Published: June 27, 2023
Submitted by the family
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICH. — Antiques collectors and dealers are consumed with the story behind a piece and the history surrounding it; what period in time it represents? where did it come from? what’s it made out of, who cared for it and where has its journey taken it? In the course of a conversation about an object, those facts often spin off into their own individual stories.
This is a cliff notes of my dad, Bob Ketelhut.
Bob was born in Detroit in 1944 to Walter (a bakery owner, underground casino card dealer, and an expert handicapper on the ponies) and Erika (one of the first woman executives in the fashion industry). He and his younger sister, Carol (a retired educator from Rochester, N.Y.) grew up walking the mean streets of Grosse Pointe and frequenting the soda shop a few blocks from their house. My brother and I grew up hearing stories of him from childhood playing lots of baseball, working on his ‘62 Jaguar XKE 2+2, and actually winning a car off of a Detroit Lions linebacker in a card game. After graduating Grosse Pointe South High School, he went on to Monmouth College to study art and later moved back home to the Detroit area and attended Wayne State University earning an MFA.
His career started out as a teacher in Detroit, where during the race riots in 1967 his students locked him in a closet and told him not to come out until it was all clear — they must have loved him and were trying to protect him. He then focused on his love of art, becoming a commercial artist and having his own advertising business with clients ranging from the auto companies to KMart and A&W root beer. His true passion was buying and selling antiques, which occupied all of his spare time until the late 1990s when he became a full-time antiques dealer. He and my mom took the money from their wedding and drove their hatchback to New England just to buy antiques. Bob participated in all the shows and put in all the miles.
The 70s, 80s and early 90s were obsessed with Pilgrim Century American antiques. I can vividly remember going to the shows in Hartford, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Ohio and New York City, where, as a little kid I met all the great names in dealers of an age of American antiques past. My brother and I grew up in an environment filled with the fragrance of 200- and 300-year-old patina. In the late 90s, Bob moved more into the realm of folk art and interesting objects (sometimes weird and macabre, which my wife Julee shared the passion for with him). There is a more than 20-year-old holiday card still in his kitchen featuring a professionally photographed collection of confiscated prison shanks that he put together in a shadow box for his friend Doug Taylor (who also passed away earlier this year), the comment on the inside reads “you have the coolest stuff!” He certainly did turn up some cool things.
Bob met Barbara and they were married in the early 1970s and moved to West Bloomfield, Mich. I arrived in ‘76 (Bradbury) and my brother in ‘79 (Bryan James – BJ) — yep, we are a family of Bs. We were very fortunate to have my mom be able to raise us full time and our dad literally coach every single team we played on (baseball, hockey, soccer and ski racing). Bob and Barb got divorced in the 90s, but Barb still lives right down the street and would see Bob many times every week — I like to think we were an American family. I left to pursue ski racing in Vail, Colo., in 1994 and spent the next 25 years there, until our recent move to the mid-coast of Maine. While in Colorado and at grad school at CU in Boulder, I met my wife Julee and we have been thick as thieves for 22 years. Even though I didn’t like going into antique shops when I was little, I caught the bug in my early 20s and have operated galleries in Vail, Naples and now in Wiscasset. We now call the mid-coast area home. My little brother left Michigan to come visit me in Vail for a year on his way to Dallas where he owned a Little Caesars franchise.
There he met his wife Marissa (who, as fate would have it was from the same area in Michigan, who taught him how to text through the love of pictures of the grandchildren), and they moved to Providence before making their way back to living in Birmingham, Mich., where he works with Little Caesars corporate. Bob loved to go to a little local market in Royal Oak early on a Sunday morning and then visit his three grandchildren Adalena (8), Marabel (4) and Bennett (almost 2). Bob was a rolling stone allowing no moss to grow by visiting us multiple times a year in Colorado and more recently in Maine, where he loved the attention our pugs lavished on him.
Bob’s life was filled with friendships with all the unique characters who make up the collecting and dealer communities. There are many shows that he participated in for nearly 40 years. He loved the comradery, the thrill of the hunt, and the satisfaction of placing the object with the person. As one dealer recently shared with me, after he sold something he would find the dealer at the next show just to make sure that they did well with the piece. He was always concerned that everyone else was doing well and truly never cared about a profit. His favorite part was trading with other dealers. He didn’t care if the deal made financial sense, he just wanted something new to look at and then move on. His favorite line was, “What’s your never want to see it again price? I’ll do my best to adopt this,” but I know the reaction I saw him get when he asked, “This will be different than what I can hope for.” He truly was a kind and caring person and many have reached out to tell favorite stories and I will look forward to hearing new stories at shows that I do in the future.
While Bob’s story has ended, it will live on in vivid personal memories and attached to the objects that collectors and dealers purchased and traded with him over the nearly 60 years he spent in this wonderful pursuit. Marabel (the 4-year-old grandchild) put it best the other day, “Grandpa Bob is telling jokes with all of his friends in Heaven,” and this along with trading with all of his dealer friends who made it there before him probably keeps him pretty busy. We will all miss you…
Robert Ketelhut passed away on June 7, at Trinity Hospital in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., surrounded by family. He was laid to rest at a private family ceremony at White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, Mich., on Saturday June 24. A celebration of his life was held at the Detroit Tigers game on June 25, because he would have wanted everyone to watch a game and have a ballpark frank.
Remembrances from a few of his dealer friends:
Our friendship with Bob began a half-century ago in the crowded aisles of the Ann Arbor Antique Market on Detroit Street. He was immediately friendly with a warm easy smile and a seriously casual manner. From the beginning Bob embraced the historic and the artful, the natural and the whimsical and if he said, “I think you will like this,” he was always right.
He loved the process of searching and looking from Colorado to New England. It was the road that offered Bob the opportunity to discover something unique and memorable. He was always willing to lend a hand, share his knowledge and enjoy a good laugh. His passion for antiques was equal to his passion for baseball. A truly fine and sincere friend.
—Tim Hill, Hill Gallery Birmingham, Mich.
I met Bob back in 2006 when I first started my career in the business. I was setting up with a fellow dealer at the Spring Rhinebeck Show. Bob walked into our booth and saw a figural carving of a woman I had and purchased it from me. It was my first sale. We became instant friends. I loved his incredible eye for folk art and antiques. He would come up with so many wonderful things. He loved my eye too and we would often buy from each and also did lots of trading. I think we both loved trading the best! It was so much fun!! He was a great friend and a fantastic and generous human being both with his knowledge and with his listening ear. I considered him a mentor. I will miss him dearly.
—Francis Crespo, Folk Art and Antiques, Lancaster, Penn.
Sorry to hear of Bob’s passing. He was a Good Man and a very fair dealer.
—Ron Korman, Muleskinner Antiques
I can’t even recall when I met Bob, though obviously at a show. He and various “antique travelers” would stop by my shop on the way to/from various events. He always had a smile and a very pleasant attitude. His things were available for sale, swapping, part dollars, time payments or whatever deal could be worked out. Several times he’d want to take back in trade a previously owned item. Again, with a smile. You will be missed.
Bob Ketelhut – Gonna miss that friendly fella!!
I had the privilege of being Bob’s antiques partner for more than 10 years. We went on dozens of picking trips and participated at shows across the country. He was extremely friendly and shared his many antiques contacts. He also was very knowledgeable. He even knew the restaurants and hotels at virtually every expressway exit. No need for computer maps when traveling with Bob. I am thankful for his wife and two sons for allowing him to enjoy his life as an antiques picker. Bob was a unique friend.
Bob was a gentleman, a wonderful guy, who also had a great eye for folk art and the unusual. I’ll miss seeing him!
Bob’s love for the antiques business was evident at every turn. He found wonder in all of his wares and was able to convey his excitement to the new owners. Bob will be missed at all of the shows that he frequented for years. I will miss his kindness and enthusiasm.
I’ve known Ketelhut for close to 40 years and choosing to move to Maine from Michigan meant I couldn’t see Bob as often as I was accustom to. He was a great antiques dealer and knew how to lose money in a trade better than anyone! RIP buddy!
Bob was such a good friend! We always looked forward to his arrival at our house or seeing him at shows. Any time that he stopped it was always coupled with a visit to his sister’s (Carol) house where it was extremely important for him to be on time to get his favorite pot roast dinner! His infectious enthusiasm for the antiques business was always evident in his smile and lifted our spirits. He was an honest and good man. You could show Bob an item of merit that you just purchased and his level of excitement was such that you would have thought that it was his! That is witness to his love of antiques over the business element of buying and selling. The world and our lives are “for the better” with Bob being part of it.
—Nancy and Gene Pratt
So sorry to hear about Bob Ketelhut! I hadn’t seen him in the years since we dropped out but some of my earliest memories of collecting (and then business) are connected to him. I grew up in Detroit so it was inevitable that we would cross paths as youngsters on the hunt. When I was looking for someone to do a rush seat on a bannister back chair he directed me to a great old character near downtown who Bob and his wife watched over like a dear grandfather. I’ve always associated him (them) with just that sort of kindness.
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