When Dick Robinson first met his future wife, Rosie, he was working in a bar and showed her the door — a move that later led to romance and marriage.
“I was attending Sacred Heart School of Nursing, and I went with two friends to this bar where Dick worked,” Rose recalled. “My friends were both 21, but I was underage, so Dick kicked me out.”
Dick followed the rules — and, after work, followed her down the street to another bar where they met again.
“My friends and I had gone to another bar, Tommy T’s, where I was having a pop,” Rose said. “After Dick was done with work and closed the bar at midnight, he came down and joined us.”
It was an appropriate meeting place, as Dick bought a bar in 1960 and married Rosie in 1963. They built both a life and a business with “Robbie’s Little Casino” on Third Street in downtown Yankton.
But the Robinsons’ lives went far beyond running the bar until they sold it in 2005. They fervently followed their children’s activities and supported a number of community organizations. Dick held a lifelong passion for the outdoors, including hunting and fishing, and even went on a safari.
The active life of the man known as “Robbie” ended Jan. 5 when he died at age 82 at Avera Sister James Care Center of Yankton.
The Robinsons have three daughters: Sarah (Scott) Nichols of Eagan, Minnesota, Cheray (Patrick) Atkins of Kuna, Idaho; and Stacia (Michael) O’Connell of Prosper, Texas.
Nichols summed up her father’s outgoing personality and love for life in three words. “Dad knew everybody,” she said.
Dick lived his entire life here. He graduated from Yankton High School in 1957 and attended the University of South Dakota for a time.
Rosie described her late husband as a hard-working but fun-loving man his entire life.
“He had a lot of different jobs,” she said. “He worked at Cimpl’s Grocery for a while, packing groceries. He even shined shoes at the Gurney Hotel, which was a high-end place. Once, someone gave him 25 cents, and that was a huge amount.”
In 1960, he purchased the “Golden Nugget” bar and renamed it “Robbie’s Little Casino.” Shortly after purchasing the bar, he had to leave Yankton for a year while he served with the Army Signal Corps at Fort Riley, Kansas, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
After he completed his service, he returned to Yankton where he resumed life in his hometown. He married Rosie on March 9, 1963, in Avon.
“He kept the engagement ring at the bar in a safe until he proposed, to make sure nothing happened to it,” she said with a laugh.
Dick originally sold beer for a nickel and then raised it to a dime, Nichols said.
“There was a quite a reaction when he raised the price,” she said. “When he wanted to raise prices again, he added a shot to go it with it for a price of 25 cents.”
But for Robbie, the bar was more than a living. He enjoyed meeting new people and learning about them.
“One of the first things he always asked someone was, ‘Where are you from?’” she said. “He loved having conversations and sharing stories with them.”
The Robinsons became an active part of the Yankton community. Rosie worked as a nurse until they started a family and she remained home with the children.
“With Dick, it was always about Yankton,” Rosie said.
He was a member of the United Church of Christ (Congregational) in Yankton his entire life. He was a charter member of the Yankton Sertoma Club and was also a member of the Roy Anderson American Legion Post No. 12, St. John’s Lodge, El Riad Shrine and Lewis and Clark Shrine.
“Dick was a Shriner, and they brought the circus to town,” Rosie said. “He supported the effort and worked hard to sell tickets because he wanted the kids to be able to see the circus, which was held at Crane-Youngworth Field.”
In addition, he belonged to Yankton Elks and served as director for the Yankton district in the South Dakota Liquor Dealers Association.
Dick served with the Yankton Volunteer Fire Department but often couldn’t leave the bar for a fire, Rosie said. “But he had a soft spot for the firemen because they were all volunteers,” she said.
Longtime friend Dick Kulbel met Robinson through Sertoma Club.
“Robbie befriended me, but Robbie befriended everybody at the club,” Kulbel said. “He wanted you to feel welcome.”
The two men worked together on a number of community service projects. True to form, Robinson thought big and planned ahead.
“One of our projects was to clean the ditches on Highway 52 from West City Limits road to Deer Boulevard. We’d clean ditches three times a year,” Kulbel said. “Robbie would show up with his big white pickup and hand out our Sertoma safety vests along with our trash bags. Then, he would collect all the bags and take them out to the DOT (Department of Transportation).”
Robinson showed a knack for sales, as he and his brother, Jim, sold more Sertoma stag tickets than anybody else, Kulbel said.
The Robinsons supported all Yankton school and youth activities, Kulbel said. In addition, Dick worked with the Sertoma sports complex and the Crane-Youngworth Stadium in Yankton.
“He was a big supporter of the ‘Dive In Yankton’ program (for the new aquatic center),” Rosie said. “He supported about anything, like softball, pool teams and bowling teams. He was a supporter of men’s and women’s softball. They had pool leagues at the bar, with a 9-ball league.”
He was also a strong supporter of Mount Marty University as well as Yankton College during its existence. In addition, the Robinsons attended the University of South Dakota football and basketball games, and Dick worked with fundraising for the DakotaDome.
“We went to all the home games until COVID came around,” Rosie said. “During the past year, Dick really missed going to the games. He loved watching the teams.”
A passionate outdoorsman, he belonged to Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.
“Dad was an avid hunter and fisherman. He would close the bar at 1 or 2 a.m. and then be out hunting grouse at 5 a.m. He enjoyed hunting for duck, dove, goose coyote, pheasants and elk,” Nichols said.
“He loved to take people out hunting. He enjoyed making breakfast like steak and eggs. He would make breakfast in the duck blinds. Dick had a Labrador dog at all times. The dog was a constant companion.”
Robinson’s outdoor pursuits weren’t limited to Yankton, as he made buddies and found favorite spots at Pierre, Springfield and Mitchell. He also taught his grandchildren how to hunt and fish.
Robinson often reached out to help others, according to fellow UCC parishioner Jerry Webber.
“He was one of the kindest, most generous, yet compassionate and caring men. He touched so many people’s lives in so many ways,” Webber said. “He was a true leader and a gentleman. He worked to help people who were in need. He helped to raise money for so many different purposes.”
While he supported organizations, Robinson may best be remembered for the way he personally connected with people in simple ways. He loved playing cards, particularly pinochle, and sharing stories.
Robinson’s fun-loving nature came out another ways. He loved played the “Lady Bug” video game, similar to Pac Man.
“We even had an electronic skeet shooting game on the wall of the bar, where you tried to shooting down the birds,” Rosie chuckled. “He loved playing it, but we had to finally get rid of it because we couldn’t get parts for it anymore.”
Robinson enjoyed a good time with all ages, Nichols said.
“As we got older, our friends would go to the bar (Robbie’s Little Casino) and have a good time,” she said. “My dad would close the bar, and we would stay and play cards or dice. We would stay until morning and have all kinds of fun.”
A Minnesota Vikings fan, he also arranged road trips for a busload of people to see the team play home games in Minneapolis.
The Robinson literally served generations of customers at their bar, Rosie said.
“We enjoyed it. Every day was different, and we met a lot of super people,” she said. “We had a good crowd. In all those years, Dick called the police only twice because of something at the bar.”
Rosie noted the gratification when people returned to Yankton and stopped at the bar to say hello. “It was a good life. We never regretted a thing,” she said.
Robinson’s impact went far beyond his family, church or business, Webber said.
“He will be deeply missed by so many people,” she said. “Yankton was lucky to have such an amazing man among us for so long.”
Because of COVID concerns, a private funeral is planned for Wednesday at the United Church of Christs (Congregational) in Yankton. The family is planning a celebration of life at a later date.
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