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JU mourns death of rowing legend Robert Negaard

Robert A. “Bob” Negaard, an American and English rowing history museum inductee, and patriarch of a family whose name is etched into the history of the Jacksonville University rowing program, died Nov. 26 at his Atlantic Beach residence. He was 89.

Born on Jan. 6, 1923, in Stillwater, Minn., Negaard developed his primary lifelong passions in his youth: the importance of family, singing and outdoor activities. Negaard graduated from Syracuse University’s College of Forestry with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering. While at Syracuse, he met Shirlee. The couple was married on July 30, 1949, in Vernon, Conn. Shirlee Bamforth Negaard, who became a renowned Jacksonville artist, taught art classes at JU, and was mother to generations of JU rowers, died in 1999.

During World War II, Negaard earned three stars, was part of the Battle of the Bulge, and worked logistics for General Patton’s troops, including rebuilding Remagen Bridge as part of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. A chemical engineer by training, he worked for St. Regis Paper Co. from 1946 until 1981, retiring as vice president of U.S. technical services.

The Negaard family began rowing when they settled in Jacksonville in 1972 and Bob, son Brad and daughter Kristen each became national rowing champions. Bob honed his skills as a “rigger,” repairing wooden and fiberglass rowing shells for Jacksonville University, Episcopal High School of Jacksonville, and three local clubs, all of which he co-founded, including Jacksonville Rowing Club. As a “rigger,”  he repaired rowing shells throughout the Southeast, becoming very interested in shell repair, maintenance and construction challenges.

Seeing the need in the Southeast, Negaard began his role as a USRowing referee in 1975 that spanned three decades, earning referee emeritus status at 65, 75 and 81 years old. His knowledge of rowing grew, as did his exposure to various racing equipment. Using his engineering expertise and newfound enthusiasm for rowing,  he created the “Wing-It” single, introducing the world to the “Wing-Rigger.” The wing, attached to the “saddle” of the hull rather than the ribs, revolutionized efficient shell design, ushering in a competitive, affordable, durable and easy-to-rig single. This invention forever changed the sport of rowing, earning Negaard induction into the River and Rowing (England) and History of Rowing (America) museums.

Jacksonville University’s highest honor, the “Distinguished Service Award,” was given to Negaard and family for their “time, talent and treasure” of contributions to the university, including the rowing program. Recently, the family became the namesake of JU’s Negaard Rowing Center.

A Boy Scouts of America life member, Negaard earned his Eagle Scout, as did his son and two grandsons. As a bass, Negaard was a member of the Barbershop Quartet “Empire Staters,” and honored with starting the Westchester (N.Y) chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. Negaard sang all his life in club and church choirs, including 37 years at Arlington Congregational Church.

Negaard is survived by a daughter, Kristen (JU ’81), rowing coach and co-op youth leader in Noank, Conn., along with her husband, George; his son, Brad J. Negaard (JU ’76), president of GBN Construction in Jacksonville, his wife, Annette (JU ’80), and their sons, Stefan (JU ’09) and Erich (JU ’11); and siblings Margaret Thon of Minnesota and Thomas Leimer of Ohio.

A memorial service will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 22 in Arlington Congregational Church in Jacksonville. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be given to the Jacksonville University “Robert A. Negaard Rowing Scholarship,” 2800 University Blvd. N., Jacksonville, FL 32211.

Below is a full tribute by Negaard’s family to Negaard’s contribution to the sport of rowing at Jacksonville University and beyond. The tribute also is available here.