The Drowning of Bruno Hobbs


On July 22, 1909, Bruno Hobbs thought he would try paddling a canoe. He’d been going out in a rowboat all week, but saw a canoe belonging to another man attending the YMCA camp meeting, and it captured his imagination.

It was a breezy day, and the canoe’s owner warned him of the danger of capsizing. “I’m not afraid,” said Hobbs. “I can manage it, I guess.”

And so he set out, paddling the canoe straight out onto Lake George.

Bruno Hobbs was a confident man. Born in Colorado, he attended Kansas State University, worked as a lawyer, then left the practice of law to serve as chairman of the YMCA State Committee in Colorado. He led the effort to secure a conference center, today the YMCA of the Rockies’ Estes Park Center. In 1906, after serving as chairman of the Kansas State Committee, he became Field Secretary of the International YMCA and moved to New York City with his wife and child.

When the YMCA camp meetings began at Silver Bay, Hobbs attended every one. He loved to lead religious gatherings, and he loved the water. But for all his accomplishments, he had never learned to swim.

As he paddled out in the canoe, the wind stiffened. Hobbs turned the canoe about and began paddling in, waving to those on the shore to reassure them that all was well. At that moment, a gust of wind hit the canoe; it rocked one way, lurched another, and capsized, with Hobbs letting out a yell as it went over.

Half a dozen men jumped into boats and began rowing toward him. Hobbs went down twice before the boats could reach him, and then a third time, but he was caught by the collar of his shirt, pulled into a boat and rushed to the shore, unconscious.

“Heroic efforts” were made; a doctor was summoned; Hobbs was rolled over a barrel; every method of the day was employed, to no avail.

Writing of Hobb’s death, Richard C. Morse noted, “the Committee’s staff suffered one of the most disabling losses it ever sustained in the death by drowning at Silver Bay of Bruno Hobbs, who recently had begun a leadership of the Field Department full of the brightest promise.”

Hobbs was 45 years old. There is no memorial to him at Silver Bay, but at the Estes Park Center he is remembered by a building raised in his memory in 1911. The building was renamed the Walnut Room in the 1950s, and has served as an auditorium, gym, craft shop and art studio in its almost 100 years of use.

* * *

“Bruno Hobbs Drowns in Lake George” in The New York Times, July 23, 1909

My Life with Young Men: Fifty Years in the Young Men’s Christian Association (1918) by Richard Cary Morse

Estes Park Center — YMCA of the Rockies

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