Remembering Bob Gospeter

By Kate Havelin, Community Outreach 

Coldwater Spring has flowed for centuries, but the park's history flows with stories of many people who have lived, worked and cared about this place.

Bob Gospeter's story is part of the history of Coldwater. In 1949, Bob surveyed Coldwater for the Bureau of Mines, so the agency could expand there. Bob recalled that Coldwater looked “like a jungle,” but he and the BOM liked what they saw.

Bob spotted a two-story red brick house on the property that had been an engineer’s house when Fort Snelling used the spring’s water decades earlier.  Housing was tight after World War II, so Bob asked his boss if his family could live in the old engineer’s house. For two years, from 1949 to 1951, the Bob and Mary Gospeter, and their young daughters Mary and Pat lived at Coldwater. Their nearest neighbors were about a mile away.

The family photo album shows normal family life -- at what’s now a public park. Bob, his daughters and their dog Mickey stand in front of a big brick water tower, one of two towers the Army used to store Coldwater’s water. Mary Gospeter tells stories about cooking in a lean-to kitchen, an add-on to the brick house. The kitchen didn’t have a basement so the pipes froze regularly.

While Bob was off at work, Mary would load the girls on a sled, bringing them down to the springhouse to fetch water for the family.  The Gospeters used 2,000 gallons of oil a year to heat their old house, but back then, oil cost just a dime a gallon. 

Long after the family moved out of the old engineer’s red brick house, Bob continued working for the Bureau of Mines.  His many jobs included Chief of Mechanical Services, Safety Officer and Radiation Protection Officer. As Radiation Officer, Bob heard stories about some supposed radiactive bears. He said he heard that during the Cold War, the Veterans Administration had tested radiation on bears. The story goes that a 'hot bear' had been buried somewhere at Coldwater. Bob said that although he and others looked, they never uncovered 
any signs of thew bear. But he recalled other signs of Cold War testing. The VA did Cold War research on dogs, and the Gospeters used to hear the caged dogs barking.

Bob helped shape how the Bureau of Mines Coldwater campus looked. When the Bureau needed to expand but couldn't afford a new building, he helped transport an unused building down from the Iron Range. The building became the Bureau's library, located on what's now the north wetland. 

When he retired in 1978, a coworker painted a Coldwater scene for Bob that has a prominent spot in the family’s Burnsville home. Bob worked at what we call Coldwater Spring for decades, but he said back then, no one called it Coldwater. To Bob and others, the place we call Coldwater was just part of Fort Snelling.   

In 2012, Bob and is family wanted to learn what the National Park Service was doing with Coldwater. Bob, Mary and daughter Pat were kind enough to share stories and family pictures with us. Last summer, Bob and is family came to Coldwater for our BioBlitz. We toured the property. Even when it started raining, Bob was still smiling, seeing a place that had been part of his life.

Bob Gospeter died on February 22, at age 91. His story is part of the history of Coldwater. We will remember Bob.