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Charles Robert "Bob" Binger

Handout, Star Tribune

Obituary: Generosity defined 'global thinker' Bob Binger, 93

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER
  • Star Tribune
  • August 18, 2012 - 4:19 PM

Charles Robert Binger planned the maps for the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima during World War II, oversaw the development of millions of acres of land for Burlington Northern railroad during his career, and was a generous philanthropist in retirement, particularly toward environmental causes.

The 93-year-old, known to most as Bob Binger, died Aug. 14.

"Bob was an extraordinary person, an all-around talent that is such a rare package these days,'' said Fred de Sam Lazaro, a friend and a national Public Broadcasting System correspondent whose work was supported by Binger. "He was a corporate executive, a global thinker, a man of values.''

Binger gave generously to causes and organizations that he supported, ranging from the American Refugee Committee based in Minneapolis to YMCA camps in northern Minnesota to starving families in drought-stricken Sudan, said his son Tom Binger of St. Paul.

He also volunteered for leadership roles in about 30 nonprofits over the years.

Binger, one of five children of Henry and Vida Binger, grew up on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. He attended St. Paul Academy, earned a forestry degree from the University of Minnesota, and a graduate degree in forestry from Yale University. He worked during summers on a family farm in Wisconsin and thrived on the outdoors.

Binger married Elizabeth Wann after college graduation and together they raised two children, Tom and Bruce. During World War II, he worked for U.S. Navy intelligence on the Pacific campaign, planning the maps for the U.S. Marine invasion of Iwo Jima and other Japanese islands, said Scott Harrison, Binger's nephew. He also served in the Korean War, ending his career as a lieutenant commander.

Back on the home front, Binger worked for the former Minnesota Ontario Paper Co. and then became the vice president of natural resources for Burlington Northern Railroad, responsible for overseeing nearly 8 million acres of company-owned land, said Harrison.

In his retirement, Binger was an avid reader, amateur historian and quiet philanthropist, family said.

Tom Binger read off a list of nearly 30 groups that his father had served on various boards with. The Washington County Land Trust. University of Minnesota Raptor Center. Yellowstone National Park. Minnesota Outward Bound. American Forestry Association. International Crane Foundation.

"Dad downplayed so much of what he did,'' said Tom Binger. "He was a man that felt very deeply about the things that mattered to him.''

Binger had a fascination with different cultures and liked to strike up conversations with immigrants to Minnesota, said his daughter Erika Binger, of Asheville, N.C. He made five visits to Inuit communities in northern Canada and financially supported the Anglican church that worked with them, said Harrison.

But he was also thrifty. Until the day he died, he still wore sweaters with patches on the arms, Erika Binger said. He lived in the same house in White Bear Lake for decades.

"He was a humble man,'' said Erika Binger. "He never did anything ostentatious.''

In addition to Tom and Erika, Binger is survived by two other sons, Robert Bruce Binger of Stillwater and Robert Miloslav Binger of Minneapolis.

Services will be held Sept. 8 at St. John Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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