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Bob Niffenegger: Gone Fishin' for Good

Bob Niffenegger. (Photo by Bob Bumpas.)

Walk into Bob Niffenegger's office, and there's no mistaking what this man enjoys in his spare time. A set of fishing cartoons and photos adorns the side of one bookcase. Bob's constructed his own fishing pond on a family farm in Iowa where he hopes to spend quite a few of his post-NCAR days.

Those days begin on 4 August, when Bob leaves us after nearly 30 years of monitoring, upgrading, and maintaining the NCAR computer room. He began the transition this past spring by going to part-time status. "Originally, I was going to retire last August, but they asked me to stay on till March. Then in March, they asked me to stay till August."

Bob's expertise is one reason his retirement was postponed a year: he holds an encyclopedic knowledge of NCAR computing past and present. Some of that knowledge (along with some classic hardware) made it into a display on the history of computing in atmospheric science, constructed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and shown at the 75th anniversary meeting of the American Meteorological Society last January.

A native of the Amish town of Kalona in southeastern Iowa (his grandfather was the first non-Amish resident), Bob learned meteorology through 12 years in the Air Force and a year with the Weather Bureau in Grand Island, Nebraska. He gained computer expertise at one of the Air Weather Service's first computer training centers, Sheppard Air Force Base, near Wichita Falls, Texas. Bob joined NCAR on 1 March 1966, nine months before computing operations moved to the Mesa Lab. "I worked two days at 30th and Marine Streets, and then they asked me to go down to Martin Marietta in Denver and run the Control Data 3600." That machine was stored off-site due to space constraints while the Control Data 6600 was being prepared for its NCAR debut. "We used to run the [3600] input and output back and forth between here and Denver by four-wheeled vehicle," Bob recalls dryly.

After seven years as a computer operator, Bob became assistant operations manager in 1973 and headed operations in 1979-80. After that point, Gary Jensen and Bob split the ever-increasing tasks of computer room oversight. While Gary worked on planning and overall computing strategy, Bob handled many of the nuts-and-bolts duties. "I worked with the hardware, managed the operators, wrote the blanket orders, and was in charge of supplies and maintenance for the computer room."

A full plate? "Yes, I was busy," Bob confirms, "but that kept me going." Not that the plate was all his. "My staff has been the greatest-a dedicated group that knew what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I couldn't have been more blessed. I don't want it to sound corny, but I've enjoyed every minute of working for NCAR and everyone that I've worked with."

Along with occasional pinch-hitting at NCAR when SCD needs to call on his unique expertise, Bob will relax and enjoy time with his substantial family (which includes two daughters, four grandsons, a granddaughter, and a new great-granddaughter). He's looking forward to frequent trips to Iowa, where his mother remains: "She's 86 years old and still gets around." With four generations of relatives, Bob should have plenty of post-retirement company, even if the fish don't bite. •BH

Bob's retirement party will be on Friday, 4 August, 3:30 p.m., in the ML cafeteria.

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Last revised: Wed Mar 29 17:28:10 MST 2000