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Robert H. 'Bob' Shennum, 82

| January 20, 2005 1:00 AM

Robert H. "Bob" Shennum, 82, died on Monday, Jan. 17, 2005, in Bigfork.

He was born near Scobey on a farm on April 12, 1922, to Joseph M. and Nellie Mae (Robinson) Shennum. He moved to Ronan with his family during his high school years.

He and his wife, Doris L. Shennum, returned to the Flathead Valley upon retirement in 1985, after a 31-year career as a director and research scientist with the Bell System.

During the past 20 years in Bigfork, Bob enjoyed Bible study with the United Methodist Church of Bigfork, building and fixing just about anything, reading "Master and Commander" novels, driving around Flathead Lake, playing with his children and grandchildren, and watching TV.

During his career, he led the design and launch of the first experimental communications satellites, Telstar I and II. During his retirement, he enjoyed watching TV beamed from these same two satellites, which are still a commercial success and in service today.

In 1944, Bob received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Montana State University in Bozeman, then, like many of his age, served our country in World War II. Bob received a U.S. Army citation for management of the Bremen radio teletype station in 1946 as a 1st lieutenant in the Army Signal Corp. After the war, he returned to civilian life and married his college sweetheart, Doris L. Postlewait, on March 16, 1947, in Kevin.

Bob continued his lifelong focus on science, earning a Master's in electrical engineering from Montana State University in Bozeman and a Ph.D. in physics and electrical engineering from the prestigious California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1954.

With his new degree and their first daughter only days old, Bob and Doris drove across the United States to his new position at Bell Labs in New Jersey, where Bob directed research labs for the next 31 years.

In 1963, after the successful launch of the two Telstar satellites, Bob was recognized as a celebrity in Montana and across the country. He was awarded a doctorate in engineering from Montana State University-Bozeman and appeared as a guest on the popular quiz show, "What's My Line?"

During the 1960s and 1970s Bob was tapped to lead Bell Labs research units for microwave radio design, mathematical analysis and digital systems design. He managed development of SAFEGUARD missile systems and a lab to research and develop new sources of power. In 1974, he was again recognized for service to the United States and received the U.S. Army Citation for Patriotic Civilian Service for his contribution to the SAFEGUARD ABM missile systems.

During his career, Bob published many articles on power and space communications and received a patent for his work during this period. Bob was an IEEE Fellow and served in many distinguished roles with this organization. He was a member of the NJ Executive Committee, chairman of the NC Section, member Intelec Advisory Committee and session chairman for Intelec in Washington, D.C., for several years. He was a member of the research society, Sigma Xi, and honor societies, Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi.

Bob was predeceased by his father, Joseph M. Shennum; his mother, Nellie Mae Robinson Shennum; and most recently by his brother, John L. Shennum.

He is survived by his wife, Doris L. Shennum, of Bigfork; his sister, Norma Davenport, who lives in Helena with her husband, Robert, and family. Bob and Doris have three children, a daughter, Sharon Vonk, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with her husband, Harry Vonk, and daughter, Elaine Garvey; a son, Keith Shennum, who lives in Columbia Falls with his wife, Judy Shennum; and a second daughter, Marsha Burns, who lives in Salem, N.H., with her husband, David, and children, Courtney, Brittany and Colby.

Funeral services for Robert Herman Shennum will be 1:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at the United Methodist Church of Bigfork with Pastor Jan Witman officiating. Burial will be in the Swan View Memorial Gardens Bigfork Community Cemetery in Bigfork. Visitation will be from 3 to 5 p.m. today at Johnson Mortuary Chapel in Kalispell.

Please contribute to a charity of your choice in memory of Robert H. Shennum.

Arrangements are under the direction of Johnson Mortuary and Crematory.

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