Community remembers a true hero

Robert Jennings, former officer, Vietnam vet, passes

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  • Bobby and Jolinda Jennings in 1991. photo provided by the sparta police department

“I looked up to him, he was an American hero.”
Sparta Police Chief Ernest Reigstad.

By Jennifer Jean Miller

— Sparta police officers are reflecting on the life of one of their own, retired communications officer Robert W. Jennings, known fondly by fellow officers “Bobby.”

Jennings passed away after an illness at his home Aug. 16, with his wife of 45 years Jolinda at his bedside. He was 71 and had been under hospice care.

The department is remembering Jennings as “A true American hero.” He served in Vietnam as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, receiving a Purple Heart after being wounded in combat.

Jennings, who was born in Montclair to Frank and Marie Jennings, was a longtime Frankford Township resident, and returned to Frankford after he was honorably discharged from the army.

“I looked up to him, he was an American hero,” said Sparta Police Chief Ernest Reigstad.

Reigstad was a rookie police officer in 1988, when he began working with Jennings, then a seasoned dispatcher.

Reigstad said in addition to Jennings’ dispatch service, he worked as a special officer, covering parades and other events.

He said that although Jennings rarely talked about his time as a combat veteran, he was proud of his service there.

One detail he said that Jennings noted was his disinterest in eating rice.

“Like many combat veterans, he didn’t talk about Vietnam,” said Reigstad. “One thing I remember was he refused to eat rice. He said he saw enough of it in Vietnam.”

Reigstad lauded Jennings for his knowledge while working on the desk, as well as his calm demeanor.

“He was always willing to help out, nothing riled him,” said Reigstad. “He never lost his focus, he never panicked. He always seemed to be the person who was a calm, steady influence.”

Additionally, Reigstad said, while dispatching Jennings always anticipated what the officers needed.

“He was a partner,” Reigstad said. “That’s the best relationship an officer and dispatcher can have. He was holding the lifeline back at headquarters, and he did it very well.”

In addition to his work with the Sparta Police Department, Jennings was active with the Sparta VFW.

Jennings was bestowed a graveside memorial service with full military honors on Wednesday, Aug. 20 at the Branchville Cemetery, with visitation on Tuesday evening at the Wood Funeral Home in Branchville.

Jennings is survived by his wife Jolinda, brother Frank Jennings, sister Laraine Jennings, daughter Tina and her fiancé John Phillips; granddaughter and her husband Nicole and Jason Scalzetti, his grandsons Bryce, John Jr. and Jayden, his three great-grandchildren Karleigh, Abigail and Leo, and many nieces and nephews.

Memorial donations for Jennings can be offered to his wife Jolinda.

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