Wilson Avenue, the family moved to Twin Lakes, and divided their time between that home and Florida for many years.

"While I think it's great that so many people have invested millions into Kent, some of the people who were important over the years tend to be overlooked," he said.

In addition to his children, survivors include son in law Martin Cohen of Boston, Mass., daughter in law Dr. Margaret Stager of Shaker Heights, and grandchildren Maggie Cohen and Sam and Ben Stager.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, February 3rd at Hillel at Kent State University, 613 East Summit Street in Kent. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to Hillel or a charity of choice.

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