To celebrate his 95th birthday on July 31, Bob Abrams went on a glider flight.
That’s nothing new. Abrams began taking regular glider flights when he celebrated his 80th birthday and has only missed one birthday flight since. “At the time, I figured I’d better get started or I’d never get around to it,” Abrams with his characteristic wide grin. “As a kid I was always making paper gliders or playing with balsa ones, so I just kind of settled on the real thing.”
Over the course of more than sixty-five years as an ordained Presbyterian minister, Bob Abrams has labored in many vineyards. For the past fifteen years he has served as volunteer coordinator for Presbyterian Men, spending two days a week in his office on the fourth floor of the Presbyterian Center, surrounded by the Office of the General Assembly, which has “adopted” him.
“It’s rather amazing,” Abrams says of his tenure with Presbyterian Men. “I’ve got to get someone else in here. I’m not going to last forever. It just seems that way.”
Born in 1923, Bob Abrams was raised in Peoria, Illinois, and was working in a hardware warehouse when World War II was unleashed on the world. “I had a pretty low draft number and it was coming up, so I enlisted in the Navy before I could be drafted into the Army,” Abrams says. The then-eighteen-year-old was a member of the first crew of the storied USS Intrepid.
It wasn’t long before Abrams was sent to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for further training. It was there, in 1944, that he met Wanda Humphreys, who was an undergraduate student at Miami. They worshiped together at Oxford Presbyterian Church and after their marriage in June 1946 (nine days after Bob was discharged from the Navy) they rented a spare room in the church’s manse.
Later, after graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1954, Bob and Wanda would return to that manse—this time with the newly-ordained Rev. Bob Abrams serving as pastor of Oxford Presbyterian Church.
The Abrams had always had a heart for overseas mission service, and in 1959 they ventured to the Stony Point Conference Center for mission service training and were commissioned to service in India in December of that year. On their third try, they received visas and departed for India in July 1960.
They loved mission service in India—where Bob served as treasurer of the “India Council” and Wanda ran the “guest house” at their residence in Bombay. Their initial one-year appointment stretched into four years. “We just kept reapplying to stay longer,” Bob says, “and the process was very slow—as everything is in India—so we were able to stay.”
The combination of Wanda’s hospitality at the guest house and Bob’s growing reputation as “the answer man” made them much-loved by Americans and Indians alike. “I didn’t know many of the answers,” Bob says with a laugh, “but I knew where to find them.”
In August of 1964, with their time in India at a close, Bob and Wanda decided to take “the scenic route” back to the U.S. They traveled from Bombay to Beirut, Lebanon, then to Amman, Jordan, and walked across the border into Israel. “We figured it might be our only chance,” Bob says.
Back home, Abrams served pastorates at Beulah Presbyterian Church and Sunset Hills Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and in 1977 joined the staff of the Synod of the Trinity. After he retired in 1990, Bob and Wanda moved to Louisville “because for some reason I was in demand as a special assistant to Cliff Kirkpatrick, who was director of Global Mission at the time,” Bob says. “We both bounced around the [Presbyterian] Center for a number of years.”
Wanda Humphreys Abrams died June 21, 2016, after a long illness. The interview with Bob for this story was conducted on what would have been her 97th birthday.
Bob says he doesn’t know the secret to his longevity … in life and in Presbyterian ministry. “I don’t know the secret,” he says. “I didn’t expect to last this long.”
Quitting his work for Presbyterian Men is not in the cards. “I have no plans to quit,” Bob says. “The need is here until I find a replacement. They say they don’t know what they’ll do without me,” he chuckles, “but, you know, someday they are!”