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Longtime Press Democrat reporter Bob Klose dies at 75

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Bob Klose, a veteran Press Democrat reporter who loved telling people’s stories and believed that good journalism made the world a better place, died Thursday at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa after a nearly yearlong battle with cancer. He was 75.

The Sebastopol resident was a Renaissance man who lived a life full of diverse interests — there were motorcycle adventures, worldwide travels including Vietnam, Somalia and Kosovo, the joy of raising three daughters and precious time with three grandchildren. Klose also was lucky in love, marrying fellow reporter Susan Swartz and marking 39 years of marriage just days before he died.

It was his newspaper career that shaped and defined much of his life.

Starting in 1970, Klose worked about 25 years at The Press Democrat as an award‑winning reporter, news editor and editorial writer. He was viewed by peers as a newsroom icon, mentoring new reporters and guiding the newspaper’s path on many important stories.

He covered courts, cops and the county and all the stories a community newspaper needs, relishing the art of digging up details and turning them into a smoothly written, fully reported news story. Klose also helped the newspaper’s reputation for broader impact stories and had a keen eye for regional and national trends shaping Sonoma County’s transformation from an agricultural enclave to a desirable suburb of San Francisco.

His newspaper clippings included high-profile stories, some international. In 1987 the newspaper sent Klose to the Soviet Union to write “USSR: A Portrait” on changes in that frail and evolving country. The experience was a high point in his career, Swartz said.

“He loved that,” she said, recalling how much he enjoyed sitting in a Russian farmer’s kitchen learning about life there.

“He was a very fair person. He got along so well with people. He was compassionate and he loved telling their stories,” Swartz said. “I just think as a person he was kind and curious, which is extremely important as a human being but especially for a reporter.”

Press Democrat Executive Editor Catherine Barnett said Klose was a fixture in the newsroom when she arrived as an intern more than 40 years ago.

“Bob epitomized the post-Watergate reporter, with those news instincts and that urge to expose wrongdoing. He was a master of the soft pitch of the hard question,” Barnett said. “He came to be regarded as a sort of dean of the newsroom, coaching young reporters without making us feel stupid. In return, we respected him more than our editors.”

Family and friends described Klose as a classy, gentle man with a quick, subtle wit, who hailed many as “kiddo,” and had a knack for connecting with people. He was a listener, a talented whistler, an unbridled liberal and insatiably curious. He loved writing fiction, while being a standard bearer for the importance of news and not looking away from the day’s happenings. And he always was ready for a new adventure.

Many of those adventures happened with Dick Grove — best friend since their junior year at Albany High School in the East Bay.

“We shared politics, a love of sports, a sense of adventure and later, our motorcycle rides,” said Grove, of Lawrence, Kansas.

Among the many experiences were two trips to Vietnam, in 1988 and 1989, where they worked on a documentary, and several long-distance motorcycle rides including to Montana, the East Coast and one through Cuba.

“Last year we did a Civil Rights ride. It was special because it was very emotional,” said Grove.

“I loved the guy,” Grove said. “I’m going to miss him. There’s a hole in my life, hole in my heart.”

An East Bay native, Klose was born in Albany in 1944 and graduated from Albany High School in 1962. He attended the University of Kansas but left in 1969 to support his family when his first daughter, Jenni, was born. He later earned his degree at Sonoma State University.

Klose began his journalism career in 1963 as a copy boy, then reporter at the Oakland Tribune and later worked as a union organizer for the Newspaper Guild, which represented employees at East Bay newspapers.

He was at The Press Democrat from 1970 to 1992, then left the paper for about five years while he and Swartz headed for Europe. From 1992 through 1996 he worked for the Stars and Stripes military newspaper in Darmstadt, Germany and Radio Free Europe in Munich, then wrote stories from Bosnia for Stars and Stripes while also filing stories to the New York Times Regional Newspapers, including The Press Democrat.

Klose returned to The Press Democrat newsroom in 1997 for another five years and retired in 2001.

“Klose was an old-style reporter, an important part of a time when newspapers were fat and sassy and featured lengthy and complete stories. The ’70s and ’80s were the days when the publishing cycle was daily, not hourly, and there was time to investigate, to take long looks at big stories,” said Gaye LeBaron, longtime Press Democrat columnist. “He loved that kind of thing and it showed in his work.”

His Press Democrat investigative work included reporting on the financial demise of the Christian Life Center, a church complex later reincarnated as the Luther Burbank Center for Arts. His reporting on the Soviet Union and efforts of Vietnam veterans to come to terms with their personal war-related traumas received professional recognition as did his series on reforms in the Iowa school system that could be applied to Sonoma County schools. As an editor, he spearheaded projects including the potential effects of the Alaska oil spill on the North Coast and breaking news coverage of the Ramon Salcido slayings, both in 1989, and ongoing controversies like the Redwood Summer anti- logging demonstrations in 1991.

His daughters, Jenni Klose, Gretta Klosevitz and stepdaughter Samantha Swartz, described him as hero, moral compass, trusted adviser and model of integrity, kindness and compassion they aspire to follow. He also passed on his love of music and taught them to listen closely, to find the part that moved them.

“He’s just that voice in your head,” said Jenni Klose, who serves as president of the Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Education. “I just always think of him as being such a good and fair and moral person who gives people so much grace. He saw everyone as an individual and made sure they felt that.”

“He was my barometer in all things. I relied a lot on his guidance,” said Klosevitz. “Sometimes it wasn’t even just the things he would say, but the way that he modeled his life choices and the way that he lived.”

Samantha Swartz said “It’s simple, but it’s dear. Not too many people stop and pause long enough to actually care. He really gave a damn.”

In the past year or so, as his illness worsened, his family encouraged him to watch feel-good movies to help pass the time.

“But he would watch the news. Hours of it. Read the news,” said Jenni Klose. “He would say, up to the end, it’s our duty to know what is going on in the world and what people are facing and do what we can to make it better.”

“Every day is history in the making and you don’t pull yourself out of it,” he told them, Klosevitz said.

A reporter and storyteller to the end, Klose’s final days in the hospital included interviewing the parade of nurses, health technicians and blood-drawers who came through his room.

“Where they were from, where they grew up,” Jenni Klose said. “And he learned about them and he would tell us about them.”

During retirement, Klose was a public relations consultant for nonprofit agencies including the Volunteer Center, Roseland University Prep, Redwood Empire Food Bank, the Community Foundation of Sonoma County and Becoming Independent. For a time he worked as a media aide to the late North Coast state Sen. Pat Wiggins. And Klose found time to drive for the Ceres Community Project, the Sebastopol nonprofit that delivers meals to homebound seniors and disabled people.

He also loved writing fiction, enjoyed writing classes and had finished a novel he’d hoped to publish —which his family plans to publish posthumously. Set in Sonoma County, Klose’s novel was loosely based on a story he’d covered and includes crime, adventure and romance, Swartz said.

He and Swartz lived for years in Santa Rosa before settling in Sebastopol the last 25 years.

In addition to his wife and three daughters, he is survived by his brother, Donald Klose of Point Richmond; sister Stephanie Klose of Woodland and three grandchildren.

The family is planning a celebration of his life at a later date.

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