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Chico State

Fond Farewell: Communications Professor Emeritus Robert “Bob” Main

A summer night sky above a lit-up academic building
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Professor Emeritus Robert “Bob” Main, who taught for 35 years, passed away on June 21, 2022. He was 89.

Born September 30, 1932, in Bucklin, Missouri, Main was a lifelong scholar who had a deep love for teaching and believed “learning should be fun and joyous.” Main earned a BS in agricultural journalism from the University of Missouri, an MA in broadcasting and film from Stanford University, and a PhD in educational technology from the University of Maryland. He also completed computer sciences courses at Chico State.

A portrait photograph of Robert Main, who is wearing a dark suit, white dress shirt, and a yellow tie.
In 2015, Robert “Bob” Main, was inducted into the Chico State Emeritus and Retired Faculty and Staff Association Hall of Honor.

Main was a career army officer for 22 years and served in Vietnam and Korea, retiring as a Lt. Col. in 1976. Following his retirement, he and his family relocated to Chico from Washington, DC, so that he could pursue his dream of working as a professor. At Chico State, he taught courses in instructional design, communications, media ethics, and media research, served as chair of the graduate program in the school of communication, and later chaired the Department of Communication Design. Main retired from Chico State in 1998 but continued to work five more years as a retired annuitant.

The consummate gentleman, Main wore a suit, tie, and polished shoes to every class he taught out of respect for his students. Among his thousands of former pupils are Leo Bevilacqua and Vernon Lee Andrews, who recall a professor who captivated and inspired students through his storytelling and empathy.

Andrews (English, ’82; MA, Information and Communication Studies, ’89) said Main was brilliant and funny and could make students believe in themselves. Recently retiring as a professor for 25 years, Andrews credits Main as one of the professors who influenced his career path and his style of teaching.

Despite being an accomplished military official, a world traveler, and a prolific scholar, Main had “zero ego about him, and was so approachable,” Andrews said. He had tremendous life experiences that made for riveting lectures and discussions.    

Bevilacqua (Information and Communication Studies, ’83) remained close with his former professor, collaborating on projects, and speaking at least once a month with Main from 1983 until his passing.

“I was lucky to be at Chico State when he was there,” Bevilacqua said. “He was such an influence on me and how I approach life. I go back into that bank of Bob Main philosophy and think, ‘What would Bob say about this?’”

Main’s captivating lectures paired with his care for students earned him the Outstanding Professor award in 1988. He was also awarded the Professional Achievement Honor in 1987 and was presented with a meritorious performance and professional promise award in 1986.

“He always believed that students came first, no matter what,” said Anita Main, Bob Main’s wife of 67 years.

Robert Main sits at a desk where papers are seen scattered and he looks at the camera.

Main believed that learning should be fun and placed a lot of value in education, she said. After he retired from the University, he volunteered with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Chico State for more than 20 years and he loved it. It was an important part of his life, she added.

He was the instructor with the largest class enrollments across a variety of subjects, including current events, the Vietnam War, and various documentary films, said Ann Nikolai, OLLI program director. Main filled a classroom with his big personality and enthusiasm for life and had a vast knowledge of major life events. People always spoke of Main’s kindness and how he connected with people, Nikolai added.

“Bob set the standard for OLLI in the 20 years in which he led classes,” she said. “His classes were educational and dynamic. He understood that OLLI is not only about learning, but also about the social connections we make inside and outside of the classroom.”

No matter the setting, Main aimed to foster an intellectually vibrant and nurturing environment in his classrooms, where students felt encouraged and engaged.

“My whole philosophy of teaching is that if I can make learning exciting—if I can make learning fun—then I’m a good teacher,” Bob Main said in 1988. “I had a teacher who made me feel that every time I discovered or learned something, she was overjoyed. Today, I try to impart that enthusiasm. I think it’s that joy of learning and discovery I want to impart to my students.”

The affable and kind Main also believed in inclusivity and inclusion, according to his former students.

“He was leaps ahead of most people of where they were willing to go,” Andrews said. “Most people would tolerate, but few people would step into the breach and be on your side. Bob was a nonjudgmental person who treated me like a human being—and as a Black student, that was very valuable.”

Bob Main receives a book from a second man in the photo. A third man in the photo looks on and smiles. Behind them all are books stacked in a bookcase.
In 1988, the California State University Chancellor’s Office recognized Main as one of the top 15 professors in the then- 19-campus CSU system. In this scanned photograph, Stephen King (center), former dean of the College of Communication, presents Main with a book documenting his achievements after Main was named the University’s Outstanding Professor.

Anita Main said her husband—who visited, lived, or worked in 55 countries and all 50 states—was accepting of everybody.

“No matter who they were, what they did, what color they were, where they lived, he fully accepted every single person, and I never heard him say a negative thing about anybody,” she said.

Main was a pioneer in the design and use of digital content and delivery systems for the Air Force and Navy. He worked in government public information offices, with Vietnam-era Gen. William Westmoreland, and had top-level clearance with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Main also served as army captain in Vietnam from 1963 to 1964.

His storied career also included being a telecommunications consultant for Fortune 500 companies, authoring dozens of research papers and articles, producing videos, television, and radio programs, as well as the 30-minute documentary about Vietnam War veterans “The Walking Wounded,” which aired nationally on PBS. He was listed as a distinguished educator in the 7th edition of “Who’s Who in the World,” and served as CEO of a nonprofit he founded with Bevilacqua and Andrews to develop a smartphone application to connect veterans with a network of trusted and supportive confidants.

Main is survived by his wife, Anita, sons Robert and David, daughters-in-law Patricia and Karen, five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and his brother Jerry of Bucklin, Missouri. His daughter Leslie and a brother preceded him in death.

The University flag will be lowered Wednesday, June 21, in his memory.