Robert E. (Bob) Houlihan

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 7:14 pm

Robert E. (Bob) Houlihan, 88, of Decorah, died Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, at Aase Haugen Senior Services in Decorah, where he had been living for the past year. He struggled courageously with vascular dementia for the past 12 years. Mass of Christian Burial is at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Decorah, with Rev. Phil Gibbs officiating. Family remembrances  will be offered by Sean Houlihan. Reader is Howard Higgins. Gift bearers are Laci Higgins, Morgan and Brennen Houlihan. Casket bearers are his 12 grandchildren: Sean, Bobby (Steph) and Meghan Houlihan; Caitlin and Laci Higgins; Connor, Aiden, Kerry, Brody and Brock Houlihan; and Morgan and Brennen Houlihan. Organist is Mary Beth Bouska. Cantor is Cindy Schissel. Songs are “On Eagle’s Wings,” “Song of the Body of Christ,” “One Bread, One Body,” “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miserables”; and “How Great Thou Art.” Burial is in St. Benedict Cemetery in Decorah. Full military honors are by Decorah’s veterans and military organizations, and U.S. Army personnel. Visitation begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, one hour before the service, at the church. Fjelstul Funeral Home in Decorah is serving the family. Online condolences may be made at

Robert Edwin Houlihan was born Aug. 4, 1928, in La Crosse, Wis., to Edwin and Rose (Weis) Houlihan, the middle child of five children. Being born into the Great Depression significantly impacted Bob’s life and formed many of his personal philosophies. At a very young age he learned the merits of hard work, determination and innovation. A favorite childhood story of Bob’s was when a kindly neighbor took him aside at age 11 and explained to him that, if he could buy a bicycle, he could rapidly expand his paper route. He bought the bike on credit and paid off the loan by tripling the number of customers he delivered to, thus starting a life-long love of business and bike riding. Following service to his country in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a degree in business and accounting. He then began working in the grocery business. He would marry his wife of 61 years, Arlene Church, Jan. 29, 1955. They moved to Decorah in 1956, where he bought (along with Harold Cram Sr. and Jr.) the Jack and Jill supermarket. Much like his paper route, that business would expand into a network of over 20 stores and warehouse markets, which would eventually be bought out by the Nash Finch company. Bob took pride in being a pioneer in the wholesale food business. Following the sale of his grocery business, Bob and local businessman and friend, Jack Anundsen, would partner in the cable television business (Teleview Systems Corporation). During this time Bob also served on the board of directors of the Community First Banks of Decorah and Caledonia, Minn., a position he enjoyed. Following the sale of the cable company, Bob and Arlene would spend time divided between their home in Decorah and a lake home on Lake Frances in Elysian, Minn. Bob personally restored a Norwegian settler’s cabin near Sattre that is still a cherished retreat for hunting and fishing for his children and grandchildren. Near their home in Elysian there is a bike trail where Bob logged thousands of miles riding his bike after retirement. Family members joked that biking had become his replacement for a business. He would win his last bike race at age 81 and take his final ride at age 84. Throughout his final days he kept his smile and sense of humor. He was never bitter nor did he ever complain. He was always a gentleman and his family adored him. He was a devoted husband and father, a doting grandfather and an ardent Catholic.

Bob is survived by his wife, Arlene; his four children: Dan and wife Cathy Houlihan of Elysian, Minn., Lori and husband Howard Higgins of Fairport, N.Y., David and wife Donna Houlihan of La Crosse, Wis. and Rob and his wife Michelle Houlihan of North Mankato, Minn.; 12 grandchildren: Sean, Bobby (Steph), and Meghan Houlihan; Caitlin and Laci Higgins; Connor, Aiden, Kerry, Brody and Brock Houlihan; and Morgan and Brennen Houlihan; one brother,  Donald Houlihan of La Crosse, Wis.; and one sister, Elaine Houlihan of Milwaukee, Wis.

Bob was preceded in death by his parents; and two sisters, Rita Lee and Lois Scanlon.

Submit A Comment

Fill out the form to submit a comment. All comments require approval by our staff before it is displayed on the website.

Notify of
0 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments