He was, among many things, a man with a genius for connecting people to one another.
Though one of the Quad-Cities’ most successful businessmen, Robert “Bob” Ontiveros is being remembered for his generosity and kindness.
The 83-year-old died Tuesday in Moline, with his beloved wife, Blenda, at his side.
Bob was the longtime president of Milan-based Group O, which he and Blenda founded in 1974.
The pair met at what is now Black Hawk College and together started Group O. In the early days, they used their family station wagon as the company’s delivery vehicle. Now one of the top Latino-owned companies in the United States, Group O employs more than 1,000 people and has an annual revenue of more than $500 million.
The business thrived in the 80s and 90s, and Ontiveros appointed his son, Gregg Ontiveros, as president in 1999 as Bob stayed on as chairman. Since then, the company has continued to flourish and has several Fortune 500 companies as its customers.
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But the seemingly endless number of people who knew him spoke much more of Bob’s kindness than of his success in business.
He donated money, yes. But he also gave generously of his time and his expertise. He mentored, nurtured and constantly checked in to see what people needed.
His obituary reflects his long list of leadership roles and the community organizations and assets he either supported or created. Those who knew him say Bob was a constant source of all means of support, whose devotion to his heritage and his community will have an impact for decades to come.
Son Gregg Ontiveros said his dad truly stepped away from the business when he handed it over to him in 1999. The reason: He had other things to do.
“One of the things that always was so interesting to me is that the company has never, ever lost money, but he never was focused on that,” he said of his father. “The money was just a byproduct of working really hard.
“Don’t get me wrong: He loved doing deals. But he never was focused on being the richest guy or the biggest guy. He understood better than anybody that nobody gets there alone.”
And that is why Bob was so eager to help others, his son said.
“Talent in this country is equally distributed,” he said. “Opportunity is not. That’s where he was passionate.”
Bob’s other son, Chris Ontiveros, said his father also was passionate about his family, especially his wife of 61 years, Blenda. He found others to adore, too.
When the boys were growing up, Chris said, their dad was busy building a business. Weekends were their best shot at spending time with him. That changed with the birth of Bob’s first grandchild, Maria, who is Chris’s daughter.
“He loved his grandkids more than anything in the world — the grandkids and Blenda,” Chris said. “Everything changed when Maria showed up. They’re both genuinely loving people who really care about others; it’s something Dad and Maria have in common.
“He loved to see other people succeed. A lot of guys, when they succeed, it’s all about them. He always wanted to see other people win.”
Chris Ontiveros was not surprised to hear that so many others spoke of his father’s ability to connect people.
“He prided himself on that, and he showed me how to connect people without expecting anything in return,” he said. “When you see how something is supposed to be, you work toward that. He didn’t like looking back. We celebrated victories, but they wouldn’t last more than a minute.
“You get over it and move on. We heard that a lot. He connected people, because he knew they got stuck; sometimes people get stuck in fear. He helped them along.”
His sons learned they need not fear their father.
“He was never angry with us,” Chris said. “Our mother’s threat of, ‘Wait ’til your dad gets home’ wasn’t really very threatening.”
To Maria Ontiveros, the considerable time she spent with her grandfather has impacted her life greatly.
“He put me to work with Mercado (the outdoor Moline market that had long been a goal of Bob’s), and he built a team around me to make sure I was successful,” she said. “That’s how he built Group O. He found a team and inspired everyone to work hard.
“That’s why people gush over him — not because of his accomplishments but because of the way he made them feel. I just love how he keeps in touch with everyone and makes sure they are seen and heard.
“That’s why he’s my role model. That’s why I want to be like him. I don’t know where I’d be without him. He has influenced my life more than anyone else.”
The family asked for understanding in plans to postpone a public celebration of Bob’s life until May. They expect a large crowd and do not wish to risk an indoor gathering at this time, Chris said.
Others who worked with and learned from Bob shared their thoughts about his contributions to the Quad-Cities.
• Matt Pappas, a board president for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Valley: “To me, he’s been like a father. I lost my dad when I was 17, and Bob was someone I always respected and was inspired by.
“I think the best way to describe the way he was is simply altruistic generosity.
“He’s done so much for the Boys and Girls Club and for so many people. I have a lot of love for him. He is just a wonderful person.”
• Mike Reyes, LULAC Council 10, Davenport: “Bob has been a pillar to our community — mainstream and Latino. The impact he has had on our community is immeasurable.
“I’m not sure people realize how much he’s done for us. The community is going to miss him. I know I am.”
• Tom Bowman, CEO of Community Health Care Inc.: “Bob has been a great supporter of CHC. He was a great partner to us and always available for a call, always a resource.
“He told me all the time that he was about connecting people in the community. He and Chris were so willing to help us acquire our property in Moline, financially and in other ways. When he had it in his mind that something needed to be done, he beat the streets.
“He put his efforts behind whatever the priority was; he’d roll up his sleeves. And he was always checking in, just seeing how we were doing.”
• Juanita Zertuche, president of LULAC Council 5285 in Moline: “My husband and I met Mr. Ontiveros in 2009, and he right away gave support to the event we were sponsoring. He treated us with respect always.
“He was always checking in with us, and he was always making connections — a great unifier. He asked us every year, ‘How are you doing? How can I help?’
“He was always, always wanting to help. He started the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Mercado on Fifth was his vision for a very long time. He never forgot where he came from. He was always proud of his heritage, and he was there to support it.
“Humble and sincere is how I’ll always remember him. He didn’t have to go to every meeting and festival, but he always did, and he treated everyone with the same dignity and respect.
“The lives he has touched in this community is unreal. We were very, very lucky to have him.”